What Leftovers Look Like

I know people who refuse to eat leftovers. At least, they think they refuse to eat leftovers….little do they know how creative professional kitchens get to minimize food waste. Ever ordered the soup du jour or the daily lunch special? If so – you’ve had leftovers.

Personally, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t know what I’d eat if it weren’t for leftovers. I think leftovers get a bad rap because people think they’re going to be eating meatloaf sandwiches for 5-days running, or because of some really, really cautious ideas of what constitutes food safety.

I’ll leave food safety for another post, except to say that, as someone who is phenomenally and professionally anal about food sanitation issues, leftovers are safe to make and to eat as long as you follow some basic rules.

How do you avoid the leftover trap of Meatloaf Monday becoming “Meatloaf Again, huh?” Tuesday, “Do I Really Have To Have Meatloaf?” Wednesday, “Dear God, Anything But Meatloaf” Thursday and “Hey, Where Did Everybody Go?” Friday?

Easy! You work from pre-made components. For me, this mostly means previously home-made, but there’s some wiggle room here. This is the first year I’ve done my own salsa, for example. Up until about a month ago I just bought tubs of it in the refrigerator section.

Let’s say maybe you buy those pre-cooked chicken breast strips. That’s a meal component you like to have on hand – it makes dinners easier. So keep in the back of your mind that one day, instead of buying pre-cooked strips, you could grill up a few chicken breasts and have DIY strips in your fridge for the week. They’d be just as ready-to-go, and they wouldn’t have the same texture as your kitchen sponge.

Yesterday, working with components, this was what I made for my lunch. It’s a skirt steak and grilled vegetable salad. I added some of that lacto-fermented salsa I made earlier this month and half an avocado (cause I had one) to leftovers and, in 3 minutes, had a delicious, new meal from the old components:

The trick is having components on hand and ready to go, and that means cooking them. This past weekend we fired up the grill and cooked a lot of components for the week: lots of garden vegetables, skirt steak, salmon, chicken wings and sausage filled the grill. My feeling is, it’s just as easy to cook a whole grill full of food as just a few sausages, so I might as well get some meal milage out of the effort and energy expended.

Here’s a veggie-grilling tip: if you run a skewer through the cross-section of an onion ring, the onion will stay together as you grill it and won’t fall through the barbecue grates.

Those components, plus a big pot of brown rice, will combine in a bunch of different ways over the next several days. We had the original mixed grill meal hot off the fire and served with dipping sauces (a vaguely Korean-barbecue-esque meal), Bella got cold salmon with mayo in her school lunch, Nick has commandeered most of the wings plus some veggies and a jug of Franks Red Hot for a few days of work-lunches (hot wings are never subject to palate fatigue, incredibly), I’m throwing together steak salads at home for the toddler and me.

A rice bowl will probably make an appearance at some point, I wouldn’t be surprised if a roasted vegetable pizza supplied dinner one night, and if I’m really good I’ll eek a sausage frittata or sausage and kale soup out the components too. You get the idea. One big grill-off of food will become 5 or 8 different meals.

None of which is meatloaf.

Do you pre-cook components to make your daily meal prep easier?


  1. says

    Great idea! I grilled some chicken breast and sausages on Sunday, and we ate off them a couple of days. The Son that lives with us eats like a horse, so left-overs are hard to come by. You are absolutely right about the packaged "grilled" chicken breast, just like a sponge. I tried it once, that was enough.

  2. says

    I wanted to add that most things on a restaurant buffet are technically leftovers, and many times, catered dishes were made a day or two ahead of time, so are also technically leftovers.

    We love leftovers in our house. Sometimes I cook components ahead of time to make daily cooking easier. Sometimes I over-cook intentionally with the intention of creating something new from something old. But most of the time, our leftovers get served exactly the way I served them the first time around. We usually find the flavor is better the second, or even third, time around. :)

  3. says

    In defense of my bogarting the chicken wings, I'd like to make it known that I have a cold and that the Frank's does wonders to clear my sinuses and keep me breathing here at work (a.k.a. the land of terrible indoor air quality).

  4. says

    Absolutely! Fried rice and quiches are another great way to make something new using some previously cooked components. I think grilled stuff works especially well because it has such good flavor. Pasta, soups, grilled sandwiches…

  5. says

    i pre-bake potatoes when i happen to have the oven on for something else (bread usually) to both get the potatoes ready for tomorrow (i'll then give them a quick fry with onions, or add them into soup, or whatever) and to reduce the energy use (or make it go farther, however you want to look at it.) i also make massive batches of beans so i can do the soak/rinse/cook a long time steps a fewer number of times, and then i sometimes freeze portions of them so it becomes a lot more like opening a can.

  6. says

    Yep, pre-cook and pre-chop. In fact, the never-ending salad bowl has been mentioned several times in a discussion board I participate on. Pre-washed and spun dry lettuce is torn and ready to go and the dryer vegetables (carrots, daikon, zucchini, etc.) are chopped or shredded, ready to add. Just chop the wet ones (tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.) as needed.

    In fact, I was just debating whether to shred the next three days' worth of vegetables as I plan to eat lots of salad. Might as well get the shredder dirty once only!

    Oh, another tip I just learned re avocados is that apparently the leftover slices freeze well. One person says no lemon juice needed, another says yes to lemon juice. They thaw quickly for your next salad (or guacamole).

  7. says

    The way it works in my house is this: after a meal is cooked my daughter and I help ourselves, when we're done my son takes the rest! Mind you if I made several meals at once it might just work! I'm also a fan of meatloaf sandwiches, lol.

  8. Anonymous says

    I love leftovers – spaghetti sauce, chili, soup, stew just keep on going – as is. But, I also do "components": 1)peel the whole bag of carrots and cut the sweet bottom parts into carrot sticks and leave the thick top chunk for stews, 2)chunk up celery and toss in the same bag with the carrots, save the celery leaves to stuff inside a baked chicken or chop later for soups, 3)mix ground chuck with egg and breadcrumbs and cook into patties to freeze, later these can be dunked in sauce for Hong Kong Hamburgers, thawed and crumbled up for soup/tacos/casseroles, and the Du dog loves meat popsicles, 4) make up a batch of homemade biscuit dough, roll, cut, dimple center, and freeze for later use.

    brenda from arkansas

  9. says

    About the closest I come to this is when I make a pork/beef roast (or buy a pre-cooked bbq’d bird – chicken or duck – from the grocery store). I know that what starts out as Fabulous Friday Dinner will become Delicious Roast Day Two the next day, and may also wind up in sandwiches, stir-fries, pasta-sauces, and soups. And then, if there’s bones, there’s stock.
    I make an extra portion of Dinner so that my wife can take it for lunch the following day, sure, but intentionally cooking a week’s worth of grain all at once… not so much.

    That said, I *do* repurpose leftovers in to new meals, so that if I *have* made too much quinoa-and-lentils (to site a recent example) I’ll make sure they get used up (maybe combined with left-over BBQ’d duck, tinned tomatoes, dried peppers, and a lot of Thai Basil) within about two days. I’ve been known to top up leftover Dinner-Minus-Starch (pretty much anything you can make in a frying pan and serve over pasta or rice or gnocchi as you like) with a couple of extras, or a slop of alfredo sauce in order to turn it into Meal Number Two. I’ve got a sandwich-sized container of basa-tomato-coconut-quinoa curry in the fridge right now that could probably become 3-5 fish cakes if I throw in a tin of chili-garlic tuna and an egg, which would be a decent dinner for one this evening. It’s that kind of thing, rather than doing up a slew of grilled veggies in the same oven as my roast, with the intention of making them into three different meals along the way.

  10. says

    Not quite to pre-cooking components, though the grill post reminds me of the passage about roasting vegetables all in one day in Tamar Adler’s excellent “An Everlasting Meal”.

    What I *am* starting to do is pre-prep everything. I typically do all in my grocery shopping on one day. Maybe farmer’s market a second day. I’m trying to prep everything that same day. Easier to organize the fridge that way and see exactly what I have, instead of a bunch of amorphous plastic produce bags.

    It also makes for easy experiments. Last night we had extra cucumbers chopped up from a previous salad, so I threw them on leftover tacos to stretch the meat – absolutely incredible!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>