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While clipping coupons and cutting back on high-dollar items are always smart choices for saving green at the supermarket, there’s another way to stretch your grocery dollars: loving on your leftovers.
Though leftovers may not be the most glamorous of foods, using them up can make a significant dent in your weekly food bill.
Believe it or not, repurposing them into new, exciting meals can create surprisingly delicious (not to mention time-saving) finished products.
With food costs on the rise, you’re not alone if you’re focusing on getting the most out of your grocery budget.
Here’s your guide to putting twelve common leftover foods on double-duty for tasty, budget-friendly results.
If you’re looking for more help creating delicious, healthy recipes and meal plans, consider signing up for a meal-planning service like PlateJoy.
Whether white, brown, or wild, rice is one of the most popular grains on the planet. When you find yourself with an extra cup or two, there’s a whole world of options for using it up.
Some ideas are:
- fried rice
- arancini (fried rice balls)
- rice pudding
If extra white or brown rice is taking up space in your fridge, consider tossing together a vegetable fried rice. It’s an excellent way to pack in colorful veggies in a quick and easy plant-based meal.
This savory edamame fried rice, for example, goes from stovetop to table in just 30 minutes.
Got some extra arborio rice from a risotto? Give it new life as arancini, aka Italian fried rice balls. Check out this tomato-basil version.
If you want to go the sweet route, finish off a meal with a sweet rice pudding, like this four-ingredient recipe featuring coconut milk and agave syrup.
Ground meat is a mainstay of mixed dishes like tacos, casseroles, and pastas.
Since they’re often seasoned in an original dish, you may face some unique challenges when attempting to repurpose these meats as leftovers.
Still, all is not lost! Try one of the swaps below.
There’s nothing like a simple hash for a no-brainer breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Toss seasoned, cooked ground meat in a skillet with veggies and beans. You can’t go wrong with sweet potato chunks, black beans, or bell peppers.
Or make it Mediterranean with a hash of ground meat, sun-dried tomatoes, kale, and cannellini beans.
Meanwhile, if you’ve used ground meat in tacos one night, try a different spin on Mexican cuisine later in the week. Spicy ground turkey or beef makes a welcome addition to chilaquiles, flautas, or tostadas.
We’re not done yet!
Curry—or sloppy joes
You can also repurpose ground meats in curry, where spices like cumin, curry powder, and garlic cover—or complement—other seasonings.
Check out these red curry sloppy banh mi sandwiches. They’re a cross between sloppy joes and the classic Vietnamese sammie.
Chicken has dethroned beef as the most-cooked meat in American households.
Since it’s the protein base of so many meals, you may find yourself looking for chicken leftover inspiration more than other ingredients.
Barbecue chicken is an especially versatile contender for top-notch leftovers.
Pizza, wraps, and potato skins
Extras of this type of chicken can top a pizza, fill wraps, or amp up a one-dish meal like chicken and coleslaw potato skins.
Pasta, quesadillas, and sammies
Got chicken of another flavor persuasion? Pop it into a creamy pasta, place it in a quesadilla with melted cheese, or build a gourmet sandwich around it.
Because of its short shelf life, leftover fish is notoriously tough to repurpose.
In the famous words of Benjamin Franklin, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”
Still, if you can reuse cooked fish in a short timeframe, you’ll be well on your way to a second meal rich in vitamin D and healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
For starters, just about any fish can serve as the filling of a wrap.
For a quick, high-fiber lunch packed with antioxidants, roll up leftover fish in a whole wheat tortilla with fresh spinach or kale, sliced veggies like bell peppers and cucumbers, and a light dressing of your choice.
Or, if you’ve got a sturdy fish like salmon hanging around, make it a kabob night.
Thread cooked salmon chunks onto skewers along with sauteed slices of asparagus, zucchini, and/or squash, brushed with olive oil. Instant dinner!
Hmm…what to do with that little bit of extra veggies? You may wonder if they were even worth saving in the first place.
Fortunately, vegetables are among the most versatile of leftover foods.
Pre-cooked veggies make the perfect filling for an easy quiche. Here’s how:
- store-bought pie crust
- leftover cooked veggies
- shredded cheese
- 5 eggs
- 2 tbsp milk
- First, line a pie plate with your crust.
- Layer on cooked veggies, and top with a sprinkle of cheese.
- Beat eggs with milk and pour it over your crust.
- Bake at 400°F for 20-25 minutes or until eggs are set.
Stew or chili
Then, of course, there’s a panoply of soups and stews that welcome leftover veggies with open arms. Reap the health benefits of adding extra vegetables to robust soups like chili or this tasty southwestern veggie noodle soup.
Even vegetable scraps can stretch their usefulness in a DIY vegetable broth. Try this one as a starter — but feel free to add or subtract any veggies you like.
What do Buddha bowls and casseroles have in common—besides rhyming? They’re both ideal second homes for nutrient-dense grains like quinoa.
Casseroles and grain bowls
Check out this cheesy chicken, broccoli, and quinoa casserole or these eight healthy grain bowl ideas.
Fluffy, cooked quinoa can also shape-shift its way into tasty patties. Try this:
- 1 cup cooked quinoa
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup shredded cheese
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- pinch of garlic powder
- 2 tsp olive oil
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl.
- Form into patties.
- Pan-fry on medium-high heat until brown and crispy.
- Serve with ketchup, tzatziki, or your favorite dipping sauce.
It seems like those last couple of slices of bread always linger forlornly on the counter.
When you don’t have quite enough bread to whip up french toast, consider another, more nutritious breakfast option.
We’re not talking avocado toast—though, with its wealth of healthy fats and fiber, it’s certainly not a bad option.
Sweet and savory Mediterranean toast
Instead, try spreading a schmear of hummus on toasted bread, then topping it with chopped Medjool dates. You’ll get a high-fiber, slightly sweet breakfast rich in vitamin B6 and polyphenols.
Bread crumb garnish
Or, simply toast extra bread and grind it in the food processor for bread crumbs to sprinkle on a spinach salad or mac and cheese.
You can transform bread that’s gone a bit dry into a delicious, cheesy culinary experience with this mushroom and gruyere bread pudding recipe. No gruyere on hand? Try this savory breakfast bread and sausage pudding.
If you’re in the mood for a sweet treat, break out the nutella for this tasty bread pudding crowd-pleaser that even kids will like.
For those times when you actually have leftover mashed potatoes (because how often does this creamy wonder go uneaten?), remember: They can be far more than a side dish for ham or chicken.
Mashed potatoes make a lovely filling for samosas.
- 4 or more cups of leftover mashed potatoes
- one Tbsp. olive oil
- one c. diced onion
- one c. fresh, canned, or frozen peas
- ½ Tbsp. curry powder
- ⅛ tsp. salt
- ⅛ tsp. pepper
- one 9-inch store-bought pie crust
- Sauté peas and onions in olive oil with curry powder, salt, and pepper until tender.
- In a large bowl, mix with leftover mashed potatoes.
- Roll out store-bought pie crust and cut into triangles.
- Fill each triangle with a portion of the mashed potato mixture, seal the edges, and bake at 375°F 20-25 minutes.
Pre-made mashed taters are also an ideal shortcut for shepherd’s pie. Try this veggie-loaded version.
A lonely quarter-jar of marinara might not seem like a recipe for dinnertime inspiration, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its uses.
When you’ve only got a little bit of a sauce left, think of it as a condiment rather than a coating for an entire recipe. Most sauces can easily accompany fritters, gyoza, and other bite-sized foods as dip, including:
- barbecue sauce
For an elegant (but oh-so-simple) way to use up extra sauces and condiments, serve as part of a charcuterie board.
A small bowl of jam, a dollop of honey mustard, or a couple of spoonfuls of pesto add pizzazz to the meats, cheeses, and crackers in this easy dinner.
You used up half a bunch of cilantro for guacamole one night… now what?
Freeze for later
Luckily, you can freeze many types of herbs, especially sturdier ones like rosemary, sage, and thyme. Preserved in your freezer, they’ll serve you well when it’s time to make stews, braised meats, or pastas.
Still, there’s a more unexpected (and immediately useful) destination for herbs: your water bottle!
Simply place fresh herbs in a glass or bottle along with any other flavor enhancers like sliced citrus fruits or berries for refreshing all-day sipping.
There are even infuser bottles especially for this purpose!
If you’ve got a larger amount of fresh herbs leftover, homemade pesto is always an option, too. This basil-parsley pesto knocks out two different herbs at once.
Leftover salad probably isn’t anyone’s favorite food. Especially when dressed, greens tend to turn to mush in the fridge after just a few hours. To save salad leftovers from a certain fate in the garbage bin, be sure to use them within 24 hours.
To repurpose last night’s salad (including its toppings), bundle the whole thing into a wrap, adding extra protein or a few fresh leaves to spruce things up, if possible.
Meatloaf, veg loaf, or falafel
Or, if you’re able to salvage leafy greens like spinach or kale from leftover salad, try tossing them in the mix as you put together meatloaf or falafel.
Even if they’re a bit wilted, no one will be the wiser.
Pasta dishes are another vehicle where slightly faded greens can add their abundant nutrients (without having to look crisp and perky).
This baked penne pasta with spinach and feta easily adopts leftover spinach.
Making a big pot of beans is a classic meal prep strategy — and reusing leftover beans can similarly stretch one meal into two (or more).
Tamales or tostada cups
When refried beans remain after taco Tuesday, stuff them into tamales, like this simple bean and cheese variety.
You can also use them as a nacho topping or layer them into mini tostada cups with melted cheese for a simple appetizer.
Soup or chili
Got half a can of beans waiting for a dinner assignment?
Consider tossing drained, rinsed beans like great Northerns, cannellinis, or black beans onto a green salad or pasta salad, or pop them into a soup or chili.
Crunchy chickpeas or sammy spread
Even a handful of leftover legumes like chickpeas can be fried with herbs for a crunchy snack or mashed into a high-fiber filling for sandwiches or wraps.
Despite their somewhat lackluster reputation, leftovers are a secret weapon for extending your grocery budget and cutting down on meal prep time.
Repurposing the 12 common foods above provides a jumping-off point for countless breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
So shake off the typecasting of leftovers as boring — and before you toss them in the trash, give some thought to how you might toss them into an additional, satisfying meal.
Sarah Garone is a nutritionist, freelance writer, and food blogger. Find her sharing down-to-earth nutrition info at A Love Letter to Food or follow her on Twitter.