The Three Rules of Leftovers

It has been said that if everyone in the U.S. packed a lunch to bring to the office, we would obliterate the U.S. deficit inside of three days.

From Flickr's Muffet
Okay, that’s a lie. But brown bagging it to work will save you, personally, a lot of money over the course of a year. Maybe not trillions, but definitely hundreds, and perhaps even thousands. Of course, buying the ingredients, finding Tupperware, taking 10-15 minutes, and actually assembling that lunch may seem a bit complicated for a $3 daily savings.

But that’s where leftovers come in. When applied carefully, they can:
  • Reduce food costs, because you're not spending extra to eat out.
  • Optimize the health quotient of your lunches (or any meal, really), by allowing you to control exactly what goes into your food.
  • Eliminate packaging waste, since there's no need for restaurant meals.
  • Decrease the time it takes you to prepare an office lunch – just pop 'em in your bag and go.
Of course, you have to get over the stereotypes. Day-old food has a bad rep, thanks in no small part to decades of suburban-set sitcoms in which an army of mop-topped, precocious children have perpetually whined, “Leftovers, AGAIN?!?” to their frazzled, beautiful mothers and suspiciously-out-of-her-league-so-it-must-be-his-show fathers. Frequently paired with words like “moldy” and “congealed,” the mere invocation of leftovers conjures images of rot and disease. I’ve heard tale of folks who flat-out out refuse to eat them, as if last night’s lasagna is today’s ebola factory.

And to that, I proclaim, “What a bunch of hooey. Seriously now.” Leftovers are decidedly un-lame. In fact, they’re the universe’s way of saying, “Nice work with dinner last night, chief. As a reward, here’s some more of the same. And – bonus – this time, you don’t have to do as many dishes.”

The secret to successful leftover-ing is creating them intentionally. You can't look at them as an occasional bonus, but an almost-every-night inevitability. To make this easier, remember MSR:

M: Make more than enough
S: Save the extra
R: Repurpose it later

Let's elaborate.

Make more than enough: Instead of cooking just what you need, make two or three times the amount. Never scale recipes down, even if you're cooking for one.

From Flickr's Apreche
Save the extra: Don't throw food out. Portion it into individual serving containers and store it in your fridge or freezer. You can even portion the meal before you settle down to dinner, to ensure you'll have enough for lunch tomorrow.

Repurpose it later: Most likely, you'll be using the leftovers as straight-up lunches, with little or no alteration. But in some cases, you can save part of a meal to make into something entirely different later. The perfect example is Fried Rice, which uses leftover grains as a base for all-new flavors. Another example: last week, HOTUS and I ordered Mexican takeout. There wasn't much left beyond onions, peppers, and about a cup of enchilada sauce. This week, we combined them, added some pinto beans, scooped it on rice, and shredded some cheddar into the mixture for an excellent, 10-minute chili.

And that's it: MSR.

Readers, do you make leftovers intentionally? Do you consider them a vital part of your diet? How do you optimize their use? Fire away in the comment section.


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