I’m talking about leftovers with a capital “L”—the big batch recipe that I’m supposed to chip away at for days on end. If I have to eat anything more than twice I do a lot of internal moaning and groaning about it. I know this puts me at odds with most cooks. Leftovers are generally heralded as a boon—a promise that you won’t have to cook for the next several days, that dinner is just a plate and microwave nuke away. If that works for you, that’s fantastic. For me though (and I suspect other solo cooks), it’s a burden. Let me explain.
I resent what leftovers represent
When I first started searching for solutions for single cooks about 7 years ago, all I found were meal planners telling me to freeze giant batches of food, then ration and reheat for weeks. The message: Cooking is a terrible chore, especially if you’re only feeding yourself. Better to avoid it altogether by subsisting on the same dish for weeks. The subtext: Endless leftovers are your punishment for living alone.
I love to cook and resent the assumption that I don’t or shouldn’t because I don’t have others to feed. If solo cooks had more and better resources and the pressure was relaxed a bit, I bet they’d love to cook as well. Leftovers are a cop out, non-solution for what single cooks really need: scaled down recipes, streamlined steps, and new ways to use up ingredients.
Leftovers are rarely satisfying
No dish is really as good the third or fourth time it’s eaten. The textures, smells, colors, and flavors have been dulled beyond recognition at that point. You’re stuck eating the same boring dish because it would go to waste otherwise. You’ve avoided the terrible chore of cooking, but now eating has become the chore.
What makes a meal satisfying isn’t just how filling it is, but how much joy and excitement you get from eating it—easier with a hot, fresh, homemade meal. The fact that you took the time and effort to feed yourself well makes it even more satisfying. Endless leftovers rob you of that kind of satisfaction. It cuts you off from interacting with and enjoying your food.
Leftovers are risky
If you cook one serving and don’t really like it, you only have to eat it once. If you cook multiple servings, you’re stuck with it because you don’t want that food, money, and effort to go to waste. There’s always a chance a recipe won’t work or you won’t like the result. I’d rather halve or quarter a recipe and find different uses for the remaining ingredients than be stuck with a lot of something I didn’t really enjoy the first time.
Leftovers can’t keep up with my cravings
My cravings are frequent and fickle. I’ll be desperate for something for about a week, eat it once, then want something totally different the next day. Satisfying your cravings, however weird and random they are, is one of the best things about cooking for one. Seeing what others are cooking also makes me want to drop everything and try it myself, regardless of what I already had planned. Endless leftovers mean fewer chances to to learn, to experiment, to discover new techniques and flavors.
Again, I’m not opposed to all leftovers… A second serving has definitely come in handy for a hot lunch (the Asian Meatloaf from ATK’s Cooking for One cookbook, above). There are also times where I can’t bear to cook and wish I had something stashed away. For the most part though, I love cooking too much exchange the experience for a fast yet fairly disappointing meal. I’m worth more than that, and so are you.