20 Tasty ways to love your slighted leftovers

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Leftovers. Those uneaten consumables, odd pieces, and surplus scraps can often raise eyebrows, upturn nostrils, and elicit stink-eyes. I’m not sure why leftover food causes so much grief and disdain amongst the masses, ’cause personally, I love leftover food. Here’s why:

1. Buck pinchin’ money savers. Cooking meals while planning for leftovers can save you big dollars throughout the year since you’re taking advantage of economies of scale — one big batch of food can take less time and cost less to prepare than several smaller meals. Preparing larger portions also saves on energy costs associated with cooking food.

2. Clock tickin’ time savers. What’s for dinner, mom? A little bit of weekly meal planning and creative leftover reuse can reduce the amount of time you spend preparing meals. Cooking on weekends and freezing meal-sized portions for future family dinners can save you time.

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3. Brain defreakin’ sanity savers. Planned leftovers are a big win for busy families because they can be taken to school or work for lunches. Deciding what’s for lunch is easy, and cuts the costs of eating out at restaurants.

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But there are rules when it comes to reviving and surviving those once slighted leftovers, people. For starters, the Mayo Clinic advises you toss leftovers when they’ve languished for four days to help prevent food poisoning. Check out 5 Steps to a freshly frugal fridge for more food-safe leftover rules.

Now that I’ve (hopefully) sold you on the awesomeness of leftovers, let’s look at the many ways of making those odd pieces tasty for the many taste buds in your family. Here are 20 ways (with pictures) to love your slighted leftovers today.

1. Stretch ‘em.

Whether you bake a chicken or braise a roast, finding ways to stretch that meat into multiple meals can be a tasty (and fun) money-saving adventure. Anyone can wing it and stretch a chicken until it clucks, and I proved that delicious things can happen if you mix that meat with the right ingredients.

chicken recipes

2. It’s a wrap!

Become a rap (err, wrap) star by rolling your leftover bits into a spiral sandwich using a corn or whole wheat wrap. Those odd steak and ham pieces never looked so yummy. Add some rice, quinoa, lettuce, or tomato and call it lunch for less. A dollop of homemade hummus will make your spin on an otherwise plain sandwich a surefire hit!

vegetarian sandwich

3. Make a Sushi roll?

Is your fridge filled with too many salad fixings and raw veggie pieces? Get a little creative by rolling the raw in a Sushi Nori Seaweed Sheet. Dip in a little soya for fun and taste.

nori sushi rolls

4. Egg it up.

Rescue last night’s meal by topping it with a simple hard boiled egg. Scrambled eggs make a great side for many dishes.

These two meals use the exact same ingredients: beef, spinach, cabbage, quinoa, and an egg. The first meal mixed an egg with leftover quinoa to create a funky pan fried quinoa cake. See How to cook quinoa (the tasty way) for the quinoa-cooking steps.

egg quinoa

This second dish simply tops a hard boiled egg onto the reheated ingredients. Easy peasy thanks to my ridiculous gadget, The Egg Cooker.

egg recipes

5. Pizza pieces.

Could your leftovers become pizza toppings? Turkey, raw veggies, olives, cold cuts — layer ‘em on a pizza shell (or an English muffin) and add a little tomato sauce and cheese.

pizza

6. Pasta perfect.

Simmer everything together in a cream or tomato sauce, and presto you’ve got pasta! OK, you’ve gotta cook some noodles too. Vegetarian options can be topped with beans.

vegetarian spaghetti

7. Super salads.

Toss those pieces and bits with fresh leafy green lettuce leaves to freshen up leftover salmon, chicken, beans, and rice. A little balsamic salad dressing goes a long way.

Salad

8. Make a melt.

Make yesterday’s meal ooey gooey good by melting a little cheesy goodness on top. The broil feature on your oven was designed for this dish. Tuna lovers rejoice.

Tuna Melt

9. A simple stir fry.

Get a pan. Splat a spot of olive oil. Mix in a few fresh veggies and add in your leftovers for an easy-to-reheat stir fry dish. A dash of soya sauce or whatever spice that livens up your life is allowed.

stir fry recipes

10. Stock ‘em in your slow cooker.

Is your fridge filled with carrots, onions, and celery oh my? Before they wilt from neglect, go ahead and soup ‘em in your slow cooker and make the perfect stock.

how to make chicken stock

11. Freeze that fruit!

Overripe bananas, strawberries, and any sugary fruit fares well in my tasty twist on homemade ice cream. Just don’t buy those costly Debbie Meyer Green Bags to keep your bananas from turning brown — those Green Bags don’t work.

ice cream recipes

12. Blend it with greens.

Kermit was wrong — it is easy being green! Spotted fruit can find new life when blended with a few choice greens and whipped up into a breakfast smoothie. Just don’t call it ‘frog in a blender’.

strawberry smoothie

13. Bake some bread.

Banana bread, a frugal and tasty treat, is a great way to use up those brown bananas and ripe apples. Warning: the photos in this post may make ya drool.

low fat banana bread

14. Sauce it up!

Think outside the holidays by simmering a sweet (or tart) cranberry sauce to serve beside chicken, turkey, stew, or sandwich leftovers.

homemade cranberry sauce

15. Add a side of Quinoa.

This light and fluffy side is ready to mix with any leftovers in 15 minutes or less. Adding a little curry to quinoa is a tasty variation on this easy-to-make dish too.

how to cook quinoa

16. Brew a simple stew.

Mix those leftover potatoes or rice with chicken, beef or beans and you’ve got a simple stew. OK, add a can of tomatoes to make the sauce.

chicken stew

17. Crock Pots are cool.

Fire up your dusty crock pot or slow cooker to make a hands-free meal. Slow cookers breathe new life into unloved leftovers.

slowcooker

18. Dive into divine Quesadillas.

More like ques-A-delicious, people. Layer your leftovers between a tortilla, melt in some cheese, add a little homemade salsa and you’ve got a brand new meal.

quesadillas

19. Search by ingredient.

Looking for a recipe based on a leftover ingredient? Smart (yet stumped) cooks should check out allrecipies.com to search for the perfect dish for your leftover odds and ends. All the recipes are ranked and reviewed for your dining pleasure.

20. Add a few fresh herbs.

Sprinkle fresh parsley or basil on top of stews, soups, casseroles etc. to spin a second meal into something different. Or just add a few fresh herbs and reheat yesterdays dinner into something tasty for today. Garden-grown herbs can also be dried for soups and stews later in the year.

how to dry herbs

Your Turn: What’s your best tip for making yesterday’s leftovers delicious today?

Love,
Kerry

Your two cents:

  1. Jules August 21st, 2012

    We are always having leftovers as lunch the next day! I sometimes put a note for sandwiches for meals where I don’t expect any leftovers, but even then there’s usually something left.

  2. Connie Solidad August 22nd, 2012

    My dad refuses to let leftovers go to waste, so most of his lunches are made up of leftovers. He’s gotten really creative in making some good stuff! Some of my favorites have been stir fry’s using leftover chicken and veggies, or stews using who knows what. It wasn’t always delicious, but it was always an adventure!

  3. Michelle Black August 22nd, 2012

    A thermos is your kid’s best friend as well, for keeping those hot meals inviting. If you leave hot water in one for five minutes before using, it will keep things toasty and tasty. (Only problem is you have to heat the stuff that morning – one of the banes of my existence despite its other benefits!)

  4. Michelle Black August 22nd, 2012

    Oh yes: another thought. As someone with SERIOUS food sensitivities, I’m finding that using Kerry’s approach to leftovers works well. I can create something with only certain of the ingredients for me, then something separate for everyone else. Takes a bit more time, but I have to do it – and because what they get in a stir-fry or whatever comes from my chemical-free ingredients, I know they’re ‘eating clean’ as well.

  5. Jo August 25th, 2012

    Thanks for the quinoa reminder, and cooking tips. I’ve had some in my pantry for weeks, but didn’t know how to cook it. My tip is this: when you do something fantastic with leftovers, write it down! It’s so easy to forget that great flavour combination that you threw together, and then can’t remember next week when faced with the same leftovers…

  6. ronna August 26th, 2012

    When my son was 16-17, I made weekly meal plans. I baked ahead and made almost double of everything when I made it. And once a month or so we’d have “buffet” night. That’s how we’d use up those leftovers. I’d bring out the leftovers and reheat and we’d both take a little bit of everything. This had to be one of our favorite suppers!

  7. Sue August 27th, 2012

    If there is not enough for another meal, it gets added to the next day’s eggs (at breakfast). that way it disguises the eggs or the left overs (however one wants to look at it)

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