A little while ago we asked “how do you make leftovers feel less leftover-y?” Offbeat Homie SmashedTogether gave such a brilliant answer, that we made it its own post!
In all honesty, there is no way to make four nights of chili seem like anything other than four nights of chili. I get the appeal in making a big batch of food and having it there for you for the rest of the week, but if you aren’t consuming it, that’s money down the drain. If you aren’t enjoying it, then what’s the point?
Food shouldn’t just be fuel for your body; it’s a sensory experience that is supposed to make you feel alive. And there’s something about the same pre-cooked slurry four nights in a row that makes that harder.
Leftovers aren’t for everyone, but you’re on the right track with cooking at home. I think that most people these days have built up cooking a meal every night to being this huge ordeal that it really isn’t. Homemade fridge/freezer meals are a great alternative to frozen pizza, don’t get me wrong — but after years of working in restaurants, and watching empty plates turn into meals in 15 minutes or so, cooking a meal for yourself really doesn’t seem so hard.
Think about eating in a mid-level family restaurant. Not the fine dining kind, and not the mostly-pancakes-and-bacon joints, but the places that turn out meals from more or less real ingredients in about 15 minutes, almost every time. Think about the systems they have in place to bring you a full meal only minutes after asking for it. The biggest reason isn’t that food is cooked before it’s ordered, but that the ingredients are prepped.
Prepping is the key to making meals that taste fresh but come out fast. It’s not as hard as you think; all you need to do is take the time you have been spending making one big meal, and spend it being your own prep cook! Here’s how…
- Instead of taking one day to prep a big cooked meal, prep ingredients for small meals that will feed two people without any leftovers.
- When you buy meat, freeze bags of two chicken breasts, half a pork tenderloin, and some reasonable ground beef portions. Chop a few up for stir frys and curry dishes, or even go a step further and freeze your meat with a marinade in the bag, so it tenderizes as it thaws!
- Cut a tupperware container-worth of mirepoix (carrot, celery, and onions chopped) and keep it in the fridge for easy sauce making.
- Keep pre-chopped veggies in the fridge so you can steam/sautee/roast them a different way each day without getting bored. It takes only a few minutes to steam veggies and toss them in seasoning, and the taste is brilliant.
- Make a batch of rice in advance if you need to, but with my rice cooker I rarely find that 20 mins is too long to wait for good rice. One cup of rice seems to be perfect to feed myself and my boyfriend.
- Peel and chop a couple potatoes and keep them in a container of water in the fridge, and you can toss them in a roaster easily all week.
- Instead of making pasta sauce and tossing the pasta in it before storing, make your sauce and store it on its own. Sauces freeze well and heat fast, but try to keep any rice, veggies or meats separate until serving.
- Cook some pasta ahead of time until it is just a little underdone, and then submerge it in ice water to cool. When you’re ready for dinner, plunge the pasta back into a hot water bath and let it go for maybe a minute. The difference in taste and texture is monumentally better than leftover tossed pasta, especially if it’s been frozen.
Using time-saving tricks like being my own prep cook allows me to get home from work, pull out a few ingredients and produce a healthy meal in a half-hour or less. It’s just routine to me, and to be honest I’m willing to put in that effort.
What else is on your busy schedule that is so important that it supersedes taking care of yourself and fueling your mind and body? Because those things don’t tend to go very well if you are undernourished and full of disdain for flavourless and boring food.