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Tips for using leftovers creatively

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Life is so busy. There’s work, the house, the kids, the pets, exercise, a social life (at times anyway) and some alone time to factor in. Unfortunately, the busier we are, the less time we have to prepare healthy foods for ourselves and our families and the more likely we are to make that dreaded phone call to the local fast food delivery service. Not only does this result in us eating too many calories and poor quality food, it’s also expensive.

A little planning can go a long way. There’s nothing I hate more than ending up throwing out enough old leftovers from the fridge to feed a small nation…things that have gotten shoved into never–never land only to be discovered when a foul odor begins to seep into the kitchen. Come on, I know you know what I’m talking about here. Following are some tips for meal planning and creatively using leftovers to save both valuable time and money during the week as well as prevent having a surplus of food on hand. Weekday meals should all be able to be prepared in under 30 minutes and they should be simple, nutritious, affordable and delicious.

One time saving trick is to prepare a large pot of brown rice (or whole grain of your choice) on a Sunday afternoon. Then throughout the week there are a variety of ways you can easily incorporate this rice into your meals.

Monday: Heat up as a side dish and serve with baked salmon and broccoli

Tuesday: Turn it into a main course salad by tossing in dried cranberries, edamame beans, walnuts, chopped onions, vegetables (the leftover broccoli from the night before) and vinaigrette dressing. Serve with a green salad that is loaded up with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, dried cranberries, nuts, seeds and whatever else you like to throw in.

Wednesday: Saute some shrimp (or chicken, beef or tofu) and vegetables and make a stir-fry to be served over the rice. Serve with a salad.

Thursday: Use the rice as a breakfast cereal: heat with milk (cow, soy, rice or almond) and toss in some raisins, almonds, flaxseed, and sweetener (agave nectar or honey) For dinner, use in soup in place of noodles with any leftover shrimp from previous night. Soups are great for using up all kinds of leftover vegetables…just add some broth, herbs and spices.

Friday: Make veggie burgers out of any unused vegetables from the week. Use potatoes to make your own French fries. Serve with a green salad.

Saturday: Use the money you saved from not ordering takeout to go out to dinner!

Other time saving tips:

Do whatever prep work you can in the morning before you leave for work, school or the gym.

When you go grocery shopping, prep all your vegetables before putting them in the fridge. This way you always have the ingredients for a salad or stir-fry on hand.

Use dinner leftovers for lunch the next day. If you have chicken or salmon for dinner one night, the next day you can have a tossed salad topped with it for lunch.

Make a big batch of soup or chili on the weekend. Put half in a container in the refrigerator for a quick meal that week and the other half, freeze to have on hand at a later date.

When cooking, prepare enough food for two meals. If you are going to go through the effort of cooking a meal, you may as well get two for one.

For kids school lunches, warm up leftovers and put in a Thermos. My kids love soup in particular.

Serve leftovers with at least one different item so they don’t get boring.

No time at all? Stop at your favorite super market or health food store and buy a quart of homemade soup (just be sure to read the ingredients first) and a prepared salad that you can use as a side dish. It’s still cheaper than takeout and usually much healthier.

When you do break down and order takeout, try for healthier options. In our family, a quart of miso soup, sushi and seaweed salad is a reliable, healthy option.

Always, always, always, have fresh raw fruits and vegetables on hand for snacking, tossing into salads, soups and stir-fries and for side dishes.

If you have any other time saving ideas, do tell!

(And NO, that is NOT a photo of the inside of my refrigerator, although there are days when it looks pretty darn close to that).