Cook Once, Use it Twice

Hi! I’m Rachel O. I’m a food lover and recipe developer who writes about food, takes photos of my dinners while my husband waits patiently, and loves to empower people to eat well. My brain specializes in menu planning and I delight in finding creative ways to use different ingredients. 

My goal when I’m planning our menu is to make healthy meals that are going to taste great. But, I also want them to fit into our grocery budget and I want them to be easy. We don’t eat a lot of take-out. Most of our meals are made from scratch and are eaten at home. We enjoy this lifestyle. But, sometimes I get overly ambitious with my menu planning and forget to add the tired factor to the equation. 

I know it can’t just be me who is often tired and a bit hangry at the end of the day. It’s easy for me to want to get takeout or open a box of mac and cheese. And there’s nothing wrong with either of those. But, my goal is for these to be a treat rather than the norm. So when I plan my menu, I try to plan for ways to use our leftovers well. It makes it feel like I’ve given myself the gift of time. 

I also don’t like food to go to waste. Food isn’t cheap and I grew up in a family that didn’t like to waste it and made every effort to be mindful about using what we had and using it well. I’ve taken that into my own kitchen. If we roast a chicken to make lazy Sunday afternoon sandwiches with mayo, Maldon salt, and the last of the summer’s tomatoes, it’s also going to be made into Chicken Pot Pie and Pad Thai before the bones are turned into stock

The idea is to cook once, use it (at least) twice. Here are some of my favorite ways to do this: 

Roasted Chicken

Start with: Roasted Chicken (served with Oven Baked Brown Rice and Roasted Green Beans)
  • I love to roast a whole chicken. It feeds us for many meals and it freezes well. If you want to plan ahead, you could roast two, take the meat off the bones and freeze it in containers that are labeled for their intended meal. 
  • By using cooked chicken in recipes like Chicken Curry in a Hurry, your cooking time suddenly drops from twenty minutes to the time it takes to cook the veggies and reheat the chicken. Winner winner chicken curry dinner.
  • Don’t have time or energy to roast a chicken? Many grocery stores carry pre-cooked rotisserie chickens. No shame in picking a couple up. Have it for dinner (it’s already hot and ready to go!) and then save the rest for other meals. We do this often. 
 Make with the Leftovers:

Tofu

Start with: Pad Thai
  • When I’m making meals like Pad Thai, I like to cook a big batch of tofu, which already makes for a quick meal, and save the leftovers to use in other quick meals. If you have any leftover chicken this is a great way to use it too. 
 Make with the Leftovers:

Pasta

Start with: Tired Pasta
  • This is an easy meal to make when you have last minute dinner guests or you forgot to defrost the pork chops that you were planning to make for a weeknight dinner. No big deal. You got this! My favorite way to make it is by cooking ground meat in a dry skillet and letting it get a bit crispy. Then I’ll add some frozen peas… I know, fancy. I’ll add some torn hearty greens like spinach or kale and a big handful of chopped scallions. Add in the cooked pasta with a bit of its starchy cooking water. Let everything get happy in the pan for a minute or two. Add a little salt and pepper to season. To serve I like a drizzle of olive oil and maybe dusting of grated cheese, and dinner is ready in a flash. If I were to cook some extra ground meat then I’d have it ready for things like Chili, Tacos, and Taco Salad
  • I usually cook a whole pound of pasta when I make it for dinner. Then it’s ready to go into Chicken Noodle Soup or be reheated with some butternut squash and a splash of cream and topped with some crispy bacon. 
 Make with the Leftovers:

Ground Meat

Start with: Tacos
 Make with the Leftovers:

Beans

Start with: Brothy Beans on Toast
  • I like to cook a few varieties of dried beans ahead of time and use them as needed. But, I also love the ease of opening a can of beans. Just depends on the time that I have to prepare. 
  • To make the Brothy Beans on Toast: Take whatever beans you have on hand. Add a little liquid and seasonings like salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. Toast some bread. Rub the toasted bread with garlic. Top with the beans and a drizzle of olive oil. I like this dish served with Coleslaw with a side of Tomatoes and Avocado with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and Maldon salt.
 Make with the Leftovers:

Chili

Start with: Chili 
  • If you’re like me and you love chili that has both meat and beans, those beans in the above section will come in super handy here. If you’re in the no beans chili camp, I’m here for you too. Both are delicious. 
 Make with the Leftovers:
  • Taco Salad (I’m all for a super quick meal that’s ready in the time it takes to ask the family to wash their hands for dinner!)
  • Crispy Potatoes with Chili and Cheese (I like to serve this with Coleslaw or a bright salad with a vinaigrette)
  • Sweet Potato Bowls with Chili on top (I like to cube sweet potatoes, toss them with oil and salt, and roast them, flipping once, until they’re crispy outside, tender inside. Then top with reheated leftover chili or, like I did the other day, topping with leftover crispy pork and cabbage and some bacon.)
  • Hasselback Potatoes with Chili on top

When prepping for these meals, you could do it all at once, or just do my trick and roast two chickens at the same time, add an extra pound of ground meat to the pan and reserve half of it to freeze for other meals (labeled with the intended meals and dates to make your life even easier), or add some extra noodles to the pot. They’re little things like this that have made a big difference in how I feel when it’s 5pm and I forgot to stop working and I’m hangry. If I remember that I have already cooked half of what I need for dinner and it just needs to be reheated, that’s motivation enough to put down the phone and not order takeout.

The way that Meal Hero works (type in an ingredient and get tons of recipe inspiration) is such a great way to menu plan and get creative with what you’ve got on hand. I especially love it for planning to Cook Once, Use it Twice.

What are your favorite meals to make big batches of so that you can Cook Once, Use it Twice? Let us know on social media and use the hashtag #BeAMealHero in your caption for a chance to be featured on Meal Hero’s social media!

Happy Cooking!


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