Plan leftovers before they happen…
If you’re like me, you have a collection of recipe books and clippings offering ideas for typical leftovers to make into generic casseroles and pasta dishes. Not that these aren’t okay, the problem is – my leftovers aren’t the ingredients of these ideas.
I’ve tried to follow magazine and website seven-day meal plans, but developed a problem with recipes being limited to four or six servings that resulted in leftovers. If someone was able to take these to heat up for lunch the next day, the leftovers got used; otherwise, making a new dinner entre each evening was creating a fridge shelved with leftovers.
Even to plan to make enough for two nights, not all the recipes lent themselves to a tasty reheat. So to not have the family boycott second night meals, leftovers needed a makeover to be eaten.
And contrary to my husband’s belief that I just whip it all together, meal planning is not easy. To keep the family happy, I learned to incorporate leftover ideas into my meal planning.
I can’t guarantee success every time but I am starting to unleash some creativity into my evening meals.
Here’s My New Approach
By mentally planning dinners over a four-day period, I can pre-plan meal items that will become part of the next day(s) leftovers. Since most food remains fresh up to three days after it was first cooked, this plan becomes a healthy and economical choice.
Day one meal (plate of food groupings)
This meal starts the four-day loop. I plan fresh, one ingredient dishes and omit sauces and/or the need to mix any of the main ingredients. I will also cook enough of the meal’s carbohydrate to add to the next day’s meal.
Protein – Meat, poultry, fish, tofu (roasted, broiled, baked, barbequed)
Vegetables – Variety of green, yellow and/or orange (steamed, baked, boiled, roasted)
Carbohydrates – potatoes, beans, quinoa, coucous (steamed, boiled, mashed or baked)
Day two meal (bowl/plate with food served on top)
I will combine two or more leftover ingredients from day one meal into one dish servings, adding sauces or another ingredient to blend the flavors and to give it a nice appearance.
Protein – Day one’s leftover pre-cooked meat is ready to cut into cubes to combine with another ingredient. (protein and carbohydrate or protein and vegetable)
Carbohydrates – The planned leftovers from day one meal. I will build the balance of the meal with the plan to top or mix the other food with it.
Vegetables – Toss day one leftovers with a new ingredient and make it into a stir fry or salad (warm or cold). All depends on the quantity of leftovers you have.
Day three meal (one pot meal)
Day three’s meal will be a combination of any remaining leftovers from day one and/or two. I will plan for a casserole, hearty soup or pasta dish.
Casserole – Protein, carbohydrates and vegetables combine nicely to make up a casserole with a few filler ingredients to hold it together.
Soup – If day one’s meal had a bone(s), I boil the bone on day two to prepare as the soup stock for day three’s meal making this the planned leftover. Add a salad, cheese plate, buns or cold meat.
Pasta – Add a can of diced tomatoes and an onion to your leftovers to give you a good hearty sauce to go on top of any type of pasta.
I’ll dress up day three’s meal with fresh parsley, watercress or cilantro, green or black olives, capers, green onion, nuts and/or shredded cheese to give it a new flavor and a nice appearance.
Day four meal (bridge with day one meal)
If you plan it right, day four is your best leftover night, as day three’s meal will usually cover two nights, giving you a night off to accommodate a busy family night. Day three’s meals usually reheats nicely, as the longer these dishes sit, the more their flavors mellow. To serve, I will always add some easy to add items (i.e. an interesting bread heated up and a green salad or raw vegetables).
When I prepare my meals I always use herbs and spices, to keep the flavors interesting and different. I also believe appearance is important when presenting leftovers to the family. So I use garnishes and condiments to dress up the foods presentation and to add some new flavors.
Leftovers are a product we won’t live without, but with a little planning and creativity, no one is going to be quick to complain about having leftovers again.