15 Creative Ways to Make Leftovers Taste Delicious

by Tracy · 9 comments

how to use leftovers

While some people have an aversion to leftovers, my mom dubbed me “The Human Garbage Disposal” because having too much leftover food was never a problem while I was in the house. To this day, I often have leftovers for breakfast and lunch, which not only saves us money but also saves me time and effort during my busy days.

However, not everyone is keen on eating the same meal several times in a row. The good news is that some of the tastiest dishes are based on leftovers. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your leftovers:

how to make leftovers taste great1. Practice good food safety.

Put leftovers away as soon as possible after a meal. Use wide, shallow containers so that they will cool down faster. Consider freezing some leftovers to buy yourself time to use it up before it goes bad.

2. Account for leftovers when planning your meals.

Many families enjoy having a leftovers night where everything is pulled out of the fridge, reheated and family members serve themselves.

3. Cook in bulk.

If you are roasting meat or grilling chicken breasts, why not cook just a bit more than you’ll need at the same time and using it for the next evening’s quick dinner? For example, I’ll often roast two chickens at a time so that we have plenty left-over for a make your own sandwich/salad/quesadilla night. Planned leftovers are a great way to ensure that you have an easy dinner on a hectic evening.

4. Make fried rice.

Fried rice is one of the best and most simple ways to use up small bits of leftover meat and vegetables. Many people prefer to use rice that has been cooled in the fridge for a while, but I cook mine Korean style with fresh rice and often wrap it in an omelet and serve with ketchup and Sriracha hot sauce. Don’t think that fried rice has to have a heavily Asian flavor, either; you can experiment with using different seasonings that you think would compliment your ingredients.

5. Reincorporate leftovers into new recipes.

I love using leftover pasta and vegetables in a frittata. It seems a bit more fancy to me than a regular casserole and can be served hot or cold with a salad or cup of soup to round things out.

6. Turn it into a hash.

My favorite part of St. Patrick’s day is turning the leftover corned beef, cabbage and potatoes into a delicious hash for brunch the next day. Almost any meat can be turned into a hash. For extra deliciousness, top with a fried or poached egg!

7. Freeze until you can turn it into a soup.

Many people enjoy making soups and stews from leftovers. Some go as far as to keep a container in the freezer to keep leftover vegetables and meats until they have enough.

8. Indulge yourself.

Leftovers from taco night make excellent nachos the next day.

9. Learn the forgotten art of the croquette.

It’s a great way to use up leftover potatoes and I particularly like them made out of leftover fish, since it’s usually not that great reheated on its own.

10. Bring in the pasta.

You can stretch saucy leftovers by tossing them with pasta or serving over rice, polenta or bread.

11. Do a leftover swap.

If you’re brown bagging it and like variety, as work friends if they’d be interested in a leftovers swap. You get their meatloaf sandwich, they get your baked ziti, everyone is happy and full.

12. Think pie.

The pot or shepherd’s kind specifically. These are comfort foods at their finest and can be frozen to provide a quick meal later in the week or month.

13. Curries, curries, curries.

There are many kinds of curries from India, Thailand, Japan and several other countries that you can experiment with. Many stores sell pre-made pastes or spice blends that make it simple to make your own curries at home without having to buy dozens of new spices.

14. Don’t forget to Google! (Or Pinterest.)

There’s a good chance that searching for “leftover + your ingredient + recipe” will yield several results from the bizarre to the sublime.

15. Appeal to youth.

If all else fails, invite a hoard of teenagers to your house and invite them to help themselves to the fridge.

What are some of your favorite ways to use leftovers?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Lorena says:

    I love using up leftovers from taco or burrito night in a taco salad the next day for lunch — just top a bed of lettuce with your warmed meat, leftover toppings, salsa, and crushed tortilla chips for crunch. Easy and delicious.

    Also, if you have nachos leftover from takeout or from the night before, throw the stale cheesy chips in a skillet to warm them through, then beat an egg or two and throw it in the pan with the nachos. Once you’ve cooked it through, plate it and eat. My dad taught me how to make these when I was a kid with fresh corn tortillas, but it’s nice to use up leftovers this way. I’ve also done the same thing with leftover corn tortillas, shredded meat (like carnitas) and hot carrots.

    Lastly, we always seem to have leftover marinara sauce, but not enough noodles, after spaghetti night. I like warming the sauce up in a pan, then adding an egg to poach in the sauce — it’s an Israeli dish that’s great with leftover garlic bread or toast, or use it over rice or polenta. It’s something I can eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

  • Amazonite says:

    Just today for lunch I brought a couple of whole wheat tortillas from my fridge, along with some leftover sliced chicken breast from a couple of nights ago and some sauce (okay, okay, it was based on cream of chicken soup, so sue me. 😉
    and I just made an impromptu burrito with the leftover chicken and sauce. It was yummy.

  • Nancy says:

    I have some pork roast left over from a crockpot meal two days ago. Tonight, along with some cooked pinto beans from the freezer and some leftover sweet potato, it will go into enchiladas. Leftover cooked spaghetti gets mixed with a couple of eggs, a little milk, and some parmesan cheese, and fried in a little olive oil to make a spaghetti pancake (Giada on Food Network calls this pizza di spaghetti.) I often have some extra spaghetti sauce in the freezer to put on top. Of course, we’re big on “garbage soup,” too. I make stock from all the veggie odds and ends I accumulate in the freezer and the bones of roasted chickens or turkeys.

  • Melissa says:

    I always have tortillas on hand because I can wrap anything in them,
    and they are super cheap. I’ve wrapped meat, cooked veggies, raw
    veggies, eggs, different sauces that need to be used…Pretty much
    anything in my fridge that isn’t already a starch gets put inside of a
    corn tortilla.

  • Wojo says:

    For leftover (or about to spoil) veggies, pastas, rices, etc., I’ve found soups to be a quick and easy solution. I’ll just make a fast stock and throw as many things in that I can, and the result is usually a nice, tasty soup that lasts another 3-4 days in the fridge.

  • Troy says:

    I always toss out my leftover vegetables. I heard that eating vegetables stored overnight increases the risk of cancer.

  • Lynn says:

    Here’s a question…how long would stuff like pot roast or baked chicken last in the fridge? We’re leftovers people too.

    • Lisa says:

      Lynn- It depends on the coldness of your refrigerator and how quickly you
      can get the food cooled down. Our 25 year old refrigerator keeps food from
      spoiling a ridiculously long time (and is about the only reason why we still have kept it), but in my experience, “sturdier” meat like well-done beef will hold up longer than more delicate meat, like a roast fowl (chicken or turkey)
      with bones, meat that has been ground , or the most delicate – veal or lamb, or fish. I would give a pot roast 3-5 days, roast fowl or pork 2-4 days, rarer beef, veal, lamb, or fish 2 or 3 days. We often cube up the last of a roast beef
      and dump it in a pot with a ton of chopped onion, celery, and carrots and boil it up for a while before adding the leftover gravy and other vegetables, salt, pepper and it becomes a chunky soup. Same with a chicken or turkey carcass, except we we boil the meat/bones in salted water first, then remove
      the carcass and pull the meat off, add vegetables and gravy to the broth, then
      add the cut up meat 10-15 minutes before it’s done. Meat re-cooked this way
      will last a long time, maybe another 3-4 days.

  • Deette says:

    Another great tip for leftovers is to put them in individual freezer containers, and be sure to label and date them, and stack them in your freezer. Take these containers in your lunch. My favorites are home made soup (made from left-overs) rice and pasta dishes. It is like taking a Lean Cuizine to work for lunch with out the expense.
    Have a Fabulous & Frugal day….

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