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Front Porch: In praise of leftovers on the menu

I’ve come to realize over the years that there are a fair number of people who don’t eat leftovers. I don’t understand that.

Sure, some reheated food isn’t as tasty on the second go-around (like French fries), but a lot of things are actually better (like spaghetti sauce) after aging a bit. But on general principle, they won’t eat it. Or do so with a wrinkled nose.

A person such as that would starve in my house.

The daughter of a friend of ours married a man who would not abide leftovers. And, of course, that’s what their children learned from him about dining. A lot more could be said about that, but that, perhaps, is the subject for another time.

My own son-in-law was pretty lukewarm about next-day food, but he is married to my son, who does most of the cooking and who grew up eating at my dinner table, so that was not going to fly.

I mean, what’s the issue? Every dinner, even when fresh-cooked (or nuked or brought in as take-out) isn’t a gourmet meal. Most of us aren’t that talented in the kitchen or take the time for a fussy dinner seven days a week. And meatloaf is meatloaf, day of or day after. Yes, a dressed salad doesn’t hold over well, but most entrees are just fine.

And a lot of people don’t actually cook every night anyhow.

It’s certainly helps the budget to eat leftovers, even leftovers coming from leftovers. It often turns out interesting to have a blend of meals of the recent past. For example, once a week we usually have, what I call, Tupperware night or, if I’m more cavalier about it, clean-out-the-fridge night.

We often have the hindquarters (thigh and leg) of rotisserie chicken for dinner each week. When I’m not that hungry, the leg usually remains on the plate. So there’s always one available in the refrigerator. When it’s chicken breasts, several slices can remain. Sometimes lasagna has a 2-inch square left uneaten. Then there’s that half cup of rice, cooked carrots, chili, meatloaf or what-have-you.

I take out all the leftovers, reheat them and apportion accordingly. Might throw on the plates some fresh celery stalks or an onion slice for Bruce, which he likes with meat. Ta dah … an eclectic dinner. And also an easy one. Plus, a refrigerator with room to start gathering leftovers anew.

Leftovers have the advantage of serving as a late-night snack or lunch. Lunch is a good one. Former first lady Michelle Obama has commented, “… cook a meal, maybe not every night, but a couple more times a week than you usually do. That way you have leftovers, and you take your lunch to work.”

Were my mother still living, she’d be laughing. She was one of the youngest in a large immigrant family growing up in the South Bronx. Leftovers? No such thing. The forks were flying so fast that sometimes the younger kids left the table not as full as they would have liked.

And turning up your nose at food from yesterday, should there ever have been such a thing in her family’s ice box, hardly. To throw away food her mother made for the family would have been, first, a travesty, and second, an insult.

Now, there certainly are recipe failures that one should not have to suffer through twice. And some things take a bit of a learning taste-curve to get used to or a recipe adjustment to consider. The first asparagus I ever ate had come from a frozen package and was so slimy I could hardly swallow it. But swallow it I did, lest I offend my mother (who, admittedly, was not a great cook). And when I learned to cook asparagus from fresh … yummy!

When I make a casserole, I still make a big one, and freeze the remainder in two-person-size portions. Defrost, nuke and serve with a side salad – a combination of leftovers and freshly prepared food. And easy.

Still, I have a friend who won’t eat lasagna previously frozen, thawed and reheated from an earlier meal. Why?

Leftovers keep the family cook sane and the family consistently well fed. Get over it.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at

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