Foods for Putting Quick Meals Together

It’s Tuesday, the day for Time-Saving Tips and Techniques at CookingManager.Com.

In Pre-Leftovers and Rotating Food I described how I cook something new and combine it with something on hand, putting a series of meals together like an interlocking chain.

Below are cooked foods I like to have on hand for putting together quick meals:

  • Beans, chickpeas and lentils. I soak and cook a large quantity, set aside some for the next few days, then freeze the rest flat in a shallow container or “zippered” plastic bag. This makes it easy to break off a small amount. I add them to chili and any dish that needs an extra punch of protein. Save the cooking water as it adds flavor and texture to soups and casseroles. If you store chickpeas the cooking liquid is a good addition to chumus. Water for soaking beans should not be used in cooking, but you can water your plants with it. For picky kids, mash the beans. Lentils and smaller beans don’t need pre-soaking.
  • Rice. I never make just one meal’s worth of rice. We’ll eat it for breakfast or lunch, or I add it to soup, serve with stir-fry, or put in a tortilla. Add an egg to cooked rice and make a crust for a quiche. Just microwave or bake it for a few minutes before filling.
  • Potatoes. Mash them into a soup, chop them into a quiche or casserole, or add some onions and an egg and make potato cakes under the broiler. Avoid freezing cooked potatoes, although most people don’t mind them in soup.
  • Marinara sauce. Keep in smaller containers in the freezer for when you want to pull together a meal. Serve plain with pasta or add in some leftover meat. You can add it to casseroles and quiches too.
  • Gravy. This is the home cook’s secret weapon, but many just throw it out. After roasting or cooking meat or chicken, pour boiling water in the pan and pour the contents into a container. This is called deglazing.  The fat will congeal at the top in the refrigerator and you can remove it. Freeze it in small containers—a little goes a long way—for turning ordinary leftovers into something special.
  • Bits of meat, casseroles, or other leftovers. Sometimes this will be just what you need to fill out a meal. Another meal option is simply a selection of collected leftovers.
  • Larger amounts of cooked meat for adding to sauce, stir fries, or casseroles.
  • Vegetable cooking liquid. Use for cooking rice, add to soup, or bread dough.
  • Raw, prepared vegetables. Ideally vegetables should be peeled and washed as close to cooking as possible, but most prepared vegetables will keep for a few days. You can even soak peeled potatoes overnight if you have to. For me, having peeled onions and washed celery on hand is the key to a quick meal.
  • Sauteed onions, peppers, celery or mushrooms. When you are sauteeing vegetables, make extra and divide into one or more meal sized quantities in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Soup fixings. Add clean leftover scraps of vegetables and other foods on this list, to a container in the freezer until you want to make stock or soup.

So next time you find yourself in the kitchen, double up on the basics and get a jump start on future meals.

What cooked foods do you find most handy to have around?

If you enjoyed this post you might also like:

Ten Ways to Cook a Turnip

How to Use Up Celery

Smart Ways to Manage Your Leftovers


  1. Do you have a good template for menus for the week/month? I”m always looking for one that really suits our needs – especially that has a way to incorporate leftovers. Any ideas?

  2. Forgot to ask: Can you freeze cooked rice?

  3. Sorry, i wrote all this out before i read again that you wanted cooked staples. :/ But this might be helpful to somebody. 😀

    Chinese egg noodles (ramen, i guess they’re called?) in the large packages, not the instant with the gross stuff. A standard motzash treat for my husband and I is stir fried noodles with some leftover meat/chicken from shabbat. I soak them in boiling water while i stir fry onions, garlic, a tomato, and veggies, add the noodles, soy sauce, sweet chili sauce (another kitchen staple we’ve become addicted to), maybe a little orange juice or even a tablespoon of peanut butter. Better than a restaurant. This treatment works for leftover rice also.

    Whole wheat couscous- another quick lifesaver; makes a great sub for burgul for a quick taboule.

    Plain yogurt- I love it with cutup cucumbers and tomatoes for a refreshing summer meal. Or cut up fruit. Or a quick smoothie if I want to drink my lunch or dinner.

    Eggs- I can’t live without eggs! I must have two eggs everyday, with some ww toast. For breakfast i like a plain omelette, but for dinner, i like to make fritattas with potatoes, spinach, salty cheese, tomatoes, whatever is in the fridge.

  4. I never throw away leftover chicken–there is always something to do with it. Either I make a cold chicken salad, or I saute red pepper and lots of onions add some spices (S &P, cumin, garlic powder), a bit of water and cook it up. I let the liquid boil down and serve it over rice or in a wrap. Yum!

  5. “Gravy. This is the home cook’s secret weapon, but many just throw it out”
    It sounds like a great idea, but I am not imaginitive enuf to figure out what to do next. Can you please provide some recipes that use the gravy?

  6. Wow, I found you through Leora, I’ve been needing your help. Looking forward to reading more of your stuff. Really appreciate this post, quick meals is something I am in favor of 🙂

  7. I am very happy I found your website as I am learning to adjust my food budget and time. I love your ideas and plan to use them. Looking forward to learning more in the very near future.


  1. […] Learn to use leftovers, including planned leftovers, by cooking extra. See: Thirteen Smart Ways to Use Leftovers, Putting Quick Meals Together […]