simple natural living on a budget
simple natural living on a budget
how to reuse leftover food

How to Reuse Leftover Food: 16 Ways to Use Leftovers & Stop Wasting Food

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Stop wasting food and money throwing away your leftovers. Learn how to reuse leftover food with these awesome ideas. From the obvious, to some that are a bit more creative, there’s a way for everyone to use up those leftovers, even if you think you hate leftovers!

How to Reuse Leftover Food - 16 Ways to Reuse Leftovers & Stop Wasting Food

Growing up, we lived on leftovers. I never realized that some people don’t eat them. You spent all that time (and money buying the food) making a delicious meal, and it’s such a waste to just toss half of it out!

Every Sunday, my dad would spend the day in the kitchen making huge meals, enough to feed an army. Even though there was only four of us. And we all looked forward to it. Delicious foods like lasagna, ham and bean soup, or stuffed peppers to eat on all week long!

Now, I know leftovers turn a lot of people off. I get it if you don’t want to eat leftover lasagna for lunch every day for like 5 days straight like I do, lol.

But there are lots of other ways to handle those leftovers besides tossing them in the trash. Some are pretty obvious, but some are a little more creative too. Check out this list for some great ideas on how to use leftover food

Wondering How to Use Leftovers? Eat Them as They Are!

A lot of leftovers are just as good, if not better than the first night. Things like lasagna or chili get even better with time. The flavors marry together after a night in the fridge, making them even better. You spent all that time and effort cooking it, so don’t let it go to waste!

Eat it Cold

This has to be the simplest way to use up those leftovers. My toddler actually seems to prefer most of her food cold, so leftovers straight from the fridge make for a super easy lunch for us.

Cold spaghetti or lasagna are delish! Cold chicken tenders? Yum! And who doesn’t like cold pizza!? Ok, maybe not everyone … so here’s a few more ideas for you:

Reheat & Eat for Lunch or Dinner

This might be the second easiest way. You already cooked it once, so don’t let it go to waste! Reheating leftovers can be tricky though, and I think this might be the reason that some people have such a leftover aversion.

Throw most things in the microwave and they will never be the same! There’s a better way! Use the oven or stove, depending on what you’re reheating. Check this post out for more tips on How To Live Without a Microwave.

Divide into Single Serve Portions

Another tip is to store leftovers in single servings. This is perfect for packed lunches. Everything is pre-portioned and ready to go. Just grab a container on your way out the door to work or school. Packing a lunch doesn’t get much easier than that.

I loved taking cold pasta to school in my lunches as a kid. Yes, I did get some weird looks from the other 3rd graders, but that’s ok! You go on eating your pb&j or bologna sandwich while I enjoy my delicious homemade meal!

It’s also convenient for lunch or dinner at home too. Store them in oven-safe glass containers so you don’t have to dirty more dishes. Glass is also a much safer option if you do end up reheating them in the microwave.

If you’re still considering nuking that old Tupperware, check out 7 Reasons to Throw Away Your Microwave: The Health Risks of Microwaves, and you might change your mind.

Freeze It When You Don’t Know How to Reuse Leftover Food

This is the perfect way to deal with leftovers for people who don’t like to eat leftovers. Some times you just don’t want to eat the same thing two or three days in a row. But since you’re making dinner anyways, make a double batch and freeze half for later. It takes the same amount of time and dishes to make twice the food.

Don’t forget to label and date freezer leftovers. You think you’ll remember what’s in there. But 6 months or a year from now, I guarantee you’ll be digging out random, mystery containers from the back of your freezer.

But freezing it doesn’t mean you’ll have to eat the same thing either. Lots of frozen leftovers can be turned into a whole new meal too!

How to Reuse Leftover Food When You Don’t Want to Eat the Same Thing AGAIN

Some people just really hate leftovers. Or maybe you’re just sick of eating the same thing over and over. Or sometimes there isn’t enough left to simply reheat and eat.

Keeping your pantry stocked with all the essentials makes throwing any of these meals together quick and easy. If you need some inspiration for how to stock your pantry, check out this post: 31 Frugal Pantry Essentials: How to Stock a Frugal Pantry

If you find yourself left with just single portions (sometimes even less) of meat, veggies, or grains, there are a bunch of tasty ways to re-purpose those leftovers into something totally new on this list.

Especially after holidays, you might be left with half of a ham or like 10 pounds of turkey. Even hard core leftover lovers don’t want to eat the same roasted turkey for the next 10 days. There are a bunch of great ways to use up those Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving leftovers on this list too.

Check out these ideas for how to turn leftovers into a whole new meal:

Soup

Soup is a great way to reuse leftovers. You can put just about anything you want in a pot of soup. A big pot of soup is perfect for using up holiday leftovers. But it’s also a great way to use up small amounts of leftover meat, veggies, or grains.

Take some leftover meat, grab any other leftover bits like leftover rice, pasta, beans, or veggies, and toss it all in a pot with some liquid – stock, cream/milk, or even just water if that’s all you have. Season it up with some herbs or spices. Serve with some crusty bread and butter and you have a whole new meal!

Casserole

Casseroles are a super easy way to use up leftovers. Toss leftovers in a casserole dish, top with cheese or bread crumbs, and bake. Depending on what leftovers you’re using you can add a can of cream soup, gravy, or other sauce if you need more liquid.

Mashed Potato Cakes

Frying up some potato cakes is my favorite way to reuse leftover mashed potatoes. They’re so delicious! I always make extra just so we can have potato cakes the next day. It’s a great way to reuse holiday leftovers too.

Simply mix an egg and some bread crumbs with leftover mashed potatoes, and fry them up in some butter or oil until they’re golden brown. You can get a little more creative if you want, mixing in shredded cheese, chives, extra seasonings, or whatever else you can think of. Full recipe coming soon!

Fried Rice

Rice is a frugal pantry essential in every kitchen. It’s super cheap, tasty, easy to make, and so versatile. And fried rice is one of my favorite ways to reuse leftovers. It’s easy & delicious. Plus you can add just about anything you want!

The best fried rice is actually made with LEFTOVER rice. Imagine that! And it’s the perfect way to stretch small amounts of leftovers into a meal for the whole family.

All you need is a few pantry staples and some leftover meat and/or veggies. You can use just about any kind of meat – chicken, pork, even a little leftover pot roast will work. But you don’t even need meat at all! Check out this recipe for Easy Chicken Fried Rice for some fried rice inspiration!

Stir Fry

Want a simple idea for how to use leftover food? Make a stir fry! Toss whatever leftover bits you have in the fridge in a pan and fry it all up with a little olive oil, add some easy Stir Fry Sauce, and serve over rice, pasta, or on it’s own for a low carb meal.

Pasta

Boil some pasta and toss with leftover meat, veggies, or beans. Add a little sauce like marinara, alfredo, or even just a little olive oil & seasoning. Or go Asian and make lo mein with some soy sauce. Boom. A whole new dinner.

Sandwiches

A sandwich is a classic way to reuse leftovers. And so simple too. Stick anything between 2 slices of bread and you’ve got a filling lunch or dinner. You can go traditional and put some cheese and meat leftover from last night’s dinner on a bun with some mayo. Meatloaf sandwiches are another family favorite.

If you want to get a little more creative, shred last night’s chicken and stir in some barbecue sauce. Or some mayo and a few other pantry staples to make chicken salad. No one will even notice it’s leftovers!

Quesadillas

A quesadilla is my other go-to meal to reuse leftovers. You can stretch a single portion of meat, like a leftover pork chop for example, into a meal for two or three people.

A little spray of oil in a skillet, put down a tortilla, then add some cheese and whatever bits of meats/veggies you have sitting in the fridge just waiting to go bad. Once the cheese starts to melt, fold it in half with a spatula, and you have a quesadilla! Serve with salsa or sour cream for dipping.

But you don’t have to go with traditional Mexican-style quesadillas. Get creative and try a bbq chicken bacon quesadilla with ranch for dipping. Or make a pizza quesadilla with mozzarella, pepperoni or sausage, and some peppers, onions, or mushrooms. Serve with marinara sauce for dipping.

Tortillas are cheap and last a long time, much longer than bread. So make sure you keep some in your pantry to throw together this easy leftover re-do!

Salad

A seemingly small amount of leftovers can be stretched into a healthy and filling lunch or dinner. And you can add just about anything to a salad. Meat (warmed or left cold), veggies (raw or cooked), fruit, nuts, even grains like rice or quinoa. It can be as simple as opening up the fridge and topping some lettuce with whatever little bits of leftovers you find.

Grain Bowls

Just like a salad, but served over grains rather than lettuce. Use rice, quinoa, couscous, or whatever else you have. Think burrito bowls from Chipotle! But they don’t have to be Mexican flavors. Like a salad, you can use just about any toppings.

Omelette/Egg Scramble

For a super easy breakfast, or really any meal (who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner?), make a scramble. All it takes is a few eggs, a little cheese, and some meat and/or veggies.

You could also make it an omelette if you have the skills. I always end up having issues when I try to make one and it turns into a scramble anyways! Either way, it tastes delicious folded OR scrambled!

Quiche

Quiche is another delicious breakfast or breakfast-for-dinner. It’s a great way to use up holiday leftovers, like that ham from Christmas or Easter dinner.

If you’ve never had quiche, you have to try it! I like to call it breakfast pie because the word “quiche” scared my step-kids, lol. Kids don’t want to eat something with a weird name.

Quiche sounds fancy, and possibly difficult, but it’s really simple. Especially if you use pre-made pie crust. Layer meat, veggies, and cheese in the pie crust. Then scramble some eggs (about 6 or 8 for a 9″ pie, depending on how full of other ingredients the quiche is) with a little milk or cream and pour it into the pie shell. Bake it at 375′ for about 45 minutes until the top begins to brown and it feels set.

Now You Know How to Reuse Leftover Food

There are so many great ideas for how to reuse leftover food! You have no more excuses for tossing it in the trash. Save yourself some time and money by eating those leftovers!

What’s your favorite way for how to reuse leftover food? Let me know in the comments! And don’t forget to share this on Pinterest if you found any inspiring ideas!

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