I Hate Leftovers: Fighting The Battle With Recycled Food … And Winning

One of my resolutions for the new year was to give up fast food. There were two big reasons for this: health (I’m trying to lose a little weight by eating less fattening stuff and more healthy stuff) and money (dining out, even on fast food, is pretty expensive).

The end result is that I’m eating at home a lot more. I’m sinking deeper into my love for cooking (I swear it, I will start a blog like The Simple Dollar for cooking someday … I’ve even done a bit of preliminary planning) by preparing some delicious meals at home for the family, and we’re enjoying marinated meats and such things almost every night.

I’ve also done the calculations and I’m saving about $5 a day for the whole family on food, merely by rejecting most of our take-out.

This leaves one big problem, though: lunch. Previously, I would eat lots of prepackaged foods at work and sometimes go out with coworkers (often eating fast food, but not always). Now that I’ve made a commitment to stop eating fast food, I am looking to change this, mostly because it is much, much cheaper to take my lunch to work than it is to go dine out.

My first thought when I think of leftovers is “Eww… they save money, but… ewww….” so the first thing I did was make a list of the things that bothered me about leftovers:

1. I just had this stuff yesterday. I don’t particularly want to have the same thing I had for dinner again the next day for lunch every single day.

2. It’s messy. I don’t usually cook sandwiches, if you know what I’m saying. I like sauces and things that aren’t … neat. Thus, transporting them back and forth to work can be a mess if I’m not careful.

3. It takes effort in the morning when I’m already busy. Usually, I’m rushing around feeding my son breakfast with one hand and shaving with the other in the morning. I don’t have time to deal with leftovers.

4. Reheated food sucks. It often becomes homogenous and bland on the second heating.

That’s a pretty negative list for someone who is trying to convert fully to the brown bag club. So, I tackled these issues one at a time.

1. I take leftovers not the next day but the day after that. This gives me a gap of four meals between a repeated meal, which means that I won’t be grumbling about having what I just had for supper the night before.

2. I use a series of meal-ready Tupperware containers. On the top of each container, I write a weekday on it. When I put the meal into Tupperware, I find the one marked for the day I intend to eat it, fill it up with a solid meal sized portion, and put it in the fridge.

3. I prepare the meals at night. Each night after dinner, I put the meals into the appropriately dated Tupperware containers and put them on the fridge, then I take my lunch bag, put the Tupperware container marked for the next day in it (along with a jar of milk and a fruit) and stick that in the fridge. The next morning, I just grab my lunch bag and run.

4. I include a “spice bag.” Whenever I use spices to prepare a meal, I put a little bit extra into a “spice bag,” a tiny Ziploc bag. I seal this up good and toss it on top of the Tupperware container before I seal it. Then, when I go to heat the meal up, I pop off the lid, dump the contents of the spice bag on top, stir them in a bit, and heat them up. Boom, suddenly the meal has recaptured some serious flavor!

These four tactics have made the cost-saving measure of taking leftovers to work much more palatable and have made me appreciate home-cooked meals all the more. Now, I can just microwave a great meal at work and spend my lunch break doing more fulfilling things than standing in line for some greasy fast food – and also enjoy the jingle of money in my pocket.

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.