When you think about it, meal prep is really just a fancy way to say “make a bunch of leftovers.” You cook once, and essentially eat leftovers all week, which saves time, money and can help you reach your weight-loss goals. The difference is, meal prep usually yields well thought-out leftovers, purposely cooked in specific amounts to be combined into different recipes later on.
However, sometimes you’re left with extra meal prep ingredients or leftovers, which can actually be a good thing. You can transform a bunch of already prepared ingredients in novel combinations to make leftovers feel new again.
PUT AN EGG ON IT
Nothing moistens up dry leftovers like a runny egg yolk. The next time you’re left with any combination of cooked grains, veggies or meat, cut your leftovers into bite-sized pieces and heat them in a pan with a little bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and any spices you desire. When everything is hot, transfer it to a plate, wipe the skillet clean and heat a little more olive oil. Crack one or two eggs into the pan, season and then let the eggs cook over medium heat until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny. Slide your cooked eggs over your heated leftovers, and enjoy your breakfast-for-dinner (or lunch or breakfast).
BAKE THEM INTO A FRITTATA
If you prefer your eggs cooked solid, take the time to bake a frittata. Cut any leftover meat or veggies into bite-size pieces. Heat a large, oven-safe skillet over medium heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil and spread your fillings evenly in the skillet. Beat 8–12 eggs with a splash of milk, then pour them on top, along with salt and pepper. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for 20–25 minutes, until it’s puffed and lightly browned. Let it cool slightly before serving. Any leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for three days.
MAKE PASTA OR POTATO SALAD
If you have leftover potatoes or pasta along with your leftover meat and veggies, simply cut everything into bite-sized (or slightly larger) pieces and toss with enough vinaigrette or creamy Greek yogurt-based dressing to coat the ingredients without letting them get mushy. Lemon juice or apple cider vinegar-based dressings work well here, too.
WHIP UP A VEG-TASTIC CHICKEN SALAD
Chicken salad is the perfect way to revive dried-out chicken breasts, and if you add enough vegetables you can turn it into a complete, one-bowl meal. As with potato and pasta salad, cut all of your ingredients into bite-sized pieces, then toss them together with the dressing of your choice. A good rule of thumb for a meal-worthy chicken salad is one part chopped chicken and one part chopped veggies. You can also add cooked grains if you have them. Mix in chopped raw vegetables, like red onion or celery, to add crunch and more freshness.
TURN ODDS AND ENDS INTO GRAIN BOWLS
With a bunch of random leftovers, it’s easy to make a restaurant-worthy grain bowl yourself. First, heat a cup of cooked grains in the microwave. Then, chop meat and vegetables and arrange them, hot or cold, on top of your grain bed. Next, raid your fridge for things like, olives, pickles and cheese that you can sprinkle over the top to really take the flavor profile to the next level. Next, use any condiments you have — store-bought dressings, homemade vinaigrettes, or even things like Sriracha or honey mustard — to create that artful sauce drizzle over the top.
COOK UP A 15-MINUTE PASTA DINNER
If you’ve got a box of pasta in your cabinet, you’ve got dinner. While you cook pasta according to the package directions, heat a layer of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add as much chopped garlic as you want, then stir in leftover veggies or meat. Add the pasta when it’s cooked, and stir in some jarred tomato sauce. A sprinkle of Parmesan really pulls things together, but it’s also fine to go without.
MAKE A STIR-FRY
Pantry staples like soy sauce, fish sauce or rice vinegar can turn plain leftovers into a delicious stir-fry. For a healthier version of fried rice, start by heating a layer of oil in a large skillet or wok, then add beaten eggs and stir them in the skillet just until they’re solid. Set the eggs aside, then heat another thin layer of oil in the skillet and add about a cup (150g) of cut-up vegetables and-or meat. Once they’re warmed through, add a cup (150g) of cooked grains, return the eggs to the pan and stir until everything is combined. Finish with a tablespoon of soy sauce (or two teaspoons of soy sauce and one teaspoon of fish sauce) or a tablespoon of teriyaki sauce, plus a splash of rice vinegar or a squeeze of lime. If you really want to get fancy, serve your stir-fry with crushed peanuts or toasted sesame seeds on top.
WHEN IN DOUBT, MAKE A SANDWICH
Sandwiches are the oft-overlooked heroes of the meal prep world, but they’re an easy way to turn a scant amount of leftovers into a legitimately filling meal. If you don’t have enough meat and veggies for a full meal, sandwich them between slices of whole-wheat bread or roll them into a whole-wheat tortilla, along with cheese and your favorite condiment. If you’re really short on leftovers (think, half a cup (75g or less), cook them into a grilled cheese.