Creative and Simple Leftover Recipes – It’s Smart For The Earth And The Wallet


Delicious leftovers, photo: The Frugal Girl

Leftovers get such a bad rap. But we totally understand: it’s repetitive, first of all. And second of all, it’s repetitive. If all you’re doing is re-heating last night’s dinner, then of course tonight’s dinner is going to be boring. If variety is the spice of life, then then add some paprika and let’s get reheating.

Or maybe leftovers are the ugly stepchild because it’s easy to be suspicious of “old” food. No one wants to be bitten by the food bug or eat anything past it’s prime. And that’s very fair. Another total turn off is the legitimate concern about dangers when it comes to reheating food in the microwave – a regular habit for so many of us.

But boring or suspicious dinners are not the only problem with leftovers. How many of us buy food and eventually throw it out, especially since composting is still not a mainstream thing, although it totally should be? According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the US generates more than 34 million tons of food waste each year. Paper is the only materiel where we generate more waste but we also recycle much more of it. And when the food goes to the landfill and sits in the sun with the rest of the refuse, things get kind of gross. Aside from the stench and attraction to rodents, methane is released which is a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential as carbon dioxide.

The food waste issue in the UK as illustrated by designer Jon Irwin on

The food waste issue in the UK as illustrated by designer Jon Irwin on

And how much does this waste hit your wallet? Smart women and men with charts estimate that people end up throwing out 14% of the food they purchase – that means you’re practically taking your money and putting it atop a big pile of garbage.

There are significant economic, environment and ethical issues with these staggering numbers but there are things we can do.

Individuals, households, and other small scale generators of food waste often don’t realize just how much food they throw away every day—from uneaten leftovers to spoiled produce. According to Food Loss and the American Household, a 2006 study, American households throw away an average of 470 pounds of food into the trash annually. This costs a family of four nearly $600/ year – money that could be spent on other consumer goods.

How about you save some of that cash and karma and learn to have fun with your leftovers? You can transform delicious eats into whole new meals with some creativity and patience. When you think of your leftovers as a jumping off point, or another ingredient you have to play with, fun meals are sure to arise. We’ve collected some handy tricks to keep their eyes big and bellies full.

Leftover Ideas

Delicious tacos using leftover turkey, from

Delicious tacos using leftover turkey, from

Tacos – A great vehicles to put whatever you’ve got into a flour or corn wrap. Finish with cheese, hot sauce, fresh greens and/or salsa.

Frittata – The morning after frittata is a fancy way of scrambling your leftovers with a bunch of eggs. Make sure you cut your cooked foods small so it heats through in time for the egg to be done. Pair with some fresh juice and multi-grain toast and you’ve got a great start to the day.

Sammiches – Some people say that the next day sandwich trumps the initial meal. Get some good crusty bread and pile on high the meats, the veg and whatever you have lying around. Heat it with cheese on top and call it a Melt.

Soups – Starting off with a nice base of broth, you can add almost anything to it: meat, vegetable, pasta, all of it’s good. Try adding adding a bit of fresh lemon juice and freshly grated parmesan cheese to the final bowl and you’ve got a whole new thing happening here.

Fried Rice – Fried rice is actually best made when you’re using day old rice. Cut all your leftovers into small pieces and on high heat and with a fast stir in an olive oiled-pan or wok, start mixing all the leftover veg and meat together. Add the rice soon after. If you’re looking for an Asian flair, finish with a small amount of sesame oil, Siracha and fresh cut scallions.

Salads – Salad can be defined as good stuff on top of greens or cold bits put together and mixed with a light sauce. And you can do any of this. Start with some fresh lettuce and put any of your reheated or cold foods straight on top. Otherwise, cut them small and mix with an olive oil vinaigrette or a healthy dollop of mayo or aioli – chicken salad anyone?

Bubble and Squeak – Bubble and Squeak wins by the mere fact it has the best name in the world. In England, after a roast dinner, you have leftover roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes. The veg is diced and mixed with the potato and then formed into patties. A light dusting of flour on top and into the frying pan with a bit of oil it goes. A veggie burger, if you will. Try it on your kids next and let us know how they get on.

Tips for Preserving

Reducing the air in your packaged leftovers minimizes the chance that they'll be covered in ice, photo from

Reducing the air in your packaged leftovers minimizes the chance that they'll be covered in ice, photo from

  • Cool hot food before putting it in the fridge, 30 minutes is a good goal.
  • If you have large amounts of food such as a roast or pot of soup, separate portions into smaller containers, and remove the bones from any whole roasted meats.
  • Use only glass or microwave safe containers to reheat food in the microwave. Studies show that high heat releases the BPA chemicals from the plastic into your foods – a garnish you can live without.
  • If you buy any containers to keep food in, consider BPA-free products which don’t have the harmful chemicals.
  • Eat cooked food within 4 days. If you know you won’t be getting to it by then, freeze them right away.
  • When freezing, try to have as little air in your packaging as possible. Air causes the water in the food to crystallize on the top. It’s not tasty.
  • Use your nose! I mean really, it’s probably why we have it.
  • When in doubt, toss it.
  • For some serious resources, check out Still Tasty, a very awesome site that helps determine the shelf life of everything but your mother, for specific temperatures for thawing and reheating food, try, and of course, go here for the official Food Safety Guidelines.

    • pasadena bootcamp

      Wow That sound Looks so Delicious.

    • yes, that sounds so delicious. post it to the Krrb Recipe Swap!

    • There is an amazing Jordanian dish called Sumac Chicken (with sauteed onions baked atop pita bread). Sumac ( is a tangy redish-purple spice that you can find at most any Arabic or Turkish grocery store. The reason I bring it up is that it is the most incredibly tasty left over. My mom would make it and not even serve it hot sometimes – straight to the fridge. If you want to try it, search Google for Sumac Chicken recipes … or maybe I’ll post mine to Krrb soon!!

    • composting is so where its at. we need a compost pick up with the garbage pick up!

    • Didurkes

      Scary stats on food waste. Leftovers was once a four letter word here til we adopted similar ideas to the ones above, esp the everything sammich. And we compost – Canadian friends tell us everybody composts in Canada.