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:

  1. In a frying pan (works well for meat, cooked veggies, potatoes, fried rice dishes, etc.)
  2. In a pot (works best for soups or stews, casseroles that we don’t mind getting mixed up in the pot, beans)
  3. 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:

Monday

  • 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

Tuesday

  • 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.

I’d love to hear the creative ways that you use up your leftovers! And, what do you do for your husband and/or kids if you have to go out of town?

And now it’s your turn to share your meal plan for the week!