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Why We Hate Leftovers (And How To Love Them On Paleo)

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by Angela Gallardo in Articles

I’m a recovering hater of leftovers.

At first, it might sound like an insult to my own cooking.  But after years of sending borderline-sketchy tupperware contents with the husband to work (hey, you know you’ve done it) or tragically throwing them out after fun colors of mold appear, I finally realized it has nothing to do with how much I enjoy the meal the first time around.

What I’ve discovered is that for *most* meals, food is best enjoyed fresh.

(It seems pretty self-evident, but it took me a very long time to get this.)

For example, you get maximum flavor out of a piece of meat or fish only when it’s perfectly cooked.  Having under- and over-cooked hundreds, I’ve found there’s often very little margin of error.  And being the Type A foodie that I am, I NEED that meat to be cooked perfectly about as much as I need air and water. (I wish I could say this was an exaggeration…)

Perfectly cooked food = deliciousness (AKA easy Paleo lifestyle).  Not-perfectly cooked food = grossness (AKA sucky Paleo lifestyle).

Each time you reheat the meat, it’s moving further and further from it’s optimal state of foodgasm-ness (?). (I really hate that word but you get the point.)  So while a meal might be awesomely delicious the first time around, it’s often going to be a little “wah-wah” the second (or third or forth).

One of the toughest things about eating Paleo is needing to cook so much food from scratch.  It becomes ten times harder to eat out so even if can afford to on the regular, you’ll find yourself forced to cook just so you know what’s in your food.  Taking advantage of leftovers is one way to cut down on your meal prep times and feel a little bit less like a part-time chef.  So if you think you have to eat lots of overcooked meat to make Paleo work for your busy schedule, I’m telling you there’s a better way.

Annnnndddd to the good stuff.  My top 5 tips to embrace leftovers and make your food work for you (rather than the other way around):

TIP #1:  FOCUS ON THE VEGETABLES

Vegetables are very forgiving when it comes to reheating.  And their flavors often enhance with time.  So even if you leave your protein source to be cooked fresh each night, you’ll have your side dish covered.  My favorites:  roasting multiple sheet pans of vegetables or making a large pot of mashed sweet potatoes/regular potatoes/parsnips & carrots/etc.

TIP #2:  USE GROUND MEAT

And not just any ground meat, fattier ground meat.  For most applications, you’re already cooking it all the way through (aside from burgers, which everyone knows should be cooked medium) so there’s no worry over overcooking when reheating.

Go for a maximum 85% lean (15% fat) — or 80/20 if you can — and your meat will stay fairly moist the second time around.  Rookie mistake: using 92% lean meat will nearly ALWAYS dry out once reheated.

TIP #3:  LEARN TO LOVE YOUR INNER SOUP MAVEN

Soups are a great weapon to have in your leftovers arsenal.  You can do a veggies-going-bad dump (it works for me 9 times of out 10) or keep it simple with just a few.  Leave the protein out to be added fresh or add a little collagen peptides to simplify the process.

Soup is a go-to for my lunches on busy days and they’re definitely a “gets better with time” situation.  There are so many great things about soups that I think I’ll be dedicating a post to them soon.  Some of my favorites are herehere, and here.  And if you’re thinking soups are only good for winter, see here.

TIP #4:  USE DRIED HERBS

Leftovers are the perfect application for dried herbs, which will continue to yield great concentrated flavor with each reheat.  If you know me even a little, you know I’m obsessed with fresh herbs.  But I’ve found that like their name implies, fresh herbs are best enjoyed fresh.  Overheating them can often muddle and dilute the flavors.  If you’re making a big one-pot-meal or roasting a pan of vegetables, go heavy on the dried herbs and you won’t be disappointed.  My favorites are either an herbs de provence blend or straight rosemary.

TIP #5:  AVOID THE MICROWAVE

I’m not here to discuss all the health-related pros and cons of microwaves.  But since reheating all leftovers to either the stovetop or oven (we no longer have a microwave thanks to living full-time in a camper), I’ve noticed a significant difference in how food tastes.

Microwaves actually denature your food, therefore killing both nutrients and flavor.  And worse, they will dry it out big time.  So avoid reheating in microwaves as much as possible for the best tasting leftovers.  And if you work in an office and have no alternative, shoot to bring food that has a large amount of moisture to begin with (like a casserole).


Have you learned to love leftovers? Share your thoughts in the comments, I’d love to hear what tips I may have missed!

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