Making the Most of Leftovers


It’s difficult to make good use of leftovers. Even though you have good intentions when you put away those foil wrapped plates or containers of food, more often than not, they are left to languish in the back of the fridge until they complete their journey into the garbage can. Even the name “leftover” sounds less than appealing. But in truth, leftovers are a great way to stretch your food budget and make a light cooking night once or twice a week. Here are some tips for making new meals using leftovers.

Meal Planning

Planning your meals each week ensures that you will make good use of leftovers because they become part of the menu. For example, if you make a batch of chili for dinner, a day or two later, you can make loaded baked potatoes with chili, cheese and sour cream to serve alongside of a fresh salad. If you roast a chicken for dinner you can shred leftover meat to make enchiladas or quesadillas. All you have to do is think ahead and you’ll have ideas for leftovers of any kind. Plus, because a good portion of the meal is already cooked, new meals with leftovers have a ‘heat and serve’ quality that saves time.

Stay Within Ethnicities

Making new meals using leftovers is much easier if you stay within a specific ethnicity. For instance, making a variation of Mexican food using the same seasoned meat is much easier than trying to use taco meat in spaghetti. If you’re not sure about your plans for leftovers, try to use basic seasonings for the protein and leave the intense, specific flavors for a sauce or side dish. You’ll have more options for the next meal.

Casseroles are Harder to Repurpose

If you make a casserole where the ingredients are all assembled then cooked together, you’ll be very limited in terms of meals you can make with the leftovers other than simply reheating and eating. This is, however, another time saving leftover tactic. If you’re making a casserole, double the recipe and freeze one half for a meal within the next month.

An Easy Leftover Makeover

Here’s a versatile leftover dish that works with just about anything. Throw together batch of fried rice. Add canola or vegetable oil to a frying pan or wok over medium/high heat. You can use any type of meat:  ham, pork chops, cubed chicken, leftover steak – even breakfast sausage or bacon works well. Toss in any vegetables -- leftover carrots, green beans or peas are great. Add cooked rice and a splash of soy sauce. Make a well in the center and scramble an egg (or scramble separately in another sauté pan) and mix the egg crumbles throughout. Top with chopped scallions and a few chopped peanuts.

Grab Bag

Turn leftovers into a fun, end-of-the-week buffet. Make every Friday a “grab bag” for dinner: spread out the leftovers from the previous four nights’ dinners and let everyone build their own plate with whatever suits them. Be sure to include a fresh green salad as the perfect accompaniment to every meal.



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