Cook once, but you can eat twice

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By Melissa Hight, County Extension

Do you struggle to figure out what to prepare for dinner on a daily basis? Is the evening meal just one more thing added to your already busy schedule? Give yourself a break by trying the technique of  “cook once, eat twice.”

The idea is to spend a few extra minutes planning complementary menus where you cook a larger quantity of food to be used later in an entirely different recipe. Dinner becomes less of a hassle and you save valuable time. “Cook once, eat twice” is different from making large batches and eating leftovers. Follow these general guidelines to assure your food remains safe and of high quality:

1) Separate out and refrigerate the portion to be served for your next meal before you set the food on the table. This keeps your food quality higher by preventing “planned-overs” from becoming “picked-overs.”

2) Promptly refrigerate the food for the next meal to keep it safe. Perishable cooked foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products, shouldn’t be at room temperature longer than two hours total...that total is the total of the first and second use.

3) As a general rule-of-thumb, use the extra refrigerated food you cooked within one to two days. Freeze for longer storage. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator when you’re ready to use again; never thaw at room temperature.

Here are some quick and easy examples of “cook once, eat twice” to get you started. Adapt according to your family preferences and add your own ideas.  Be creative.


Meal 1: Cook extra chicken breasts or turkey cutlets. Cover and refrigerate half the chicken or turkey. Top the remaining half with your favorite seasonings or sauce for serving immediately.

Meal 2: The next night, slice the plain cooked chicken or turkey into strips and combine with lettuce and Caesar salad dressing for a main dish salad. For more poultry recipe ideas, check the websites of the National Turkey Federation (www.turkeyfed.org) and the National Chicken Council (www.eatchicken.com).


Meal 1: Make a large batch of plain rice. The first night, while the rice is cooking, prepare a hearty sauce to serve over your rice as a main dish. For example, add cooked ground beef to tomato sauce flavored with Italian seasoning.

Meal 2: On night two, make fried rice with your favorite veggies and fresh shrimp or chicken (may also use a can of shrimp or chicken from your cupboard). You also can save leftover rice from one night and chicken/turkey from another night and put them together in any number of dishes for night three. 

Possibilities include: rice-based casseroles, chicken or turkey rice soup and fried rice. Rice also freezes well. After cooked rice has cooled in the refrigerator, transfer it to plastic freezer bags in quantities needed for future meals. Label with the date and quantity. For more rice recipe ideas, check out the Rice Council’s website (www.usarice.com).


Meal 1: Make a roast the first evening and enjoy part of it.

Meal 2: Slice the rest of your roast for delicious sandwiches or a hearty stew the next night. For more meat recipe ideas, check the websites of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (www.beef.org), the Nebraska Beef Council (www.nebeef.org) and the National Pork Producers’ Council (www.otherwhitemeat.com).


Meal 1: Cook macaroni for your favorite macaroni and cheese recipe the first night, plus extra for another recipe.

Meal 2: Extra pasta can be served in a cold dish, such as a pasta salad, at a later meal. You might add some cooked meat from a previous meal to your salad. Thoroughly drain pasta that’s prepared for immediate use in a hot dish such as macaroni and cheese; do not rinse it. The National Pasta Association (NPA) recommends rinsing cooked pasta under cold water only if you plan to use it in a cold dish, such as a salad, or if you want to save it for later use. The cold water stops the cooking process. For more pasta recipe ideas, check the website of the National Pasta Association (www.ilovepasta.org).

Now put the whole week together. Here are some sample menus for five nights of “cook once, eat twice.” Save your menus when you find two-night combos that work well for you.

Night 1: Turkey cutlets with raspberry glaze (top with a little raspberry jelly), green beans, seasoned rice, rolls and lemon sorbet.

Night 2: Tomato soup, Caesar salad with turkey strips (turkey from night 1), garlic bread, peach and frozen yogurt parfait.

Night 3: Fried rice and shrimp (rice from night 1), steamed broccoli, Mandarin oranges and fortune cookies.

Night 4: Beef roast, boiled new potatoes, carrots, whole-grain bread, fresh fruit.

Night 5: Beef sandwiches (beef from night 4), baked potato chips, frozen yogurt.

Once you start thinking “cook once, eat twice” you will find “meal time” takes up less of your time. And couldn’t we all use some extra time? 

Resource: University of Nebraska Extension