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What to do with Leftover Food: Create Tasty New Meals

So many people I know, throw away leftovers. I guess they figure they don’t want to keep eating the same meal over and over again. I suppose this mostly happens after a big get together. We always over do it with the food when we have company. We are known as the house with the really good food. However, I learned long ago, how to plan my menus based on what to do with leftover food. So if you are wondering what to do with leftover food from a party, you have come to the right place. Of course, you can always freeze meal size portions for nights when you don’t have time to cook. But my goal here is to help you repurpose your leftovers.

Updated 12/29/22

Leftover veg recipes

Leftover cooked veggies are perfect for throwing into soups and stews. They can also be added to pasta salads or rice pilafs. My favorite is to clean out the fridge to make veggie wraps with anything from mushrooms to leftover corn on the cob. Cleaning out the fridge works great for pasta dishes too. I have included one here where I used leftover corn and salsa, but there are many ways to use up veggies in pasta sauces such as a pasta Primavera or a mushroom Bolognese. Raw veggies from a veggie platter can be turned into a cooked vegetable side dish or chopped into smaller pieces and tossed with leftover dip as a veggie salad.

Leftover roast vegetable wrap

what to do with leftover vegetables? Cook them up and serve them in a wrap topped with a little cheese.
Use up your veggie wraps

This was inspired by trying to use up veggies from our refrigerator and leftover roasted zucchini. To begin, we cooked up some onions and peppers in some olive oil. Then we added some chopped roasted zucchini, a few handfuls of fresh spinach, and halved cherry tomatoes. Once cooked, we folded this into a few spinach wraps with some shredded mozzarella cheese we wanted to use up. Yum!

This is a flavorful meatless meal that you can make with any veggies you have on hand. To make it vegan, leave off the cheese. You could even serve it wrapped in lettuce leaves and toss in some beans for protein.

What to do with leftover pasta: Mexican macaroni

How to reuse leftover food? This dish was created from several recycled meals. We took leftover pasta with red sauce and added some canellini beans for protein. We had leftover corn on the cob from a BBQ, so we scraped that off the cob and added it in. Then we threw in some salsa before heating the whole thing up. We topped this with parmesan cheese, but shredded cheddar cheese and black beans would have made it more Mexican.

In this recipe we used leftover salsa, but many leftover dips can be used with pasta. Add a little milk to any dairy based dip for a fancy Alfredo sauce. However, my favorite is nacho cheese sauce. Years back, I worked at Ruby Tuesdays at the local mall. They had a delicious Sonora pasta that had a southwestern cheese sauce and was topped with grilled chicken, black beans, and diced tomatoes. I had left over cheese sauce and shredded chicken one night and was able to recreate this restaurant recipe at home. How’s that for a way to use leftovers?

How to use leftover beef

Leftover beef can be used in soups and stews. Or throw it in a slow cooker with some sauce to get it real tender. Then serve it on a roll with melted cheese.

Upcycled brisket chili nachos

leftover chili nachos
Upcycled meat nachos

Recently, our neighbors moved, and we inherited all of the food from their freezer. It happens that we were having company the same weekend. I ended up serving brisket chili as one of our menu items. We had also served chips with homemade salsa and some sliced cheddar cheese with crackers for snacks. The following day, we created these nachos using leftover chili. This works for leftover ground beef recipes as well.

We lined a baking sheet with parchment paper, and then spread out leftover tortilla chips. After that, we layered chili, sliced jalapenos, and a mixture of leftover cheese with additional shredded cheddar. Then we cooked the nachos for about 10 minutes in the oven at 425 F. Of course, we served this food with leftover salsa.

This made a delicious easy recipe for a weeknight meal.

5 day chili quesadillas

what to do with leftover beef? Toss it in a Quesadilla for an easy meal along with some onions, peppers, and cheese
5 day chili quesadillas

We were able to make 2 leftover shredded beef recipes with this brisket chili in addition to some lunch. Quesadillas are another simple meal that helps prevent food waste. You can use any leftover vegetables and/or meats for this, plus any cheese you have on hand. Generally we grate cheddar, but we have been know to use sliced pepper jack or provolone as well.

This time we cooked up some onions and sliced peppers we had in the freezer. Then, using another pan, we melted a pat of butter and placed in a large tortilla. After that, my husband loaded one half with the veggies, meat, and shredded cheese, before folding it in half. Once the first side browns, we flip the Quesadilla to cook the other side. When the second side is done, remove it to a cutting board to cool slightly, while you make additional quesadillas. You can cut the finished product into slices with a pizza cutter or sharp knife. We had some spicy sauce we had made for another meal, so we used that as a dipping sauce. This is a good time to clean out your refrigerator. Of course, you can use sour cream for dipping if you have that.

If you are wondering what to do with leftover pulled pork, quesadillas or nachos are simple but tasty recipes.

Pizzas with leftover meats and veggies

Also, homemade pizzas are a great way to use up leftover meats and veggies. Keep some premade crusts on hand or make your own. Use whatever cheese you have available. You can use red sauce, create a cream sauce, or use no sauce. Use up that tomato that has been sitting in your fridge by placing slices on the pie. We often keep Naan or pita bread in our freezer. These are great for mini pizzas. You can even use bagels or English muffins instead of pizza dough.

Hash and Eggs: what to do with leftover steak

My husband recently grilled up some porterhouse steaks. They were delicious and juicy, cooked medium rare. However, to reheat the leftovers for lunch the next day would have made them overcooked. Instead, I cut the pieces up and cut and cooked some potatoes. If you have leftover grilled or roasted potatoes, those are even better. I poured a few spoonfuls of oil in a pan and fried the steak and potatoes up with a little steak seasoning and some chopped onions. To serve, I put a piece of Swiss cheese on the hash, and topped that with a fried egg for a brunch. This can be used as a dinner recipe as well. You can also make this with leftover ham instead of steak.

Leftover steak also is great added to a salad or you can heat it in a pan with some onions and peppers to make some quick fajitas. What to do with leftover salmon? Leftover seafood is a great salad topper.

What to do with leftover turkey

Turkey pot pie

what to do with leftover turkey? make this simple leftover pot pie with mini shapes on top made with pie crust

After a big Thanksgiving meal, we try to cut back on the carbs. Therefore, this pot pie has no bottom crust. For the filling, I mixed several cups of cut up leftover turkey, a can of mixed vegetables, leftover carrots, and leftover gravy. Then I just sprayed the casserole pan, and dumped in the filling. I made my own pie crust and used half the recipe to cut these fall shapes to place on top. I saved the other half to make some tarts with leftover apple pie filling that didn’t fit in my pie a few days before. Of course, to make this super easy, you can use pie crust from the store. We then cooked this in the oven for about 30 minutes at 375 F, until the crust was browned.

Are you wondering what to do with leftover mashed potatoes? As an alternative, top the casserole with the potatoes instead of with pie crust.

NEW! Quick Turkey Shepherd’s Pie

Turkey parm and pasta

This meal was a recycle from two separate occasions. I had frozen a leftover casserole pan of baked ziti that was 2/3 full after we had company a few weeks ago. I took that out of the freezer, placed leftover turkey slices from Thanksgiving on the empty side of the casserole. Then I added extra sauce to the whole dish, and sprinkled extra mozzarella cheese on top. After that I covered it with foil and baked it at 350 F for about 30 minutes. If it had still been frozen I would have heated it longer. We added some garlic bread with bread we had frozen after the same bout of company. Voila! Sunday dinner for the family.

More turkey recipes: homemade soup

We have an ongoing joke with our neighbors. Every time I run out of chicken broth, I tell them they aren’t doing their job supplying me with carcasses. I never throw away bones. Whether from a roast turkey, or if you are wondering what to do with leftover rotisserie chicken bones, both make great broth. Just add water to the bones in a large pot or a slow cooker, and cook until the meat all falls off the bones. Then I strain the solids out and place the broth in several containers. I usually keep them in the refrigerator for a few days. Then I scrape the fat off the top before freezing.

What to do with leftover chicken? Make soup. Chicken soup is a typical comfort food. You can cook up celery and onion to add to the broth. Then throw in any leftover vegetables you have in your refrigerator. I had some peas and carrots that needed to get used up, so I added them. I also added leftover Fettuccine, but you can always add leftover rice instead. If it is too bland, add additional seasonings.

Santa Fe Meatloaf

This can be made with either leftover ground beef or turkey. I took leftover turkey and ground it up in my food processor. Then I mixed it up with a can of black beans, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup of oats, and some seasonings. If it is too dry, you can add additional egg. You can add extra veggies or sauce too. The main thing is that you want it moist enough to resemble uncooked beef. Once it is the right consistency, place it in a loaf pan. Then cook it in the oven at 350F for about 45 minutes. The meats are already cooked, but since there is raw egg, you want to make sure the internal temperature reaches 165F. We like to put some slices of cheese on top during the last 5-10 minutes of cooking and top it with some salsa.

What to do with leftover Rice? Make fried rice

We recycled two meals here. I took leftover cooked rice and cooked it up in a frying pan in a little coconut oil. Then I added some frozen peas, a little soy sauce, and some chopped green onions. Normally, I add some scrambled egg to this dish, but since I was planning to serve this with Korean ribs, I felt it was a bit too much protein.

I had some leftover BBQ ribs from a family gathering so I recooked them in a slow cooker with:

  • 1/2 cup sake
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 2 crushed Thai chilies
  • 4 crushed garlic cloves
  • 3 tsp fresh grated ginger

Since the ribs were already cooked, I cooked them for 3 hours on low in the slow cooker. I served the extra sauce in a gravy boat to pour over the ribs and fried rice when serving.

Tip: To save money, I freeze the white rice we get when we order Chinese food. Then I recycle it to make fried rice for another meal.

Here are some sponsored links for kitchen gadgets I use to save time and make cooking easier:

I hope these ideas inspire you to create your own leftover meals. Please share your creations with us. There are so many ways to save money on food at home and while traveling. With the money you save, you can take another trip.

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Donna Emperador is a travel and food blogger and copywriter. Donna believes in learning about different cultures while sharing good food and cocktails. She has lived in South Florida for over 20 years and enjoys spending time exploring the road to find unique places to share with readers. She can be found on FacebookInstagram, and Pinterest.

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