Leftovers night: For some of us, it’s a huge bummer. After all, who really wants to eat the rubbery mushrooms that they made the night before or try to choke down the soggy, lifeless pasta that just a day before had been cooked to al dente perfection? If eating your leftovers feels like a monumental, deeply unenjoyable task, you’re probably using them wrong. Oftentimes, simply microwaving your old meals stored in Tupperware containers results in a sad, bleak dinner that nobody really gets excited about.
However, you may be happy to discover that there are ways to prepare your leftovers so you’ll actually enjoy them the next day. Here are some tips and tricks that will help you transform your leftovers from a bland meal into a whole new dish.
The number one mistake people make with their leftovers? Forgetting to be creative and leaving them as-is. With few exceptions, most dishes don’t taste better the next day. Therefore, instead of eating the exact same dish after just heating it up, you may want to find a way to repurpose the ingredients you already have. For example, if you made chicken thighs the night before, you don’t have to eat them as whole chicken thighs the next night. Instead, dice up the meat, combine it with some veggies and throw it over some rice. That way, you’ve used up the leftover chicken in your fridge and made an entirely new dish.
Freeze What You Won’t Use Within a Few Days
Another big mistake is assuming you’re going to use up your leftovers when you already have other meals planned for the week. Perhaps you made a big batch of stew on Thursday, but you know you’ll be eating out a lot over the weekend. Instead of leaving the stew in the fridge and hoping you get to it at some point during the course of the weekend, just go ahead and freeze it while it’s fresh. That way, you won’t waste any food, and you won’t feel pressured to eat something you don’t really want just because you’re worried about it going bad.
Share with Friends and Neighbors
It’s no secret that these days, many of us live in communities where there’s not a lot of connection. You may not even know the people who live in your same building. But luckily, food is the perfect way of building conscious community. Have some perfectly good leftovers you don’t think you’re going to use? This is a great opportunity to share with friends or neighbors. Give that extra sourdough loaf to someone who may be too busy or stressed to bake themselves, and maybe you’ll make or strengthen a friendship. Don’t we all want friends who will feed us?
Store Your Leftovers Properly
After you’ve spent all evening cooking, the last thing you want to do is deal with cleaning up the kitchen and saving the leftovers. It can be so much easier to just throw that soup pot in the fridge instead of portioning out individual servings to take for lunch the next day or to freeze and enjoy later in the month. But if you don’t store your leftovers in airtight containers in the fridge or freezer, you’re going to end up with leftovers that are less than fresh the next day, meaning you’ll probably want to enjoy less of them. So, even though it can be a hassle, make sure you package up those leftovers as soon as possible. The future you will thank yourself.
Maybe Just Don’t Have Leftovers to Begin With
Some people in this world are meal prep extraordinaires, while others almost always grimace at the idea of having to stomach leftovers more than once a week. If you fall into the latter category, maybe you should just lean into it—nobody says that you have to enjoy leftovers at all. You can also just be more conscious about portion sizes when you’re cooking. Don’t cook more than you’ll want to eat in one sitting, and your leftovers problems will cease to exist. Of course, figuring out the appropriate portions sizes can be difficult, but with some trial and error, you can more accurately predict how much you’ll eat.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.