First of all, I do not actually call the food in my refrigerator and freezer "leftovers." I call it by its name, because no one wants to eat something called "leftovers." If someone asks what we're having for dinner, I say, "we are having Liberian Pumpkin again."
How I manage the extra-food-which-is-not-called-leftovers:
1. It's lunch for the children and me, and often, packed for my husband. Occasionally we have sandwiches for lunch, but in the main, lunch meat and cheese is expensive and the former is downright unhealthy. Besides, it's faster to heat up servings in the microwave than fiddle with making sandwiches that my daughter sobs over "MOM!!! IT FELL APART!"
2. I freshen up the dish before I serve it again
Ways to freshen a dish:
***reheat it in the oven so the house fills up with its scent again - a scented house is one of the lovely benefits of cooking.
***first saute an onion in the soup pot before dumping in the soup to reheat
***add some minced garlic or snipped parsley at the end
***melt some cheese on top
3. I make dishes or look for recipes that transform previous dishes. The best ideas for this come from the More With Less cookbook. I rarely serve cornbread again, but use it instead in cornbread dressing. See what I did with baked corn here.
4. I serve it with something different, made fresh, this time. Roast beef example here.
5. If something can freeze well and it's enough for another meal, I freeze it. Then I pull this out for a meal that I don't have time to cook for (Sunday dinner, for example). This is my convenience food! Easy, healthy, thrifty.
6. In my opinion, a leftovers buffet is bad. It involves fighting over choice leftovers, unappetizing combinations if you're the last in line, and unbalanced meals. I like to plan meals so they taste good together, but mixing up three days' worth of leftovers rarely makes winning combinations.
7. If I go to the trouble to shop for ingredients, get out my pots and pans, and prep food, it is less trouble to just double the recipe than it is to start over from scratch another time for another meal. You have heard of people who do all their cooking for a month on one day; I'm using their concept, but making it more manageable.
Finally, a picture and a recipe!
A few nights ago I served Liberian Pumpkin. In my trusty More with Less is an idea for transforming leftover pasta and red sauce.
Mix the leftover pasta with an egg and some grated cheese (if it's long pasta, I also chop it up a bit). My pasta is usually already slicked with olive oil, but you could add some melted butter here too. Press this into a greased pie pan, forming a pie crust configuration. Put some more cheese (or cottage cheese) in the bottom of the "crust." Could add some vegetables here too. Then dump the thick sauce into the pie and sprinkle more cheese on top. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes - until heated well, and cheese is melted.
This is more interesting than just heating up piles of spaghetti. In the case of the Liberian Pumpkin, the homemade noodles stayed so chewy, but glommed onto the cheese in an amazing way. That's what got me thinking about how wonderful leftovers really are.