If you’re anything like me, you make pasta for dinner at least once a week. Because, hello kid-friendly, super-easy weeknight cooking. Well, if you thought that cooking pasta couldn’t pay off more, get ready for a life-changing tip:
Buy an extra box so that you can throw an additional portion into the pot each time you cook pasta and use it for an easy, breezy school lunch.
That’s right: I keep an extra box of pasta on hand so that each time I make some, I can cook a little extra. Before saucing dinner, I pull out the extra portion of plain pasta, toss it with about a teaspoon of olive oil, let it cool, and store it in the fridge for the week. Then, when I need it, I use one of these five simple ideas to pack pasta for school lunch that’s way more appealing than just straight leftovers.
Related: How to cook pasta perfectly, even ahead of time.
Not only do I always keep some plain cooked pasta in the fridge, but I always have pesto in there too. I love making my own — and it couldn’t be easier with our simple tutorial on how to make pesto — but you can also find good quality, fresh pesto in the refrigerator section of most supermarkets. When it’s time to make lunch, toss the two together and call it a day.
Pro tip: My kids like this both hot and cold. If you make yours hot, heat the plain pasta and then toss it with the cold or, even better, room temp pesto. Heating the pesto itself will impact the flavor of delicate basil.
One of my kids’ absolute favorite meals from my cookbook Make It Easy is this Soba Noodle Salad, and guess what? You can make it with plain leftover pasta too. The recipe calls for tossing noodles with what I call “lunch box vegetables,” because I always have them on hand for packing school lunch, which makes this dead simple. Make the easy vinaigrette ahead of time, too, and packing lunch will take all of three minutes.
Summer Raw Pasta Sauce | Photo by James Ransom for Food52
I love a good raw pasta sauce because “cooking” doesn’t get any easier, but most of them require a few steps and maybe even a food processor. This Summer Raw Pasta Sauce at Food52 is an exception. You chop five simple ingredients (or just four of them if your kid doesn’t like olives) and toss with pasta. Warm your leftover pasta while you do the chopping — not too hot, but just enough to warm the oil, garlic, and tomatoes — and toss for a quick and fresh mid-day meal.
Related: 5 make-ahead school lunch recipes you can store in the freezer for easy morning.
Any of these awesome macaroni salad recipes can be whipped up easily for school lunch using plain leftover pasta, but I especially love this Greek Chickpea Pasta Salad at PBS Food (pictured). It’s the most nutritious, thanks to the addition of chickpeas and lighter dressing, and also easiest to make. Plus, I think it can feel right with nearly any kind of pasta, long or cut.
They say great minds think alike, which has me feeling all proud because the great Pioneer Woman shared her own easy ways to use leftover pasta. Most of her ideas are for dinner, but she includes a thought on how to turn her leftovers into Lunchbox Pasta (above & top). Her approach will have you tossing your leftover pasta with a tiny handful of flavorful ingredients before you pack it up for the fridge, which is pretty awesome — because no morning work required always wins with us.