Make Your Meals Do the Work: Cook Once, Eat for Days

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Just how many meals can you get from one recipe? No, this is not a Food Network challenge but a real life, “how am I going to make it through the week and provide my family with some healthy, fast, and flavorful meals?” scenario. I am a working mother to three and wife who fits daily exercise into her life. I strive to, at some point over the weekend, make a one dish meal and turn it into two or three meals for the early part of the week or for “fall back freezer meals.”

Today let's take a look at one recipe, my Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup, then see how this versatile, healthy and filling dish can be stretched for a few meals. The soup itself makes 12 servings, plus an extra quart of broth, so there are plenty of possibilities!

Stock the Freezer: One batch of chicken soup will yield an additional quart of chicken broth. Cool and freeze as is, or for freezer storage space, reduce the one quart to one pint by simmering on the stove over moderate low heat for 40-50 minutes. When ready to use, add back one pint of water.

Make Ahead Meals: Add a second 3-pound chicken to the stock pot. Prepare recipe as is, but do not add the meat from the second chicken to the chicken soup. Divide meat in half and use in the following recipes:

  • Use as a topping day on a salad to add essential protein. Try adding some seasonal fruit to the salad as well: try pears, apples or blueberries. (Use 3 ounces of chicken per serving.)

  • Substitute chicken for beef in a black bean chili, make white chili or use it for chicken enchiladas (or my Enchilada Stacker).

  • Use leftover meat to make Chicken and Vegetable Casserole.

  • Top a whole wheat pizza with chicken, chopped tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese.

  • Make a grilled chicken sandwich using whole-wheat bread,jarred pesto or sun dried tomatoes and leafy greens.

  • Freeze the chicken for emergency dinners on your busiest nights.

    Keep Those Meals Interesting
    Eating the same thing for several meals can seem downright boring to some people. Here are some tips for recycling ingredients and keeping your taste buds interested.
    • Change up the second recipe as much as possible and switch the flavors. For example, I would suggest reformatting the poached chicken into an Asian or Southwest recipe instead of another savory thyme-based chicken recipe. The goal is to make everyone think you made from scratch a whole new recipe--only you will know the difference. (For example, you could make my Thai Chicken Coconut Soup)

    • Utilize the reworked item for a different meal. If the main ingredient was part of supper, use the reworked item in a lunch box or as a breakfast item--and don’t forget snacks.

    • Remember that flavors can heighten or become subdued once cooled. Taste the main reworked ingredient before you start to add new flavors or spices.

    Do you have any tips for using leftover chicken? How do you stretch one meal into many? Check out the rest of my recipes by clicking here.

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    Reminds me of an old Billy Connelly joke; he goes to a Mexican restaurant and orders a burrito; the waiter brings him a fajita instead. When he complains the waiter apologises and takes it back to the kitchen and refolds the fajita and voila he gets his burrito Report
    Even though I'm on an ultra tight, random budget (unemployed, etc.), one shopping trip to a Costco yields literally dozens of meals for a family of 4. And it doesn't have to be fully cooking foods! For example, I picked up 10 lbs. of onions. Chopping and freezing them in one cup baggies fills the nooks and crannies in my freezer (lowering the energy bills) and gives me a jump-start on stir fries, curries and soups. Parboiling veggies does the same, and lets me maximize the time cooking, and not worry about fresh food and the cost at the time I need it. I call it Just-In-Time-Cooking, and it's great!

    And to the point of this article, making a huge baking day and ending up with a couple of dozen soup-bowl-sized bread loafs is a great way to quickly throw together a meal when everyone's exhausted. Report
    Sounds very yummy... But I get sick of eating the same thing over and over again.. I have pumpkin soup in the freezer that I just can't face eating anymore... Report
    I have always called these planned-overs.
    I just got a small chest freezer so I am very excited to be able to freeze a lot more and not end up throwing out the end of something I made because I'm tired of eating it. Report
    My husband and I make meals ahead and freeze them. That way we always have a good meal and are never tempted to eat something not good for us. Report
    Whenever I make a taco type casserole, I always serve it on top of a huge pile of shredded lettuce. It makes the meal more filling and makes the casserole last a lot longer. Report
    I just finished the last of my T-day turkey--soup stock that went with a whole slew of veggies. Sad to see the old bird go... Report
    I have been doing this for years. I even freeze half to be used later in the month. Why do you think this is a new idea. But then everything old is new again. da dum. Report
    Greats ideas! Report
    I use the 2nd chicken for chicken salad. I don't eat beef, but I cook stew beef and potatoes for DH and DS and use the leftovers as a base for soup. I also use the beef broth to cook carrots. I love carrots cooked in beef broth! I throw all leftovers in a plastic container and put in the feezer; soup day, it all goes into soup, so nothing is wasted! I freeze left over breads for dressing for them. I chop celery before it can go bad and freeze the chopped celery, which is great for cooking. Report
    I get a fresh chicken from the farmers market every week. Maybe I'll get two this week and do some pre-planning. I love quesadillas and making mini pzzas as quick dinners or lunches. I freeze my pitas in advance and assemble them in the morning w/ cheese & toppings. By noon they are thawed and ready for the toaster oven. Mmmm.... Report
    Thanks so much! What great ideas! I don't think I could ever get sick of chicken, especially when used in so many different ways! Report
    I chop up left over chicken and add it to scrambled eggs, top off a salad or put in Tortillia's with other veggies. Report
    Quesadillas baby! High fiber tortilla, 4 oz chicken, extra sharp shredded cheddar, hot sauce, scallions, jalapenos, etc. Report
    This is such a fantastic idea. Report
    Chicken salad! I use fat free greek yogurt in place of mayo - it's delicious. Report
    Yummy !! I have some chicken from yesterday & will try the enchiladas! Thanks for the tips! Report
    Often when I made a roast chicken or even a roast beef I will eat roast in the traditionally sense the first day. I will then use leftovers for a sandwich, on a salad, in a stirfry etc and then will take any leftover and chop it up and freeze in a bag. When I'm in the mood for some soup or stew I will take out the frozen pieces, add it to the slow cooker with some veggies and have yummy homemade soup. I actually did this Sunday...had lots of work around the house to do and didn't feel like cooking so I threw chicken and veg in the slow cooker and had soup for supper! Report
    I try to do this also, especially since it is just my husband and me now! The bad part is that sometimes the recipes in a book sound good, but taste---not so good! I like the fact that these have been "taste tested" before spending all that time and money! Report
    I just bought some sole today, and am going to make this tonight. Sounds easy and delicioous. Thanks again Meg Report
    Thanks for the great ideas and recipes they sound delicious! I can't wait to try some of them! Report
    great thanks i printed them all Report
    i do try and do thsi weekly. Grilling enough for the week or stock the freezer. Report
    I love make ahead meals and planned leftovers. I have been using a great cookbook "Quick Fix Meals" by Robin Miller (she's from food network of course). The main section in the book has morph meals where you cook a big meal on the weekend, then change the leftover meat or sauce into 3 totally different meals for later in the week. It also includes really good instructions on how to freeze the leftovers for later use. If you need help getting started with planned leftovers this is a great resource. Report
    Love the idea just dont have the finances to buy enough to do this with at this point. Hubby had been laid off since April and is working only 3 days this month and 4 next month. Right now we dont even have food stamps to help. And with 2 teen boys in the house, when I make more, the boys eat more! lol Will keep this idea for a more stable financial time. Report
    I like to make soup with leftover chicken. I also add diced chicken to a bowl of salad and love to make wraps (Tortillas) with chicken, rice and chopped veggies. Report
    Doing this tonight! Report
    I do this every week! I make a huge pot of vegetable soup with whatever I have in the fridge, add chicken, beef, or tofu, and eat it every night after my workout. It fills me up, warms me up, and is fast and super nutritious. I love soup! Report
    I spend Sunday cooking so I have breakfasts and lunches ready. Saves me from making a bad choice when hunger sets in. Eash ones are extra portions of roasted chicken breasts and breakfast casseroles. Report
    Great ideas, of course. Interesting, though, when I do this kind of thing, I usually reverse to order~ I roast the chickens or potroast or hams in the oven, for the first meal, to be served with a baked potato or rice or pilaf~ then use the extras ("leftovers" if you will) to make the salads, sandwiches, soups or snacks... They are roasted plain, so there's no "competition" with any spices I care to add. It's great for making pulled chicken BBQ sandwiches...

    Kathy Report
    I am the Queen of making a meal go for days !! Left over roast chicken can end up as chicken sandwiches, chicken soup, chicken chili, a chicken omelet, etc... I even put pieces of chicken breast in my salads for my own version of a chicken cesaer salad.

    I save money by buying items when they're on sale. so, if pork is on sale and chicken isn't, it's pork for the week.

    Great Ideas! Report
    great ideas! i'm gonna try some this week! thank you Report
    The only way I make it through the busy week is by cooking ahead on Sunday. I do my best to make atleast one to two big dishs that will carry to work. Then I also plan head on supper ideas for quick easy healthy meals. By doing the shopping on the weekend I don't have to make the extra trips during the week that take up a lot of time I don't have. I have been eating healthier and saving money also by not eating out at all. By Friday I am out of most of my fresh veggies, milk etc and it is time to go shopping again :~) Report
    I am in love with the idea of preparing meals for the week. Please keep posting awesome entries like this one.

    Yesterday, I prepared 10 mini spinach and mozzarella frittatas for a post-workout/breakfast dish. It took only 20 minutes and I'll have them for two weeks. I also cooked up some grains/rice for lunches. Report
    I do this a lot, so that I'm usually only cooking one or two days a week. Report
    Spaghetti and marinara freezes in single serving sizes well also Report
    I enjoy cooking, and like to prepare things in advance for those busy days when you just have to reach in the freezer to have a meal already prepared...Great Stuff! Love chef Meg's ideas! Report
    Great idea! Report
    Just finished "two people with a turkey." Last week roasted turkey-had turkey as main protein. Next night had obligatory turkey leftover dinner. Then took all the meat off the bones, made turkey stock to freeze (yum, yum). Took break from turkey next day, then made turkey enchiladas. Then made curried turkey salad, with raisins, almonds, yellow peppers, celery, onion, etc. Then made the insides for turkey pot pie and froze in portions for later. Two people, a 10 pound turkey (at 49 cents per pound) and lots of really good meals. The turkey was a good base and made easy meal prep for several more meals. Report
    You actually used the words "stock pot". Wow! I like to cook and growing up in a house with lots of people my mother always cooked in large pots and she made several meals from whatever was in those pots. I'm going to try some of these ideas. Thanks Report
    Yes, I always make huge pots of soups, then freeze them. There is always a selection in the freezer for lunches or for dinner. If I make a casserole, I usually double it and freeze one unbaked for another day. Report
    I love making multiple dishes with roasts and chicken and especially love exploring links to multiple recipes and finding a "new" one to try! Thanks! Report
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