Intentional Leftovers — Always Cook for More than One Meal

By Liza Baker

Winter is prime time for getting our kitchens in order and cooking from scratch — colder weather tends to keep most of us indoors, and if we really listen to our bodies, we often find ourselves craving heavier dishes — perhaps soups and stews made of red meat in place of grilled fish or chicken, denser root vegetables in place of fresh salads. Energetically speaking, we are balancing out the buoyant, outward facing yang energy of summer, redirecting it to the more subdued, inward facing yin energy of winter. 

The part of my health coaching work that I call “kitchen coaching” supports my clients in reclaiming their kitchens and “flipping” them so that they can make 21 meals a week from scratch, even if — like me — they work more than full-time and manage a family “on the side” (the Mom/Dad shift is in and of itself way more than full-time).

Cooking from scratch at home can be the first step to changing our health — done right, it can also save lots of money and chip away at the vast amount of food (reportedly 40 percent!) that gets thrown away in America, cluttering our landfills, creating greenhouse gas, and wasting the precious natural resources that went to grow it in the first place. Reclaiming our kitchens helps us keep an eye on the triple bottom line: the health of our bodies, our environment, and our economy — the local one as well as our own time and money budgets.

To flip a kitchen, it’s important to start with the basics — from knowing what to stock in the pantry to buying and caring for a good quality knife, from choosing seasonal ingredients to storing them, from batch cooking “building blocks” to getting three meals out of a single chicken. 

One exercise I love to do with my clients is deconstruct recipes — really pick them apart into a few core ingredients, steps, and techniques. Ironically, this ultimately frees them from recipes because they learn to substitute what’s in-season locally. And if they have a properly stocked kitchen, they can do it without wasting precious time and fuel running to the store. Perhaps even more importantly, clients begin to realize that what they thought were leftovers — cooked meats, beans, grains, and vegetables — needn’t spoil in the fridge: they are ingredients for a quick meal on a busy weeknight!

This can happen in one of several ways: we can cook a large number of finished dishes that we then refrigerate or freeze to reheat and eat later (think chili and lasagna), or we can batch cook what I call “building blocks” — stocks and sauces, beans and grains — that can become part of a meal later in the week. But these options assume that we can take two to three hours on the weekend or — even less likely — on a weekday to accomplish this. 

The first option also assumes that you (and your family) like leftovers. There are many people who do, but as a rule we tend to think we do … and two days of chili later, it suddenly doesn’t look like what we had in mind for the rest of the week! Add to that two kids who will turn their noses up at anything served reheated, and I needed a new system.

My favorite trick is what I call “creating intentional leftovers” — preparing more of the ingredients you’re already cooking on any given day. If you’re roasting a chicken, why not roast two? If you’re making a pot of rice, why not double or triple it? If you’re steaming broccoli, why not steam extra? Then we explore ways that these “intentional leftovers” can be combined into quicker meals later in the week.

This isn’t rocket science — it’s not even food science unless I have to explain that we have been terrorized into believing that any food left in the fridge for more than 24 hours is bad (that’s a whole different article!) — but it can be eye-opening, so I’d like to offer two examples: one idea for grains and one for chicken. 

Brown Rice:
Serve steamed brown rice as part of dinner on Saturday — make lots!
On Monday, mix some rice with a beaten egg and a bit of flour until the mixture holds together and can be formed into patties. Cook in a little bit of fat and serve over greens with a poached or fried egg on top. If you’re ready for the graduate level version, add cooked beans and/or minced cooked leftover vegetables to your patties.
On Wednesday morning, mix some rice with twice as much liquid (water? milk? milk alternative?), cook into a porridge, and serve hot with maple syrup, chopped apples and walnuts, a dash of sweet spice (cinnamon? cardamom? both?) and a bit of sea salt.
On Friday (yes, I promise the rice is still good if you’ve kept it properly stored in the fridge), mix the remaining rice with some marinara sauce (leftover, of course) and stuff it into hollowed-out peppers and bake them.
On Saturday night, make a roast chicken (or two or three — the oven’s on anyway!) and after dinner, pull all the leftover meat off the bones. Save all the bones — yes, even the ones you gnawed on — in the fridge or freezer.
On Sunday, make chicken stock from the bones, and make chicken soup with some of the meat plus noodles or rice (or whatever leftover grain you have).
On Tuesday, mix some of the meat with vinaigrette and serve it over salad greens.
On Thursday, make chicken salad with any remaining meat and have a wrap or sandwich.

Oh look! It’s been a week, and you just finished the rice and chicken without simply serving it reheated a single time. Even the teenagers will never know.
The recipes for the dishes included in this article can be found at Liza Baker is an integrative nutrition health coach, kitchen coach, and household manager of a family of four. She brings her passion, knowledge, and experience to the table to help clients reach their goals and achieve optimal health. You can find her upcoming events in the Crazy Wisdom Calendar (found at the back of every issue) and on her website, She can be contacted at

Posted on December 31, 2015 .