Creative child-friendly meals from leftovers

Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with re-heating the leftovers from yesterday’s dinner and serving them tonight. But putting up with the family’s faces may – just may – be more bother in the long run than five minutes of effort to disguise the leftovers as a new meal.

To tell you the truth, my family wouldn’t care. Food is food, and as long as I follow the complicated family rules of no-tomatoes-for-the-boy, no-chicken-or-cooked-carrots-for-the-girl and no-expectations-of-gratitude-from-the-man, everybody will be happy. The person who cannot stomach the same meal two nights in a row is myself. Fortunately, I don’t need to.

leftover roast

This works with almost any meat: lamb, pork, beef, chicken, turkey or ham. You can get older children to help you cut up the meat. Then:

  • Add it to today’s vegetable soup.
  • Freeze, and use next time you make pie or lasagne (see sidebar for recipe).
  • Serve it with tortillas (see sidebar for recipe).
  • Wrap in phyllo pastry or savoury short pastry (buy them ready-rolled frozen), then bake.

leftover fish

  • Theoretically you can keep cooked fish in the fridge for a day, but I’ve never been brave enough to use it after more than 12 hours.
  • If the fish is smoked, you can refrigerate it for a few days and use it in pies or omelettes (see sidebar for recipe).

leftover vegetables

  • If you have a lot of vegetables and potatoes left, add chicken stock and zap together in a blender to create a creamy vegetable soup. Serve with toasted cheese sandwiches. Tip: kids love running the blender, and they’re more likely to eat the soup if they’ve helped make it.
  • Freeze the vegetables and use next time you want to make lasagne: simply add a layer of the defrosted and drained vegetables in between the pasta. This works well with pumpkin, kumara, green beans, asparagus, peas and corn (but not with potato, which tends to go floury when frozen).
  • Refrigerate and use the next day to make quiche (I found that quiche is not as forgiving as lasagne and doesn’t take well to vegetables that have been cooked, then frozen, then defrosted).

leftover salad

  • Get into the habit of serving salad and dressing separately (that includes salt). That way, everybody can add as much or as little seasoning as they like, and you can serve the salad the following day without it wilting.
  • You wouldn’t believe it, but you can use almost any salad greens (and yellows and reds) in a stir-fry the next day. I learnt the trick myself in Thailand where, dying for a crisp salad, I was reduced to ordering “stir-fried lettuce” – I kid you not. So, stir-fry your leftover salad by itself or with meat (fry the meat first, then add the salad), add any Chinese or Thai seasoning and enjoy.

leftover potatoes

Leftover potatoes are a nuisance because they don’t keep in the fridge for very long, and when reheated, they taste ... well, reheated. Freezing them is even worse, unless you’re planning to make mash, because in addition to the reheated taste, defrosted potatoes lose their texture and feel quite grainy in the mouth.

So, what to do? To reheat them the next day, grill them in the oven with a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of herbs. The children can help you sprinkle on the oil and the herbs.

leftover bread crusts

Long ago, I taught my children to eat sandwich crusts. Their friends, however, have since taught them not to. So now I tend to cut off the crusts, particularly when hosting play dates and parties.

  • If the cut-off crusts are not contaminated by the sandwich fillings, you can dry them out in a warm oven, store in an airtight container and serve with dips. Particularly flavoursome crusts (from fruit bread or sourdough) can be served on their own as an in-between meals snack.
  • If the cut-offs contain bits of cheese, jam or butter, don’t panic. You can still use them to make pikelets. Simply soak all the crusts in milk, let the children liquidise the milk-and-crust mess in the food processor, then add an egg. The consistency should resemble pikelet batter. You can also add grated cheese if you’re planning to serve the pikelets as a savoury snack (don’t worry about the sweetness from the jam). Fry as you would normal pikelets.

leftover wraps/pita/bagel

  • Cut up any leftover bread wraps and dry them up in a warm oven to make chips.
  • Dry them out, then put in the food processor to make bread crumbs.

lazy lasagne

Ingredients

  • a packet of lasagne sheets
  • 8 cups frozen vegetables (carrots julienne, green peas, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini)
  • all your leftover meat
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup natural yoghurt
  • 1 teaspoon dry oregano
  • 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
  • 1½ cups grated cheese

Recipe

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  2. Microwave/cook the vegetables.
  3. While the vegetables are cooking, cook the lasagne sheets in a large pot of boiling water until soft (classical recipes use raw lasagne sheets, but I found this method faster). Drain.
  4. Mix the roast meat with ricotta and ½ cup grated cheese.
  5. Mix the yogurt, oregano and garlic. Pour over the cooked vegetables.
  6. In a large baking dish, layer lasagne sheets, meat and vegetables. When done, sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes.

burrito bar

Ingredients

  • 8 large lettuce leaves
  • a packet of 6 tortillas
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 2 avocadoes
  • a tin of beans (of your choice)
  • a tin of corn
  • all your leftover meat
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 jar pickled jalapenos

Recipe

  1. Wash and dry the lettuce leaves. Arrange them two per dinner plate. Add 1 tortilla.
  2. Wash and chop the tomatoes, place them in a serving bowl.
  3. Peel and slice the avocado. Arrange it on a serving plate.
  4. Open the corn tin, decant into a serving bowl, microwave for 1 minute on High.
  5. Open the bean tin, decant into a serving bowl, microwave for 1 minute on High.
  6. Place the leftover meat on a serving plate, microwave for 1 minute on High.
  7. Put all the dishes on the table, including jalapenos, cheese and sour cream. Let the family build their own burrito. Messy but fun!

the almighty omelette

Ingredients

  • 8 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 2 cups shredded smoked fish
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tin green peas
  • ½ cup grated cheese

Recipe

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan.
  2. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and the paprika in a large bowl until the yolks and whites combine totally.
  3. Pour the egg into the hot pan. Allow to cook for a minute, then use a spatula to lift the edges of the omelette and allow the liquid egg to flow underneath.
  4. Repeat until there is no more liquid egg. The top of the omelette will look moist - that’s good.
  5. Sprinkle one half of the omelette with cheese.
  6. Throw the fish on top of the cheese.
  7. Drain the peas and pour them on top of the ham.
  8. Fold the empty half over the cheese-fish-and-pea half.
  9. Remove from the heat.
  10. Serve on lettuce leaves with cherry tomatoes and seed loaf on the side.
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