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photo source: Shaina Olmanson |

7 ways to turn one dinner into two

The following post is from Shaina of Food for My Family and Olmanson Photography:

7 Ways to Make One Dinner Stretch Into Two |

School’s back. Whether you’re restarting your homeschool schedule and co-ops or your kids are gone for the day, it changes the dynamic. Gone are the summer evenings where the sun seemed to hover above the horizon, lighting well into the night when bedtimes seem like suggestions rather than hard and fast deadlines.

Between school, homework, and fall activities, I know that my dinnertime routine needs to be faster, more efficient in order to survive. I need meals that stretch, giving a bit more than just one sit-down around the table. The best way to do this is for them to create another meal, whether it be a quick dinner-on-the-go or tomorrow’s lunch, ready to be packed up while you clear the table.

Here are seven ways to turn tonight’s dinner into a separate meal.

1. Roast a chicken. I always feel a bit like a broken record when I bring this one up, but roasting a whole chicken is a great way for dinner to stretch. I like to cut the legs and wings and thighs off to feed to my family the first night, and then the breast meat that’s left gets shredded and set aside. The bones hit a pan of water with any vegetable scraps from the accompanying sides, and soon there is a stock simmering for soup the next day. Need ideas on what kind of soup to make from your breast meat and stock? My favorites are chicken wild rice, chicken chili, and a vegetable-heavy chicken noodle soup.

2. Make a giant pot of rice. Every time I make rice, I make extra. Brown rice especially takes a while to cook, making it a more difficult item to have on a tight schedule, especially if you’re out all day running errands¬†or at work. You can use the leftover rice to make a quick and easy side dish to accompany the next night’s protein, or you can turn it into a meal itself. Try chicken fried rice, cheesy chicken and broccoli casserole, or any one of these leftover rice recipes.

7 Ways to Make One Dinner Stretch Into Two |

3. Wrap it or stack it. Sandwiches are the quintessential leftover food. Turn leftover chicken into a chicken salad. Thinly slice leftover steak and turn them into cheesesteak. Wrap turkey in thin tortillas with vegetables and sauces. Whatever your personal preference, sandwiches from extra protein are always on the menu.

4. Hash it. Diced pieces of leftover vegetables and meat can be added to diced potatoes and cooked on a griddle or in a skillet until crisped and steaming hot. Top them with a fried or poached egg and dinner (or lunch or breakfast) is served. Try these recipes for leftover turkey and vegetable hash, corned beef hash, and this bright chicken hash.

5. Plan a pizza night. My family adores pizza night, and while fresh dough and a load of toppings to make their favorites is always a possibility, pizza is a catch-all for any manner of leftovers. Some of my favorites are using extra naan or flatbread as the crust, slicing boiled potatoes onto crust smeared with leftover pasta sauce or a bit of goat cheese, building new combinations around leftover chorizo and taco meat or, when vegetable scraps are plentiful and protein is short, adding an egg right to the center of a vegetable-heavy pie.

7 Ways to Make One Dinner Stretch Into Two |

6. Double it and freeze. So simple, and yet, we don’t manage to do it all that often. My favorite types of dishes to make ahead and freeze are casseroles and bakes. Right now there is a pan of green chile enchiladas, a ricotta lasagna, and a French toast breakfast bake in my freezer just waiting for their turn on the heat-and-eat rotation. Buy twice as much, make a bit more, and with just an extra five minutes of assembly, you’ll have dinner waiting for later.

7. Turn it into a pan-fried cake. Adding a few chopped vegetables, a binder, and a bit of oil in a pan is all it takes for unappetizing leftovers to turn into something you’ll be excited to eat. My favorite is to take leftover fish and give it this treatment because we never seem to eat leftover fish, but this gives it new life and purpose. Try it by putting ground meats and vegetables in between mashed potatoes for meat and potato cakes.

How do you stretch your cooking into more than one meal?

Shaina Olmanson is the freelance writer, photographer, and home cook behind Food for My Family. Cooking daily with and for her four kids and husband, Ole, drives her desire to inspire other families to do the same. Shaina is also the author of Desserts in Jars and contributes regularly to a variety of online sites and traditional print magazines.