Lovin’ Those Leftovers!

Leftovers stacked and stored in proper containersWhile good in theory, preparing a nutritious, home-cooked meal every night is probably not an option for a lot of us.

Something that really helps me out when there is no time to make a meal is having leftovers within arm’s reach that I can reheat and enjoy.

I have to admit, I was never gung-ho for leftovers. But as my life seemed to get busier, I forced, yes, forced, myself to rethink the concept, which changed my attitude. The truth is, having healthy leftovers waiting in the freezer or fridge keep me on Program and they are a real time and money-saver. Prepared right and safely, they can be as tasty as the day they were originally made.

Because of my new-found appreciation for leftovers, I’ve been getting into the habit of doubling my recipes when I do prepare a meal. In the time that it would have taken me to make one meal, I now have two. Once the meal is prepared and ready-t0-serve, I immediately portion it out. What I’m not eating at the time is placed in freezer-safe containers or air-tight bags. Once sealed properly, I then write the name of what’s in the container and the PointsPlus value per serving with a Sharpie on freezer tape. No guesswork when I go to pull it out of the freezer the next time around.

I’m really careful of how I prepare and reheat leftovers and want you to take pre-cautions, too. Mishandled food can make you sick…dangerously sick! Don’t leave food on the counter or the leftover container from the restaurant in the back of your car for any length of time.

It’s true: If you evenly heat food to the correct, necessary temperature (whether it’s in a microwave, oven, or on the stove), you will kill most bacteria that could cause illness. But, and this is a big but, you have to remember that the toxins from the bacteria aren’t eliminated!  (This is the case with rice. Medical experts recommend you never reheat rice because a type of bacteria common to it leaves a toxin that heating won’t destroy. I never realized this and it’s been a big eye-opener. I never, ever reheat rice.)

To avoid contamination from your kitchen, you must prepare and handle the food safely in the first place and it must be stored in proper containers and at the right degree to ensure that it is safe to eat before reheating.

When making any recipe, whether it’s a sandwich, salad or a big turkey dinner with all the sides, make sure your food prep area, your hands and the utensils you use are clean. Be careful of cross-contamination. For instance, don’t cut up chicken on a board and then use the same board and knife, without sanitizing it again, to chop vegetables for a salad.  The bacteria from the raw meat will contaminate the vegetables. Once that meal comes out of the oven or off the stove, make sure to store and cool it immediately so that it is safe to eat later.

While safe, careful food-prep is a must, so is the leftover reheating process. When you are reheating in the microwave, make sure to place the food in a covered dish. A lid isn’t just to prevent splatters; it also helps to heat the food more evenly. When heating meat, make sure to move it to a plate and not leave it in its package because this can leak chemicals into your food as you heat it. Also, reheat meat for a longer time on a lower temperature so that it cooks through.

A good rule of thumb is to only reheat leftovers once. That’s why I portion it out in containers so I only take what I will actually eat out of the freezer or refrigerator. What isn’t eaten the second-time it’s heated should be thrown away.

Leftovers, made and stored right the first time and reheated and handled properly for the second go-around, can be a Weight Watchers members’ best friend.

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