Turning Leftovers Into Dinner

Leftovers – we all have them at least from time to time.  What do you do with them? Do you have them for lunch, or do they just sit in the fridge for a few days and then you end up throwing them out? You can start saving some time and money by learning how to use those leftovers in new ways to surprise your family at dinner time.

Some people like leftovers and some do not. Still then, many will eat them one day out, but quickly get tired of eating the same thing over and over. Here’s a way to fix the problem if you or someone in your family is the same way. Let’s start with an example.

You prepare a roasted pork loin and rice for dinner one night. The family wants something else for dinner the following night so the pork loin gets pushed to the back of the refrigerator. Normally, that’s where it will stay until you clean out the fridge, right? Not anymore. Let’s do something to keep that pork loin from going to waste.

Eating leftovers the way they were originally served, is probably what’s turning family members off from wanting it again the next night. Your family doesn’t have to eat the pork loin as is. So, chop that pork loin up into bite size pieces.

dinner meal in glass containersNow you’re probably thinking, ok that’s great, but what do I do with it now? In a large skillet or wok, stir fry the leftover rice with a bag of frozen veggies, an egg, and some of the chopped pork loin to make pork fried rice. Add a little soy sauce and you’ve got a whole new dinner for your hungry family.

This is just one way that leftovers can be turned into a new dish with a new flavor. The same can also be done using chicken, seafood, or beef. Let’s take a look at beef.

If you have hamburgers left from dinner, chop them up until they resemble ground beef again. The meat can be combined with chili powder and taco sauce to make beef tacos. Or, add some beans, chopped peppers and tomatoes, and sauce to create a pot of chili. If you have the imagination, there are an unlimited number of possibilities of what you can do with meats and side dishes from a previous night’s dinner.

Using a little leftover magic can make one meal last for two, three, or even four more days. But, you don’t have to eat it all in the same week. Fix a new meal with the leftovers and freeze it until you are ready to have that particular meat again. On that day, dinner will already be made, all you’ll need to do is heat it up. Yes, it really can be just that simple.

Your family will be amazed at your ability to transform any meal into a new creation they will enjoy. Besides that, you will save money on your grocery bill and won’t be throwing it away in the trash can as spoiled leftovers. Try these and similar ideas to expand your family’s palate.

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kathy - June 21, 2009

I make a roast one night, stew another, Hot roast beef sandwiches, and last is beef stroganoff, all from one main cooking. The list is endless if you think about it.

Mandi G. - September 16, 2009

I use the left overs from a roast chicken to make chicken potpie. All you need is a handful of veggies (fresh, frozen, canned whatever you have on hand) a pie crust (cheap and easy to make, or relatively inexpensive to buy) and a whip together a white sauce. I’m sure you could do the same w left over turkey or beef, although for beef, sub the white sauce for thickened beef broth or something

    Debby - May 16, 2013

    I use chicken to make white chilie, chicken salad, add bbq sauce to it and put in mini cornbread cups, even add to jambalaya the last few minutes ( just to heat it), or cook noodles drain add cream of chicken soup and just enough water to make sauce and chicken or as fajita/taco meat

Jessica - October 7, 2009

We use left over roast chicken for quick fajitas, homemade buffalo chicken pizza, and tossed with cooked pasta, sundried tomatoes and peas mixed with a little chicken stock and about 1/2 cup of spagetti sauce then use lots of parm cheese.

EM - April 24, 2010

Soup, stir fry, & loaded nachos can all be put together with most leftovers and a little imagination.

Shell - August 16, 2010

Great article. I have even made T.V. type dinners with the same meal and frozen them. When I fix a ham,after the first day: I slice some. ( for sandwiches) Cut some into cubes (for casseroles) Save the bone for soup or beans. I freeze these in freezer bags and make several more different meals at different times when the family is not tired of ham. Same thing with Turkey or Roast Beef. We don’t even leave a tablespoon of leftovers to waste. It goes into a freezer bag,labeled “leftovers for soup.” Food is one area where a family can cut back on waste.Another wonderful thing to make is a large,salad that has had a little zing added to it with leftover, cubed roast, ham or turkey Add a couple of boiled eggs and a sprinkle of grated cheese and you have a Chef’s salad better and fresher than you can get in any restaurant. Wasting anything is like taking your money and throwing it out.

Rick - September 9, 2010

I grew up in SC where leftovers were scarce since there were so many of us (I was the oldest of 7.).

We are empty nesters now but we have 5 kids. Before our youngest (Now 42)left home, we frequently had leftovers. One day, while eating one of my wife’s inventive leftover dishes, he asked my wife why we never had this particular dish when he was growing up. My wife’s answer: “We never had leftovers when you and Tony were home!”

Janice - October 12, 2010

We are feeding 7 people. My favorite leftover is make lemon crockpot chicken (is that on this site? I never use a recipe anymore). We eat 1/2 the chicken with 2-4 veggie/fruit/starch sides. The rest of the meat is chicken salad later in the week. My favorite part is putting the bones back in the still dirty crockpot with water (fridge overnight),and cooking them the next day to turn into chicken orzo soup. The recipe is on the orzo box, but it is basically broth (made from the bones, not the can they suggest), some chicken (you get almost enough coming off the bones), frozen mixed vegetables,parsley, and orzo pasta. We then have leftovers of that! :-)

My general leftovers solution is Sunday noon we pull out every leftover, and supplement as necessary. Some weeks everyone is happy and some weeks everyone groans, but if they are hungry they will eat it, and I don’t have to worry about a meal coming home from church.

Janice - October 12, 2010

That should read “a meal when I am coming home from church”. I’ve never worried that a meal would follow me home……. :-)

Nicole - October 12, 2010

Most meat leftovers at our house usually find their way into a pot pie the next night!

Linda - October 12, 2010

I live alone so I don’t want to cook for 1 meal. I almost always cook enough for several meals so that I can come home from work & put in the microwave for dinner. When I buy meat, before freezing I place in freezer bags in individual servings. When I cook on the grill I don’t want to waste the empty space so I lay out several different types of meat to thaw and have different things to eat throughout the week. All I have to do is add the side dishes.

Cheryl - October 12, 2010

I like to if we have it is grill an extra steak and then the next day make a soup with potatoes and soup boullion and green chilis. Very easy and very good. You usually don’t have to add much seasoning just some salt for the potatoes.

Jerri - October 12, 2010

I use up all leftovers with something I call “Kitchen Sink Soup” (meaning, everything but the kitchen sink goes in it). It’s delicious and never tastes the same. I use a lot of mediterranean spices for spiffing it up.

sylvie - October 12, 2010

one of my favorite ideas has to do with the last little bit of spaghetti sause that is leftover. So in my freezer i have a “tupperware” container with the left over spaghetti sauce. There fore after a few spaghetti suppers there is a batch just waiting for me and my family. BTW thats what we’re having for supper tonight.
bonne Appetit!

Patricia - October 13, 2010

my mother’s best soup is what we call “free” soup. Every meal when you have a just a bit of leftover veggie (broth included)that isn’t enough to reheat and serve, put it in a freezer container. Just keep adding to it, it gets a funky “layered” look to it. After you cook a pot roast (use my crock pot), add the leftovers from the roast – any meat, veggies and the broth. Throw in your freezer “surprise” leftovers. Add some frozen mixed veggies, chopped onion and some canned tomatoes. Cook on low for several hours. Season to taste. This usually makes a a lot so use a large crock pot or a very large pot – enough for 12-14 servings. I season it to taste and if I have leftover beans I throw them in as well. This is a nutritionally dense soup, it freezes well. We keep it on hand in smaller containers in the freezer to heat and eat. I usually add some barley to the smaller portions when I reheat them though my Mom doesn’t do that. It never tastes the same twice and usually makes delicious vegetable soup. Many times we had guests at home who had it and after eating it declared it to be delicious even though they “didn’t like vegetable soup”. We had a large family and no food was ever wasted that I can recall. My mom called them “planned overs” not leftovers!

Janis Hill - October 13, 2010

Putting all the leftover veggies and broth in the freezer for a few days or weeks (however long it takes to amass enough) for soup was learned from my mother. She learned it from her mother during the Great Depression…therefor it is called Depression Soup.

I use V-8 along with onion, celery, and the veggies/broth and maybe add some left over beef (if there is any) It is the best soup ever.

Lilly - October 14, 2010

I do the same thing with ANY leftovers. My eating habits don’t vary much, so if I have a little bit of chicken left over from a roast, I save it to add to yellow or brown rice within the next couple of weeks. If nothing adds up to amount to anything, that’s when it goes into the soup. Adding egg noodles or rice to anything will fill you up fairly quickly!

Gina - October 14, 2010

One thing that I use and can stretch out for days, is leftover taco meat. And I even recycle the ingredients too, just in different ways. LOL I use either the turkey or beef version. One day, I’ll make tacos with the meat and add pico de gallo, cheese, and/or guacamole, and sour cream, with a side of beans and rice. Next day, I make burritos, with the taco meat, beans, rice, cheese and pico de gallo in the tortilla. Yummy…and quick. Next day, I layer the beans, taco meat, cheese and pico de gallo and lettuce over the tortilla chips to make nachos with guacamole. My kids/husband have no idea that I’m recycling the same meal over and over again. Hee-hee.

Vicky Busby - October 15, 2010

I saute some chopped onions and bell peppers in a skillet then add chopped or shredded meat leftovers. We put them on tortillas for a burrito style wrap. Add some re-fried beans and a little cheese and you are in business. I buy the peppers and onions on sale and chop them then freeze them for later use. My left over beans are mashed and made into re-fried beans which are also in my freezer.

Jeanne - November 5, 2010

Love, Love, Love everyones relplies! My favorite trick is pretty similar to the rest of you. Once I had made up a meatloaf and there was quite a bit left in the fridge the next day. While I was tryng to come up with an idea for dinner, I decided to grab the meatloaf and cut it up into small squares. I made a pot of pasta and used the meatloaf as “square meatballs.” Neither my husband or my yound daughter figured out what I had done. The next time I tried this, my daughter said, “Hey, I think yoy are tricking us with this food — is this the meatloaf?” Busted, but they ate it anyway!

dorothy - November 5, 2010

Love reading about everyone’s ideas. One of the things I do with leftover meatloaf is crumble it up and add the rest of the ingredients to make chili.

Mellissa - December 6, 2010

My favorite leftover dish is brisket or any beef leftover from the smoker. (My husband loves to cook on the smoker) I take the leftover beef and throw it in the crock-pot with some water and beef bouillon letting it cook all day and get really tender. Then when its dinnertime I take the beef out and make a gravy out of the juices add veggies and top with some mashed potatoes and come up with some delicious Shepards pie. Make up a batch of rolls to go with it and its dinner time!

Carla - January 16, 2011

What a great post. I use leftovers often. Any leftover chicken, ham, beef usually becomes soup for lunches. I boil down chicken meat/bones to make chicken noodle soup, a little ham can go in with tomatoes and beans for a nice soups as well (or the potato ham soup on this site). The possibilities are endless. We call these “lunch soups” as they are not usually very meaty but make a very nice lunch….so much better than canned.

TRISH - February 3, 2011

I like to cook a turkey, 12 to 16 pounds, use it for one meal and freeze the remainder. I dice it, slice it so that I have many options for recipes. The carcass goes in the crockpot overnight along with celery, onion, carrot, bay leaf. It makes great LOW SODIUM broth with no artificial anything. I freeze the broth in 2 cup portions and use as needed for a variety of recipes. Our favorite meals from the turkey are turkey soup, a’la king over mashed potatoes or rice, open face hot turkey sandwiches, turkey & stuffing casserole, mix with BBQ sauce and serve as sandwiches or baked potato topping and turkey rice casserole. This is a nice variety and we don’t feel like we’re eating turkey all the time. You get a lot of bang for your buck, especially if you can pick up turkeys on sale around the holidays. I have a vacuum sealer so my turkey stays fresh, no freezer burn.

Ella - April 13, 2011

I make aka STUP!!! its acroos between soup and stew. I save all left overs (even if its just a bite) in a freezer container until its full. You take it out and cook it up. So you get STUP!!!

Mechelle - August 16, 2011

Many of our meals are planned around “leftovers”. When I make most dishes I make enough for 2 + meals. This is a great way to save time, money, energy and reduce stress. Simply make a very large meatloaf, divide it into halves or thirds or even fourths, separate and freeze what will not be eaten the first night. One of our favorites though is barbecued pulled pork. Two pork roasts will make five to six meals. Even beef roasts can be done the same way. This past month I made two beef roasts, they weren’t even large. They went in the crock pot ( most of my food goes in the crock pot, its just easier) that morning, by late afternoon I was making scalloped potatoes and sweet peas. That night we all had a nice Sunday Dinner of roast, potatoes, peas, homemade yeast rolls with fresh fruit for dessert. The left over meat I put in the freezer in two separate bags. One made roast beef pot pie twice, I didnt expect to get 2 meals out of one portion but I did; and the other bag made beef stroganoff. So delicious and so simple to do..We have some wonderful meals with very little actual work involved.

Carol Cripps - August 17, 2011

One of our favourite “leftover meals” when I was growing up was meat pie. Mum would make it with the tail end of a roast beef. The meat would get diced up, along with onions, carrots, peas and potatoes. If there weren’t leftover vegetables, Mum would put the carrots and potatoes in a pot of water and boil them till they were nearly done. Leftover gravy would go into it, and if there wasn’t enough, she’d make up a packet of gravy with the water from boiling the vegetables. Peas were usually frozen ones – they bake up nicely in the pie, and don’t even have to be thawed first. She’d bake it till it was golden brown, and bits of lovely brown gravy would be bubbling up through the slits in the dough.

About the soup idea – I grew up with that one, too, but my Dad would get free “dog bones” from the supermarket or butcher, and Mum would boil those up for broth before the dogs got them!

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