Soup is a great frugal, potentially delicious meal that can successfully be made from leftovers. It’s a great way to “waste-not-want-not” because potentially you can get a free meal for your efforts.

But I’m not talking about just dumping stuff in a pot willy-nilly. There’s a method here for making really great soup from ingredients you’ve become accustomed to tossing out in the past.


Use wisdom when making soup from leftovers. While soup is a great way to disguise certain food items, generally, if your family didn’t like it the first time, chances are slim they will like it better in soup. You can make a good soup from what you have, provided what you have is still fresh and something you liked the first time.

A great starting point is Thursday Night Soup, which got its name from the fact that traditionally workers were paid on Friday, so by Thursday night, you’d be using up whatever you had.

Read through this recipe and you will get a basic idea of the parts of soup: fat, onion, liquid, seasonings, fillings.


  • 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 to 2 cups leftovers, cooked or raw (see below for explanation)
  • 1 to 2 cups liquid
  • condiments to taste
  1. In a kettle over medium heat, sauté the onion in the oil until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Reduce heat and cook 1 minute, stirring. Add water, bouillon, salt, pepper, bay leaf, thyme, and sugar. Cook 5 minutes, uncovered.
  2. Add up to 2 cups solid leftovers—carrots, celery, potatoes, peas, snap beans. These may be raw or cooked. If raw, mince or slice very thin, and cook 5 to 10 minutes or until tender before adding. If cooked, simmer about 5 minutes before serving. Cooked fish or meats may be added: beef, hamburger, chicken, turkey, and veal are good. Cube before adding and cook 5 minutes before serving.
  3. Frozen vegetables, meats or fish may also be added. Cooked dishes may be added—for instance, rice dishes, stews, pasta leftovers, creamed vegetables, and mashed potatoes. Raw spaghetti, noodles, and rice work well, but these will require simmering 12 to 15 minutes, covered.
  4. Add up to 2 cups liquid: milk, cream, buttermilk; any leftover soup that isn’t “cabbagy”; the cooking water of vegetables, tomato juice, gravy, wine, etc.
  5. Taste and season: add more salt, pepper, sugar, paprika, wine, Worcestershire sauce, or those herbs that go so well with tomato-flavored soups—oregano, basil, and rosemary—1/4 teaspoon each (dried) is sufficient. Cook 5 minutes after the final seasonings have gone in, then serve.

While the possibilities are endless, here are some suggestions:

Chicken Noodle Soup is a great follow-up after a night of baked chicken. Bake a few extra breasts and save the drippings. Any cooked vegetables left over can be added as well, or use the recipe that follows.

Chili Bean Soup. Only one or two portions of chili left? Add a quart of beef, vegetable or chicken broth and a can of hominy or corn and simmer together. Serve with tortilla chips, salsa, and grated cheese.

Corn Chowder. Leftover gravy, corn, and mashed potatoes? Whisk together the potatoes and gravy with chicken broth. Stir in corn and simmer until hot. Season with dried dill weed and salt and pepper at the end.

Beef Stroganoff Soup. Leftover beef stew? Thin with beef broth and bring to almost a boil. Stir in egg noodles. Cook until noodles are tender. Add a little cream or milk at the end. Simple Chicken Soup 1/2 onion, finely diced 2 ribs celery, finely diced 2 carrots, finely diced 1 tablespoon butter (or vegetable oil) 3 cups chicken broth 1 tablespoon white miso* 1 cup chopped leftover chicken 1 cup leftover cooked rice Salt and pepper Sauté onion, carrots, and celery in butter (or oil) until soft. Add the broth and miso, stirring to combine, and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook about 15 minutes. Add the chicken, rice and season to taste. Simmer until chicken and rice are heated through. Servings: 4.

*Look for white miso in the ethnic foods aisle of your supermarket. Many major stores have caught on to the demand for this Japanese soybean product that looks a lot like paste and adds a kind of sweet, amazing flavor to soup. It’s fine to omit if you cannot find it.


  • 2 pounds (or so) bony chicken pieces (wings, back, neck, the carcass)
  • 2 celery ribs with leaves, cut into chunks
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into chunks
  • 2 medium onions, quartered
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 8 to 10 whole peppercorns
  • 2 quarts cold water
  1. Place all ingredients in a large pot. Slowly bring to a boil; reduce heat. Skim foam. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
  2. Remove meat from bones. Discard bones; save meat for another use.
  3. Strain broth, discarding vegetables and seasonings. Refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. Skim fat from surface.
  4. Freeze if you won’t be using this within a few days. Yield: about 6 cups.


Find yourself throwing out bits and pieces of meals? A few kernels of corn, a spoonful of beans? Here’s a way to put those leftovers to use.

Place a container in the freezer, and add your food scraps until it’s full. Then use them in Thursday Night Soup or just dump the contents into a pot; add some broth and seasoning; heat through.

There you have it, a cheap and tasty meal from food that might otherwise have gone to waste.