How to use leftovers? Oh, let me count the ways. There really are so many ways to make meals from leftovers, something the late Julia Child preferred to call “the remains of the day.” Such an elegant way to refer to leftovers.
Regardless, both terms refer to anything from half a pan of lasagna to a dab of mashed potatoes that sit in the fridge until they turn green, at which time we feel a lot better about throwing those leftovers away, right? These days, with the price of food soaring—that’s like throwing cash in the garbage.
The secret to sticking to a food budget is to first find a delicious use for every last bit of what we buy, then have an immediate plan for leftovers, and finally, to be diligent to follow through. Really, it all comes down to choosing to see leftovers as ingredients for new dishes—not just multiple go-rounds of the same thing until it’s finally gone.
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So, imagine spaghetti for breakfast. Impossible? Not at all, although this recipe works for lunch or dinner, too. For this recipe, you can use any kind of plain pasta—or go wile and use up last night’s leftover pasta smothered with sauce. Basically, you’re going to add protein value with eggs, milk, and veggies. Then, fry it up in a skillet and you’ve got Spaghetti Frittata.
Pasta Stir Fry
Stir-fries are a great way to clear out the refrigerator and use up bits of produce. Stir-frying is really one of the best leftover technique you can have up your sleeve. It’s a matter of throwing together leftover pasta, vegetables, a protein like chicken and some kind of sauce.
It’s one of our favorites—for any meal of the week. Does it sound familiar? That’s because you recall Pasta Mama from a previous post. Find it here.
Cut 2 slices of pizza into bite-size pieces. In a bowl, beat together 8 to 10 eggs. Add the pizza pieces, stir to cover all the pieces and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Spray a large frying pan with cooking spray and heat over medium-high. Scramble pizza-egg mixture in the pan for about 6 minutes or until fully cooked. Top with grated or shredded cheese and serve.
This takes a little imagination, but bear with me. Use your favorite lasagna method or recipe, substituting the lasagna noodles with leftover pizza you’ve cut into strips. It’s amazing so you really should give this a try.
It takes only 10 minutes, and the results are amazing. Crush up that partial bag of tortilla chips—crush ’em good! Then fold chips and salsa into eggs and add cheese for an awesome Breakfast Scramble. Full recipe here.
It’s quick (under 30 minutes!) and demands tortilla chips to finish. Perfect! This recipe from Martha Stewart is super easy, too.
In a bowl, beat together 2 eggs, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 2/3 cup milk. Soak 6 slices stale bread in the mixture, turning to coat both sides. Next, heat lightly oiled skillet over medium-high heat. Place bread in a skillet over medium heat and cook on both sides until golden. Serve with butter and syrup.
Rub 4 slices of stale bread with a crushed clove of garlic. Cut bread into cubes, crouton-size. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add cubes and cook, stirring often, until crispy. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
French onion soup
This recipe actually calls for the bread to be stale—either a baguette or another crusty variety. Each serving of soup uses two slices of bread, one on the top and one on the bottom. Or check out my favorite French Onion Soup recipe, which admittedly is a bit more involved, but so worth it.
Spread any kind of toasted bread with a touch of a schmear of mayonnaise followed by soft buttery avocado, a bit of lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Then, kick it up with these additions: sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced cucumbers, cilantro, sprouts, sliced olives—whatever you have on hand.
It’s not what you’re thinking—blankets of cheese spread over furniture for kids’ play! Actually, it’s French for “strong cheese.” Translated, it is a delightfully economical blend of whatever odds and ends of cheese you have around plus some wine, garlic, salt, pepper and herbs.
Basically, you throw all of it (think leftovers from last night’s party) into the blender and Voila!, a spread for crackers and baguette, or a dip veggies. Don’t judge, this really is quite amazing.
Mac ‘n cheese
Pretty much a no brainer, right? Well not exactly, depending on which cheese you have in need of a delicious way to be used up. If it’s white cheddar, hallelujah! This copycat recipe is my family’s all-time favorite. If you’re a Panera Bread fan, you’re going to love it, too.
Probably not what you’re thinking. The idea here is to enrich that bowl of plain Cream of Wheat with an egg and vanilla. The result is a creamy breakfast pudding. Yum! Find the recipe here.
What to do with all of those egg whites leftover from that recipe that called for only egg yolks? How about a meringue dessert. The fancy name is pavlova, and it is delightful! There are endless recipes out there for pavlova, but you won’t find one easier and more foolproof than Easy Pavlova.
Mix cold mashed potatoes with an egg or two, leftover pieces of fish, ham, corned beef plus chopped onion and a little flour to hold it all together. Form into small patties and shallow fry in oil, until brown and crispy.
Use leftover mashed potatoes as a topping on a savory pie filling. You’re not likely to have a lot of potatoes, so think individual shepherds pies or chicken pot pies.
After pan-frying chicken or pork, deglaze the pan with coffee instead of wine for a deeper, southern-style gravy sometimes known as Red Eye Gravy
Coffee ice cubes are great in iced coffee; they don’t dilute the drink as the ice melts. Or add your preferred milk and flavorings to the coffee and pour into popsicle-type molds for a frozen treat tomorrow
Coffee-based brines that include spices such as cloves, star anise, peppercorns and, of course, plenty of salt make for delicious and super moist roast chicken. Here’s a recipe for your consideration: Coffee Brined Chicken Breasts.
The main ingredient in fried rice is … leftover, white rice! And it’s so easy, if not forgiving. All you need is a good roadmap to follow. And I’m sure you’re not surprised that I have that for you right here in New Life for Leftover Rice!
Most recipes for rice pudding call for uncooked rice. That’s not much good when it’s cooked white or brown rice leftover that needs a yummy use, and quick. That’s why I love this recipe, Old Fashioned Creamy Rice Pudding. The first ingredient is 1 1/2 cups of cooked rice! I think you will agree that it is fabulous.
Of course, chicken and turkey are pretty much interchangeable when it comes to making soup. You may have a heritage recipe handy, one that has been handed down through your family tree. Or if not, this one could easily become your go-to recipe of choice.
Use cut-up turkey or chicken to top a salad. The protein fiber combination makes for a perfect meal!
Forget shelling out the big bucks at the local sandwich shop. Instead, repurpose last night’s chicken or turkey in your own healthy version. Grab a flour tortilla and use it to wrap chicken (or turkey) and your choice of grilled vegetables.
Turkey pot pie
Or chicken. Honestly, just the thought of homemade chicken or turkey pot pie makes my salivary glands go crazy. If you’re with me on that, here’s a pretty awesome, if not foolproof, recipe because father knows best, right? Dad’s Leftover Turkey Pot Pie. Be still my heart.
What to do with those bits and piece of leftover salmon, halibut or another type of fish? Even if it’s breaded or deep-fried, don’t toss it out! It can make a fabulous addition to tomorrow’s lunch.
Move over tuna casserole. This fish pasta is oh, so much classier. While it calls for 1 1/2 pounds of white fish filet, I know you can figure out how to use yesterday’s leftover flaky fish. Since you’ll be baking this in a casserole for fewer than 25 minutes, no worries about it drying out or otherwise turning ugly.
Use chopped up leftover meatloaf in place of ground beef to make homemade chili. It’s all seasoned and ready-to-go.
So easy! Mix together chopped up meatloaf, onion and green pepper or other toppings of choice. Stir in your favorite BBQ sauce. Cover a flour tortilla with the mixture, top with shredded cheese and top with the second tortilla. Place tortilla in the skillet cook for 1-2 minutes, until cheese starts to melt and the tortilla starts to turn brown. Flip so each side is golden and crisp.
Replace ground beef with chopped leftover meatloaf in your favorite meat sauce. Over spaghetti, it is one of the most fantastic dishes from leftovers!
Add a slice of leftover meatloaf to your next grilled cheese sandwich! Or forget the cheese and make a grilled meatloaf sandwich.
Tiny dinner split rolls plus a slice of meatloaf cut to the same size plus your choice of spreads—bacon onion jam, mayonnaise, mustard, you name it and what do you get? Party Food!, no party necessary.
In closing, you may be wondering, how long do we have to make these meals from leftovers? How many days can we safely keep leftovers in the refrigerator? That is an excellent question, and one for the professionals.
According to Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.:
Leftovers can be kept for three to four days in the refrigerator. Be sure to eat them within that time. After that, the risk of food poisoning increases. If you don’t think you’ll be able to eat leftovers within four days, freeze them immediately.
Food poisoning—also known as a foodborne illness—is caused by harmful germs, such as bacteria in contaminated food. Because bacteria typically don’t change the taste, smell or look of the food, you can’t tell whether a food is dangerous to eat. So if you’re in doubt about a food’s safety, it’s best to throw it out.
Fortunately, most cases of food poisoning can be prevented with proper cooking and food handling. To practice food safety, quickly refrigerate perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs. Don’t let them sit more than two hours at typical room temperature or more than one hour at temperatures above 90 F (32 C).
Uncooked foods, such as cold salads or sandwiches, also should be eaten or refrigerated promptly. Your goal is to reduce the time a food is in the “danger zone”—between 40 and 140 F (4 and 60 C)— when bacteria can quickly multiply.
When you’re ready to eat leftovers, reheat them on the stove or in a conventional oven or microwave until the internal temperature reaches 165 F (74 C). Slow cookers aren’t recommended for reheating leftovers as these devices may not heat foods hot enough to kill bacteria.
Revised & republished: 3-28-20