Plan It- Don’t Panic Meal Planning Challenge Week 5 (And 7 Ways to Use Those Leftovers)
Can you believe we’ve been consistently meal planning together for over an entire month now?
I don’t know about you, but after a summer of inconsistency, in both my planning and in the meals I was serving, it feels good. Really good. We’re eating better, saving money, and there are certainly less panicked dinner hours because I have a plan and I use it.
It also enables me to take advantage more often of one of my favorite meal-making techniques… leftovers!
Leftovers are a busy homemaker and mama’s best friend.
- They shorten meal time prep.
- They are usually remnants of balanced meals, so they’re perfect for those nights when dinner doesn’t come together as easily.
- They are definitely frugal and using them helps you to avoid waste.
- Eating them cleans out the fridge.
- Less dishes (should this be #1 on the list?)
Here are 7 ways that leftovers can be used to your advantage
1. Double up your recipe and you can serve dinner a second night.
The easiest of all strategies. You cook once, and eat twice!
2. Use them for lunches.
This is how they are most commonly used in our home. I try to make our dinners larger than we need, so that even if there isn’t an entire second meal (though there often is), I at least have something to work with for lunch in the next day or two.
If I have enough, I will simply reheat exactly what we previously ate. If I don’t have enough, then perhaps I will reheat the soup or stew that’s in the fridge, and make some quick grilled cheese sandwiches or quesadillas to go with a small bowl for each person. Or I’ll heat up the leftovers from two meals, and each person will get a serving of both meals to make up their lunch.
3. Use them as starters for an entirely different meal.
If I’m making rice, I usually make double what we need. Cooked rice can then be turned into Asian-style fried rice, a chicken rice soup, spanish rice, added to refried beans for burritos, or almost any other rice dish you can think of.
The same is true for so many other leftovers. Leftover meats are particularly wonderful, as you can turn roast into sandwiches or stew or fajitas, turn a whole chicken into soups or chicken pot pie or a pasta dish, use the second half of a fish to make seafood chowder or salmon quiche or salmon melts.
4. Use small amounts as recipe fillers.
Tonight I made a lentil vegetable soup. Last night, we ate chicken, rice and steamed broccoli and cauliflower. The chicken was gone, and there was a container of cooked broccoli and cauliflower lounging in the fridge, looking a bit forlorn. I tossed them into the soup and they worked perfectly.
Any small amount of leftovers can easily be accommodated by a forgiving recipe like a casserole, soup, stew, pasta sauce or the like. Some of my tastiest meals have come out of adding the random bits and pieces from the fridge into whatever I was making!
5. Use them for a child’s meal.
If we have just a very small amount of something left over, I will store it in a baby-sized container and use it as a one-serving meal for my current baby/toddler. Just because it’s not enough to feed an adult doesn’t mean it should be wasted!
6. As a leftover smorgasbord.
I talked about this last week, and it’s definitely a wonderful way to use up all of those random bits of meals when they start to build up just a little bit too much. Why cook again when you’ve already got a full fridge?
7. Make them purposefully to reduce future meal prep.
You may have noticed that one week, I intentionally made extra eggs, sausages and fried potatoes for breakfast one morning, so that I could re-use the leftovers the next day in breakfast wraps.
This works especially well with meats, as I mentioned above. Consider planning your meals according to meat that you will cook early on in the week, a pot of beans you plan to prepare, or any other basic ingredient that can be used in a multitude of different dishes.
Image by ckelly
Heating up leftovers without a microwave
Seeing as we don’t use a microwave, and yet we eat leftovers all the time, I thought it may be enlightening for some to hear how we reheat our food.
We do it in 3 basic ways:
- In a frying pan (works well for meat, cooked veggies, potatoes, fried rice dishes, etc.)
- In a pot (works best for soups or stews, casseroles that we don’t mind getting mixed up in the pot, beans)
- In the toaster oven or the regular oven if it’s a very large amount (best for home baked french fries, burritos, Shepherd’s Pie or Chicken Pot Pie- things that taste best as close to their original state as possible)
Our Menu Plan for the Week
Well, we don’t really have one, actually (I know, bad Stephanie, right?). See, on late Tuesday afternoon, I am heading down to my mother-in-law’s house to drop off my children for a few days with Grandma, while I go to attend and speak at The Relevant Conference in Harrisburg, PA!
Of course, my husband will remain in the house, and he will have the children back on the weekend before I come home on Sunday night. I have some very basic plans, but the truth is my husband just doesn’t really like cooking, even heating up things I’ve already made, so here’s what I’m going to do:
- Breakfast: Soaked oatmeal with raw milk and honey (I’ll do mine with some fruit and cinnamon since I can’t have honey right now)
- Dinner: Beef stew
- Breakfast: Eggs, sausages, maybe a fruit smoothie.
- Dinner: At Grandma’s. We’ll be eating a late-afternoon snack to tide us all over for the drive across the border (we live in Canada, near the border), which will consist of cleaning out random things remaining in the fridge.
Beyond that, my husband will subsist on some really simple things like toast, cheese, smoothies, yogurt, fruit, granola, milk, tortilla chips and salsa, and yes, he will probably eat out a little bit. I’ll make sure the fridge is stocked with his favorite snacky foods before I leave town.
We’ve tried doing the freezer meal thing, and putting a menu plan on the fridge, but it just doesn’t seem to work (are we the only family who finds this to be true when mama isn’t there to cook?). I will have some basic ideas up on the fridge for him when he has the kids back with him on Saturday and Sunday, but it will probably be very simple snack-type meals.
Yeah, my husband doesn’t do well on his own, haha! Now if I had a whole bunch of frozen meals (store-bought), he’d be OK, but for some reason, he feels anything homemade (even if it’s just heating up frozen home-cooked meals) is just beyond him. He’ll be staying part of the time at my IL’s, so Grandma can take care of the our son, but then he’s on his own from Fri evening until I get home Sat evening. He’ll probably eat out some and then eat eggs for the rest of the time, lol.
@Anne @ Quick and Easy Cheap and Healthy, Have fun at Relevant!! Wish I could go! Maybe next year!
@Anne @ Quick and Easy Cheap and Healthy, Will you be at Relevant, Anne? If so, I’ll see you there! 🙂
Unless it’s *super* simple my husband would load up on frozen burritos, tv dinners and burgers! Thankfully, my older children 12 and 15 have been well-trained by Momma and can follow directions and cook- and enjoy it! 🙂
@Amanda, Yes, burritos… I should add that to my list for my hubby today. Thanks! 🙂
Great tips! I need to try making double portions more often. I do try to re-use everything I have in someway. Most of the time that translates into tossing some leftover veggies/meat into a soup–like you do!
Last week, I decided at the last minute I wanted to make stuffed peppers. I had gotten some marked down bell peppers at the store, and I needed to use them that day. Then, I realized I was out of rice! Yikes! Well, I had frozen some rice from when I had made paella a few weeks before. There were chunks of salmon and peas in the rice, but once I added the beans, spices and some ground turkey, I don’t think my family even noticed! I felt like it was the Lord’s perfect provision! I had planned on the leftover paella being a lunch one day, but it turned into a completely different dinner just when we needed it!
Thanks for the microwave tips! We still own ours, but I barely use it. Hubby isn’t quite sold on the no microwave yet. The most difficult thing for me to re-warm is rice.
@Erin@TheHumbledHomemaker, Love it when a meal comes together like that!
And for rice, I use a pot, with a bit of extra water to keep it moist. It doesn’t taste quite as good as fresh cooked rice, but it works just fine.
We use our steamer insert to rewarm rice. It turns out great, and doesn’t stick the way it used to in the pot.
Oh–Have FUN at Relevant!! I SO wish I could go! Maybe one day! I really hope some of you video/audio record! I think a lot of bloggers would be willing to pay to hear some of the talks after!
@Erin@TheHumbledHomemaker, Wish you could come! I’m not sure yet whether there will be recordings or not… it’s possible, but I don’t want to say yes because I just haven’t heard a definitive yes. Hopefully next year! 🙂
I am SO happy to hear about someone else who does not use a microwave! I haven’t used one for 10 years or more, and I find it’s just as fast (and not to mention MUCH healthier) to use the stove top or oven for reheating.
I love the tips on using leftovers. I wrote something recently about how I incorporate leftovers into our weekday dinners which helps me save time. I have 3 kids in Catholic school, and afternoons are always crazy with homework and focusing on the kids. Knowing that I only need to make one part of the meal makes the time less stressful for me.
The tips for reheating are helpful, too. We have a microwave/convection oven which we use a lot. However, my goal is to spend more time in the kitchen now that things have calmed down, and to use the microwave less. If I plan the day better, I don’t need to use the microwave as much.
I’m pretty lucky in that my dh loves to cook. He’s the weekend chef, and he’ll make the more complicated meals, plus do a huge batch of sauce and meatballs. I feel incredibly blessed!
I love these leftover tips. I’ve doubled recipes before to freeze them for later, but never thought about just doubling for TOMORROW! So practical. How did I miss that? 😛
We had a trial No Micro run a year ago. We put it into the garage for 4 weeks and if it was too hard we’d s imply put it back in the house and plug it in again. We have found that reheating with a veggie steamer pot insert to be so quick and easy to clean that it is now our most used pan! It reheats rice, pasta, meats and veggies quickly and with no sticking to our cast iron pans. We reheat crispy things in the cast iron. Recently we had pangs of guilt when a hurricane ravaged our neighboring towns and we donated the micro to someone who ‘needed’ it. Loosing it has been quite easy for us! A trial run is the way to go, it is then no big deal to give it up or bring it back.
We got rid of our microwave several months ago and the thing I missed most was being able to reheat a cup of coffee or tea that had gotten cold. I’ve found if I stick my mug in a sauce pan with water and heat it on medium high heat that my drink is steamy hot and enjoyable again. I frequently use this method for left over soups too. I store my soup in canning jars (or empty glass tomato sauce jars) and then I can just stick it into the pot and heat the water around it and I’m all set. It’s much less likely to burn if I forget about it for a few minutes too!
@Patty, Oh, smart to just stick the jar in a pot of boiling water. I just use the pot by pouring the soup (or whatever) in, but that’s a great idea!
If a have leftover soup, casserole, etc. and my husband doesn’t want to take it to work the next day (he is pretty good about eating leftovers) I sometimes freeze it. Then at a later date I have an already cooked meal in the freezer, and everything is more appetizing when you didn’t just eat it the night before.
These are such helpful tips – I picked up lots of new ideas to try, like adding rice to burritos. Don’t know how I never thought of that. We often have bags of leftover rice in the freezer and I usually use it in your Indonesian rice recipe, which I love.
I also try to do without the microwave. We haven’t got rid of it completely – my husband loves it for cooking his 2 minute noodles (which he lives on when I’m away – so no, you’re husband isn’t the only one!). I recently did a post about what I do instead of using the microwave: http://www.cravingfresh.com/2011/09/ditching-microwave.html
I’d love to get rid of it completely, but I think we’d need a convection oven first.
Bless you. Have an awesome time at Relevant conference. I wish I could go. Alas – New Zealand to United States is a bit of a hike for me, with a four month old and two year old in tow.
@Emma – Craving Fresh, Thanks, Emma! Wish you could go, too! But yeah, I can see how it’s a little bit far… 🙂
Glad you love that Indonesian Rice! We still love it, too!
Awesome tips! I like making double portions of dinners for leftovers. My hubby isn’t huge on leftovers for lunch, so my boys and I usually eat them. Growing up, Sunday evenings were leftover nights. It gave my mom a break, and we got to snack on a little of everything. I hope I can get to that one day.
On the nights that I work (teach ballet), I put dinner in the oven on warm. That way, when hubby picks up the boys from the neighbors, dinner will be ready. My son (6yr) had the idea to set the table before I took them to the neighbors. That was such an AWESOME idea. Hubby just has to take dinner out of the oven and serve it.
I’m not sure how I’d handle being out of town. My hubby’s parents live 5 minutes from us, so I imagine he’d head over there pretty frequently with the boys.
@Kristy @ Almost On Purpose, My hubby will be over at his mom’s for Friday dinner and Saturday breakfast, so I know he’ll get at least a couple real meals. 🙂
One of the things my friends and I do is get together once a month for a meal swap. We invite up to 10 of our friends and bring one dish for each lady. They each bring one to share. So I make one large freezer meal with enough to feed a family of 6 and divide it by the number of women coming. I go home with that many other meals that I can pull out of the freezer any time. It comes in handy when I don’t have time or am not home to cook.