It's nice sometimes to go through the fridge and/or freezer and develop a menu plan to use things you need to use up, or freezer items you forgot were in there. I do suggest checking the freezer items for freezer burn, or any other signs it's past its prime. If so, throw it away! I know! I know! It's hard to throw out food. I have a terrible time with this. It's throwing money away. However, if the food is past its prime (meaning it has gone bad), don't think you can save it. You can't. Throw it away. The little bit of money that food costs is not worth the health and well-being. Part of my New Year's Resolutions for this year is to make sure to use up leftovers before they go bad. Also, to use up food before it goes bad. Meaning, if I buy produce from the grocery store, it has to be used up before it goes bad. We are so bad about getting salad makings, because I'm in the mood for a salad, and then not using up all the produce bought before it goes bad. This year, I aim to make sure we don't throw away any money by having to throw food away.
So far, we've done ok. I did go through the fridge and throw out some leftovers form Christmas and New Year's dinners the other day. I was completely disgusted with myself. Part of it is getting back into my school schedule. Part of it is pure laziness (I'll admit it). Part of it is having eaten so much of the same things over the holidays, you're kind of sick of eating the same things, and coming up with new ways to use leftovers can be hard. Especially when it's the same leftovers. But… I will say that of everything I have cooked since the New Year, we haven't had to throw anything out. I've gotten better at portioning out enough for us to eat, and my hubby to have as leftovers later in the week. Or, I make enough to be used later in the week, or the next week, in a new and different way.
Since I don't want to throw things away, and I want to be able to reimagine leftovers for later meals, I am having to do some thinking ahead. Like when I roast a whole chicken. I know we won't eat all of the chicken in one meal. I also know it won't all be consumed as leftovers. Therefore, I portion out the remainder of the meat, pulling it off the carcass, into freezer bags. I make sure I label them with what's in them and the date. Then I put them in my refrigerator freezer. The reason I put them here is so I'll use them quicker. I know they are there. I can easily pull out one of the bags to throw into chicken tacos, chicken pot pie, chicken and dumplings, etc. I also save the carcass and giblets for making stock. Great flavor there, even if the chicken has already been roasted.
Even though I only do weekly menu plans, I am always trying to think ahead to what I'm going to do the next week. This way, I always try to keep in mind what else I can do with leftovers. This allows me to make the meals we love without having to cut down a recipe, since it's only me and the hubby right now (Bumblebee is only 7 months old, and therefore eating baby food). If I know I won't be using it within a week of making the meal, I will put it in the freezer. This enables me to think about how to reimagine the leftovers.
All-in-all, leftovers are a wonderful thing. They're already cooked, so less cook time when reimagined, and some of them just lend themselves to reimagined meals. Some of the leftovers we have are just reheated and eaten as leftovers, but some of them I earmark for future dishes. I just have to make sure I tell the hubby which ones I want to reuse! Especially if it's a meal he loved, and I want to use the leftovers for something in the future.
So, get creative with your leftovers. Use them as a jumping off point for new dishes. Figure out how you can cook something once, and use it for more than one dish (like a roast chicken). I love to cook a double batch of ground beef and Italian sausage. Half of it I'll use for spaghetti, and the other half for tacos or cottage pie or veggie-beef soup or beef curry. It's just a matter of cooking it with basic seasonings, and then adding to what's already cooked. Cook extra chicken breasts or pork chops, set aside the extras for later use. It cuts down on cook time, allowing you to cook more often for your family. As a busy new mom, this is especially helpful. I cook the extras when I have the time (like Saturdays), and then use what's already cooked later in the week when I don't have the time.
These are some of the ways I've found to use leftovers to help me cook for my family when pressed for time. I don't try to be fancy. I just try to cook delicious, nutritious meals my family loves.