Food spending is a big but often malleable part of the average American budget, which means it can be an easy place to look for savings. And two of the simplest, most effective ways to spend less money on food are to a) cook at home and b) waste less food.
And that means actually eating your leftovers instead of letting them languish in the back of the fridge until trash day. We’ve touched on some ways to inject new life into leftovers in the past, but here are three simple dinner ideas that yield really useful leftovers. In fact, they can easily be turned into a whole different meal the very next night.
Chicken Noodle Soup > Chicken Pot Pie
Day 1: Chicken Soup Recipe
- 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 6 carrots, sliced
- 1-2 lbs. chicken breast, cubed or sliced
- 4 celery stalks, diced
- 1-2 quarts of chicken stock
- 12 oz. egg noodles (or pasta of your choice)
In a large pot, heat oil, onions, and carrots over medium heat for about five minutes. Add chicken and stir fry until no longer pink, about 3-4 minutes. Add celery and chicken stock and bring to a boil; let simmer for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, boil noodles as directed, drain, and drizzle with a bit of olive oil to keep from sticking. Set aside. (It’s tempting to just toss the noodles in with the soup, but they will suck up every drop of broth like squiggly sponges.) When ready to serve, ladle soup into a bowl and add noodles as desired.
Bonus recipe: To mimic a Vietnamese pho, substitute rice noodles or vermicelli for the egg noodles, add a dash each of fish sauce, garlic, ground ginger, Sriracha, and brown sugar to the broth, and serve with fresh chopped cilantro and scallions.
Day 2: Easy Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
- Leftover chicken soup
- Approx. 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 cup or more frozen peas and/or corn
- Store-bought pie crust (or crescent roll dough, puff pastry, biscuits, etc.)
Preheat oven to 400F. Reheat leftover chicken soup on stove top, and whisk in about a quarter cup (6 Tbsp) of flour. Add frozen peas or corn and return to boil. Simmer and stir occasionally until broth thickens to a gravy-like consistency, about 5 minutes.
Pour it all into an oven-safe casserole dish, and top with pie crust or pastry dough of your choice. Bake for about 20 minutes or until dough is golden brown and puffy. Let cool a few minutes, then dig in and tell winter to get lost.
Ham, Broccoli, and Rice > Fried Rice
Day 1: Ham, Broccoli, and Rice
- Boneless ham, sliced into portions
- 2 broccoli crowns, chopped
- 3 cups of jasmine rice
- 5 cups chicken stock (or use water, with optional 1-2 bullion cubes)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil or butter
In a medium saucepan, bring chicken stock to a boil. Add rice and olive oil, stir well, then cover, lower heat, and let simmer for 10-15 minutes.
In a separate, large frying pan, heat a thin layer of water over medium-high heat. Add ham slices and broccoli, cover and steam until ham is heated through and broccoli is bright green but still al dente, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from pan and serve with rice. If desired, serve ham with teriyaki sauce, spicy brown mustard, sweet and sour sauce, or whatever floats your boat.
Day 2: Easy Fried Rice Recipe
- Leftover ham, rice, and broccoli
- 1/3 cup boiling water
- Approx. 1/4 cup brown sugar (assuming enough leftovers for 4 servings)
- Approx. 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce (ditto)
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 eggs, lightly scrambled
- 1 cup frozen peas and/or corn
Get everything prepared first: Chop up the leftover ham into small pieces. In a small bowl, combine hot water with brown sugar to dissolve, then stir in soy sauce. (Note: Make sure to use low sodium soy sauce, since the rice will already have some salt in it if you used chicken stock.) Finally, dice up your veggies. Fried rice is innately flexible, so can also swap in or add a can of pineapple chunks, sliced carrots, scallions, or whatever else your heart desires.
Heat oil in large wok or frying pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic (optional) and diced onion; saute until onions are soft, 3-4 minutes. Add eggs and scramble in the pan with a wooden spoon, stirring until cooked. Add leftover ham, rice, and broccoli, and stir fry for a minute. Add soy sauce mixture and frozen vegetables, and stir fry just a couple of minutes more. Serve immediately.
Homemade Mac & Cheese > Chili Mac
Day 1: Easy Homemade Stovetop Mac & Cheese
- 1 lb. pasta (shells, elbows, or penne)
- 4 cups milk
- 4 Tbsp flour
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt and a dash of pepper (use more or less to taste)
- 4 cups shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
Prepare pasta as directed, and set aside. While pasta is boiling whisk milk, flour, sugar, and salt in medium saucepan. Bring just to a boil, stirring often, then add shredded cheese. Simmer until sauce thickens, then pour over pasta.
Day 2: Chili Mac Recipe
- Leftover mac & cheese
- 1 lb. ground beef or turkey
- 1 onion, diced (optional)
- 1-2 bell peppers, diced (optional)
- 1 can black beans
- 1 chili sauce packet
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup tomato sauce
Brown the beef in a large skillet or non-stick pot. Drain most of the fat, then add onion and saute for a few minutes until soft. Stir in 1/2 cup water and chili spice packet, then add peppers, beans, and tomato sauce. Let it all simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, reheat leftover mac and cheese. Serve chili over the top of it and gorge on the gooey goodness.
It’s chili, so you can feel free to experiment: Add garlic, bacon crumbles, or diced sausage; go vegetarian with a variety of beans and corn; use a malty beer instead of (or in addition to) water for more flavor… the variations are endless, and almost always delicious.