If you’re anything like me, weeknights are a blur of trying to
get something quick and healthy on the table and into the kids
before bathing them and sending them off to bed.

Time is tight, everyone’s tired after a long day, and I’m
usually missing at least one key ingredient. There has to be an
easier way to deal with the mid-week rush.

Enter the idea of the rubber chicken, which refers not to the
palatability of the food, but rather the idea that you cook a
chicken once and keep it bouncing back for dinner for the next few
nights. Not only does this make weeknight meals a breeze since you
do the majority of the cooking on the weekend, it also makes it
much easier to ensure you have all the right ingredients on hand,
and is a frugal use of leftovers during tighter economic times.
Knowing in advance what you plan to do with the leftovers means
they’re more likely to get used, and creative leftovers go down
much easier with the kids since you pre-empt the “leftovers…
again?” argument by serving an entirely different meal.

The key to stretching these meals through the week is to cook
more the first time so you have leftovers for later. Buy a bigger
bird, roast or quantity of vegetables so you’re sure to have enough
for at least two more meals. And of course it’s not only chickens
that you can rubberize; try some of these meal-planning ideas to
stretch your food dollar just a little bit further.

1. Rubber Chicken

Plan a Sunday dinner of roast chicken with all the trimmings,
and you’ll be set for another two or three meals. This easily
adapts to barbecued chicken pieces during the summer months when
the idea of turning on the oven is enough to make you melt. Once
dinner is finished on Sunday, pick the chicken clean, reserve the
meat for a meal-sized chicken salad, and throw the carcass into the
stockpot with onions, carrots and celery (adding noodles at the
end) for a delicious homemade soup. Alternatives to the salad
include chicken quesadillas, pasta with creamy chicken pesto, or
open-faced chicken sandwiches. You can also use turkey, Cornish
hens or other poultry; stock your freezer with whatever’s on sale
and then vary flavours throughout the year.

2. Bouncy Roast Beef

Buy a larger-sized roast and prepare heaps of mashed potatoes,
and you’re ready to serve up the beef that keeps on giving.
Leftovers are easily transformed into delicious roast beef and blue
cheese sandwiches; or shred the beef, add a can of corn and top
with the leftover potatoes for a leaner take on shepherd’s pie.
Looking for more ideas? Add roast beef dice to salads, combine with
kidney beans and lots of seasoning for a delicious chili, or add to
a hearty broth for an easy beef stew. Roasting with simple
seasoning like rosemary, garlic and pepper ensures that the flavour
of the meat will go well with whatever you decide to do later.

3. Re-Use that Roast Pork

Any talk of rubber meals wouldn’t be complete without rounding
out your roasting options. Pigging out on pork leftovers is easy:
Stir-fry with pineapple chunks, onion, bell pepper and sweet and
sour sauce. Save time with store-bought sauce, and serve with rice.
Add the pieces to rice fried together with pigeon peas, green
olives, garlic and sweet peppers for a quick alternative to Puerto
Rico’s traditional arroz con gandules. Or fry up some onions and
peppers to serve with a little lettuce, pork and sweet chili sauce
for wonderful wraps.

4. Eat Your Veggies – Again

Who doesn’t wish their kids ate more vegetables? If you roast up
a large quantity of veggies to accompany a weekend roast, they’re
easy to hide in a number of different meals. Plus switching to
meat-free meals just one night per week helps reduce common water
pollutants by as much as 21 kilograms per year, making veggie meals
a good environmental choice. Turn your leftover vegetables into a
teriyaki stir-fry and serve over rice noodles; make an easy quiche
by adding vegetables to whipped eggs, cream and cheese, and baking
in a pre-made pie crust; or add the vegetables to made-to-order
omelets or frittatas.

5. Re-Visit the Rice

Don’t limit side dishes turned main meals to vegetables.
Leftover rice is simple to turn into Costa Rica’s traditional gallo
pinto (rice with black beans) – just fry up with onion, garlic,
pepper and fresh cilantro; an easy jambalaya with frozen shrimp,
peppers, tomatoes and Creole seasoning (cayenne, black pepper,
white pepper, oregano and thyme); or cook with milk, egg, brown
sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and raisins for a deliciously creamy rice
pudding.

Stretching meals through the week is an easy way to plan your
way to more relaxed evenings spent enjoying your family. Trade the
pre-dinner dash to the grocery store for a healthy
re-interpretation of leftovers, and take the stress out of
weeknight meals.