Simple Strategies for Using Your Leftover Food


Sure, it looked great in the grocery store a month ago, but that forgotten perishable in the back of the fridge is now only worth its weight in garbage. American households throw away $600 worth of food per year and many families cannot afford that waste. Here are some creative and simple ways to use up leftover food and stretch your dining dollars.

Make Soup

Use various scraps of meat and veggies to make a soup using an appropriate stock. If you want to make stock from scratch you can boil water with leftover bones from a rotisserie chicken or loin roast. (See also: Soup Toppers with Style)

Fill Up Tacos

Leftover hamburgers or beef can be transformed into a taco filling by simply re-heating and adding some taco seasoning. You can also use leftover salad, corn, or cheese for extra fillers.

Spice Up Breakfast

Many vegetables like celery, corn, spinach, and tomatoes go great with scrambled eggs, or they could be folded into an omelette. Add in the leftover steak for a gourmet breakfast. Leftover mashed potatoes can also be formed into patties for a quick hash brown substitute

Make a Sandwich

Just about any meat can be put to good use between two pieces of bread. Experiment with leftover sauces (marinara, salsa, guacamole) and vegetables for extra variety.

Make Homemade Bread Crumbs and Croutons

Leftover dinner rolls and bread can be left out after dinner to be used to make croutons or bread crumbs the next day. Bread crumbs can be preserved and used weeks to months later as long as they are kept in a dry place and do not get moldy.

Use the Food Dehydrator

Almost any food can be dried and preserved. You can make your own fruit chips and jerkies. There is an excellent guide to dehydrating food here on Wise Bread.

Extend Freshness with Water

If you only used part of your green onions, celery, or any herb, keep it in a glass of water in the fridge to extend its lifetime for another use.

Bake It

Leftover carrots, zucchini, bananas, strawberries, pears, and plums can be incorporated into breads, cakes, and cobblers for a homemade dessert. You can also add a bit of cinnamon and brown sugar to a halved peach, pear, or apple and bake until soft for a healthy and quick dessert.

Melt It

Leftover cheese can be melted down over a double broiler for nachos. You can also use melted cheese as a pasta sauce.

Roll It Up

Leftover cold cuts can be smeared with cream cheese and rolled around a green onion or pickle for a unique treat, or heat refried beans and cheese on a tortilla for a Mexican wrap.

Wrap It with Lettuce

Give leftover lettuce an Asian twist by using it as a wrap and add fillings such as chicken, pork, and rice. It is like a low-carb taco and tastes quite refreshing.

Mix It Up in a Salad

Use leftover meats or pasta mixed with vegetables like pickles, celery, and broccoli and some mayo for an easy chicken, tuna, or pasta salad.

Grill It

Fire up the grill and add your leftover peppers, tomatoes, onions, and even avocados for a different taste and texture to incorporate into almost any dish.

Compost It

No one can save every leftover meal, but any food scrap can go into a compost pile. You can start a compost pile that can be used for fertilizer in the yard. If you do not know where to start, Andrea has written a guide to urban composting. If you do not have plants, you can donate compost to a neighborhood garden project.

Freeze It

Most leftovers can survive in the freezer for a few weeks. This also goes for cheap cuts of meat or herbs. You can always buy them cheap and freeze until you need them.

Preserve It

Canning and preserving are not just for grandma anymore. All you need is a pot of boiling water, tongs, and jars to preserve vegetables and fruits for the next year. There is a great how-to guide for beginners here on Wise Bread.

Pack It for Lunch

Leftovers are great for brown bag lunches. Most workplaces have a kitchen for reheating, and you can save quite a bit. If you have children, it is also good for them to have a homemade lunch.

Food is meant to be manipulated, experimented with, and most importantly, eaten. These are just a few ways to get rid of your leftovers, though I think that it is just as important to prevent the existence of leftovers by buying only what you can eat in a reasonable amount of time.

What are your strategies for using up leftovers?

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Guest's picture

Similar to soup, I am a big fan of turning leftover meat and vegetables into chullent, a Jewish, slow cooked stew. It is best to use uncooked foods found around the kitchen that are nearing the end of their life. Generally, we put everything in on Friday afternoon and eat it on Saturday afternoon after spending a whole day in a crock pot or similar slow cooker.

Guest's picture

Great post! I like to plan my meals so that the flavors of leftovers can easily be incorporated into an "encore meal". For example, leftover Teriyaki Chicken can be used in a stir fry, leftover Garlic Chicken makes a wonderful addition to Chicken and Rice Soup, and leftover taco fixings can be whipped into a Taco Salad or Enchiladas. Creating "planned leftovers" allows me to use up more of our leftovers which reduces our grocery bill while minimizing waste.

Guest's picture
Lisa B.

Home made veggie pizza is a great way to get rid of the veggie odds and ends left over at the end of the week. Curry also serves this purpose.

Andrea Karim's picture

Oh, yes! Curry is an awesome way to make use of odds and ends. It's like the new casserole. Well, I guess curry isn't technically "new", but still.

Guest's picture

I love leftovers.

Andrea Karim's picture

I second the vote on the sandwich! My dad is an ultra-sandwich maker and has taught me that there is almost nothing that can't be placed between two slices of bread. Also, we like open-face sandwiches, because you can get more filling and be creative with your toasting.

Guest's picture

I find that any leftovers are great when stirred into and cooked with fried onions. Add potatoes to the mixture and fry up together (with minimal oil) or put over rice. Shepards pie is also a family favorite.