Leftovers — some people love them, while many others leave them sitting in the fridge never to be visited again.
But here’s the rub with leftovers: They can provide the basis for entirely new meals while saving you time in the kitchen on ingredient prep, as well as money you’d otherwise spend at the grocery store for more ingredients.
Yes, reheating last night’s dinner is the most straightforward way to enjoy leftover food. But eating leftovers doesn’t always need to be an exercise in repetition.
For The Love Of Leftovers
When it comes to weekly and monthly meal planning, using leftovers in your plan is an easy way to cross an item off your to-do list. By intentionally cooking more food than you’ll need for one meal, the leftovers can easily take care of the next day’s lunch or dinner.
Some dishes, such as chili, soups and curries, often taste better the next day because the flavors and spices have more time to come together as the dish refrigerates overnight.
But for all its ease, packaging and reheating leftovers isn’t cooking.
How To Cook With Leftovers
To best cook with leftovers, you should cook for leftovers. Always think about how you could appropriate what you have on hand now into something else later.
Let’s say you plan to grill some steaks for dinner and serve them alongside brown rice and a steamed medley of broccoli, carrots and peas.
Instead of cooking enough steak and veggies for two people, for instance, try cooking more than you’ll need to eat.
By intentionally cooking more than you plan to eat for dinner, you can save cooking and prep time for future meals. That leftover steak can easily become the filling of a steak and cheese omelet for breakfast or a steak sandwich for lunch the next day.
By throwing your leftover vegetable medley and rice — along with some diced onion and a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce — into a pan of hot oil, you’re on your way to delicious fried rice.
When you’re always on the lookout for ways to use uneaten or unused food, leftovers cease to be something that gets in the way and start being a valuable asset.
Getting The Most Out Of Leftover Foods
Here are some ideas on getting more mileage out of your leftover foods:
Leftover vegetables (raw): It’s easy to overbuy produce such as cabbage, carrots, peppers or cucumbers. Don’t let your fresh veggies go to waste! If you’re not going to eat them in time, try pickling what’s left for snacking later. Immersing slices of these vegetables into a brine of vinegar, salt and water will yield pickled treats that keep in the refrigerator well beyond their standard shelf life.
Leftover meats (cooked): Making sandwiches is the easiest way to repurpose leftover meats, but it’s not the only solution. Consider turning your leftover chicken breasts into a chicken salad or adding the cooked meat at the last minute into a stir-fry. If you’ve baked a spiral ham, save the bone and the scraps to create a delicious bean and hambone soup.
Leftover noodles (plain): Mix these with a bit of olive oil and mayonnaise as the base for a pasta salad. Add other goodies you have around the kitchen, such as olives, peppers, basil or tomatoes, for a quick treat that saves time in the kitchen.
Other leftovers: Don’t forget that your freezer is a great ally. Most soups, casseroles and other hot meals will take to freezing well. Many people prefer to make a lot of one dish all at once, then pack it into individual portions and freeze them for easy use later.
Long Live The Leftover
Weekly and monthly meal planning is a good way to keep your family on a dining budget while also reducing stress and saving time in the kitchen. When you incorporate leftovers into those plans — as standalone reheated items and as the basis for new meals altogether — you’re not only making your life easier, you’re also reducing food waste and saving money.
So next time you have a leftover helping of dinner, don’t scrap it! Instead, think about how to reuse it. You’ll find the challenge both fun and rewarding.