Nobody really likes to eat leftovers, but if you are in a bind (or your refrigerator is full of the last few days’ meal remains) they can be a great foundation to a quick meal. What’s more, when you are committed to cooking daily, the effort can sometimes present a challenge to your creativity and your patience. So, why not grant yourself a break and use those leftovers if and when you have them?
Let us be clear: we don’t advocate ‘cooking enough to have leftovers’ as a daily strategy, particularly as the nutritional value of anything cooked decreases over time. In fact, the rule of thumb in our homes is three days and done; this helps us steer clear of potential food safety issues that can arise over time. It is, however, worthwhile to be thoughtful on how to use some of tonight’s dinner as a key ingredient for lunch tomorrow.
Here are the shortcuts Jessica and I really like:
Hamburgers, meatballs or sausages: Cut them into small pieces and use them as the meat ingredient for a Bolognese type pasta sauce, a great topping addition for pizza, or in tacos.
Steak: Slice leftover steak into thin slices and toss with lettuces and fresh herbs. Use a dressing made from lemon juice and olive oil with a little soy sauce and sugar.
Pasta: One of my favorite childhood leftovers. In our house we would always re-heat pasta with tomato sauce, warming it up with a little bit of butter and olive oil, and we made sure to make it extra hot and crispy. Yum.
Chicken: Roasted chicken meat is as versatile as anything. You can use it to make quesadillas, risotto, on mixed salads, and many other ways.
Roasted vegetables: Roasted vegetables are great for soups, mixed rice dishes or for turning them into an easy salad. Jessica loves them as a topping on pizza, with a bit of mozzarella or cheddar cheese. Roasted vegetables will lose their nutritional value fast, so while they might be ok to eat, the benefit from doing so diminishes quickly.
Grains: I’m including grains as a general category here as I usually make an extra cup of whatever grain I’m cooking (e.g., quinoa, brown rice, millet) and use it as an addition to soups, salads or casseroles-type dishes. I also add grains to my taco meat to stretch the filling. A little millet in the ground beef goes a long way in feeding my hungry boys on Taco Tuesdays.
Beans: Cooked beans can be added to salads, egg-dishes such as huevos rancheros, or mixed with some vegetable soup, for an added protein kick with every meal. Given all the recent reports on BPA leakage from the cans into the food, I try to make my own, and cook extra for use over the next few days.
Fruit Salads: I like to make an extra large amount of fruit salad and turn any leftovers into fruit compote that can be used on top of natural yoghurt or on pancakes. Pineapple, mangoes, even papayas give the compote an extra exotic flavor. Simply place the chopped fruit in a saucepan, and add an inch of water to the pot. Heat it to a boil, then let it simmer until the fruit is cooked through (~30 minutes). No sugar needed here! The compote should be consumed within a few days – though it never lasts that long in my house.
Remember to refrigerate your food once it is cooked, freeze it immediately if you don’t anticipate using it, and throw your leftovers out after three days. If you’d like data on how long to keep food, and how to store it, here are some good websites you can check for additional information: