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How To Meal Prep When You Hate Leftovers
I’ll be honest; not everyone in my household wants leftovers the next day. Since I am the primary cook and prepping is necessary to keep my sanity, I must work around things and prepare meals for the fussy eaters. I have learned several tips and tricks on meal prepping when you hate leftovers that I share with you here.
- Can You Meal Prep if You Hate Leftovers?
- 7 Meal Prep Ideas When You Hate Leftovers
- 1. Batch Cook Meat and Separate It for Different Meals
- 2. Chop Veggies and Store Them in the Fridge or Freezer
- 3. Don’t Bake Your Casseroles Before Freezing
- 4. Make Extra Food and Freeze It for Later
- 5. Store Ingredients Separately
- 6. Marinate Meat/Chicken and Freeze
- 7. Prepare and Cook Small Portions
Can You Meal Prep if You Hate Leftovers?
Many think taking time to meal prep if you are not a fan of leftovers is pointless. But only if you believe that meal prepping means cooking various casseroles and soups and serving them daily. I believe otherwise. Since I started meal prepping, I have had fewer leftovers, leading to less waste.
Did you know you can do meal prep and still have fresh, delicious food? It is possible, and you get a variety of meals instead of eating the same thing for two to three days.
7 Meal Prep Ideas When You Hate Leftovers
If you are tired of cooking every day, want to eat healthier, have less food wastage, or need to save time, meal prep is your answer. If you dislike eating leftover food, meal prepping doesn’t need to include leftovers.
Check out these meal prep ideas for when you don’t want leftovers:
1. Batch Cook Meat and Separate It for Different Meals
An excellent meal prep idea and one of my favorites is batch-cooking meat and chicken. You can keep it in the refrigerator or freeze your prepped meal and use it for various meals. Here are some examples:
- Cook one or two pounds of ground meat for pasta, soup, tacos, salads, slow-cooker bolognese, rice bowls, etc.
- Fry a bunch of burger patties and keep them in the freezer. Pull out one or two (or as many as you need) for the day you want to have burgers.
- Cook a couple of pounds of boneless chicken breast. Use it for salads, tortillas, pasta, soups, sandwiches, or grilled dinners. You can even shred it up and store it to use as needed.
- Steak can also be cooked in advance if you want to cook fillet steak for stir-fry meals or shred it for soups, sandwiches, casseroles, tacos, etc.
2. Chop Veggies and Store Them in the Fridge or Freezer
Do you hate chopping onions? I know, me too. My trick is to chop a bag of onions at once and freeze them in small Ziploc bags. That way, my home and I smell like an onion (and let’s not forget the crying) for only one day instead of daily.
This bulk chop tip works for all kinds of veggies. You can clean and cut up your veggies as needed and store them in the fridge or freezer for various meals. Some examples apart from the onions are:
- Julienne carrots and bell peppers for salads and store them in the refrigerator.
- Dice carrots, bell peppers, onions, etc., and freeze them to use in soups, casseroles, curries, or as needed.
- Grate some cabbage to use for salads and wraps.
- Slice a cucumber to use within a day or two in salads.
- Prepare and cut broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, zucchini, etc., and freeze. Use it for roasted or grilled vegetable dishes.
- Liquidize or great a bag of tomatoes, freeze in ice trays or silicone cupcake molds. When frozen, remove and place in Ziploc bags. Use for soups, curries, or as needed.
3. Don’t Bake Your Casseroles Before Freezing
Most videos and articles on meal prep ideas you find online showcase a bunch of cooked prepped pasta in various forms, but that is not necessary. Creating casseroles, whether it’s pasta, rice, or any other type, you can build and freeze before cooking. Lasagna and pasta bake are halfway cooked already.
For someone highly sensitive to leftovers, eating pre-baked pasta from the freezer can bother them. Some people can taste that it is not entirely fresh, even if you re-bake it for warming. Simply layering your casseroles and freezing them is best. That way, you only cook the meal right before serving, and it doesn’t taste like leftovers.
One of my favorite ways of doing this is lining a large, overlapping piece of foil in a Pyrex dish (the exact size for a meal serving) and then building my casserole. I fold it closed once done and put the dish in the freezer for about an hour. Then I wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it. When ready, remove the plastic wrap, place it in that same Pyrex, and bake!
If you follow the above example of mine, you will save yourself from having leftovers because you are cooking the exact-sized dish you typically would for your family to finish a meal.
4. Make Extra Food and Freeze It for Later
If you hate leftovers for the next meal or immediately the next day, but you are okay with having them in a week or two, simply freeze the food for later. One of the ways to meal prep without actually doing any prep work is by freezing all the leftovers you get from every meal. I always do this, and I can’t tell you how many days it saves me from cooking!
Label them with the date you freeze them, take the food out as needed, and reheat them as you prefer. There you have readymade food without the effort. This tip is probably not an ideal option, but depending on your hate for leftovers, it could make your life easier. My family (even the ones who hate leftovers) never realize when I do this. Mind over matter, maybe?
5. Store Ingredients Separately
The mistake many people make when meal prepping is thinking that they have to create completed meals. That is far from facts. You can cook and prepare several ingredients and items you know you use or will want to eat and then create different meals as you go. Take these ideas into consideration:
- Grate your cheese and store it in the fridge or freezer
- Cook protein options like beef and steak and separate them for different meals.
- Cut up different vegetables in the required shapes. Store it and add it to different meals.
- Cook up a batch of spaghetti sauce and freeze. Use as needed.
- Make rice or grains of choice like quinoa and dish it as you desire. Serve as rice bowls, in tacos, in soups, with curries, or turn into fried rice. Store rice in the fridge to avoid contaminating it with bacillus cereus and eat quickly to avoid it going bad and store your rice properly so it doesn’t get hard.
This method is also labeled as buffet meal prep. That means it allows you to prep a bunch of things you keep separate from each other and use them as ingredients for different meals based on what you crave or plan for the upcoming days. I picked up this method when I couldn’t pack full meals because of a lack of fridge and freezer space, and it has been a game changer!
6. Marinate Meat/Chicken and Freeze
Another brilliant trick when preparing meals for those who hate leftovers is “marinate-to-freeze.” Marinate your meats or poultry and place them in Ziploc bags or vacuum seal them for the freezer.
This method saves a lot of time on cooking days. There is no need to think about what to make, and the cleaning, cutting, and marination are already done. You simply need to defrost the marinated protein you plan to use. You can add the frozen item directly to the pot using a slow cooker.
When you marinate your protein, you save prep time when you cook it and get more flavorful, fresh food. Take care when using this method. Ensure you package the meat properly, label the items with dates, and use them within stipulated periods to avoid freezer burn, bacteria, and illness.
7. Prepare and Cook Small Portions
Cooking in smaller portions is probably the trickiest meal prep technique to achieve. If you like the full-on method of meal prepping, like cooking complete meals, so you don’t have to do anything before serving, here is how you can try to manage that.
Prepare small portions. It can be challenging to cook for a family, but if you figure out exact measurements according to portion sizes, you can cook just the right amount of food per meal.
Half the meal before packaging. If you prep a pasta bake, instead of placing the whole amount into one package, half it and make two. That way, you take out only a small amount, which can get eaten. Plus, you will have an extra meal waiting for another week and no worries about leftovers going to waste.
Similarly, you can cook a large batch of cheap crockpot soup or curry but freeze them in smaller serving portions and pull them out as needed. Here’s my secret: pour cooled soup into plastic cups, cover them with foil, and place them in the freezer. Then pull out only a cup per person, warm it in a pot, and you won’t be left with any leftovers.
As you probably realize, meal prepping is still possible if you hate leftovers, and it doesn’t have to be boring or take much effort. The key is to prep several ingredients and use them for different meals throughout the week/month. Meal prep can be fun and effective, even when you hate leftovers!
Nathaniel Lee is an avid cook, drawing on his decades of home cooking and fine dining experience. He is a contributing chef at Mashed, and his recipes and contributions have been featured in Tasting Table, Edible Arrangements, Insanely Good Recipes, and The Daily Meal.