A MOTIVATIONAL PSA
I don’t always crave leftovers. There are a handful of things that I love the next day: anything Indian, pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, and…does cake count? I’ll always eat cake. Other that I have to either force myself to eat it or reinvent the leftovers into something new. I prefer the latter. I do hate seeing my time and money going in the compost bin by being too picky or too lazy to eat my leftovers so I employ a few techniques to avoid it as much as possible.
Before we talk tips, let me try to convince you it is worthwhile to invest in your leftovers with 3 main reasons:
- Dinner is already done! Or lunch, breakfast, a snack. Whichever meal it is, its already cooked! No dishes, no shopping, very little cooking. There’s little to no extra time spent.
- Some things actually taste better the next day. Restaurants and caterers are always preparing things in advance! There’s very little cooked from scratch within 30 minutes of serving it as you would expect at home. Advance prep is done to make selling a varied menu possible but for a lot of foods, that extra day or so to meld together improves the flavor. Foods in this category: anything stewed or braised, sauces that aren’t finished with butter (think: marinara, cream sauce, infused olive oils, chunky vegetable sauces, steak sauce, baked pastas, taco filling, many grilled meats, roasted chickens are amazing cold the next day).
- Reduce your food waste and save money. If you’ve already spent the time and money making 20 meatballs but you have 6 leftover, that’s 30% of your food! 6 meatballs may not seem like all that many, but think of it as $30 out of $100 dollars.
Convinced? Great! Now, lets talk intention and reinvention. I have a few tips and tricks to help your waste less and enjoy your leftovers more.
- TIP 1: Know your family members; Divide and Conquer. He knows I much prefer the leftover Saag Paneer to the salmon and roasted potatoes. Especially since I spent 90 minutes preparing the Saag Paneer and I don’t make it that often, I’m going to want to eat this at least twice. He’ll take the salmon and to top a salad, which is an easy lunch for his work setting. He’ll also leave me odds and ends, a few tablespoons of sauce and roasted veggies because I can turn it into dinner.
- TIP 2: Reinvent! Have a few go to recipe groups that utilize leftovers. I usually wait a few days, then use the leftovers to make quesadillas, a stir fry or pizza. These are comfort foods and flavor profiles that I KNOW I’ll enjoy even when they are made with yesterday’s leftover meal. Here are some ideas:
- Roasted Meats: chop and melt with cheese for quesadillas or roll into enchiladas
- Leftover Pasta: stir in more sauce, cheese, roasted veggies then bake in a casserole dish
- Seared Fish: flake over salad greens and add cooked grains like quinoa or farro, avocado, radishes or other shaved raw veggies, toss with salad dressing.
- Roasted Veggies: chop into 1/2″ dice. Slice old baguette and line the bottom of a casserole dish, sprinkle in veggies cheese, pour eggs and milk (like making scrambled eggs) over top to submerge. Bake and slice for an Egg Strata. Omit bread layer and call it a Frittata.
- Chicken: Shred meat. Saute onion, carrot, celery, garlic with a little butter. Add chicken stock (you have some in your freezer right? Or a box) and bring to a simmer. Add noodles, cook. Add chicken and maybe some frozen peas, corn, or edamame. Finish with lemon and chopped herbs.
- TIP 3: Be Intentional. Think it through before you start – How many are eating ? Is this a known dish that family members eat later on? Do some components of the meal freeze or store better in different ways? Maybe you only wanted 8 ounces of pork tenderloin but you came home with 12 ounces – are you more likely to eat the extra if its stored cooked or uncooked
The easiest way to avoid leftovers is to make the correct amount in the first place. Knowing that I love homemade meatballs, I’ll make enough for my family to eat 3 times. We have them the first night, again a few nights later, and I’ll make meatball sandwiches (I wanted to say meatball grinders right there) at least once for lunch! This is a win-win: I do the work once and eat 3 or 4 times. On the other hand, sometimes when working without a recipe, I make enough of something to serve 15 people and I find myself miserable at having to eat it everyday until all of the leftovers are gone. Its a good lesson in portion control.
- TIP 3a: INTENTION Part 2. If you store things properly, they will taste better when leftover. Lets say we’re having big cobb salads for dinner (oh! yum, this is now on my meal plan for this week!) and 2 adults are eating. I immediately think: this makes an incredible lunch too AND I hate leftover salad (I’m actually repulsed by leftover salad). I’ll do all of my prep, cook bacon, boil and peel eggs, dice the tomatoes, dice cucumber, cook and dice chicken, crumbled blue cheese, make the dressing, wash and chop lettuce, wash and chop herbs, make croutons. Then, I plate dinner for 2 but I don’t automatically mix everything together. I store things separately: bacon and chicken can go together, all of the veggies go together, cheese alone, eggs alone and NOT chopped, and for the love of food DO NOT put dressing on more lettuce than you can eat in one sitting. For tomorrow’s lunch, I have a bunch of little containers, but you bet that’s worth it when I toss my “leftover” salad freshly and enjoy!
- TIP 4: Plan a leftover night. When you do your shopping for the week or you sit down and do your meal plan, decide in advance which night this week will be your intentional leftover dinner. I have 2 styles of leftover night: Chef is Not Home Style or Mad Skillz. CNH means pulling everything out of the fridge onto the counter and family members make up their own plate and microwave accordingly. MS means I’ll either reinvent leftovers into a delicious new dinner or combine select leftovers into mini dinners that are gently heated on the stovetop, oven, broiler, or in some other way that makes them awesome!