What to eat? Did you ever make extra portions of your dinner, just to have leftovers for lunch the next day? Pot roast goes great in a wrap. Veggies of all sorts go nicely over leftover rice with a sauce to dress it up, such as soy sauce. Leftover pizza is a nice addition to a salad. Or, you can simply recreate your dinner for your lunchbox!
What is your favorite leftover idea?
Intentional Leftovers Reinvented
Intentional Leftovers for Quick and Easy Dinner Favorites
Whether you deliberately cook extra food just to have leftovers, or you are simply looking for some budget-friendly ideas to reinvent those uninvited leftovers, you’ll get some great ideas here!
As for me, it’s usually not an intentional thing. I just overdo everything big time, including cooking food. The leftovers simply happen.
I also love grocery shopping, leaving me with a lot of extra food in the pantry, refrigerator and freezer. On my treks, I bring a cup of java or get one from the in-store barista, and I feel like I’m in heaven wandering the aisles.
But, I don’t like to go back-and-forth multiple times to the supermarket because I forgot stuff! And I don’t like to have a lot of mismatched food wasting away in my fridge or pantry,
And, sometimes I don’t feel like cooking because I’m busy!
Oh the big question … how to bring it all together without waste and still enjoy tasty food???
Whether you are a busy mom of little ones back-to-school, tired of frequent trips to the grocery store or, like me and simply busy …. sometimes ….. and looking for super-fast meal ideas, leftovers can be your best friend ..... intentional or not.
‘Throw It Togethers’
Here are some “Throw It Together’ Ideas. These don’t rise to the level of an actual recipe. Rather they are ‘ideas’ for how to bring those straggling leftovers together into a great meal, bite, or lunch.
Pick your day. ‘Leftover Mondays’ works for me. It's right after the weekend, when there may likely be lots of ‘odds and ends’ around, such as a slice or two of pizza, some garlic knots, or extra meatballs from those game night sandwiches.
🌿 Any one of those pair well with soup and salad.
🌿 And the meatballs go nicely with mac and cheese and a side of broccoli.
I love to combine all the leftovers from the prior week and make a game out of creating a delicious meal. I hate to waste food and money.
If leftovers, in general, are light, I just combine them with some new pantry staples and possibly something fresh.
🌿 Only chicken or fish and some mixed vegetables? Get some fresh sourdough bread to make sandwiches and roast (or air fry) the veggies with parmesan cheese as a side. Add some black beans with crushed tomatoes.
🌿 Speaking of soup, leftover veggies mixed with chicken or vegetable broth come together nicely in a soup. Cook some mini red potatoes in a slow cooker with broth. Toward the end add your leftover veggies and continue cooking until everything is heated through. Use an immersion blender to fluff and thicken, mix in some shredded cheddar cheese and leftover chicken, fish and pork.
🌿 Mini red potatoes are one of my favorite staples. I’ll freeze them in individual meal prep bags just for soup or a sheet pan dinner. If you end up cooking for just one or two, it’s real easy to pull out a bag without much fuss.
Leftovers aren't just for dinner. Here's an idea for breakfast and your lunchbox.
🌿Eggs cooked over chopped, fried leftover potatoes.
🌿Potato pancakes from leftover mashed potatoes with Greek yogurt or applesauce.
Speaking of applesauce, it makes a great addition to any plate. You can also store it in individual containers in your freezer.
How to Make It ~ Take about a dozen average sized apples, peel and cut into quarters. Gala, Pink Lady or Granny Smith apples work well. Add up to a cup of sugar, maple syrup or other sugar substitute, depending on your taste. Toss in about a teaspoon of cinnamon and pinch of nutmeg for the extra wow factor and a cup of water. Slow cook for about 4 hours on high.
Personally, I’m a cranberry nut. I like it year round, with almost any meal. Similar to applesauce, you can make a large batch of it and freeze individually for a surprise addition to your meal, just when you forgot that it was in your freezer.
🌿My A#1 Leftover Favorite --- TaDa! Chili. This is an especially great idea if you cook for one or two, like me. It is so easy to make a big pot full of chili and store the leftovers in individual small containers in the freezer. Pull one out a week later and enjoy with a salad of greens and garlic naan.
‘Just Because Factor’ – You may be tempted to just keep eating the chili (or other food) ‘just because’ it’s there and you don't want it to go to waste. However, you will likely not enjoy it as much as if you freeze it and put it out of sight until a later time. It’s also a budget-friendly idea to eat later because it will form the bulk of a new meal, for which you would otherwise need to purchase ingredients.
Here are some more ideas for those intentional (or not!) leftovers.
🌿 Chicken and roasted veggies with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and a spritz of ranch dressing in a habanero chili lime wrap.
🌿 Bean and tomato wrap with a side salad from any greens that are about to go bad … but not there yet!
🌿 Leftover pork in a wrap made with cheese, for a keto-friendly, low-carb option. Cook individual mounds of cheese on a frying pan or bake in the oven, shape them into a taco shell while they are still warm and then let them sit to form. You can drape them over the back of muffin tins to get a taco shell shape.
🌿 Roasted veggies and small red potatoes with olive oil, herbs, lemon or lime juice and parmesan cheese.
🌿 For a great pasta sauce or even soup, roast tomatoes and red peppers with olive oil, herbs and spices, including garlic, salt and pepper. Then slow cook it for at least an hour. It will look really bad and watery at this point. Run an immersion blender through it, and it will fluff up nicely. Mix in a creamy cheese, if desired and enjoy over pasta or as a soup.
I do not add salt to this simply because I don’t add salt to anything. However, if there is one recipe anywhere in this world that REALLY needs salt, this is it.
🌿 Roasting veggies and turning them into soup works well with almost all of the summer produce that you can often get in abundance in the spring or fall. If you have room in your freezer, roast ‘em up, make a soup and freeze in your favorite meal prep containers, readily available at the usual suspects - Amazon, Target or Walmart. Then pull out a delicious soup when you are in the mood for one.
🌿Roast garlic in olive oil. Store in an airtight container. Add to your leftover food to bring out flavor.
A Baker’s Dozen Pantry Items and Food Staples to Keep on Hand to Reinvent Leftovers
Some people have very little love for leftovers. I get it. And I certainly don’t suggest eating food that has gone bad or that you just didn’t like.
But a container full of last night's rice, a few stray chicken pieces, and random air-fried veggies can actually take the pain out of dinner prep and make your life ten times easier and tastier.
Before you begin your journey making new meals out of leftovers, here are some pantry items that you should always have on hand to make dinner prep a breeze.
🌿 Jarred salsa. There's so much you can do with salsa beyond eating it with chips. Pour over chicken, smother pork chops and cook in the oven... make Mexican favorites at home any time.
🌿 Canned beans. Beans are so full of healthy fiber, and they are a great power play to level up chilis, stews, rice dishes and Southwestern favorites.
🌿Green chilis and jalapeños. They are great for bringing leftovers back to life!
🌿 Crushed tomatoes. They add a lot of flavor and texture to canned beans and can turn leftover rice into a hearty meal, along with a salad - a great idea if you are vegan or vegetarian, or just looking for a meatless option.
🌿 Quick-cooking starches like pasta and rice. You don't have to sacrifice whole grain benefits for this. Brown rice cooks up in 30 minutes. If you start the water first, your rice will be fully cooked and ready to eat by the time you lay the last napkin down and call "dinner's ready!"
Rice and pasta are great for the 'intentional' side of leftovers. Pair the pasta up with spinach, olive oil and lemon juice; the rice with tomatoes beans and/or chili peppers.
🌿 Soft tortilla shells. They're perfect for sandwich wraps, pinwheels, tacos, quesadillas. If you cut them into triangles, you can toast up your own corn chips.
🌿Rice noodles. Rice noodles are available in the Asian aisle of your local supermarket. They cook really fast and add robust flavor to stir-fries, a great play for leftover veggies.
🌿Frozen vegetables. Most people think fresh is best. But frozen veggies are just as healthy and fresh, because they don't deteriorate as they travel across the country (or the world) before landing on your plate. They are also a money saver because you don’t end up with a bag full of rotten produce on trash day.
🌿Frozen pie crust. You'll find these sold in pairs, in the freezer section of your supermarket. Or, form them from scratch using flour, oil and ice cold water, then roll out and cover with wax paper.
🌿Frozen shrimp. You can get shrimp pre-shelled, cleaned and bagged in the frozen foods aisle of your supermarket. If you're concerned about farm-raised foods, then make sure it says wild-caught on the label. Shrimp is a perfect, quick-cooking meal stretcher.
🌿Cheese. Almost anything tastes better with cheese! Buy it pre-shredded or use a grater and bag up your own to sprinkle over your soups, stews, casseroles, potatoes and more.
Just please don’t get the fake cheese in plastic sleeves! Fresh grated is better than prepackaged cheese because the packaged stuff generally contains preservatives to keep it from clumping. Go with what works within your budget and planned use.
🌿Onions and garlic. These are the base of every great dinner, and they're so incredibly good for you.
🌿Condiments and oils. Sesame oil makes your stir-fries more authentic, as does soy sauce. Coconut oil is essential for Thai cooking. Barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard, vinegar, mayo, horseradish, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce all take your meals up a few notches when used strategically.
🌿Fresh and dried herbs and spices. They add so much vitality and flavor to your favorite meals, and it only takes a few seconds to chop up or sprinkle on and stir.
5 Quick and Easy Dinner Favorites from Leftovers
The ingredients in these recipes are approximate because it depends on what you have in the house.
Transform boring old chicken from the night before into a Southwestern or Mexican fiesta that the whole family will ask for again and again.
Bell pepper or zucchini, diced
Shredded cheese, preferably cheddar or Monterey jack
Soft tortilla shells, corn or wheat
Yogurt or sour cream
Start by chopping up the chicken into small chunks that won't fall off the quesadilla when you pick it up to eat it. Set aside. Dice up the peppers and/or zucchinis, and onion. Add to the chicken pieces and cook in a frying pan with a little of the salsa and the black beans, until they simmer slightly - then turn off the heat. Transfer to a bowl with lid (a dinner plate works well as a lid, so does a pot lid).
Next, clean the same frying pan you just used to cook the chicken and other ingredients. Wipe dry and return to the stove, setting the heat to medium. Use a napkin or paper towel to wipe the inside of the frying pan with oil - just enough to prevent the tortillas from sticking. Into the pan, place a tortilla shell. Let it get warm, almost but not quite toasted, then flip, moving it around gently so it doesn't stick.
Immediately sprinkle on a layer of the chopped chicken and veggies. Top with shredded cheese. Use a spatula to fold the tortilla in half, pressing down to melt the cheese and warm the ingredients inside. Gently slide the spatula under the tortilla to flip to the other side, continuing to gently press to ensure the ingredients warm and the cheese melts completely. You may want to lower the heat and put a cover on the pan for a few minutes. When cooked, slide the quesadilla onto a plate. Cut into triangles, like a pizza. Top with sliced avocado, a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, salsa, and hot sauce if you enjoy it.
Beans and Rice Made with Leftover Rice
Don't let leftover rice go to waste. A can of beans, some aromatics like garlic and onion, tomato and green or red pepper if you have them, and any other veggies you may want to add, make a quick and satisfying dinner or side dish.
Can of beans - black, kidney, or pinto will work.
Green pepper, chopped
Fresh or canned tomatoes
Small amount of leftover meat such as pork or chicken, chopped
Shredded cheddar or jack cheese
Yogurt or sour cream
Start by sautéing the garlic and onions in the oil. Add tomato and pepper. If the tomato is from a can, you may want to simmer it a bit until the flavor mellows. If fresh, you can leave mostly uncooked if you prefer them to taste just-picked. Add the leftover cooked rice, and beans. Cook until heated through. If serving as a main course, top with shredded cheese and/or a dollop of yogurt for added protein. Also great if you have a bit of leftover chicken or pork and you want to stretch the meal. You can chop up the meat and add those in as well.
Rice Pudding Made with Leftover Rice
Leftover rice has many uses, one being that old fashioned dessert, rice pudding. Must of us have a recipe from grandma that we like to use. If you've got cooked rice sitting around, the time has come to break out that old family recipe.
Leftover rice, about 2 cups
Milk - about a cup
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 tsp vanilla
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Sprinkle of salt
Place the leftover rice, sugar, butter, vanilla and milk in a pot and begin stirring. You want the liquid level of the milk to just cover the rice. Keep the heat on medium until the mixture begins to bubble, them turn down to low and continue stirring. The natural starch from the rice will thicken the milk.
When rice mixture is thickened, it's time to temper the egg. This will prevent the egg from curdling, or cooking too fast. Turn off the heat and place some of the rice mixture into a bowl to cool down slightly. In another bowl, beat the two eggs together. Little by little, add spoonfuls of the warm rice mixture to the beaten eggs. Continue to stir.
When it seems to be mixed in well, return the tempered eggs to the cooled rice mixture on the stove. Turn the heat back on to low. You may want to add a little more milk. Continue to stir, increasing the heat gradually until it bubbles slightly. Stir frequently. Once the mixture is thickened, remove from heat and let cool. Pour into individual Pyrex bowls or ramekins. Before serving, sprinkle cinnamon over the top of each. Top with whipped cream if you have it.
"This and That" Pot Pie Made from Leftovers
Pot pie is the perfect, hearty meal for when you have a little bit of this and that in the fridge. Gather leftovers, add a can of creamy soup and some milk. Pour into a crust and bake. Easy peasy! (Peas are great in a pot pie, by the way).
Leftover poultry meat, such as chicken, turkey or even pork roast
Chopped up veggies from the crisper, such as carrots, onions, zucchini, OR grab a bag of frozen mixed veggies from the freezer such as peas, or a mix of corn, carrots and peas
Leftover mashed or baked potatoes with skin removed
1 can creamy soup such as Campbell's cream of mushroom
1 pie crust - top and bottom, or just bottom if you're short on crusts
Chop up all ingredients into bite-sized pieces. If you're using leftover potatoes, mash them if not already mashed, or cut into chunks. Place all into pie shell. Pour the can of creamy soup over the contents of the pie shell. Pour in a little milk and stir slightly. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
Bake at 350 degrees until crust is golden and filling bubbles.
Asian Stir-Fry Made from Leftovers
You probably remember that dish from Chinese takeout menus called Happy Family? This is a marriage of meat and fish, sautéed with veggies and sauce and served with rice. Here's how to cook up an at-home version using leftovers you have in the fridge.
Leftover rice (you can even use rice that came from the Chinese restaurant!)
Leftover cooked meat such as beef or pork
Fresh or frozen stir-fry vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, onions, peppers, zucchini
Sesame oil (olive or generic cooking oil will do in a pinch)
Ginger if you have it - chopped
Onion or scallions, chopped
Soy sauce or other favorite Asian sauce
Pinch of sugar
Splash of vinegar or sherry wine
2 Tbs. cornstarch
Chop up fresh vegetables or take frozen ones out to thaw. If you're using frozen, place in a bowl and microwave back to life for no more than 2 minutes. Also take shrimp out to thaw. Place in a bowl of water with a drop of apple cider vinegar added and let sit for about 10 minutes until thawed.
In a large frying pan, sauté garlic and ginger until the aroma comes through. Add the veggies, then the meat. Splash on some soy sauce. Toss frequently until heated through. Remove from pan and set aside. Combine a half cup of cold water with the corn starch and stir well. Into the pan of drippings, pour some sherry wine. Bring to a bubble. Pour in the cornstarch mixture. Let bubble on medium-high until thick. Add the meat and veggies back in. Gently stir in the rice, or keep it separate. Serve hot.
Live, Love, Chat and Eat,
Kate & Crew