Cook Once, Eat Twice

Consider these two realities: for many of us, getting dinner on the table is a mad scramble; and American families throw away as much 40 percent of the food they purchase. Want to make dinner prep easier — and keep all those grocery dollars from going to waste?

Easy: Love your leftovers.

Incorporating leftovers into your weekly menu planning makes it easier to throw together a quick and yummy dinner. In fact, this recent article on how to streamline your grocery shopping recommends designating at least one night a week as "leftover night".

But, ugh: leftovers.

We're not talking about mushy, week-old vegetables and cold pizza, folks. We're talking about intentionally preparing additional food once or twice a week that you can then use (think: upcycle) into another equally delicious meal.

Here are three "cook once, eat twice" supper strategies:

Make a plan

When you're listing out your meals for the week and assembling your grocery list, know that one meal (at least) will consist of ingredients you've prepped and cooked as part of another meal. Think about using leftovers in a way that's different from the original dish — for example, spaghetti and meatballs one night becomes meatball sub sandwiches a couple nights later. 

Cook once

Make a double batch of whatever you'll be re-using. When you're grilling chicken for Saturday night's dinner, for example, throw extra on the grill to use later in the week. Ditto roasted vegetables, pasta sauce, chili, slow-cooker pork shoulder, meatballs, etc.

Eat twice — creatively

Here are a few ways to make dinner do double-duty:

  1. Make a Big Giant Salad. We call this the BGS in my house; basically, anything we have in the fridge goes in a big bowl with a splash of dressing. Steak or chicken, which you grill over the weekend, stars in the BGS. Other add-ins: canned beans, roasted veggies, hard-cooked eggs, toasted nuts.
  2. Do as the Italians do: make a frittata. A great re-use for pasta with any kind of sauce: Simply reheat the pasta in a wide, oven-proof skillet; add 5 well-beaten eggs and cook, covered, until the eggs are mostly set but still a little runny on top, then run under the broiler until the frittata is browned and puffy. Top with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
  3. Toss it with pasta. Leftover cooked chicken, shrimp or sausage plus leftover roasted vegetables makes a great addition to hot cooked pasta.
  4. Make it Taco Night! (Or quesadillas, for that matter). Layer grilled steak, chicken or shrimp with cooked or raw veggies and a bit of lowfat shredded cheese; top with fresh salsa.
  5. Make sandwiches. Shred leftovers from your favorite slow-cooker pork recipe, your Sunday pot roast or grilled chicken. Reheat the meat in a bit of barbecue sauce and pile it onto whole-grain buns.
  6. Top a baked potato. Chili, roasted vegetables, slow-cooker stew — they all improve in flavor after a few days. And they make tasty and satisfying toppers for a simple baked potato.  

With a little bit of planning and creativity, you can stretch your food budget — and shrink your preparation time — by making leftovers your dinnertime BFF.

​Bryn Mooth is the author of the Findlay Market Cookbook, the editor of Edible Ohio Valley  magazine, and she also publishes a website called She loves cooking tasty and uncomplicated dishes, cultivating a small vegetable garden and shopping at the Tristate area's many local farmers markets. Saturday mornings, you'll find Bryn at Findlay Market bright and early, doing much of her grocery shopping for the week. She's pleased to be partnering with Healthspirations to share her recipes, how-tos and information about eating healthfully in Cincinnati!