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Leftovers are INGREDIENTS


Last week I posted a note on using leftovers in this Grilled Cheese with Roasted Garlic, Onions, & Avocado, and christine suggested a post on ideas for using up leftovers. Brilliant idea! Here are a few of my favorite uses for common leftovers, and I’d love to hear your ideas in comments. Make the mental shift to looking at leftovers as ingredients, and you’ll open up a whole world of recipe ideas.

Here are just a few tips:

Always have bread and tortillas in your house


So many different types of leftovers lend themselves to use in sandwiches, quesadillas, burritos, and wraps. Incorporate leftover grilled or roasted veggies, pulled chicken or pork of any type, pot roast, turkey, meatloaf, ham, and more into your own artisan sandwich creations, while leftover cooked chicken or pulled pork turns naturally into enchiladas or burritos.


Tortilla chips are a corollary to this one: Leftover chili, pulled pork, pulled chicken, carnitas, salsa chicken, and more all make for great nachos! Here are a couple of recipe ideas to get you started:

And you know what else you can use for a fun twist here? Wonton wrappers! You can use these for all sorts of things, but chili cheese cups are another great use for leftover chili.

Soup (and chili…)

Soup is a tip in and of itself, because if you have leftover cooked turkey or chicken or veggies that need to be used up, you have yourself the basis for a hearty bowl of soup — or its heartier cousin, chili. Just a few recipes to get you started:

Keep some simple staples on hand such as beans, canned tomatoes, and broth, and you’ll often be able to create an entire new meal out of leftovers + pantry staples.



Eggs again qualify as a tip in and of themselves, because they pair well with so many different types of leftovers and let you mash up something completely new (and completely tasty!). Here, for instance, I used leftover pork carnitas and potatoes in Carnitas Hash — but have also enjoyed a similar pot roast hash & more. Fold leftover veggies or ham into an omelet or create a frittata, bake a quiche or build a strata, and your leftover dinner becomes a hearty breakfast or brunch idea.



Potatoes are another pantry staple that go well with so many leftovers — AND, leftover cooked potatoes go well in so many other recipes! Win-win. 🙂 Try leftover Indian food over leftover roasted or baked potatoes, which go well with things like this Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala — as well as with everything from leftover chili to leftover pulled pork.


Try something like Easy Cheesy Chicken and Rice or chicken or pork fried rice with your next batch of leftovers. Adding rice and veggies lets you stretch a small amount of meat into an entire filling meal.

Don’t be afraid to experiment


Let yourself have some fun coming up with new ideas for leftovers. You’ve already gotten a meal out of them, so give yourself leeway to experiment. Last time I had leftover ham, for instance, I used some in Cauliflower Au Gratin with ham, and some in Ham-ocado Egg Bites. These were both new recipe ideas that got the family excited about eating the ham leftovers — in a way that the reappearance of the same old plate of ham+veggie+potato never could.

Use your freezer


Many dishes freeze well for a grand reappearance at a later dinner, or you can freeze some in individual portions for lunches. Dice up leftover cooked ham, chicken, and turkey, and freeze for use in recipes. Have some pre-cooked dinners available for those inevitable busy weeks, so that you can save time and save your sanity later.

Your turn

What are some of your favorite ways to use leftovers, or what other tips would you add? It’s never frugal to waste food, so let’s help each other out. 🙂


Friday 11th of March 2016

I totally agree about eggs--I honestly think frittatas are the perfect leftover vehicle. You can put any veggies, meat, or cheeses in there at all and it will come out awesome. Plus if you're a small household, any leftover frittata itself is great cold to take for lunches!

Another leftover favorite of mine is pot roast soup. I have been known to make pot roast just so I'd have leftovers to make this because it is so good:

I find that even if you're not changing the flavor drastically, changing the presentation makes a difference. For instance, I made a big pot of curry-flavored black beans a couple days ago to have with plain rice. Next, I'll drain off some of the liquid and use the beans in maybe burritos or tacos (that have a curry-twist!) or use some others on nachos, etc. I might puree some and make more of a soup. I might mash them up more and use them in a huevos rancheros-inspired egg thing. I just try to think about how to change the look, texture, etc to make it seem a little different.


Friday 11th of March 2016

That pot roast soup looks a-ma-zing. And totally agree about changing the presentation!


Friday 11th of March 2016

Thanks for the post, Rachel! We use leftover meatballs or meatloaf for topping on pizzas or make stromboli. I freeze leftover Italian sausage for stromboli,pizza toppings or soup ( we like sausage, bean and kale soup). I am a huge fan of rotisserie chicken and I make broth from the bones, freezer leftovers in 1 or 2 c amounts so I can make soup later or enchiladas with the meat. Leftover crockpot meat (beef,pork,chicken) is awesome for nachos. (That seems to be a hit here for dinner when I put all the toppings on it and put it under the broiler for that hot, crispy taste). Reuse for a casserole too. Leftover potatoes for a fritatta. Leftover eggs are made into breakfast burritos and thrown in the freezer. That is another treat for the kids- they love those things! I wish I could say I have leftover pasta, but that rarely happens. I love to fry leftover spaghetti until a bit crispy and add cheese on top like an omelet. Yum. Leftover veggies are put in the blender with any broth you like and then I warm it and add some herb or a little cream if you want swanky, and I have soup. I saw Ina Garten do this with roasted veggies and I am obsessed with this soup now. Leftover ham for homemade mac and cheese, bean and ham soup, breakfast burritos Leftover chicken and turkey for potpies, casseroles, stir fry, salads Veggies/fruit going bad- freeze them and make smoothies even your veggies like kale, spinach avocados, bananas, strawberries I have been buying tons of strawberries, mangos right now since they are so cheap and freezing them for smoothies. Less $ than buying already frozen fruit!


Friday 11th of March 2016

Thanks Christine! I copied all of your info and put it in my recipe folder for future reference. I love the blender soup idea.

Andrea H

Friday 11th of March 2016

Made flautas tonight! That's my left over go to! Just need a pack of tortillas and I put shreded chicken or any left over meat. I even use leftover mashed potatos in them! Roll it in a tortilla and fry them! I'm not saying they're healthy but fairly cheap!


Saturday 24th of September 2016

I spray mine in olive oil spray and bake them.


Thursday 10th of March 2016

Do you freeze cooked chicken breast? Freeze it whole, or chopped up? I thought it might dry out in the freezer, but I should be freezing cooked chicken if I can. My favorite think to freeze are chick peas. I only use about 1/2 can in any recipe, then I rinse & dry them and freeze them in a single layer in a freezer bag. They thaw quickly and it's easy to add as much or as little as you like.


Friday 11th of March 2016

Freezing leftover chicken in chicken broth seems to help any dryness or leftover chicken taste.


Thursday 10th of March 2016

I do -- I chop it and freeze it in freezer bags. Since I am then using it as a recipe ingredient (in things like chili) drying out hasn't really been an issue, but it will get freezer burned if you keep it in there too long.