Cooking can be fun but requires so much time. Menu planning was the hardest part for me, until I found ways to stretch my leftovers and change them into completely different dishes.
I've got two of my favorite recipes to use as examples and to help give you ideas. Once you've done this a couple of times, you'll be amazed how easy it is to stretch one meal into several with very little work. But first, here's what you need to know:
First things first - you need to know the basics of what to look for in recipes when planning.
Time: Make things easier on yourself by using frozen veggies, a blender instead of chopping and making extra to freeze for later.
Flavor: Every dish will need a base flavor. Pick one your whole family likes. Sometimes I use a corn salsa as the base when planning a mexican menu, or an alfredo sauce for a creamy, Italian twist. Base flavors will often include garlic and onion so I always keep those on hand.
Toppings: Having a variety of toppings will change each meal's taste and texture. Plan ahead to grab different cheeses, green onions, nuts, tomatoes, cilantro or anything else that catches your fancy to garnish each dish differently.
Seven simple techniques
Here are the top techniques I use when stretching out one meal to alter it into four.
Meat: I keep various meats in the freezer so I always have a variety. Each meal usually requires a meat to help it stretch further. Chicken, ground beef and roast are my go-to proteins.
Sides: Things that can be added to the meal to make it go further sometimes require extra time. For example, brown rice takes a long time to make so I always cook extra the first time around. Rice, potatoes, pasta and quinoa are my four favorites to use when making my leftovers substantially last longer. I keep extra in my storage room at all times.
Wrap: When in doubt, wrap it! Leftovers almost always taste good wrapped up in a tortilla. It's fast, it's easy and delicious.
Salad: Taking meat from the night before and throwing it over a bed of lettuce and veggies couldn't make for a quicker dinner. Not to mention, it's healthy!
Pizza: Leftover nights means pizza nights at my house. You can take just about anything lying around and use it as a topping for a fun pizza night. Dough is pretty fast to make or grocery stores sell already prepared pizza dough.
Hash: Leftover meat and rice or potatoes? Stir together with some frozen diced veggies and add an egg - voila! Dinner's served. A lot of people make hash for breakfast, but you can definitely make it a dinner depending on the ingredients.
Double up: Making extra makes making life easier. Cook a big batch of soup and eat it all week, or freeze it. Many things freeze so well for later use.
My second favorite thing to use for stretching out meals is a roasted chicken. I often buy a precooked, rotisserie chicken from the grocery store when I don't have time to roast one myself. Whole chickens are not difficult to cook in the oven or in a crockpot but the storebought ones make things extra easy.
Day one: Roast chicken with a side of vegetables or mashed potatoes.
Day two: Make chicken tacos. Place some shredded leftover chicken in a pan with a little bit of water and taco seasoning. Heat and serve with diced tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, avocados, kidney beans or any other toppings you have around inside a warmed tortilla.
Day three: There are so many options with salad. You can simply throw the chicken on a bed of lettuce with various toppings, or you can mix it up with something like a chicken salad sandwich. Chicken caesar salad is also a favorite. I use romaine lettuce, leftover chicken, freshly grated parmesan, croutons and creamy caesar dressing.
Tip: Pasta is another great way to use up leftover chicken. My favorite is chicken alfredo over a plate of angel hair pasta.
As you practice transforming one meal into four, it becomes fun creating something simple and different with things you have lying around the house. These two recipes are just ideas...See what you can come up with! Have fun and get creative when turning leftovers into a whole week of a different dinners.
Kristina Tieken is a staff writer for FamilyShare, public relations specialist with a love for the fine arts, food and exercise. She enjoys watching movies and spending time with her husband and family.