How to Spice Up Leftovers (and Premade Meals!)

As I first started to learn how to cook, I relied on “no-bake” recipes, boxed products, and pre-made items from grocery stores to make things easier. With the recent push toward “all-natural” and organic foods, I feel there’s a strong push (especially online) away from these pre-made products.

I remember watching an episode of Jacque Pepin’s cooking show during which he made a dessert with his daughter. One of the greatest cooks in the world used pre-made pie crust. If he can use pre-made products why can’t we? What’s so different between fresh and frozen vegetables? The bias is endorsed strongly by the privileged, forgetting the time constraints of full-time workers and those unable to afford more expensive organic products.

As you learn to cook, whether you want to make every little thing from scratch that’s awesome, but do not be ashamed in making cake from a box or store-bought chicken stock instead of homemade. Your cooking journey is your own. Just the other day I made “homemade hamburger helper” from a New York Times recipe. Later that day I made a Williams & Sonoma chocolate-pumpkin cake mix that a friend gave to me. Both were delicious, both were worth it for me.

And, if you’re anything like my husband, the idea of leftovers for dinner is unappealing. But there are nights when I’m tired after a long day and the last thing I want to do is cook. My go-to “no cook” meal is a SteamFresh veggie noodles. Pop them in the microwave for 3-4 minutes and it’s done. Of course, these lentil noodles are designed to be quick and easy, not necessarily flavorful or especially delicious.

One of the things I’ve learned as I started to experiment in the kitchen is that I can change anything while I’m cooking. Recipes can be tweaked. Everything can be adjusted to your personal taste. The same is true with store-bought foods and leftovers. Changing it up

  1. Combine Leftovers

Once I had leftover meatballs in pasta sauce sitting in the fridge. I added this to some leftover chicken soup (plus some hot sauce and pepper). It breathed new life into both leftovers! You can get creative with mixing new things from your pantry or finding a way to combine leftovers. This way, you eat leftovers without getting bored and you get to try something new!

2. Add spices

There is no law that says you can’t add spices to premade meals. Try heat with hot sauce or cayenne. Sometimes even a little pepper or garlic powder will work wonders.

3. Add proteins

My SteamFresh meals tend to noodles in sauce. The noodles may be made of vegetables, but a little pre-cooked chicken slices helps add texture and flavor. For the salt-and-vinegar potatoes, I fried some sausages.

4. Add frozen veggies

Spruce up mac-and-cheese or other pasta dishes with a vegetable. If you bought a rotisserie chicken from the grocery, make a meal by heating up some frozen vegetables for a side.

Frozen peas, carrots, and broccoli are all fairly versatile and easy to add to most meals without drastically changing the flavor profile.

5. Re-think the Way You Reheat

Back to those salt-and-vinegar potatoes slices. Rather than stick them in the microwave the next day, I put some oil in a pan and fried them. This made them crispy again and taste fresher. I hear air-fryers are great for leftovers (though I haven’t tried it yet myself). Reheat food in a pan or in the oven!

I swear I am the only one in my house who eats leftovers. Husband gets “bored” of food quickly if he eats the same meal too many times. Hopefully these tips help you use up leftovers and prevent food waste!

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