A person preparing food in a kitchen, with Soup

Turn Leftovers into Soup

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.

A person preparing food in a kitchen, with Soup

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.

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10 replies
  1. Angela F Buckner says:

    Years ago a family friend suggested I keep a bowl in the freezer that I add the spoonfuls of leftover veggies and small pieces of meat from dinner. He also suggested I freeze all pan juice or gravy that was left from our meals or cooking. When i am ready to make soup, I use the gravy and pan juice as my soup base. I add the little bits of vegetables. I add a diced potato (as they don’t freeze well), a can or two of diced tomato or even a can or two of v8 juice. Depending on my mood, I may add diced cabbage or even a cup of pasta. This feels like a completely free meal since I would have thrown away most of it.

  2. BethSh says:

    I can’t see any point to the no ham, no pork, unless you just don’t eat them. Tonight we had green chile stew, made from left over pork roast, frozen green chili’s and frozen tomatillos I put up last summer. Potatoes and corn added made it a wonderful warming soup, we will finish off tomorrow for lunch. I use ham, mashed potato left overs, corn, and potatoes and onions milk and sometimes cheese to make a hearty corn potato chowder that is delicious. We eat soups every winter week, and love the warmth and comfort.

  3. Sue in MN says:

    My only suggestion for the Thursday Night Soup would be to omit the bouillon and salt to make it healthier – leftovers and tomato paste already include significant amounts of sodium; most bouillon cubes are LOADED with it. After all the ingredients are in the pot, season to taste just before serving.

    • Kim Hunter says:

      Homemade stock or broth could probably be used in place of the bouillon cubes too, if you want the flavour. I’ve made bone broth lots of times, and mine has no where near the sodium content of even one bouillon cube, but still tastes good.

      • Kim Hunter says:

        I should add, your way sounds good too. But if a home cook didn’t want to sacrifice flavour, homemade stock/broth will work.

  4. Betty Thomas says:

    I make a big pot of soup, stew or chowder during the winter every Sunday night. It is frugal and makes dinner a no brainer on busy days after work. Some nights I add hot bread as a side, other nights get a side salad or crackers. My husband and I love it. My sister had a brilliant idea and it is yummy to boot. When she makes her meatloaf she makes 2 and one is made into a hearty meatloaf stew where she adds veggies from the fridge and potatoes. It is really good and even though her family hates to eat left overs no one feels like that is the case here. It is delicious.

  5. Judy Swanson says:

    Curious as to why you say do not add ham or pork to these leftover soups? What does it do to mess with the mixture?

  6. crabbyoldlady says:

    I get a third meal from a rotisserie chicken. Hubby and I eat chicken the first two days then I toss the carcass into a quart of chicken broth from the dollar store, add some celery if I have it, onion and a bay leaf. The seasoning left from the chicken makes a terrific broth, there’s just enough meat left on the bones, and I add noodles or veggies to make a meal.

  7. Anne Shelton says:

    Been doing this for MANY years — never discard any leftover veggies. I do mine in crock pot — much easier than all the steps above. Potatoes, carrots and onions are cooked about 6 min in microwave and added to diced tomatoes in crock pot. After 2-3 hours, add the thawed leftovers. I also save leftover beef roast and chop it to include — give it great flavor. I have a friend who always requests some of my soup when she is sick — says it cures “anything”!


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