Intentional Leftovers Are the Secret to Easier Weeknight Dinners

updated Jun 15, 2020
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The refrain of “I’m hungry” is as predictable as any clock. And with three meals a day and countless snacks coming from my kitchen these past several months, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by cooking, as I race to to stay two steps ahead of the next meal. It would be ideal to make big-batch breakfasts or prepare lunches and dinners well in advance, but the will to spend any free time I do have on meal prep isn’t there at all.

The most helpful solution I’ve found? Leftovers. Yes, leftovers! You might not think of them as “meal prep,” but you most definitely should. Creating intentional leftovers is the meal prep solution that has been saving my sanity. Here’s why it’s time to get on board.

Credit: Shelly Westerhausen

What Are Intentional Leftovers?

Planning for intentional leftovers is a smart meal prep strategy that takes exactly zero additional effort. The idea is simple and exactly what it sounds like: leaving yourself with leftovers for another meal or two, on purpose.

All you have to do is make a little extra when you’re already standing at the stove (or the cutting board!). Whenever you make a pot of rice, prepare a pan of beans, bake chicken breasts, or chop an onion — double it! This simple strategy streamlines the prep work and cleanup, while stocking your fridge with ready-to-remake ingredients.

When it comes time to serve up the leftovers, it could be as simple as reheating them. Or if you’d rather not eat the same meal again, you could repurpose them into something new. For example, turn leftover rice into a simple pan of fried rice or burritos, or use leftover steak for sandwiches to stretch it into another meal.

Credit: Amelia Rampe

A Few Tips to Make the Most of Intentional Leftovers

Intentional leftovers are the smart way to use your time in the kitchen to double the output with half of the effort. One way to make this work is to season simply and strategically at the start. A slow-cooked pork butt is ripe for rolling over into multiple meals. Instead of seasoning it with distinctive spices from the start, infuse it with easily adaptable seasonings so that it can star in salads, sandwiches, tacos, and more.

Also, it’s important to understand that the ingredients change with refrigeration. Reheating may bring foods like sweet potatoes back to their original state, but others will be altered (and that’s OK!). Extra rice is easy to reuse or repurpose — especially if you lean into the crispy texture of the chilled grains for fried rice or soften it in extra liquid for soups and skillet dinners.

Batch work applies to meal prep too! Just as you clear your email inbox each evening or schedule meetings on a specific day, set aside the first day of the week to chop all of the onions you’ll need. Take it a step beyond and sauté extra onions and garlic with your first meal of the week. Refrigerate the excess for a ready-made flavor boost at your next meal.

Instead of starting from scratch each day for every meal, make a little extra and you’ll be a step ahead.

Are you intentional with your leftovers? Share all of the smart ways you use leftovers later in the comments.