Whether you want to save time, save money, or help the earth by reducing food waste, one of the best things you can do is use up the food you’ve got in your house. To assist you in doing that, I am sharing tips on how to repurpose leftovers so you can eat well, save time and money, and feel good about your impact on the environment.
Repurposing Leftovers: A Simple Way to Reduce Food Waste
Nearly 40% of all food in the United States is wasted. Now, not all of that food waste happens inside our homes. In fact, a lot of it occurs in restaurants, grocery stores, farm fields (where crops are left unharvested), and even in manufacturing facilities. But the one piece of that puzzle that we can help with is the food we fail to eat at home. What’s more, not only does reducing our food waste at home help the environment and food access for others, but it also saves us money (after all, the most expensive food in your house is the stuff you throw out).
One area of food waste for many of us is leftovers. For some people, leftovers are very unappealing. They find reheating meals or repeating a meal they have already eaten to be unappealing. For others, knowing what to do with leftover components of meals (e.g., what to do with your remaining rice, vegetables, or proteins) is a mystery and so they just let the food languish in the fridge. These are both understandable perspectives, so I want to share why I love repurposing leftovers and how to overcome each of these obstacles.
Why You Should Repurpose Leftovers
There are a number of reasons why I find repurposing leftovers to be deeply gratifying:
- It saves me time. After all, foods that have already been cooked are much faster to turn into a new meal than cooking a meal from scratch.
- I save money, both by reducing the number of groceries I buy and by fully using the groceries I do purchase.
- It pushes me to be more creative in the kitchen. Whether it’s by pairing ingredients I haven’t put together before or changing the flavor profile of a dish by adding seasonings, I enjoy being pushed to find new ways to bring life to ingredients.
- By turning the old ingredients into something new, I’m able to avoid eating the same meal again.
If gaining more time in your day, saving money, and reducing food waste sounds good to you, here are my tips on how to repurpose leftovers, organized by food type.
Roasted, steamed, or sautéed, leftover vegetables can bring a nutritional boost and added heft to a second meal. I love to use them in:
- Mexican or Tex Mex meals such as burritos, quesadillas, and baked chimichangas
- Egg dishes such as frittatas and omelets, or even folded into scrambled eggs
- In wraps and sandwiches, especially in loaded grilled cheese sandwiches
- Mixed into grain salads or pasta salads
Leftover grains are always a welcome addition in my kitchen. As my kids have developed bigger and bigger appetites, I have learned to appreciate how grains can stretch a meal, making it more filling and sustaining for their growing bodies. Some of my favorite ways to use up leftover grains include:
- Throwing together a grain salad with (leftover) veggies, bits and pieces of protein, and a salad dressing
- Using them in a fried rice/quinoa/couscous
- Mixing them into soups (my husband especially loves them mixed into pureed vegetable soups) and stews
- Adding them to frittatas
Leftover proteins might be the simplest of all the leftovers to use up. I usually like to dice up my leftover protein (e.g., chicken, steak, tofu, beans, etc.) and then incorporate it into any of the ideas listed above in the vegetable and grain sections. But I also enjoy them added to pasta sauces or as a topping on homemade pizza.
When I first got serious about cooking leftovers, sauces felt like a challenge, so I usually just froze them until I needed to use them for another meal. I still do this often, but over the years I have figured out some other uses that are also very enjoyable. For instance, I like to use leftover sauces as a dip for veggies, as a topping for toast or bruschetta, as a different sauce for a pizza or flatbread, or mixed into soups.
If I am being honest, there is rarely leftover fruit available in my house, but when there is I add it to smoothies, mix it with a pinch of sugar and use it as a topping on plain yogurt, or add it to my bowl of granola in the morning.
Do you have favorite ways to use up leftovers? I’d love to hear about them in the comments! If reducing food waste or having ongoing inspiration for dinner sounds appealing, try a our family-friendly meal plans to see how simple getting dinner on the table can be.