It was an especially stressful week. My husband lost a client, I was commuting an hour each way for an internship, it was the first week of college-level class for me and I got the bill, which was twice what my adviser suggested it would be. We had to go for an evaluation, enrollment into a study and schedule surgery for my son’s torn ACL. My daughter got braces and my other daughter in college was on her way to the ER for unusual back pain. This particular Friday was charged with energy from the week and that energy was not necessarily good.
So not a surprise that my husband and I had an argument over what’s for dinner at 6 p.m. Going out to dinner would be a waste since we were exhausted. They already ordered takeout Thursday night while I was in class. So, we stopped arguing with each other, opened a bottle of wine, put on some music and forced ourselves to get creative and find something to make together.
This is when I realized I have some pretty steady go tos for nights like these where I have no plan and want to use up what we have left in the fridge after a crazy week. I also want a satisfying and flavorful meal.
These tips are easy, straight forward and not time consuming to put together. The best part is you will minimize your food waste and get a great meal out of using whatever you have left over from your busy week.
Garbage salad. A long time ago I had a colleague tell me about her favorite leftover meal. She and her husband would get a bed of lettuce and put on top anything they had left over in the fridge from the week. She called it Garbage Salad. All you need is a couple really great salad dressing recipes.
Vinaigrette: Mince one clove of garlic or shallot. Put into a bowl with 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard (I recommend Maille). Cover the ingredients with white, red or champagne vinegar. Begin to drizzle olive oil while whisking ingredients with a fork. Keep adding oil and whisking until the mixture becomes emulsified and takes on a creamy consistency. Taste. It should taste smooth, not bitter or acidic. Add more oil if necessary. You can toss in any herbs you like.
Leftover Flat Bread. I have a friend who is gluten free. She always has a GF crust in her fridge or freezer for Friday night pizza night. They put whatever they have left over from the week on top of the crust. In my house, we usually have a package of Naan. The possibilities are limitless and there are no rules. We always seem to have onions on hand and caramelizing them adds great flavor to any combination especially if you don’t like sauce or don’t have any on hand.
Caramelized onions: Slice onion into thin ringlets, toss into fry pan with olive oil and cook on medium heat until the onions start to soften. You can stop here and use them in your recipe or for sweeter taste, keep cooking until they begin to brown and caramelize.
Buddha Bowl. It is fun when my 13-year-old announces she is making dinner. One of her specialties is a Buddha bowl. It’s basically a bed of rice or other grain with anything you want to put on top. Raw or cooked veggies, leftover chicken, nuts, seeds. Again, this hinges on a great dressing.
Buddha Bowl Sauce: 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup peanut butter, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, chopped or freeze dried cilantro (optional).
Eggs. I won’t even get into their excellent nutrient qualities. I’ll stick with their diversity. You’d be surprised what you can put into an omelet and have it come out amazing and satisfying! Leftover chicken, salsa, cheese, pesto, black beans, any kind of veggie. You can chop leftover veggies, meats, rice, beet, squash or potato and make a hash and put an egg on top.
Pantry Tips to Minimize Food Waste and Maximize Leftover Meal Quality and Taste
- Buy jars of roasted veggies to complement your leftovers
- Keep a pizza crust or other type of bread in your freezer
- Nuts and dried fruits are a satisfying addition to any of these suggestions above
- When you make rice or another grain, make twice the rice and freeze a portion
- Keep pesto store bought or homemade on hand or in the freezer. They can be used as dressings or sauces for any of the recipes above.
- Baby arugula and baby spinach tend to have a longer shelf life than other baby greens. So include them on your shopping list. I also like these greens especially for their diversity. You can eat them raw, sautéed or cooked or you can toss them into a soup.
- Squash of all varieties have a good long shelf life. You can substitute squash for the rice in the Buddha bowl or use it on pizza, salad etc.
- Onions, shallots, garlic — these can sit in your pantry for a long time and they always add flavor to dressings, pizzas etc.
- Freeze dried spices and herb mixes. They rehydrate great in your meals.
We ended up finding some leftover roasted potatoes, Vermont sausage in the back of the fridge, found a pepper, onions and sautéed them together in olive oil. Now, it’s time to get to the store and start all over again!
Deanna Pomfret has coached fitness enthusiasts, runners, swimmers and triathletes since 2005. She is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach, Road Runners Club of America Certified Running Coach, Certified Functional Strength Coach and Owner and Swim Technique Analyst with Athletic Pursuits LLC. Deanna presents at clubs and symposiums on various fitness and motivational topics.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.