The Ultimate Guide to Cooking With Leftovers

I absolutely love Cooking with Leftovers, especially leftover meat from a Sunday roast. I hate waste. There’s not much worse than spending a fortune on a fantastic joint of meat and ending up throwing half of it away because you just can’t eat it fast enough, and I hate feeling like I have to eat sandwiches every day for a week to use up the meat.

Looking for a fantastic way to use up leftover roast beef? This beef chow mein makes the perfect family meal

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Feeding A Family

Feeding a family is tough. Doing on a budget is even harder. And feeding a family a healthy and nutritious diet that’s filling and tasty on a budget is even worse. Then, of course, you also have to find things that everyone will eat and actually enjoy. It all sounds a little bit impossible.

My kids (and the adults to be fair) love nothing more than a huge Sunday roast. Beef is probably our favourite, but we’re not that fussy, to be honest. It’s the one meal every week that I know no one will question. There’s no “what’s in this mummy?” “I don’t like that bit mummy” “mum, can I just eat this bit?” They sit down at the table and wolf it down. Usually finishing before the adults and even asking for extras.

It’s lovely to all sit around the table and enjoy a filling meal. But it’s even lovelier to have a mealtime that’s battle free. Something I’m sure any parent can appreciate. Cooking with leftovers to create another filling family meal is a brilliant bonus. But, some people worry about cooking with leftovers. They feel safer sticking with sandwiches and they end up wasting all that yummy meat.

The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with Leftovers Long Pin - Text

Is Cooking with Leftovers Really Good Value?

Leftover Roast Lamb Greek Wraps

Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to buy a smaller joint of meat? Well, it depends on what you are planning to eat on Monday I guess. If you want two filling meals that satisfy the whole family and taste great, buying a larger joint of meat and saving some for the next day can be excellent value for money.

But, only if you make the most of it. Using leftovers for sandwiches, and ending up trying to force yourself to eat bits of dry meat is never good. But, throwing it into a casserole and bulking it out with veg and potatoes (also leftovers if you have got any) can be wonderful. Even if you don’t have that much meat left, you can bulk it out, add some extra potatoes and even make some bread to mop up the sauce to create another big meal. It’s definitely worth it. Cooking on a budget doesn’t mean that you have to do without your favourites, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t eat big meals. It just means that you need to make the most of whatever food you do buy.

Cooking with Leftovers Saves Time in the Kitchen

Cooked Leftover Turkey Chilli

If there’s one thing that every parent of young children needs, it is more time. I love to cook, but I don’t always have time to do it. For me, Mondays are tough. I don’t seem to stop, and we’re not all home together until around 6. So, I don’t have time to cook. Having leftover meat chopped up and ready means that I can throw it in a pan and leave it to simmer. I work at home, so this is super simple. But, leftover recipes like casseroles are also perfect in a slow cooker. Which is ideal for busy working families, or anyone that is looking to save time.

Start Meal Planning

Leftover meals are fab. If you eat them. Imagine cooking up a yummy leftover casserole or curry, or chopping your meat up ready to use, only to realise that with after school classes, clubs and appointments and late nights at work, you haven’t actually got the time to eat it. What a waste. This is when you’d be better buying a smaller joint, or making and freezing your meal.

The Benefits of Meal Planning

Meal planning means that you know what you are going to eat and when. Meal planning saves you money, sure. But, it also means that you are more likely to try new things. Instead of having the same meals all of the time. It saves you time. But, it also means that you never waste a meal because you don’t have time to eat it.

Meal plan before you go shopping. Don’t buy a massive joint of meat if you know that you aren’t going to have time to eat it in the few days after. Unless you are happy to cook and then freeze.

Cook Saucy Meals

Leftover Beef Curry served with rice, bread and serving bowl around plate

I find that the very best leftover meals are the ones with plenty of sauce. The meat has already been cooked, so cooking it again in a nice sauce or gravy means that it’s incredibly soft and tasty. It also means that there’s less danger of your meat drying out from being cooked twice or left in the fridge.

Marinade the Night Before

If you are making a curry, and your meat needs to be marinaded, I would sort this out the night before. Before you get stuck into the washing up, take the meat off the bone if there is one and chop it into chunks. Add to a sealable tub, with whatever marinade you are using, and mix. Seal and leave in the fridge. Cook within two days and your meat will be soft and filled with flavour.

Getting Creative With Leftovers

Leftover meat is the perfect thing to get creative with. You’ve already had a tasty meal from it, there’s nothing to lose. If you like a sandwich, but fancy a change, why not make a greek marinade and serve on flatbreads for some Mediterranean flavour? Curry is perfect. You could chop chicken up and throw in a risotto with a splash of white wine and cream. Beef is perfect in a casserole, but a chilli with leftover chunks of meat is yummy. Pretty much any of your favourites can be made with leftover chunks of meat. Just reduce the cooking time, but make sure any meat is piping hot before you serve it.

Can You Freeze Leftover Meals?

For the most part, yes. If your joint of meat was frozen before cooking, as long as it’s been wellcooked, it can be frozen again. Just remember that every time you defrost something, cells breakdown and it loses some of its wonderfulness. Defrost twice, and more is lost. Fresh meat is fine to freeze after it has been cooked.

Freezing Meat

But, you have got options. You could just freeze the leftover meat on its own. Wrapping it in clingfilm, and then placing in a freezer bag or tub, making sure it is completely sealed. If you do this, defrost the meat slowly in the fridge before cooking up another meal, and make sure you eat that leftover meal on the day you cook it.

Freezing Meals

Or, you could use the meat to create another meal, for example, a curry, then portion your curry out into tubs and freeze. If you are freezing a casserole or curry, try to fill the tub as much as possible so that you limit the air that gets in. But, remember it will expand as it freezes, so you need a little room. Leave the meal to cool for up to one hour (no longer to limit bacteria growth) in the cooking pan, before pouring into a freezer bag or tub and sealing. Label it with the name and date of cooking and use within 6 months.

Whatever you are freezing, defrost thoroughly in the fridge before serving and cook slowly until piping hot. You might find that in casseroles and stews (especially those with thickening agents) the potatoes and veg break up slightly as they thaw, but they are still good to eat. Just make sure you freeze anything within an hour of cooking. Don’t pop it in the fridge and forget about it for days, and always eat it on the day it’s defrosted, or the day after if you defrost overnight.

How About Leaving the Meat in the Fridge?

An alternative is slicing or dicing your leftover meat on the day it’s first eaten, wrapping it and leaving in the fridge for a few days. Then cooking it up into a curry or stew. Unless your meat was on its last legs in the first place, this should be fine as long as you eat your leftover meal straight away, and make sure it’s piping hot before you serve.

Some of My Favourite Cooking with Leftovers Recipes

Pork Stroganoff served with pasta

I’ve got so many leftover recipes, and I use them all regularly. Some of my favourites include:

What do you do with your leftovers? Or do you eat it all up the first time, as I fear we will when the kids get bigger!

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