On Having Leftovers (and other thoughts about meal planning)


The #1 question I got after publishing my post about our September meal planning was how we get our meals to stretch so far. A good number of people emailed me or commented saying that they rarely have leftovers, and they were surprised by how many times we could eat off one meal. For the record, we don't always have leftovers, and sometimes a meal will be just the perfect amount for both of us with nothing extra. However, we do eat leftovers a lot. 

I was thinking about this and wanted to share a couple of things that I think help us have leftovers and make our meals last. Below that, I want to share a few things I learned while keeping track of our meals that might help you with your own meal planning. 

My goal here is not to tell you things you already know or act like I have the only or best food strategy, but maybe this will give you some ideas for your own meals!

This more than likely isn't going to apply to a larger family, but for Jordan and I, it helps to cook a larger portion of food with the intention of eating leftovers later in the week. Some meals don't make any leftovers at all, and some meals just aren't very easy to make bigger, but there are a few meals that I can intentionally make bigger with the goal of having leftovers. Our chicken & rice skillet is a great example. We increase the amount of rice and add more veggies to make a double portion that we can eat off for a few days. This sweet potato burrito bowl is another one.

This kind of goes along with #1, because what you're doing here is adding things to your meal to make it bigger and more filling. Here's an example: when I make tacos using one pound of ground beef, we typically don't have many leftovers. I like to add a can of black beans (drained) to the ground beef. It's the same amount of meat, but the overall portion is larger and the beans are more filling, so you eat less overall, leaving leftovers for the next day! If I have one handy, I have also added a can of Rotel with the beans and ground beef. Also consider what sides you could add to your meal to make your main dish go further. Maybe a salad or some roasted veggies. Often we will eat all the side but still have the entree for leftovers, and I'll make another side for the second meal.

This is probably the biggest factor for us in having leftovers. It's so easy to just keep eating and eating because it's sitting in front of you, and if the meal tastes good you don't want to stop! If I want to have leftovers, I have to be intentional about it. This is one reason weekly meal planning can be helpful. If I know that I already planned on eating Monday's leftovers on Wednesday, I know that if I keep eating and don't have food leftover, that just messes me up later. Now, obviously if you're hungry you should get seconds (or thirds!), but my guess is that if you ate slower and tried to be intentional about saving leftovers, you might realize that you aren't quite as hungry as you think.

-Prep for multiple meals at the same time.
After tracking our meals in September, I realized this is something I'm pretty good at! This is also another reason why meal planning can save you time. Let's say you planned on eating something on Tuesday and Thursday that both involved peeled and chopped veggies. Peeling and chopping certainly isn't my favorite thing to do, not to mention that you have to wash the peeler, the cutting board, and your knife. What I will do is peel and cut two portions of veggies at once. It takes more time initially, but now on Thursday I have it ready to go!

Another example is last month when we ate homemade pizza. Our pizza topping was sausage, onion, and green pepper, and I made a whole wheat crust. The recipe made two crusts, so I used one that night and saved the other one for a few days until we made pizza later in the week. I also cooked a double portion of sausage, onion, and green pepper. We used one half on the first pizza and saved the second half for later. The first pizza took the most time to make obviously, but the second pizza took hardly any time at all because the work was already done! It was basically a homemade meal that I didn't have to do any work for.

-Utilize your freezer.
I cannot stress this enough: your freezer is your friend. Example: one weekend we grilled chicken breasts. We ate the chicken with some roasted veggies, and it was delicious. After eating, we had one chicken breast leftover. This obviously isn't enough for two people to eat, and it's not even really enough for one person. So I shredded it, put it in a freezer bag, and popped it in the freezer. Then, a few weeks later, I made chicken pot pie and used the shredded chicken we'd cooked earlier that month!

-Make two meals at once: one to eat and one to freeze.
Going along with utilizing your freezer, here's a handy trick: make two meals at once! Eat one for dinner that night and freeze the other one for later. Here are two examples of meals this works really well with: chicken pot pie (just make a double portion of the inside) / baked ziti (you can literally put both pans together at the same time).

Okay! I think that's all I have to say about food and meal planning for a while. I really do hope this maybe gives you an idea or two about how we stretch our meals and meal prep during the week. If you have any tips or tricks, please share!


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Lindsay {Typically Late} said...

Leftovers are CRITICAL for us. Not just for dinner, but for lunches! In the city, if you go buy lunch, you'll easily spend $15 (on food that isn't even that good). $15 x 4 or 5 days, every week, is a mind-boggling amount of money to me. We cook a BIG meal on Sunday with the intention of getting a lot of leftovers out of it, so that we can pack up lunches for both of us for a couple of days. Then, later in the week, like Tuesday or Wednesday, we make a big meal that can get us lunches for the rest of the week. That way, we have lunch sorted out, and aren't relying on leftovers later in the week (that may or may not exist) and then get trapped in the buy-lunch-cycle. We use our crockpot a lot to make large-portion meals like spaghetti sauce or chili, which is easily portioned out, and we serve dinner and portion out lunches all at the same time. That goes to your "stop eating" point - if we just pack everything up right as we serve it, we don't run out just because dinner is delicious ;) Great post!

Leslie @ A Side of Chocolate said...

I like your taco comment! I actually do ground turkey, black beans, corn, cilantro lime rotel,rice or quinoa and sometimes black olives. It makes it SO filling and I can usually squeeze two lunches out of it!

Kristen @ See You In A Porridge said...

this is brilliant! right now we are in between houses and have a teeny tiny fridge/freezer but the first thing i am buying for the new house is a new fridge/freezer so i can make all the meals! lol. KC and I eat A LOT so we don't always have leftovers (i should eat less) but we definitely do the adding beans and such to make meals go further. One thing i need to be better about is sides - we tend to eat a lot of one pot/one pan/one bowl meals which is all good and well but they don't last as long as say, eating half of that bowl with a side or two. another thing to focus on when i have a kitchen again lol

Audrey Louise said...

I like the two meals at once idea- that's clever. I try to prep veggies when I get home the from the store, but I never do. K isn't really one for leftovers, but I love these meal prep tips!

Michelle said...

Yessss. We are pros at leftovers! We do a lot of the same things. I don't know how people survive without meal planning.

Nadine said...

Before Chris went on his diet, I always added a can of black beans to tacos. It literally doubles the amount of tacos you can have for like $1. Is is a no brainer!!! Of course now he is low carb and only eats taco meat, cheese, taco bell sauce and jalapenos as his "tacos" in a bowl so I had to rid the black beans for him. I like to make mexican rice for myself to go with the tacos so I always cook extra so I can eat it twice with our leftovers and I cook two containers of meat at once. Chili, soups and one pan meals are great for leftovers!

AnneMarie said...

These are great! I'm the oldest of 6 kids, so when I got married, I didn't know how to cook for just two people. While I've started learning how to cook smaller amounts of food (after 3 years of marriage), I still usually err on the side of more food. So, we like to utilize the freezer. Someday, if/when we're in a house, I'd love to get a big freezer so we could store food and broths and whatnot.

This is more of a frugal thing and not a stretching out meals thing, but I once read a website that recommended putting oats in the pan when cooking ground beef-not only does it make it a little healthier, but the oats are barely noticeable and it stretches out the beef a little further. I usually forget to do this, but I've done it a few times and it's pretty nifty!

Rach said...

All such good tips! I definitely cook larger portions (which typically is what most recipes call for anyway) that would feed 4-6 people for just the two of us so that we can have leftovers throughout the week. For example, I have chili in the crock pot right now for dinner and we'll eat the leftovers for lunches the rest of the week. :)

Rachel said...

Growing up in my huge family means that I still cook food in just about the same portion size I did when I was growing up, but now many of the dishes can stretch for a couple means. Yesterday I made chicken for tacos and we still have enough chicken left for a meal today. I always make enough fried rice to last for two meals, too. If I do chili or any veggie soup I'll fill up our whole huge crockpot. However, no matter how much fried chicken i make, there will never be leftovers because Angel has a bottomless stomach for fried chicken, so portion control must come in at the cooking stage. :P We don't have an oven or a microwave so I've become pretty good at reheating leftovers on the stovetop over the past two years! Cooking once and eating multiple times is a very good thing.

Erin LFF said...

Amen! We are ALL about the leftovers. For the most part, I try to make every dinner large enough for us to have leftovers for lunch the next day. And you know I love a good stocked freezer ;) I haven't done a freezer meal day in awhile but I'm definitely due to. I'd much rather spend half a day in my kitchen prepping to have lots of meals ready to go later!

Katie @ Live Half Full said...

I plan my meals based on our schedule and plan for takeout on extra busy days when I know I'll be burnt out. I also try to use meals that either use up random things I have on hand or will use the same base ingredients- the same type of cheese, the same fresh herbs, etc to save money.

Amy @ A Desert Girl said...

I love these kind of posts. Meal planning is definitely something I prioritize. And I love leftovers! It's my favorite thing when I get to have leftovers from last night's dinner for lunch the next day. Kevin does not like leftovers for some reason. I don't get that at all.

Kayla MKOY said...

Yes! For Caleb and I, we almost ALWAYS have leftovers. I made a pretty basic beef stew in the crock pot yesterday and we have about 5 meals out of it. YES to #3. It's so important to stop eating when we are full and save some for later, but eat it all because its just sitting in front of us. I always LOVE your meal related posts, keep em comin! ;)

Emily said...

We need to get way better at utilizing the freezer! We never ever make meals and freeze them, and that's just dumb of us ;)

Sarah said...

These are all very similar to things we do- your burrito bowl is on constant rotation around here and we often get 2 meals and maybe a lunch out of it. Some times we add a fried egg on the second day to make it go a little further.

Carolann Chambers said...

Saving money and saving time sounds good to me! It took me a while to figure out how to make my meals stretch. I like to make a chicken stir fry so now I load it up with extra veggies, and it lasts so much longer than it used to. I always have a bunch of sides on hand, like roasted veggies or stuff to make a salad, so we are eating less meat. It's healthier and cheaper! I always make enough food for leftovers cause who wants to be cooking a big meal every night? I'm still not entirely sure how to do the freezer meals. You cook them and then freeze them? Or you just get all the ingredients ready and freeze it?

Betsy said...

YAS! I like to make a protein that will last us two or three days - so if I roast a chicken on Sunday, we can have that (plus a salad and potatoes, say) on Sunday night, we can toss it with spaghetti and pesto and broccoli/spinach for a pasta dinner on Monday night, and then I can use the last in a chicken pot pie on Tuesday. I feel like we've eaten something different each night but really cut down on the work involved for the other two nights!

I also usually make four servings of whatever I do make us for dinner so we can each take a portion in for lunch the next day, but I have to tell Jon before he serves himself that this is a four-portion dinner and not a two-portion dinner because he can never tell :P