Three Words That Made My Family Love Leftovers (and gave me a night off cooking every week!)

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by Robin

"The days are long but the years are short."

Such a great quote about parenting, right? The first part is bang on: the days are looooooong. Between cleaning, working, activities and obligations - some days feel a dozen hours longer than others.

When it's been a day at work that's worn me down - or maybe a busy one with the kids and housework and errands and extended family commitments - those long days leave me spent. There isn't a speck of motivation left. The very last thing I have energy for is cooking dinner.

The first time I used these three magic words - I did a mental happy dance. But, part of me said, "Enjoy it while you can, there's no way this will work again." But thankfully that part was dead wrong!

These words work for me - and they've given me a night off cooking every week. I am truly hopeful this will work for you too!

Years ago, my dietitian practice involved counselling mainstream adults, mostly middle age and older folks. More often than not clients were less than jazzed about cooking every single day and I'd work with them on strategies to eat well in spite of that.

I would often ask them how they use leftovers. First, I'd see an expression of distaste. Then, if it was a woman, who 9/10 times was the family cook, I'd hear, "My husband (or kids) won't eat leftovers." If it was a husband or kids, "I don't like leftovers."

I can be great at keeping my eyes steady when they want to roll. Of course, the people who don't "have to" cook can say they don't like leftovers! (That's a whole other issue for a whole other time.)

Leftovers get a bad rap, but it's rarely from the family cook.

For the sake of overworked cooks everywhere, leftovers need some better PR.

After one particularly exhausting day, when my own kids asked what was for dinner, I felt desperate. In my best radio-DJ voice I gave leftovers a much-needed boost:

"We've got something brand new, kids! It's Greatest Hits Night!!!"

That peaked their interest and we haven't looked back. Three simple words: Greatest Hits Night.

To understand fully the power of Greatest Hits Night, you need to know a couple basics of how we cook and store food in our family. We do the following steps to cut down on time cooking and food wasted.

Step 1: Every time we cook we cook way too much.

We have a family of 4 - but we always cook for 6 to 8. Most recipes serve 6 to 8, so this is no big deal.

Step 2: Pack leftovers into single serving containers.

After supper, we clear the table and right away we portion the leftover meal into single servings. Single-serving containers are key (we love these - they never leak or crack and are a perfect size).

Usually, we have two to four meals left after every meal we cook.

Ed and I pop one of these meals into our lunch bags the next day. We've both got access to microwaves at work and can reheat easily. (The kids don't, so these meals don't work well for them as school lunches.)

Then, the wonderous night comes. At least one night a week, we have a few left in the fridge.

And on Greatest Hits Night, we haul the meals onto the counter and everyone chooses their favourite. We plop them on plates and twirl them around in the microwave. And a few short minutes later we're sitting together enjoying a meal we each really like. And the effort was close to nil.

It is bliss.

I doubt Greatest Hits Night would work as well if there weren't a few types of meals to choose from. People like choice, and reheating the same meal for everyone would zap the choosing-fun from this. Don't try this strategy unless you've got some variety to offer your family.

So that's it! Three simple words that give us a night off cooking every week. Could this work in your house?

If you liked this idea, you'll want to explore our other Family Food Ideas here!


  1. Same deal here, husband and kids are less than jazzed about leftovers. I often have a selection, too but often just one serving of each choice, and usually I still get a lukewarm response. Sometimes I recycle it into something new- like a pasta bake or such. But it certainly is easier if I can just reheat and serve- no prep, no cleanup.
    I think I need to implement one night a week for each to take care of dinner. Being responsible dinner is the best way to learn to appreciate what some one else is serving you.

    1. Cooking dinner is an essential life skill - sounds like your life would be easier with more of the family pitching in - and they'd be learning. Win-win!

  2. Are there any other ways you get your family to like leftovers?


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