Written by Rebecca Peters-Golden
It’s been three months since you made that fateful New Year’s resolution. You remember: it was dark, you felt brave and maybe a little desperate, and you said something like, “This year I’m going to cook more!” Me too. So here are ten easy ways to help you keep that noble resolution . . . by getting the most out of the cooking you already do.
1. Make extra potatoes at dinner and re-use them for breakfast and lunch the next day. Making mashed potatoes for dinner? Reheat them for breakfast the next morning and top with a little cheese and a fried egg. Making roasted potatoes? Fold the extras into a burrito for lunch the next day. Or toss into a chef’s salad with ingredients from your fridge.
2. Hard-boil half your eggs and keep them in the fridge for easy snacks and meals. Cut them up to go in a salad, mash them into egg salad for a quick sandwich or easy hors d’oeuvres in case surprise guests drop by. Or cut up with avocado and fresh tomato for a chilly summer twist on eggs for breakfast. Remember to mark an “H” on the hard-boiled eggs in pencil so you know which eggs are which.
3. Turn cooking into a fun event. Invite a few friends over and ask each to bring fixings for different breakfast burritos—black bean and sweet potato; egg and shredded potato; broccoli and cheese; vegan ones with beans and vegan sausage, etc. Make a big batch of each and wrap them in foil, then divide them up so that each person gets a variety. Freeze them and pull one out for breakfast whenever you want. Mark them so you know what you’re grabbing, or let it be a breakfast surprise.
4. Your slow cooker can be your best friend. Make a delicious and easy barbeque beef or pork. Add leftovers to boxed mac and cheese; put on a bun with coleslaw for lunch the next day. And my absolute favorite: use it with beans, cheese, and scallions to make some hard-core nachos.
5. Just 10 minutes of planning your grocery list can set the tone for the whole week of cooking. Before you go food shopping, take a few minutes and plan the three meals you will make in the next week, writing down all the necessary ingredients. Not only will it be a lot easier to follow through with cooking those meals if you know you have what you need, but you’ll also see that food waiting for you every time you open the fridge. And if you’ve planned those meals strategically, you can make one every other day, re-making the leftovers into meals for the days in between.
6. Make the most out of meat! Making spaghetti and meatballs? Save some of the meatballs for a special meatball sub lunch the next day. Have extra roast chicken from dinner but not enough for another complete meal? Shred chicken for chicken salad, use in chicken enchiladas, or add to a salad.
Making a nice steak dinner for two? Prepare three steaks instead, and use the third the next day. Slice it thin for a steak sandwich with fresh veggies, or add to arugula and sliced beets for a hearty salad. Even serve for breakfast in a quick and easy steak and eggs.
7. When you do get takeout, turn extras into an easy meal. You know how you always end up with extra rice when you get takeout because you order several things and the people who package it think you’re eating for three? Don’t let that rice go to waste. Make your own easy fried rice out of whatever veggies you have around. Sauté veggies (onions, carrots, broccoli, etc.) in a large pan; add cold rice; moisten with whatever soy/teriyaki sauce you like; turn down heat and crack an egg or two in the pan; mix thoroughly and top with chopped peanuts.
8. Snacks can be one of the biggest money-sucks. Instead of getting caught off-guard with the munchies at the grocery store, prepare for them by making easy dips like hummus and bean dips once a month or so and keeping them in the fridge. If kept in air-tight containers, they’ll last up to a month. If the hummus separates, just add a touch of oil and stir well. Pull them out for snack time, pack small portions for lunch, or bring them to a party.
9. Making pizza dough? Quadruple your recipe and freeze balls of dough individually. Instead of sticking with pizza, try cutting a ball of pizza dough in quarters and making individual calzones. Not only can everyone choose their own fillings, but you can cook one individually in your toaster oven. Bonus: they’re great for lunches on the go—wrap in foil, reheat, and you can eat one walking around during your lunch break.
10. You’ve bought all these great veggies at the grocery store and you have the best of intentions. One easy way to avoid watching them rot? Pre-prep them for use in recipes over the next week. Many vegetables are plenty-sturdy enough to hold up just fine. Bag of carrots? Slice for crudité (just add hummus or bean dip!) or salad. Using half an onion for dinner? Chop the other half and have it ready to toss into eggs the next morning, no prep needed. Beautiful head of broccoli? Cut into florets when you’re putting the groceries away and they’re ready for a quick steam during the week.
If you wind up with some veg that looks like it’s going south, don’t toss it—chop it small and throw it on a pizza or in a calzone (above); or sauté and add to tomato sauce for an easy Sunday night pasta. It’ll enrich the taste of your sauce and give you an extra serving of veggies. Bonus: reluctant veggie-eaters won’t even know it’s there.