Turn Your Leftovers Into Delicious Meals

Don’t let last night’s dinner go to waste; make exciting, flavorful dishes that will make it all taste like new

Turn Your Leftovers Into Delicious Meals

Next time you clean out your refrigerator, while you’re throwing old food and leftovers into the trash, consider how you could have used them up before they expired and rotted. Each year, Americans throw away more than 50 million tons of food — accounting for more than 20 percent of all municipal garbage. But the issue of waste aside, great things can become of your leftovers; all it takes is a little thought and creativity.

Leftovers can become great again! They can be repurposed to become whole new meals with new flavors, textures, and renewed deliciousness. Here, we’ve compiled scores of ideas to turn your unfinished meals into wonderful eats. But before we start, know that although this leftover recipe round-up suggests a variety of inventive dishes, nearly everything can be made or repurposed into soup.

You can beef up whatever you have on hand with a flavorful stock, a touch of cream, and a little extra seasoning and then proceed to call it “harvest soup” or something similarly fancy. No one will know you made something impressive out of supposedly nothing — that is, if you don’t brag about it. 

Leftover Bread

Leftover Bread

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Stale bread is not meant for the trash. No, instead, stale bread is destined to become croutons, toasts, chunky panzanella, and sweet and savory bread puddings.

For a panzanella recipe, click here.

Leftover Cake, Cookies, or Pie

Leftover Cake, Cookies, or Pie

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It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes we are “plagued” with lingering desserts: stale brownies, the forgotten slice of pie, the cake that was just too big to finish. A fun way to give these desserts new life is to turn them into another dessert! Buzz whatever you have on hand with a splash of milk and a scoop of ice cream to make a milkshake.

For the Pumpkin Pie Milkshake recipe, click here.

Leftover Coffee

When you can’t seem to finish that pot, don’t simply pour the unused liquid down the drain. Instead, redirect that pour into an ice cube tray and make coffee ice cubes to chill your next iced coffee without diluting it. Another way to use it up is to pair it with chocolate; coffee punctuates the flavor of chocolate, making baked goods especially yummy.

For the Leftover Coffee Chocolate Brownies recipe, click here.

Leftover Mashed Potatoes

Leftover Mashed Potatoes

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Leftover mashed potatoes are never as good as when they are freshly made and piping hot; in the days after you make them, they become mealy and dry, leaving much to be desired. However, turning your leftovers into British favorite “Bubble and Squeak” can give potatoes back their mojo. Bubble and Squeak is the ultimate leftover dish and is made exclusively with dinner’s remnants. Any combination of leftover ingredients can be used, but mashed potatoes are always the primary ingredient. The dish gets its charming name from the sounds leftover cabbage (a traditional ingredient) makes when reheating.

Looking for other options for leftover potatoes? How about leftover mashed potato waffles or a Shepherd’s Pie, perhaps?

For the Bubble and Squeak recipe, click here.

Leftover Rice and Other Grains

Whether it is the take-out variety or homemade, rice and other grains — like quinoa — are invaluable currencies in the world of leftover cuisine. The morsels sauté up perfectly to make a fried rice, or they can fold into hearty and healthy grain bowls or salads. Inversely, you can reheat it with a little extra moisture and roll it up into a big fat burrito, too.

For the Quinoa Fried “Rice” recipe, click here.

Leftover Roasted Vegetables

Reheating leftover roasted veggies won’t resurrect the former deliciousness of their crispy edges; as leftovers, they are now soft and rapidly declining in flavor and texture — so what do you do?

The answer: Make breakfast! Give you leftovers a rough chop and stir them into a frittata or flaky quiche. In another breakfast scenario, you could throw them in among some other odds and ends to make a delicious vegetable hash.

For a frittata recipe, click here.

Leftover Proteins

All kinds of meat — chicken, steak, pork, lamb — can (and should) be repurposed into something equally good and delicious as last night’s dinner. Sandwiches, enchiladas, tacos, meaty salads (like this beautiful kale, lamb, and pomegranate number) first come to mind, but casseroles and soups are also great, easy, and tasty options.

For the Easy Chicken Enchiladas recipe, click here.

Leftover Spaghetti

Even if your spaghetti noodles were intended for something Italian, change course and give them an Asian-inspired twist the next day. Try making this noodle stir-fry for a simple and delicious weeknight dinner, or make cold sesame noodles by tossing your leftover spaghetti with a combination of sesame oil, tahini, and soy sauce, and then top it with sesame seeds, cucumbers, and scallions.

For the Cold Sesame Noodles recipe, click here. 

Leftover Squash and Sweet Potatoes

Soup is an obvious choice for leftovers like butternut squash, kabocha, and sweet potatoes. Nevertheless, if you are looking for something a bit more interesting, you can turn your leftovers into bread or even cupcakes! The moisture and sweetness in squash impart flavor and luscious moisture into baked goods.

For the Butternut Squash Spice Cupcakes recipe, click here.

Leftover Wilty Greens

Leftover Wilty Greens

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Do you have some greens on hand that didn’t make it into last night’s salad? Are they slowly wilting? Crippling under ethylene gas? Save them from spoiling by turning them into a smoothie; you can even freeze the end results and have a healthy, icy snack on hand.

Click here to read “10 Green Smoothie Recipes The Will Make You Love Your Vegetables.”