Eating Up Our Leftovers, and Loving Every Bite!

by Katy on March 19, 2013 · 48 comments

You know how your refrigerator can be full, yet there’s still nothing to eat? We had one of those days yesterday at Casa Wolk-Stanley, but that didn’t mean that anyone went hungry. In fact, last night’s dinner was so wacky and inventive that I had to share.

Here’s what we ate:

  • My husband ate a large portion of spaghetti with marinara sauce. The sauce was leftover from some spaghetti and meatballs, and the pasta had been cooked the night before.
  • My younger son ate a homemade individual chicken pot pie, assembled from leftover pot pie filling from Pi Day, (March 14th = 3/14 = 3.14 = Pi Day. Get it?!) and some leftover pie dough scraps from the freezer. It looked delicious and he scarfed down every bite.
  • My older son ate tortellini with kale pesto. I try to keep a stash of Trader Joe’s dried tortellini on hand, as it’s filling for teenage boys, and pairs well with a number of different toppings. I had made a batch of kale pesto over the weekend, and it was sitting ever so patiently in the fridge waiting for this exact moment. (Kale pesto is made using chopped steamed kale, garlic, olive oil, salt, parmesan cheese and occasionally nuts. It’s all whirred together in the food processor and then stored in the fridge indefinitely. The ingredient amounts are loose, and it’s a great easy/healthy go-to food. A single batch is enough for four-five uses.) He ate the entire bag of tortellini, which is probably supposed to be six servings!
  • I ate a great big salad which included a forgotten quarter of an avocado from the back of the fridge. I also ate a very small serving of leftover black bean chili from last week. (I wasn’t that hungry, as I’d had a late lunch.)

My fridge is now freed from almost all of the small amounts of leftovers that would otherwise go to waste. Nothing was enough to feed the entire family, and none of it was tempting enough for the family to rush towards, yet it was still mightily delicious.

And now I can go to the grocery store and fill the fridge back up without an iota of guilt.

Ahh . . . .

Do you have creative ways to use up your leftovers? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Ma March 19, 2013 at 8:20 am

I used leftover baked potatoes last night and chopped them up with leftover cooked pork chops and some smoked sausage. I fried them up to make a nice hash. All leftovers gone!

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Katy March 19, 2013 at 8:35 am

Yum!

Katy

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Cheapchick March 19, 2013 at 8:24 am

There are only two of us now so I try and freeze most leftovers that aren’t eaten by the next night to prevent waste. It doesn’t always work though. Cheers!

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Katy March 19, 2013 at 8:38 am

I’m really bad about putting stuff in the freezer and never taking it back out again, so I would rather eat it the first time than think it will get more appealing by being frozen.

Katy

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Karen3848 March 19, 2013 at 8:26 am

I make “gourmet scrambled eggs” with our leftovers- I dice up whatever protein I have- leftover chicken, steak, etc and then add whatever veggies may be laying around and if I’m lucky enough to have something to top with (cheese; avocado; some kind of leftover sauce) that goes on too. Different every time but always delicious!

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Katy March 19, 2013 at 8:37 am

That sounds really good, kind of a variation on my frittata recipe:

http://thenonconsumeradvocate.com/2009/10/cheap-eats-hakuna-frittata/

However, my younger sons hates eggs, so it can’t be a whole family meal. 🙁

Katy

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Linda in Indiana March 19, 2013 at 9:06 am

There is just the two of us and we are retired…so our lunches are often what you described above….glamorous cafeteria indeed!
I keep a container in the freezer for little dabs of leftover cooked vegetables…when it is full, it is time to make vegetable soup or use in a pot pie. I also do the same with odds and ends of cookies, etc…. makes great toppings for crisps or parfaits.
I like to use small amounts of leftover meats in fajitas, quesadillas, or to top a salad for a main dish.
I like to save bits of ham for seasoning a pot of beans or for extra taste in potato soup.
Shepherd’s pie is a good place to use up different vegetables that are accumulating in the refrigerator.
Odd and ends of fruit make a nice fruit salad or a hot crock pot fruit salad. Or are good in smoothies.
Any leftover applesause is nice to replace at least half of your oil in most baked goods….lot lower in fat and nice and moist.
I try to phrase ours planned overs…that way it doesn’t feel like we are “cleaning out the frig” but eating something nice off the menu…kind of a “au jus” from the fancy, smancy place…Ha! That just doesn’t fit our home:)!

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Elaine in Ark March 21, 2013 at 10:12 am

Funny, I *never* have leftover cookie crumbs, but if I did, I follow your tip!

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Helene March 19, 2013 at 9:07 am

Here are a few of my tricks:

1. I shop once a week so Wednesday is clean out the refrigerator day. I use all the leftover veggies (wilted celery, onion ends, carrots, parsley, etc) to make a big soup stock and then make beans or chicken soup or something like that.

2. Then every few weeks I make “cheese drawer” mac and cheese for the kids… This can include ends of blue cheese and parmesan, cream cheese and little potted cheese spreads as well as those dried out pieces of cheddar or pepper jack… It makes a yummy tangy dish that everybody loves.

3. If there does happen to be leftovers from a meal I put it all straight into a tupperware to take to work. Usually I can microwave it all up together and it turns out delicious. If a meal is all ready in the frig it is easy for anyone to grab and take for lunch. So we rarely HAVE leftovers…

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Katy March 19, 2013 at 9:10 am

I always bring leftovers for work, but my husband, who works full time has no refrigeration or microwave at work.

Such a wasted opportunity . . . .

Katy

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A. Marie March 19, 2013 at 9:35 am

My preferred strategies for leftover reuse are (1) next day’s lunch, dinner, etc. (repeat as necessary); (2) frittatas, as Katy mentioned in a comment above; and (3) SOUP! By now, I think I can safely say that I never make the same soup twice; it depends entirely on whatever ingredients are on hand.

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Vanessa March 19, 2013 at 9:44 am

When leftovers get overwhelming we have a “smorgasborg bonanza!” Everything comes out of the fridge and everyone gets to choose what they want on their plates. No cooking and everyone gets something they like, which is not always the case when I do cook.

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Katy March 19, 2013 at 9:52 am

Great idea, thanks!

Katy

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Laure March 19, 2013 at 6:38 pm

My mom always did this growing up. It’s like going to a potluck in your own house — take some of what you want, leave for others what you don’t, and it doesn’t matter if the various choices on your plate go with each other or not.

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Barb @ 1SentenceDiary March 20, 2013 at 5:32 am

We do this as well. It seems that often (about twice a month) we have lots of leftovers but not enough of any one thing for dinner. So, everything comes out of the fridge onto the counter, and each person makes a plate of whatever they want. And I don’t have to cook a thing! The only bad part is that there are usually A LOT of dishes.

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Katy March 20, 2013 at 6:48 am

However, it frees up all so many nice leftover containers, right?

Katy

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Kristin March 19, 2013 at 9:47 am

One day last week, we had so many leftovers that I declared that I wasn’t cooking anything new until we had eaten them all. We did! It took a couple of days, but we did it. I really hate to waste food, even if it’s some produce that’s gone off that I can compost.

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Cee March 19, 2013 at 10:08 am

I haven’t tried kale pesto, I’ll have to remember that. I have made carrot top pesto though and that was fantastic. It’s the same thing as Kale or Basil pesto, you just substitute the green and season to preference (oil, salt, peper, garlic, and sometimes cheese and/or nuts).

I rarely have that many leftovers – there are only 2 of us and we eat leftovers for lunch the next day. I actually have to batch cook and freeze food just to have as a quick lunch when we don’t have any leftovers because otherwise we end up buying lunch out.

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Elenor March 23, 2013 at 7:26 am

Some folks are very allergic to carrot tops, so test drive a small serving first. I use them in soup, but sparingly unless the soup is just for me and my husband who have no such allergy.

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Monica March 19, 2013 at 10:11 am

Yes, tonight is Mussgo’s for dinner (all leftovers in the fridge Must Go)! We’ll have the leftover sausage and sauce with pasta, but I just cannot face eating corned beef and cabbage for a third night.

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Vivian March 19, 2013 at 10:20 am

Our only son will not eat spaghetti after he threw it up once. So on days when we have spaghetti he gets the leftovers from the night’s previous meal. I am going to persuade my husband that a meatloaf sandwich for lunch is the what will fill the spot for lunch and I’m having left over Refried rice. Meals are so easy when you use up what’s left over and you get that satisfied feeling you have stretched your food dollars as far as possible.

Now to think of something from scratch for dinner. A frittata sounds like an idea. It will up some lunch meat that won’t make it till tomorrow and odds and sods of veggies.

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Joy @ Joyfully Green March 19, 2013 at 10:45 am

Hi Katy,
Once again we are channeling each other–I wrote about this topic (using food we already have on-hand instead of buying even more food)–here’s the link: http://www.joyfullygreen.com/2013/02/instantly-greener-buy-food-mindfully.html. It is definitely a challenge, but it’s a lot more appealing than throwing out leftovers that got buried in the back of the fridge! (Really hate wasting food!) By the way, there’s a link to a new site in the “Related Articles” section at the bottom of the post which lets you type in the foods you have on-hand in your fridge, and then it gives you suggested recipes for them. I haven’t tried it out yet, but I think it’s such a brilliant idea! Wish I’d thought of it…

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Erin March 19, 2013 at 11:40 am

Great ideas, ladies, but I’m still back on one person eating a whole bag of TJs dried tortellini. That’s a product I frequently purchase and I know just how much tortellini that is. Wow.

My son’s turning 10 next week. I guess that’s to what I have to look forward.

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Katy March 19, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Everybody’s happy when teenagers get enough to eat.

Katy

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Barb @ 1SentenceDiary March 20, 2013 at 6:00 am

Ayup.

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Taylor-Made Ranch March 19, 2013 at 1:58 pm

We rarely have leftovers, but when we do they’re always incorporated into the next night’s meal. Occasionally we’ll have leftover egg white from homemade pudding the night before that uses only egg yolks, so we’ll have a frittata the next night with the leftover egg whites, additional eggs and whatever’s in the fridge (one of my favorite meals!) It helps that my husband is very open-minded when it comes to dining because sometimes it’s just a magic show in the kitchen with a little of this and a little of that. Most of the time it turns out well though. LOL
~Taylor-Made Ranch~
Wolfe City, Texas

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Diane March 19, 2013 at 3:08 pm

The only leftover I have is brown rice and my little elder dog loves it! So she gets it mixed in with her wet food.

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Pat March 19, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Lol, using up leftovers. We had spaghetti this week too! also a very small beef roast. So yesterday we had beef barley soup, using up the gravy, and left over vegetables in the fridge, and the last of the roast of beef. ( earlier in the week we had roast beef sandwiches with dill pickles, lettuce and a thin slice of tomatoe in it) Then for supper we had Chili, using up the rest of the ground beef ( I cook our spaghetti , sauce and ground beef each separate, as I like lots of sauce and just a hint of meat and DH likes lots of meat and just a hint of sauce. ) So I put in the the ground beef and used it in the chilli for supper. The Spaghetti and sauce I heated up for me for breakfast! Love leftover spaghetti or Chinese food for breakfast! Today we finished off the chili and had Chicken breasts with ham and cheese ( made with about 1/2 breast each and 1/2 slice ham and 1/2 slice cheese). They are good hot or cold, so I made 4 and will have 2 for lunch tomorrow with a salad.

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Kate March 19, 2013 at 10:08 pm

I hope you put those black beans on your salad, black beans in salad (esp with guac) is SOOOOOO GOOD.

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Katy March 19, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Nope, didn’t think to. Sounds all kinds of delicious though!

Katy

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Vickie March 20, 2013 at 3:01 am

I’ll make a rice bowl for lunch. I use leftover rice, then some frozen veggies, and top it with whatever sauce or soup is leftover. If I have leftover beans I’ll add them too. Since I don’t eat dairy, I’ll sprinkle on some nutritional yeast (nutty, cheesy flavor). My hubby will also take leftovers for his lunch.

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Sheila Waddell March 20, 2013 at 5:56 am

Food is good – but did you get the chair??

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Katy March 20, 2013 at 6:47 am

You betcha I did! I was at that Goodwill at 9:02 A.M. to snap it up.

I am focused. 😉

Katy

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Hannah March 20, 2013 at 6:37 am

My favorite is what my husband affectionately calls Rescue Stew, because it “rescues” anything in the fridge that is either almost gone or almost gone-over. I use whatever stock I’ve got on hand (veggie, chicken, beef, it doesn’t matter), water, lentils and barley (which I always have on hand) and then whatever is in the fridge. Carrots, almost-gone potatoes, leftover pasta sauce, that last little wedge of onion, the end slice of last week’s roast…you name it, I’ve put it in the soup. I chop it all finely and put it in the crock-pot in the morning before I head to work. I usually add salt, pepper, a bay leaf, and some sort of sauce. I like to swish out the last of the ketchup, bbq, or hot sauce bottles with water and add them to the stew. (And a healthy dash of sriracha!!!) Then I turn the pot to low and leave for work. The house always smells AMAZING when I get home, and the soup has never not turned out. Sometimes it’s better than others (last week’s was nothing special) but it’s always tasty and filling. It’s fun when friends or family turn up last minute, too, because they usually have no idea that they’re eating Rescue Stew.

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Linda in Mass March 20, 2013 at 7:01 am

Normally my husband and I have leftovers for lunch. This keeps our leftovers in check. However, I do have “planned overs”. If I make chicken, I know I will make chicken pot pie, chicken soup, chicken fajitas, bbq chicken pizza or another type of meal that week to use up the leftovers.

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alexandra March 20, 2013 at 7:15 am

I have finally hit on a way for me to successfully use up leftovers. Everyweek, I write down everything in fridge and frezzer. I have two lists. It takes much less time than you think. (The first time is the longest.)
Then I sit down with both lists and come up with menu ideas. those are posted on the door of fridge, along with both lists. It is much easier for me to look over the list and see what I can make based on what i know is in there than poking around and trying to decide.
as things are used, they are crossed off. By the end of week, most is gone.
Here is my current menu list:
curried chicken with rice (both frozen separately)
meatballs with sauce
mashed potatoes and gravy (i always have potatoes to mash, the gravy is in freezer)
Steak and salad. When we fire up the grill we sear a lot of meat, then freeze. It can be re-heated without over cooking. Then just add a salad from fridge
Beef stew – frozen meat and vegg frozen separately
chili – frozen in 2 cup containers
pizza – sauce, pepperoni, and grated cheese all in freezer. Just make dough

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Pat March 20, 2013 at 7:24 am

Oh, I forgot above. When the kids were younger I used to use a lot of my leftovers for the after school buffet snack time. It took hard boiled egg made into stuffed egg, sliced pickles, carrot sticks, celery with a bit of cheese tucked in, anything that could be used on top of a slice of bread, cut in 1/4’s. We had an old lazy susan that had divided sections and I’d just put a few things in each section, nuts, cut up fruit, and so on. The kids loved it. I knew what they were eating, and they could wait till supper time and eat as a family when Dad got home. Their friends would come over and call it a party! What they didn’t know that many items were leftovers.

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Sara March 20, 2013 at 7:34 am

Pat,
That is a wonderful idea. Thank you for sharing this.

Sara

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Pat March 20, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Your so welcome Sara.

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emmer March 20, 2013 at 7:32 am

we have a shelf in the frig just for leftovers, which are stored in glass canning jars. visible and all together is usually enough to get them fed. we also declare a feast of leftovers periodically and invite friends and neighbors to come for a potluck bringing only what is already in their frig. i do usually supply a peach-raspberry cobbler made from peaches i canned last summer and raspberries picked at a local farm and frozen as an added inducment. other peoples leftovers are pretty interesting. 🙂

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Amy March 20, 2013 at 7:51 am

We had leftover nights all the time growing up, which my mom would jokingly refer to as Botulism Night. It was usually on a Friday night, and all the leftovers from the week would get pulled out of the fridge and laid out buffet style. We always thought it was great, and I would like to note that no one ever got sick!

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Katy March 20, 2013 at 8:31 am

“Botulism night?!” I love it!

Katy

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Pat March 20, 2013 at 7:29 pm

What a wonderful sense of humor Your Mother had! Love it, would have loved to meet your Mother too.

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dusty March 20, 2013 at 8:49 am

a friend of mine told me how when he was a kid (with three brothers) his mom would have “mustgo night”. This was before microwaves and his mom had about 15 tupperware containers in the fridge each with a tablespoon of leftover food in them. She would then use 15 pots on the stove heating it up. Hearing him tell the story is so funny cause his dad was always saying, just throw the crap away, it’s too much work but she refused and then would have to wash all those pots and pans, etc. My mother-in-law is famous for putting out whatever food she has in the fridge regardless of how many people are there. We still laugh at her putting out a tablespoon of food and having five people at the table. I think this really affected my hubby cause he very rarely eats leftovers and since I’m a vegan, I’m not eating any of his food so it ends up in the trash. I rarely have any leftovers since I work at home and can eat last night’s dinner for lunch. If I do have any, it is usually brown rice which I give to the dog (don’t tell my hubby, it’s his dog).

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Betty Winslow March 20, 2013 at 7:40 pm

I keep two large plastic containers in the freezer: into one I put leftover bits of veggies, meat, gravy, and broth into one and into the other, tomato bits, sauce, beans, onions, and ground beef. When they fill up, I make Serendipity Soup (never the same twice) from the first one and a batch of chili or spaghetti sauce with the other. Great way to use up empty nest leftovers, which often end up being a couple of tablespoons of veggies or a small chunk of meat or something else too small to use again but too much to toss.

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Elaine in Ark March 21, 2013 at 10:09 am

My mother used to take all the leftovers and reheat them TOGETHER in her skillet for lunch on Saturday. It was awful! The happiest Saturdays for me were days I wasn’t home for lunch.

Now I scrounge bits of food from the fridge and eat them for a meal, but I don’t cook them all together because I’m kind of CDO* like that and prefer that my food doesn’t touch (*that’s “OCD” in alphabetical order, which is important to some of us). (Aren’t you glad you don’t live with me?)

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Elenor March 23, 2013 at 7:40 am

GOD! My father did that, heating all leftovers together in skillet. I had managed to block those awful meals from my memory bank!! He called it leftover hash, and when my then-new husband proudly told me he had made homemade hash for supper so come home from work hungry, I stopped at McDonalds to fortify myself first so I would not have to eat more than a tablespoon. Then it turned out to be really good, real hash made from fresh potatoes, onions and roast chunks!

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JaneUlness March 29, 2013 at 6:58 pm

one of the ways I use up leftovers is to not make them in the first place. Leftovers if we have them are used the next day for lunch. I buy the protein in bulk and cook it at my leisure and bag it in our family sized portions. …buying in bulk that way, makes for no waste. If more kids come to eat, I just add another package of meat. Dinner in a dash! When’s get home from working on my feet for 8 hours, I would rather put my feet up with a tall glass of iced herbal tea than stand over a hot stove! LOL.

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