I love to cook, but I’m also busy and tired. This means that I want to make dinner, but I also want it done quickly. I also hate wasting food, but my family is somewhat unpredictable with quantities. Sometimes I am feeding three hungry teenagers, and other times two have gone out unexpectedly and one decides that this is the day spaghetti sauce is gross. One night, I make two pounds of meat, two pounds of pasta, an entire bag of veggies, and a homemade sauce, and they complain that I never make enough food. The next night, I am packing up more than half of dinner, and I’m staring at the prospects of eating that same dish for lunch for the next week. I hate wasting food, so here 10 ways I use them up.
- Rinse: My kids don’t love potato salad, and after a picnic we might be left with a ton. Rinse the mayo off in a colander and sauté it into home fries or add it to a stew meat (shortly before it’s finished). This also works with basically any pasta dish. Pastas can get a new sauce or end up in a soup. I have even done this with a kale soup that was despised by draining the broth off, and turning the meat and beans into a chili. The tomato sauce and spices disguised the kale.
- Reinvent: Meatloaf is basically a giant meatball. Cube leftovers and serve with pasta and sauce. Add a few veggies to the sauce to give you more volume. Try peppers, onions, or mushrooms if you like to see your kids gag. Meatloaf can also be made into a meatball sandwich or crumbled into a meat sauce. This principle applies to just about anything Mexican. Last night’s fajitas or tacos can be tonight’s burritos or enchiladas. And Easter Ham is just waiting to be turned into cordon bleu casserole or tossed over pierogies in an alfredo sauce.
- Salad: Sometimes I get left with almost a pound of meat. It’s not enough to serve again as a stand alone, but too much to just eat in a few lunches. I shred or chop up the pieces and add them to a large dinner salad. While you might think that won’t be enough for hungry teens, my kids hate salad, so I can be assured enough for dinner. Use the seasoning of your meat to inspire your salad. (Terryaki, Taco, Ham and Cheese, etc.) The more variety in the salad the more likely they are to eat it. I usually serve with bread to allow my kids something to remove the salad taste from their palates.
- Roasted chicken/turkey can become just about any recipe that starts with sautéing chicken. (Fajitas, scampi, moo goo gai pan). Bags of frozen mixed veggies and jars of sauces in the pantry are the key to a completely different meal. This is great for after Thanksgiving, but let’s be honest, turkey isn’t that great. I like it best sliced and make into a giant hot dinner sandwich with bacon and cheese and some salsa. Also, it can make chicken salad, but see tip #1 for why I’m not likely to do that.
- Combine: Maybe you don’t have enough of any dinner to make more, so combine. You have sausage and chicken? Sounds like jambalaya to me. If you have beef, chicken, fish, or pork you can differnt taco options. What about a beef and vegetable stir-fry to go with a chicken lo-mein, fried rice, and fortune cookies?
- Pizza: You don’t need much meat to make pizza. Be creative: Buffalo chicken, BBQ pork, Thai peanut, Mexican taco, etc. You can serve several kinds based on your leftovers.
- Veggies: regularly I am left with a little bit of this veggie, and a little bit of that one. Not good for much of anything, but I hate throwing them out. Options for the little bits: soups, fried rice, salad toppings, or hide them in a casserole, or sauce. Throw peas in tikka masla, corn in enchiladas, and broccoli into the trash because broccoli is nasty.
- Baked potato bar: Chili, BBQ chicken, ham, etc. can all be toppings in a glorious leftover bar. The other night I used leftover ham and corn with cheddar cheese, green onion, crispy fried onions and …wait for it… dried cranberries on a buttered baked potato. UNBELIEVEABLE! Toppings bars also go great with mashed potatoes, fries, or even tortilla chips.
- Lunch: Maybe leftovers can’t be stretched into dinner. Can they be a Saturday lunch of quesadillas? Can you make soup with a couple cans of broth or a few packs of ramen? A can of enchilada sauce makes for a great soup base. A jar of spaghetti sauce and leftover tortellini/pasta also makes a great soup. Typically, I don’t make my kid’s lunch on Saturday, but I will if I’m pushing leftovers.
- Freeze: I keep a pound of browned ground beef in the freezer. I can add half or all of it to leftovers to spread them out. I also have pre-cooked chicken strips in the freezer that can stretch out chicken. Adding a little to stretch what I already have can save a lot of time and food. I also freeze leftover gravy or broths from roasts to add to other dishes later. Then I can use the gravy with meatloaf or the broth for a soup or sauce.