How to Stretch Takeout For Better, Faster Meal Prep

When you rethink ordering in as a way to augment homecooked meals, planning for the week becomes easier — and more fun.

September 23, 2020
By: Miriam Garron


Takeaway meal packed in brown paper bag delivered to the front door of a residential building.

Photo by: Oscar Wong/Getty Images

Oscar Wong/Getty Images

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It’s safe to say that we eat many of our meals at home these days. And while that can seem like a lot of work, nevertheless, there’s always takeout. I, for one, have steadily upped my takeout orders as my local restaurants expand delivery. And I have started ordering extra takeout to fold into other meals — not to just to reheat as leftovers, but as resourceful, time- and money-saving components of entirely new dishes.

Turns out, other Food Network colleagues are doing the same thing. For example, Food Network’s culinary editorial director Lygeia Grace says: "In my house, now I use a restaurant run [and delivery] to avoid a separate run to the grocery store." She orders naked salads with dressing on the side and uses the dressing on grain bowls later in the week. Ditto the Parm on Caesar salads, which she uses on scrambled eggs and pasta.

There are countless ways to incorporate someone else’s hard work (thank you, line cooks and dishwashers everywhere!) into your home-cooked meals. And using your local restaurants as supermarkets is a win-win: you save time on prep and clean-up, expand your pantry and support local small businesses all at the same time. Below are some creative ways to transform takeout items into full meals.

Fried Chicken

Food Network Kitchen’s Fried Chicken Salad.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

Lucky you if your neighborhood has great take-out fried chicken. Leftovers straight from the fridge are great but consider ordering extra for quick and easy sandwiches and salads, too.

Food Network Kitchen tosses fried chicken with buttermilk dressing spiked with yellow mustard and crunchy pickle bits, then piles it all on soft potato rolls. You can’t go wrong here.

Green Veggies

My local Sicilian pizza place not only delivers a perfect pie in under an hour, but also offers a mean (and enormous) side of garlicky, salty broccoli rabe. I order extra to toss with spaghetti, reheating the broccoli rabe in a bit of oil, then tossing it with spaghetti and some of the starchy pasta cooking water. Or, I pile the reheated veggie on toasted bread (any kind!) slathered with seasoned ricotta. Looking for a recipe? Try this sandwich:



Food Network Kitchen’s Pork and Broccoli Rabe Pressed Sandwich for Summer Slow Cooker/Zucchini Fries/Picnic Brick-Pressed Sandwiches, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Renee Comet ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Renee Comet, 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Broccoli rabe is a classic sandwich filler. Pair it with Italian deli meats to turn a sandwich into a meal. When you use pre-cooked broccoli rabe in this sandwich, the recipe becomes totally no-cook. You could also use some nice garlicky spinach if that’s what you have on hand. Either way, if the greens contain a lot of liquid, drain some of it out before you press the sandwich.

Home Fries and Hash Browns

At my house, we sometimes order breakfast for dinner from our local diner with extra home fries or hash browns to use later in the week.

Ree Drummond stuffs these burritos with home fries, breakfast sausage, eggs and cheese. Starting with prepared home fries saves you about an hour of time. Just reheat the take-out potatoes in some of the sausage drippings before you roll your burritos. The recipe calls for twelve Russet potatoes to make twelve burritos, but it’s easy to halve or quarter the recipe; use about 1 cup of prepared home fries per burrito.

Pulled Pork

If you have barbecue joint or supermarket that sells pulled pork by the pound, buy a bunch and freeze it in small batches to use throughout the week. These two recipes make the meat go further by taking it out of the center of the plate.

Beauty Photo of BBQ Pulled Pork Nachos ,as seen on Girl Meets Farm, Season 4.

Although Molly Yeh’s nachos call for her homemade (and delicious) pulled pork and barbecue sauce, if you use about 4 cups of take-out pulled pork and your favorite barbecue sauce, you can have these ready in less than 30 minutes.

A grilled cheese sandwich filled with mac and cheese and pulled pork equals the best sort of sensory overload. Plus, it’s genius: why not combine a classic barbecue joint side (mac and cheese) with the barbecue itself? The recipe calls for prepared mac and cheese, so order the mac with your pork if you can. Or use the boxed stuff.

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