Turning Leftovers Into Additional Healthy Meals!

Sorry readers for the lack of posts more recently! We had some vacation time and now we are back!

I don’t know about you, but I love leftovers! Being able to cook enough food at one time to produce leftovers for lunch and maybe even dinner the next day is always a win for me — especially during busy work weeks. My husband and I both hate wasting food, so I am regularly tasked with doing a fridge inventory and then trying to think creatively about how to stretch my meals and ingredients to get more out of one meal prep.

I have to say that my mom is very skillful at taking leftovers and turning them into a second or even third meal – she calls these “second shelf meals.” Honestly, when Lemma and I were kids, I think she was just trying to disguise healthy food or vegetarian substitutes (our mom was a vegetarian until we were probably teenagers) into our favorite meals. For example, my mom would take leftovers from the night before and make stuffed peppers, using the leftovers as the based for the filling, and other usual suspects found in stuffed pepper recipes, such as cheese, diced tomatoes and herbs/spices. She would also sometimes make taco filling with scrambled eggs instead of ground turkey or beef – we never knew the difference because it tasted just like taco filling to us with the traditional spice blend we associated with traditional taco filling.

thanksgiving-leftovers-stuffed-bell-peppers-1-of-3Photo Source = Google

Now that I have a kitchen of my own and do most of the meal prep for my husband and me, I really aim to get the most out of my ingredients – especially when I have fresh produce or other ingredients that need to be cooked in a day or two. I work at a local farmers market on Sundays, so I regularly aim to get produce that is in season, but I may not necessarily have any clue how to integrate these fresh, local ingredients into recipes once I get them from the market to my kitchen. My sister has a CSA share, so in the next few weeks, if you buy a share from a local farmer, you and my sister may start receiving new ingredients for the season that are unfamiliar or don’t seem like something you can add to a recipe you have planned for the upcoming week.

It may be hard to think creatively about how to best use fresh ingredients that are coming back into season – either as ingredient substitutes or to build meals around those “wild card” ingredients. I have a few tips and suggestions on how to get the most out of your leftovers and those fresh produce “wild cards” you may be interested in learning how to cook with this spring and summer growing season.

  1. Meal Plan – Meal planning is huge right now, especially with new kitchen tools like an Instant Pot coming out with cookbooks and even entire blogs and websites dedicated to how to prep your meals for the week if you are strapped for time. Ideally, I like to be somewhat flexible with this, because I want to first check my fridge and pantry to see what I need to use before it “goes bad,” and I also like to build my meals around fresh, local ingredients I may get from my Sunday farmers market. I also can’t eat the same meal every day for one week, so I have to mix it up and can’t prep six meals of the same recipe. That is just me though!
  2. Be Creative! – It can be intimidating to buy fresh, local ingredients that may take a little longer to prepare, depending on the process to clean and/or prep them to then use in a recipe. Winter means a lot of root veggies, like potatoes, carrots and radishes, so I try to prep these ingredients in advance and use them throughout the week, depending on their life, and add to recipes that are easy to include additional veggies, such as soups, stews and breakfast scrambles or casseroles.
  3. Think About Reheating – To prevent food-borne illness, you must reheat leftovers so they are “piping hot” all the way through. This will ensure that any bacteria has been killed in the reheating process.
  4. Dry It or Freeze It – I was getting really frustrated over the summer because I was buying a lot of fresh herbs and I felt like I was wasting most of them. To get more out of these herbs, my sister suggested that I start drying them in paper bag – You can totally re-use paper bags from your grocery store to do this. I also started to freeze fresh herbs in oil or stock in ice cube trays and pop them out whenever I need to add more flavor to a recipe. Also, if you make a meal that you don’t think you can eat the entire batch during the week, freeze it and you can pull it out the next week or so to re-purpose those leftovers.

Below is a recipe I have become fond of over this extended winter because it is easy and quick to prepare, you just need one sheet pan and one mixing bowl, and it is plant-based and oh so tasty! This recipe comes from The Traders Table, an Instagram account that I discovered that focuses on ingredients you can buy at Trader Joe’s. You don’t have to buy your ingredients there to make the recipe below, but all of the ingredients for the recipes from this Instagram account can be purchased at TJ’s.

Here are the checks for our new system for recipes we recommend:

  • Posting more recipes that are plant based (check!) – This recipe is plant based! You can omit the feta if you are not doing dairy or add a crumbly herb vegan cheese as a substitute.
  • We want to be better about utilizing locally-sourced ingredients in our recipes and utilizing local food markets, Co-Ops and farmers markets (check!)  – When in season, I try to get the mushrooms, onion, tomatoes and spinach for this recipe from my local farmers market. I also really like to add other veggies that are in season that roast nicely to this mix (Brussels sprouts and potatoes, for example.)
  • We plan on preparing dishes that serve at least four people (check!) I usually get at least four meals out of this recipe, if not more!

Pesto Couscous Salad with Roasted Veggies & Feta (Adapted from Trader’s Table)

Ingredients:

2 cups cremini mushrooms, sliced

2 red onions, sliced

2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 cups fresh spinach

1/2 cup crumbled feta

2 tablespoons pesto (you can get prepared pesto at your local grocery store or make your own in spring and summer months!)

½ cup olive oil

dried oregano

garlic powder

Juice of one lemon

Kosher salt & fresh ground pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425.”
  2. Line sheet pan with foil. Chop veggies and prepare chickpeas.
  3. Then toss the veggies and chickpeas with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano and garlic powder to taste. Scatter on sheet pan and bake for 20-30 minutes. * If you want your veggies to have more of a bite, go with the 20 minutes instead of 30.
  4. While the veggies are roasting prepare couscous. Cook couscous to your liking according to the box/bag instructions. If you have it on hand, cook the couscous in broth instead of water for more flavor.
  5. When the couscous is done, fluff with fork and set aside.
  6. Once veggies & chickpeas are done, add to your couscous.
  7. Toss with two tablespoons of pesto.
  8. Then add in your fresh spinach and toss. Top with fresh feta. This salad is amazing hot or cold!
Pesto+Couscous+with+Roasted+Veggies+&+FetaImage from The Trader’s Table

Post by Sarah

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