Getting Strategic About Leftovers


Today’s big idea can help you get more meals out of fewer periods of actually cooking. And that is to get strategic about leftovers. There are two kinds of people in this world: those who embrace leftovers, and those who turn their nose up at them. By the end of this episode, I hope you’ll be firmly in the embrace ‘em camp, if you’re not there already.

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Here’s the magical thing about leftovers

And Kate Schulz from the Dinner Sisters podcast echoed this when I interviewed her two episodes ago in the What the Heck to Have for Dinner episode–when you get strategic about using leftovers, you can cook only three times a week and easily be able to make meals out of stuff that only needs a reheat the other days. 

If you are cooking rice for one meal, go ahead and make enough rice for three meals, and store the leftovers in the fridge or the freezer to add to soups, or turn into fried rice, or use under a quick stir fry. 

In fact, whatever you make on those three nights, make extra. If you’re serving broccoli with it, make the whole head even if you only need half of it–that extra broccoli can go into a quesadilla or on top of a salad the next night. 

Your mantra with leftovers is: cook once, eat multiple times. 

Now, I know, there are definitely some leftovers that never get eaten

In my house, that’s pasta. It just doesn’t reheat that well and I’m sure my Italian MIL could give me some tips for using it up but honestly, I’d rather have half a box of uncooked pasta because that’s another dinner, than leftover pasta in the fridge because that’s trash. So I cook just enough for that night’s meal. 

I find that it’s important to store leftovers separately, because that gives you more options when you’re incorporating them into some completely new dish. If you make rice and beans for dinner, don’t store the leftovers of them in the same dish. Store them separately and you have more versatility on how you’ll use them. You could use the beans in a quesadilla, or the rice could hearty up a soup or be its own side dish.  But if you store them together, you kinda have to eat them as beans and rice, and if you value novelty, you’re probably not going to eat them again. 

It’s like the Mexican restaurant, where they have the same 10 bins of food in the back but they can make an infinite variety of different dishes with it. 

Having a variety of leftovers allows you to get really creative

It’s like a Top Chef challenge–what can you make out of leftover sauteed bok choy, some ratatouille, and an almost stale baguette? (This is exactly what I had on hand last night.) I sliced the baguette, put a little olive oil and salt on the slices and toasted them, then put the ratatouille on top, then reheated the bok choi in the microwave and served it on the side. I also found some chicken orzo soup and reheated that. It wasn’t the most cohesive meal, culinarily speaking, but it was tasty, and filling, and nutritious, and free. 

Also, I think one reason a lot of us can be resistant to cooking is that we want something grabbable, and thus we stop by Chipotle, or reach for the frozen pizza, or grab a bar or a bag of chips, because it’s easier than cooking. Well, leftovers are pretty darn grabbable. I just went downstairs, ravenous, looking for something to eat, and found some leftover broccoli salad that was delicious, homemade, and ready to eat. You just have to train yourself to look in the fridge to see what’s there and let your creativity get sparked instead of looking in the cabinet for something pre-packaged, or your phone to order something from a takeout joint. 

My grandmother called leftover night Icebox Revue. I dreaded it as a kid but I see it as a fun little challenge now–one that usually doesn’t require dirtying any pots and ends up in a tasty homemade meal in just a few minutes. I hope you’ll try it out. 

Daily Tiny Assignment

That’s your tiny assignment–the next time you’re hungry, go to your fridge and see what leftovers you have in there, and challenge yourself to make something at least partially new out of them.


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