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Whoever said leftovers are boring clearly wasn’t innovative enough, or money savvy. There are lots of ways to stretch your meals and use up every bit of the food you buy and prepare. From piling roasted vegetables into an omelet to using leftover potato chips as a breading for chicken, here are some smart moves when it comes to using up your leftovers.
Leftover grilled chicken doesn’t have to be boring and can be made into a number of new meals. But the best thing to make out of some slices of cooked poultry is a sandwich with some thick white bread, crunchy leafy greens, a flavored condiment like garlic mayo and a couple juicy tomato rings.
Similar to grilled chicken, baked leftover chicken can be made into many different things. You can easily shred it up with a fork to add into soups or quesadillas, or mix it up with mayo for some chicken salad.
Grain bowls are quite possibly the easiest way to add all your leftovers into one bowl for a heart-healthy meal. Leftover cooked quinoa, farro or couscous, leftover cooked veggies, some fresh cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of feta.
If your greens like spinach, arugula or kale are starting to wilt away in the fridge and you’re tired of fresh salads, stir-fry them instead. Any kind of green, whether that’s iceberg or butter lettuce, kale, collard greens or spinach, can be sauteed lightly in sesame oil (or another light oil), garlic and a drizzle of soy sauce for a quick Asian-inspired dish. You can also revive your lettuce by giving it an ice-water bath, which is just one of the many tips for making your food last longer.
If you made some fresh bread that is nearing its counter life and going stale, dry it out further, toss pieces of it in a food processor to make breadcrumbs and store it in a labeled glass jar. You could also make croutons by cutting up the bread in small squares, drying them out, seasoning them and baking them in the oven.
When you’ve used up a block of Parmesan cheese, don’t throw the end rind away. You can use it to add a savory and salty flavor to tomato sauces, soups and stews — just remember to take it out and discard before serving. Using a Parmesan rind instead of salt is one of those ingredient swaps everyone should know.
If your apples are turning soft and losing their freshness, cut them up and make a comfy apple pie or apple crisp, which won’t even require a pie crust.
You can use a combination of leftover carrots, cabbage or sprouts to make coleslaw. Either use pre-shredded carrots or cabbage, or shred your own carrots using a box grater and thinly chop up the cabbage into shreds. Mix the vegetables with a dressing made of mayonnaise, lemon juice and some mustard, salt and pepper. If you have apple cider vinegar, you can add that too for a zesty tang. Quick slaws like this only get better as they sit in the fridge and they pair wonderfully with fish.
You may not think so, but it’s worth salvaging stale tortillas or pita bread. You can cut them into small triangles and bake them on a flat sheet with olive oil and sea salt for homemade pita chips. You’ll just need to whip up some easy hummus to dip them into.
There are lots of unexpected ingredients that go great with eggs, and ground beef, turkey, chicken and pork all top that list. If you have leftovers from taco night, eat the rest with some eggs for breakfast for a flavorful start to the day.
It’s generally a good idea to make more pasta to stretch the meals out over the week. And because it’s so freezer-friendly, leftover prepared pasta can be divided into single servings, stored in individual containers and frozen for quick lunches or dinners.
If you’re thinking about making pasta during the week, double down on the sauce and make enough for two dishes so that you have leftovers. For example, if you’re making classic spaghetti with tomato sauce on Monday, store the leftover sauce in the fridge to make pizza, lasagna or any number of comforting home-cooked meals a different day.
When digging into the depths of your pantry for snacks, you might come across that forgotten bag of chips that’s slightly stale. Instead of tossing it, store the bits of chips in airtight jars to be used as a coating for breaded chicken or fish. Unsweetened cereals like Corn Flakes can be used the same way.
If your bananas, apples, pears and exotic fruits are going brown, you can extend their life by cutting them up and freezing the pieces for smoothies or fruit purees later.
But the absolute best thing to make with leftover bananas that are a bit too brown and mushy is banana bread. You can also throw in some chocolate chips and walnuts for an extra crunch.
Tossing those celery leaves, carrot tops and herb stems is one of those kitchen mistakes you need to stop now. If you have leftover onions, celery, carrots, herbs and other wilting veggies in the produce drawer, throw them into a pot and make your own stock. You can use the stock right away for soup, or you can freeze it for later.
When life gives you lemons and a little leftover mustard, make dressing. With the bit of mustard left in the squeeze bottle or jar, you can drizzle in some olive oil, fresh minced garlic, herbs and fresh lemon juice for a simple and thrifty vinaigrette. Just shake everything up right in the mustard jar.
If you have any leftover brownies — which is a strong if — and they’re not freshly gooey anymore, you can plop them in a blender with vanilla or chocolate ice cream and milk for a decadent brownie shake. This also works with some leftover cookies from the grocery store.
For a quick and delicious breakfast skillet, saute baked or pre-cooked potatoes to make them extra crispy and serve alongside cheesy, fluffy scrambled eggs, or simply with fried eggs.
Quesadillas are a fantastic leftover dish to use up any cheese, meat, mashed potatoes, beans — basically anything that holds up well in a tortilla. Leftover corn is a great addition to quesadillas, as is ground meat, shredded chicken, black beans and lentils. A quesadilla is one of the easiest things to make with pantry staples.
Similar to eggs, mac and cheese pairs well with some surprising and unexpected add-ins. A few leftovers that you should try with macaroni and cheese are roasted butternut squash, bacon, ham and peas and if you’re super fancy, lobster.
If you have a bunch of extra peppers in your fridge, you can pickle them in a jar to use in dips, with meat, on sandwiches or even to snack on just by themselves. To pickle any kind of pepper, cook vinegar, water and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Once the mixture has cooled, pour the pickling liquid over any kind of chili pepper and sliced garlic in a jar. Pickled peppers will keep in the fridge for two to three weeks. Here’s how long other foods last in the fridge and freezer.
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