Why Parents (and Busy People Everywhere!) Should Embrace Nextovers, the Best Leftover Strategy of All

updated Jul 12, 2019
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Didn’t I Just Feed You is a candid weekly podcast about feeding families hosted by Stacie Billis and Kitchn’s Associate Food Editor, Meghan Splawn. Each month, Meghan brings the best of Didn’t I Just Feed You to Kitchn with practical takeaways for parents who want to make family meals easier, more fun, or just a little more delicious.

It seems like meal planning and meal prep are being pushed everywhere as solutions to everyone’s dinner chaos, but these ideas are especially thrust upon parents. And while I’ve long been a meal planner, I’ve been slow to adopt meal prepping for my family because finding a long block of time each weekend to cook is about as easy as matching all the socks.

That’s why the concept of intentional leftovers — or nextovers — caught my eye. The premise of nextovers is obvious yet still ingenious: Any time you cook a meal component, whether it’s vegetables or grains, just double it. Then the next night, use that other half as the base of something new. Nextovers are half the prep, and double the variety. And according to our latest podcast guest, David Tamarkin of Epicurious, they’re a game-changer.

(Image credit: Courtesy of David Tamarkin)

Meet David Tamarkin, Evangelist of Nextovers

David wants to be clear that he didn’t coin the term nextovers — and the idea of course isn’t brand new — but he’s a big advocate of focusing on this specific approach to cooking for leftovers. By cooking double upfront, you can be halfway to tomorrow’s dinner with no additional work.

“Its a real game-changer for weeknight cooking,” says David. He notes that cooking grains or beans can make for quicker breakfasts and lunches too. For example, he says, leftover rice from dinner can carry over into breakfast the next morning.

“For breakfast, you can just throw it into a hot pan with some pesto and fry an egg for it,” says David. “That might sound like a lot of cooking, but I guarantee you it takes only as long as scrambled eggs — and you’re getting [a balanced meal with] some grains and protein.”

(Image credit: Meghan Splawn)

According to David, the keys to nailing the nextovers approach are organization and repetition. For the latter, he says that’s why something like Epicurious’ Cook90 challenge — which encourages readers to cook three meals every day for 30 days — can help in building positive kitchen habits, whether it be cooking more frequently and confidently at home, or learning how to seamlessly blend one nextover meal right into the next.

“You just have to get in an organizational mindset,” says David. “When you do that, you come away with a lot of lessons and you learn a lot about the way you like to cook and the kitchen ecosystem you can create if you cook frequently. And then you can take those lessons with you when you’re cooking less.”

The Best Foods for Nextovers

David counts chickpeas and roasted carrots as some of his favorite staples — but he also says almost anything can be a nextovers favorite. Proteins can be especially great because you can change up the texture when you use them the second time.

“My meatball recipe in Cook90 isn’t the most beautiful thing because they are oven baked,” says David. “But I recently I had some of these as leftovers and because I hadn’t browned them in a skillet first, I [was able] to crumble them in a hot skillet and I turned them into a meal with a little hummus and chopped tomatoes. It made for very exciting nextovers!”

A Few of Our Nextover-Worthy Staples

So if meal planning and meal prep aren’t always practical for you or your family, you might think about starting with the nextovers approach. You’ll quickly realize that cooking a single cup of rice takes the same effort as cooking four cups of rice, and that cooked rice — and nextovers in general — can be a gift to your future self that can fuel your whole week.