I am going to be honest here and say that leftovers are not my favorite thing to eat. Sometimes they are good, but sometimes they’re old and sometimes they’re soggy. But, I have learned to adapt how I cook and how I eat so I am regularly eating leftovers. Why would I do this? Two simple reasons: it saves time and it saves money. When you learn different things to do with leftovers, you don’t need to cook as much and therefore you don’t need to buy as much food.
So obviously, there are some benefits to eating leftovers. But, you are only actually benefitting if you can learn how to PROPERLY use leftovers so they taste like new. I’ve got a secret for you: leftovers can definitely taste bad, but leftovers don’t have to taste bad. Here are all my best ways to plan for and use leftovers so they end up tasting better than the original meal!
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Plan for leftovers in your meal plan
Let’s be real here: if you don’t plan for leftovers, you aren’t going to eat leftovers. So, make it easy on yourself. If you make a weekly meal plan (which you totally should!), plan which day or days of the week you want to eat your leftovers.
I have a super easy and beginner-friendly meal planning system that goes over exactly how to incorporate leftovers into your meal plan!
I would also suggest planning for leftovers on days that you have a busy schedule and not much time to cook. That way, you prevent yourself from getting something quick like fast food and you also get to use up those leftovers (win, win!).
Make meals that are “leftover-friendly”
“Leftover-friendly” meals are meals that store and reheat well.
Something like grilled chicken or breaded chicken is a great example of a “leftover-friendly” food. It is super easy to save and can be eaten in a bunch of different forms for lunch and dinner. Plus, you can eat it cold or hot, making it even easier to save for later.
Just remember, I don’t want you to only make “leftover-friendly” foods. Of course, there are going to be some meals you make that just aren’t good leftover and that is completely fine. Just make sure you have a good balance between the two so you have enough food to save for leftovers.
CHANGE UP YOUR LEFTOVERS FROM THE ORIGINAL MEAL
Something else that makes a meal “leftover-friendly” is if it can be adapted to make a new meal. One of the biggest problems with leftovers is that you have to eat the same food over and over again until you finish it. So, let’s change that!
Using the grilled chicken example, you can make grilled chicken for dinner one night and use it for a week’s worth of ORIGINAL meals.
- Sunday: grilled chicken
- Monday: caprese chicken
- Tuesday: chicken parm
- Wednesday: chicken rolletini
- Thursday: pulled chicken with BBQ sauce
- Friday: chicken caesar salad
- Saturday: grilled chicken over garlic and oil pasta
Now obviously this is a very exaggerated example because I am hoping you are not eating grilled chicken every night for dinner. But I just wanted to show you that you can use the same base ingredient to make a bunch of different dinners.
If you want some easy recipes to transform plain grilled chicken for leftover nights, here are 3 Ways to Level Up Your Chicken.
USE YOUR LEFTOVERS AS INGREDIENTS FOR NEW MEALS
Going off my last tip, another way to change up your leftovers a little bit is to think of them as ingredients instead of a whole meal. By doing this, you aren’t going to get bored of the same meal over and over again.
Here’s an example: say you made salmon for dinner one night. Instead of just eating the salmon again the next night, use it as an ingredient for something else. Maybe make a caesar salad instead and have the salmon over the salad. Or make garlic and oil pasta and have a side of salmon with it.
The trick with leftovers is to just adapt!
Heat them up properly
One reason so many foods taste bad leftover is because of the way they are reheated.
If you have the time and it makes sense for the meal, try putting your food in the oven or toaster oven instead of the microwave. I can guarantee that most foods taste better when you heat them up this way.
Depending on the food and the amount of time you have, try heating up your meals different ways and see which tastes better!
This is another super random tip but I thought it would fit here. If you have leftover pizza, the absolute BEST way to reheat it is in a pan. Just put the pan on low heat with the pizza and keep an eye on it until the cheese melts and it is hot. This makes the pizza super crispy and tastes so much better than the oven or the microwave!
Put them in the front of the fridge
This tip might sound silly, but just give it a try! You’d be surprised how many leftovers you will eat just because it’s the first thing you see when you open the fridge.
So many times, the leftovers end up being thrown away simply because they were pushed to the back of the fridge and no one knew they were there. Instead, make sure they are front and center.
Put them in the freezer, not the fridge
If you are able to do this, try putting your leftovers in the freezer instead of the fridge. Obviously, this only applies for certain foods. If you have leftover pasta or salad, I wouldn’t suggest freezing it. But, if you make something like meatloaf muffins, put the leftovers in the freezer instead.
By doing this, you are giving the food a longer shelf life. That way, you don’t have to eat it so soon.
For example, instead of having to eat meatloaf muffins for dinner for three nights in a row, you would only eat them once a week for three weeks. It’s still the same amount of food, just spread out over time so you don’t get bored.
Store them well
I can promise you that your leftovers are not going to taste good if you don’t store them well. Invest in a good set of airtight containers so you can always keep your leftovers fresh!
Pre-portion so you don’t waste
Pre-portion your food after you cook it so it’s easier to eat for leftovers. If you made a lasagna, instead of just putting the entire dish in the fridge, cut pre-portioned pieces and wrap each individually. This makes eating them so much easier. Plus, if you put them in the freezer, it’s a million times easier to heat up.
Regardless of what you do with your leftovers, just remember to eat them! You will be surprised how much money you save and how much less food you waste.