I hated leftovers as a kid. It looked nothing like the previous night’s dinner; I think it was the pale colored food and solidified fat. My kids do the same thing I used to do when my mom opened up the Tupperware full of leftovers: gag and complain.
My leftover gag reflex is long gone as I’ve gained an appreciation of day (or two, or three) old food. Since becoming a mom, I’ve also developed a new appreciation for my mom and her efforts at home-cooked food for 6. I now share her enthusiasm for reheated chicken drumsticks and side veggies. I’ve been known for making excessive yummy noises at some undeserving leftover dinner candidates.
Leftovers are featured often at our house. Most of the time I will reheat them and everyone eats them without complaints. Many dishes are better the second time around, right? But often, there are meals that get boring, especially if they’re featured regularly. Twice a month we have a whole roast chicken and root vegetables. It’s delicious even the second day but if it doesn’t get eaten I will freeze what’s left or make something new out of it. Fortunately, after 14 years of cooking regularly, I have some ideas. First, some helpful leftover tips:
- Label everything. If they don’t know it’s there, they’ll go straight to the milk and cereal. If you can’t label each item, leave a note on a cute little board on the fridge. Also, always label your freezer containers with a date.
- Shred your meat. You can refrigerate it or freeze it for later use. Sometimes I make a double batch so I can freeze it for future meals. Use in soups, sandwiches, enchiladas, pizza, stir-fry and more!
- Make your own broth. Chicken carcass, meat bones, and veggie scraps make amazing broth. It’s healthier than store bought since yours is free of additives and dyes. I love freezing it in ice cube trays to use in desired amounts.
- Have storage containers on hand. There are many options to choose from. The most common for refrigerator use being plastic ware and mason jars. Freezer bags and hard-sided plastic containers work well for the freezer. Food storage mom hack: Stack breast milk storage bags flat inside your sanitized baby wipe container. No more searching for breastmilk in the freezer! I didn’t get to try that but I have used my extra breastmilk storage bags to store broth and tomato sauce/ paste. We have 2 freezers so small items in one large container saves a lot of searching.
Here are some common leftovers and my favorite meal makeovers for them:
- Mashed potatoes: They’re so easy: just add milk, butter, salt and pepper. I make a large pot every time.
- Potato leek soup: Add some broth from your leftover chicken and optional ham and cheddar for extra heartiness.
- Mashed potato pizza: Use crust of your choice. Loaded baked potato toppings are delicious. Or, top with pesto and gruyere cheese for something different.
- Potato bread: Google this recipe on a cold, rainy day. You won’t regret it.
- Beans: I don’t make them often, but when I do they’re refried or in chili. They’re so versatile. Refried beans can be made from pinto, red or navy beans. Chickpeas and split peas have gone over well in chili. I cook 1 to 2 lbs. of dry beans at a time then store what I don’t use.
- Minestrone: Throw in leftover navy, red or pinto beans into this tomato-based soup full of spinach, garlic and zucchini. Top with parmesan cheese.
- Falafel: These are traditionally chickpea patties serves with cucumber dill sauce. I’ve made tasty (non-traditional) falafel by replacing the chickpeas with leftover lentil soup.
- Steamed vegetables: I love Steamed veggies but they can lose their crispness after a day in the fridge.
- Vegetable lasagna: Finely mince veggies and add homemade or purchased garlicky white sauce. It works best with California blend: (broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, zucchini) and spinach. Top with mozzarella cheese.
- Quiche: Our favorite is asparagus, pesto and feta!
- Soups: Leftover root veggies are great in a tomato-based alphabet soup.
If you’re a mom, you’re a multitasking and planning expert. You have experience getting creative and you’ll come up with your own fantastic meals and leftover creations, if you haven’t already. Some foods may not have makeover potential or there are only enough leftovers for one serving. But if it’s barbecue ribs and a sweet potato, that’s ok, mom’s having that for breakfast!