Is it okay to eat leftovers?
In an ideal world, we cook fresh meals, using organic ingredients, from scratch, every day.
The reality is, however, we don’t live in an ideal world.
And although eating leftover foods is seen as a grave violation of Ayurvedic wisdom, is it really?
This post will discuss a modern, realistic approach to having leftovers, Prana energy, and practical ways to eat healthy with a busy schedule.
Ayurveda and leftovers
One of the most important tenants of Ayurveda is to eat fresh foods and to never have leftovers.
Cooking for oneself is a key Ayurvedic principle because food that is frozen or reheated can be considered dead. The lack of life force or Prana occurs when the essential nutrients are destroyed by the cooking process, the heat, the cold, and the time. In a matter of hours, a meal can offer no nutritional value at all.
The less Prana also results in more Tamas.
Tamas is one of the three mahagunas, or qualities of the mind, which taints our thinking. This happens when we indulge in poor habits or foods, including leftovers.
According to Ayurveda, a tamasic mind is dull, addicted, dark, and inert.
It is easy to understand why, if we want to feel alive, vibrant, clear, and active, it is best to stay away from leftovers, as much as we can.
The principles of Like Increases Like and Opposite Create Balance recognize that we heal when we understand our imbalances, the attributes of our doshas, and the laws that exist in the natural world. Recognizing when we feel tamasic helps in taking the right decisions to decrease that lethargy, which requires eating wholesome, freshly prepared meals.
Are leftovers bad for you?
While it is true that leftovers are Prana deficient, I’ve noticed an increased fanaticism with Ayurveda that drives you to follow the rules, regardless of the circumstances.
Following the rules, specifically for not eating leftovers, often means taking instead inadequate decisions.
Like not bringing to work a precooked, organic meal because of the rules. But, eating a “supposedly” fresh dish bought in a convenience store because you weren’t prepared, and you were so busy you ended up having something not so good.
In this situation, you sacrificed the freshness of your homemade meal for:
- Unknown ingredients
- Poor food combinations
- Unknown mood of the cook
- Foods that don’t balance your body type
- Unknown freshness
- Higher stress levels
The purpose of Ayurveda, as I see it and inculcate to my clients, is to enhance our lives with its helpful principles.
That sometimes fit into our lifestyle.
And sometimes don’t.
The point is to get better at it, not perfect, by being intuitive, practical, and realistic.
Further, thousands of years ago, when Ayurveda was developed, there were no refrigerators. Factoring this into the equation can change our view on how bad leftovers can really be for us.
The effects of food: medicinal, neutral, or poisonous
Ayurveda teaches that food can be medicinal, neutral, or destructive for us.
As leftovers have poor nutritional value and less Prana, it’s also true that even if they were meant to be medicine, like kitchari for instance, their healing properties are also less potent as medicine expires.
We can, however, render leftovers neutral, rather than poisonous, with the following tips:
- When reheating the leftovers, don’t use the microwave but a pan. Add 1-2 tbsp of water to moisten the food. Then, gently warm it in low heat, covered with a tight lid, stirring occasionally. You can also use ghee for hydration.
- Add some spices when reheating, like fresh grated ginger, black pepper, cilantro, or cayenne to support digestion.
- Avoid having leftovers of vegetables. Instead, precut and portion them to make the cooking process easier and faster. While prana is reduced when cutting them, it will not vanish entirely. Plus, the taste is better!
- Cook whenever possible and eat leftovers as an exception, not the rule. If you can cook once a day, then prepare the meals for the day and pack them in a thermal lunch container for work or leave them in the fridge when you come back home.
- Even cooking once for 2-3 days works as long as you properly refrigerate the food. Some important considerations are to chill foods below 40 °F, in covered glass containers.
- For meals over 3 days, think of composting that food instead.
- Consider your body type for choosing ingredients, preparation method, and spices. These are FREE Menus for Vata, Pitta, and Kapha to help you get started.
- Cook with love and enjoy your time in the kitchen.
- Think of ways to re-structure your schedule to allow more time for cooking.
- Observe and journal how you feel after eating.
What’s most significant is that you listen to your body and follow your intuition.
Have a plan, create some healthy menus in advance that meet the requirements of your body type, and be patient with your progress, while not compromising your stress levels for following rules.