For better or worse, we live in an age of multitasking, and being so busy means that many of us take shortcuts when it comes to food. According to the National Restaurant Association, nearly a third of adults say that take-out food is essential to the way they live. Not just helpful — essential.
Everyone would agree that getting takeout or having a meal delivered is convenient. And with a few tricks, that convenience can stretch over a few more meals.
The trick is to think outside the menu and ask for extras of “component” foods that can easily be repurposed into other meals. Think of them as secret shortcut ingredients hidden in plain sight among the usual suspects. After all, if you’re going to have someone cook for you, you may as well make the most of it.
Here are some ways your next takeout meal multitask for you:
From the Italian restaurant or pizza joint
Fresh dough or pasta sheets. Even though they’re not advertised, find out when you place your order if they’ll sell you some of these uncooked ingredients. Dough can be used to make empanadas or calzones with your favorite healthy and flavorful fillings. Pasta sheets (think the ones used for lasagna) can be transformed into ravioli in the same way.
The house marinara sauce. Ask if the restaurant makes theirs from scratch. If so, tack a quart of sauce onto your order. The flavor of fresh-made beats jarred any day, and you can freeze it in batches to use later. One way to use the extra sauce in a non-pasta dish is to make “eggs in purgatory.” That’s just eggs poached in a shallow pan of simmering marinara sauce, with a little red pepper flake if you want to add a spicy kick.
From the Mexican restaurant
A grilled chicken breast (or two). The possibilities with this one are numerous. Put it in a sandwich with lettuce, tomato and herbed low-fat mayo. Slice it and spread over dressed mixed greens. Dice it to make a creamy chicken salad. Chop it up and mix it into prepared couscous or rice, or stir into a soup.
A side of pico de gallo or fresh salsa. Try it over baked or steamed fish the next day. It’s also delicious on top of a baked potato with a little melted low-fat Colby Jack cheese — see our Crispy Chipotle Potato Skins for a similar idea. Use it instead of sliced tomato to make a south-of-the-border grilled cheese sandwich.
From the Chinese restaurant
Brown rice. Most restaurants offer this healthier alternative to white rice. You can use it as the base for a hearty main dish like our Mexican Style Brown Rice Casserole or make a lighter stir-fried rice using a small amount of oil (and some leftover steamed veggies). Or toss cold rice with balsamic vinegar, fresh diced tomatoes, kalamata olives and low-fat feta cheese for a Greek-inspired salad. Have a little more time to spend in the kitchen? Look up a recipe for risotto cakes, subbing the brown rice and a couple tablespoons of softened low-fat cream cheese for the leftover risotto traditionally used to make the dish.
Steamed shrimp. A cup of this delicious shellfish has a PointsPlus™ value of just 3. Buy a small container of shrimp to use the next day tossed with greens or pasta, or chop them up to make homemade shrimp salad. Although they’re already cooked, you can add flavor by quickly reheating them in a pan with a teaspoon of olive oil and some chopped garlic; add a couple of slices of dried chorizo to the pan for a tapas-style dish.
Uncooked egg rolls. If you let the restaurant cook these for you, they’ll fry them — twice. Bring them home (or have them delivered) raw instead so you can oven-bake them for a fraction of the PointsPlus values. Call and find out what day they’re usually made (this typically happens once or twice a week) so you can plan your visit, or ask if they’ll do a special bulk order for you. To cook, place the egg rolls on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray and brush them with a little beaten egg. Bake at 350F for 45 to 60 minutes until golden brown. (You can also freeze the baked egg rolls and reheat them in a 350F oven for 20 minutes.)