In fact, I plan for leftovers.
I am disappointed when my chili disappears in one meal. I tip the pot towards me and frown down into its scraped-clean depths.
Uh-oh! No burritos for tomorrow's lunch.
Leftovers are one of God's good gifts to womankind. They save us money and they save us time.
As a busy mom/missionary/teacher/writer, I am always looking for new ways to save money and time!
In addition, many leftovers (although not all) taste better on the second day. What more could a woman ask for?
With all these benefits, why do many leftovers suffer long, drawn out, painful demises in the back forty of our refrigerators?
The truth is that we don't really have a plan for their proper usage.
Here are the three ways you can use your leftovers:
1. Eat it the next day, as-is.
This is the default button for many people. And it works! Reheat and enjoy.
If you are brown-bagging it at work or school, this is a tastier choice than PB&J or slimy ham sandwiches. When you clear off the table, package it appropriately in take-along portions.
2. Freezer it.
This is another great option. Many recipes freeze well. Stews, sloppy joes, chili, chicken, lasagne. . . it is wonderful to be able to pop them out of the freezer on a busy day! Freezing leftovers gives you all the benefits of eating it the next day, but with an additional newness factor for your family.
Tips for freezing: Freeze immediately after your meal. Don't let it languish for days in the refrigerator. If you made a baked pasta or other casserole and you have half a pan left, transfer it to a new casserole dish of appropriate size. File it in the freezer for a busy day next week. Congratulations! You just saved yourself an expensive and waist-expanding trip through the Golden Arches.
3. Makeover that food: Turn it into something new and tasty!
This is my favorite way to use leftovers wisely. I take Wednesday's chili and give it a makeover for Friday's Tex-Mex Burritos. Chicken casserole becomes soup (or vice versa). Pork roast becomes Barbecue Pulled-Pork Sandwiches. Baked potatoes get diced and browned and thrown into omelets or breakfast egg scrambles.
Learn to think outside the box when it comes to leftovers. Get creative and see where it leads you.
(Busy Mom's Time Saver Idea: plan for leftover makeovers this week.)
Here are two Leftover-Makeover Menu Plans that you can use or modify to please your family's unique tastes.
Makeover #1: Crockpot Chicken
Day 1: Hot Chicken and Gravy Sandwiches with Veggies.
Set up your crockpot with a big batch of chicken! I use my oversized crockpot for this. Four or five pounds of chicken pieces (with bones--it is less expensive and makes better broth) get washed and skinned and placed in the bottom. Then I add celery (don't waste!--include the leaves for extra nutrition and taste), onion, salt, pepper, quartered potatoes and carrots, and maybe some green beans (halfway through the cooking time). I fill it to almost the top with water. Then I order my bread machine to go to work on a loaf of homemade bread. Just before dinner, I remove some broth from the chicken and make gravy.
This chicken is so tender it falls off the bone. We dish up hot chicken and gravy sandwiches with vegetables on the side. Then I strip the bones of any remaining meat and refrigerate it. Leftover vegetables get bagged for use later in the week. I strain the broth and freeze that also. If there is leftover bread--which almost never happens at my house--I freeze it for bread crumbs or make homemade Butter-Herb Croutons. Homemade croutons are devoured by my crazy crew of kids!
Day 2: Chicken Broccoli Bake
Make a mouthwatering casserole like Chicken Broccoli Bake. Use the leftover chicken from Day One.
Day 3: Homemade Tomato Soup or Lentil Brown Rice Burritos
Sneak in a budget-friendly meatless meal. Use the Leftover Chicken Broth.
Day 4: Quick Chicken Sandwiches
Quickly transform leftover diced chicken into Exotic Chicken Salad (add a little soy sauce and sliced grapes to your chicken salad recipe; serve in pitas) or Designer Chicken Wraps (place bowls of your family's favorite wrap ingredients on the table: tomato, lettuce, sauteed or fresh onion and bell pepper, mayo, mustard, salsa, cheese, pickles--let everyone build their own wrap!)
Brown those leftover potatoes and carrots in a frying pan with a bit of oil and some chopped garlic! Serve it on the side. Add some fresh fruit slices and you have a homemade meal in minutes!
Makeover #1 can be done all in one week, for consecutive days, because the meals are varied in their tastes. Makeover #2 works better if it is spread out over two weeks.
Makeover #2: Tasty Pinto Beans and Cornbread
Day 1: Tasty Cooked Beans with Cornbread and Salad
Soak pinto beans overnight. In the morning, discard the liquid and stock your crockpot with the beans, spices, and water. Cook on low until dinner. Make a pan of cornbread and serve it alongside the beans.
These beans truly taste good enough to eat on their own. Freeze the leftover beans in one- or two-cup portions. This is one of our favorite meals for those late Sunday nights after church. (If your children are not bean lovers, introduce this slowly and try to transform their tastebuds. My husband grew up on this kind of meal, but it took me a long time to learn to appreciate it. My kids, however, loved this from the first time I served it.)
Tip: Freeze leftover beans immediately in one or two cup portions. Drain liquid first. You can also use these beans for homemade refried beans.
Day 2: Crockpot Chili
Use the beans from Day One. Before serving, set aside enough chili to freeze for your family for the following two menu plan days, or you will also be gazing down into your chili pot with sorrow. If you have leftover cornbread, serve it on the side.
Day 3: Tex-Mex Burritos
Reheat the Chili and spoon into flour tortillas with cheddar cheese and your favorite burrito or taco add-ons.
Day 4: Chili Corn-Pone Pie
Thaw the second portion of frozen chili, add a drained can of corn, and whip out this tummy-filling casserole in no time.
Now you have two of my favorite secret weapons for leftover makeovers. What menu ideas can you come up with, using leftovers? Share them with us in the comments section below!
Nobody wants the same menu four days in a row, so turn on your creativity and watch the wow factor at your table go off the charts!
Makeover your leftovers and save yourself both time and money in the kitchen.