Nine Creative Ways to Utilize Leftovers from Common Meals

Pot Roast by mattebert on Flickr!One of the best ways to really extract the value from a meal is to utilize every bit of the leftover food instead of merely throwing it away. Not only does this reduce waste, it also drastically reduces the cost per meal in your household, and over the long term, that can add up to a lot of money.

The only problem with this philosophy is that leftovers are often not exactly the most tasty thing for the palate. Reheated plates of food? Maybe after Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s not so appealing after Wednesday night supper.

Because of this lack of culinary appeal, many people often toss their leftover food, or they put it in the refrigerator with the intent to use it but forget about it until it’s too late.

My approach is a little different. I try very hard to find ways to use leftover food in interesting and substantially different dishes a night or two later. This way, the new meal doesn’t seem like a stale re-hash of the first one.

Here are nine easy examples for doing just that.

Transform leftover pot roast Around here, there’s almost always an abundance of leftovers after cooking a pot roast with potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery. Instead of just reheating this food for future meals, I just toss it into the food processor with some of the broth, puree it, and then take the thick “soup” and add bread crumbs until I’m able to form patties with it. I then cook the patties over medium heat in a skillet with a bit of canola oil until they’re light brown on both sides. Optionally, I’ll add a bit of cheese to the mix.

Transform leftover chicken Cut the remaining chicken into long strips, then serve them with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, shredded cheese, salsa, and tortillas to make easy and tasty wraps.

Transform leftover mashed potatoes Freeze them in small amounts (a cup per bag), then use them in place of flour in recipes. You can usually use one part mashed potatoes to two parts flour in virtually any recipe, which means that you can easily use a cup of mashed potatoes in a loaf of homemade bread.

Transform leftover spaghetti Take the leftover pasta and sauce, chop the pasta into smaller pieces, then mix the sauce and pasta together. Pour this mixture into a loaf pan, then put a healthy layer of mozzarella cheese on top. Bake this in the oven at 350 until the cheese is just beginning to turn brown in spots – the time varies based on the amount of leftover pasta and cheese.

Transform leftover steak Cut the steak into small pieces, add a few cans of kidney beans, several big dashes of chili powder, a can of diced tomatoes, and a can of tomato juice. Simmer for an hour or two and you have an excellent hearty chili.

Transform leftover meatloaf or hamburgers Cube the meatloaf, then add a can of tomato sauce, some oregano and basil, and let it simmer. Boil some pasta and you have a very easy pasta meal. Of course, this only works for standard meatloaf – if you vary the meatloaf too much, this may make for a very odd dish.

Transform leftover beef stew Drain off most of the liquid, then grind the remaining meat and vegetables in a food processor. Then, scramble that leftover stew meat and vegetables with eggs to make a very tasty scrambled egg dish. This is also a very effective way to use leftover chili.

Transform leftover ham This can be invaluable at Christmas, when many families cook up a ham but don’t know what to do with the leftovers. Simply chop the ham into small bite-sized pieces and put them in a large pot. Add several chopped potatoes and several cups of green beans, several cups of water, and salt and pepper to taste, and let this mixture simmer for an hour or two. It’s a delicious and very simple soup.

Transform leftover rice Mix leftover rice with pancake batter. This not only will expand the volume of the pancake batter, but it’ll also create a distinctive flavor for the pancakes. With rice in the pancakes, I like to use jelly rather than syrup for flavoring.

What’s the key lesson here? Look at leftovers as merely an ingredient for a completely different meal. If you keep that in mind and utilize the internet’s food resources and your own creativity, you’ll be shocked at how many useful ways you can find to use your leftovers.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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