How to Reuse Leftover Food

Reusing leftover food saves you money, time in the kitchen, and helps reduce food waste. Read for tips on how to reuse leftover food and use them in healthy recipes. From jams to soups to smoothies–all you need is a little creativity and an open mind to transform ingredients you already have into simple yet flavorful dishes. 

(This post is written by Cheerful Choices contributor, Audrey Fischer.)

Learn how to reuse leftover food and use them in healthy recipes. How to use up leftover vegetables, fruit, rice, pasta, sauces, and more!

Ways to use up leftover…

How to use leftover cooked vegetables 

Leftover cooked vegetables are an excellent way to boost the nutrition and color of meals. Try throwing your wilted, sauteed, steamed, baked, or broiled leftover vegetables into your dishes to provide beautiful pops of color, texture, and important nutrients. 

Recipes to try:

  • Let your leftover veggies shine in this protein-packed Egg White Frittata. You can use everything from sauteed onions, caramelized mushrooms, or roasted broccoli stems. Just skip the step to saute the vegetables since they are already cooked–throw them straight into the egg whites in a large pan.
  • Sauteed bell peppers and onions make the perfect addition to cheesy quesadillas on whole grain tortillas or gluten-free chickpea tortillas. 
  • Steamed vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots pair perfectly with rice or noodles stir fries.

How to use leftover fresh vegetables

Buying too many fresh vegetables at the grocery store is a common mistake. Fear not! Veggies on their last leg can easily be thrown into pastas, salads, soups, or even smoothies to reduce waste and transform them into something delicious. If you can’t use them up right away, cut into even pieces then blanch and freeze them for later use.

Recipes to try: 

  • Leftover salad greens like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard wilt perfectly into this cozy, One Pot Tuscan Soup. As a bonus, it packs a variety of immune-supporting ingredients like garlic and colorful vegetables to help keep you from getting sick during the winter months.
  • Fresh vegetables of all kinds work in this customizable, hearty one pot chili. The more, the better! You can even freeze this chili in a large ziploc bag to use later on.
  • Overripe avocados are great for making classic guacamole to serve alongside crispy tortilla chips. If you are in need of a heart-healthy treat, try making avocado truffles by combining mashed avocados and melted chocolate.

How to use leftover fresh fruits 

Leftover fresh fruits are one of my favorite foods to transform. Freeze fresh berries like raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries or whole fruits such as bananas, pineapple, and peaches cut into small chunks. These are perfect to eat as a cool, refreshing snack or blend into creamy smoothies. Try these other unique ways to use up your fresh fruits.

Recipes to try:

  • Toss mixed fruit with Greek yogurt, honey, and chopped nuts for a quick and healthy fruit salad.
  • Berries that have been bruised or damaged are perfect for making 2-Ingredient Chia Seed Jam. Plus, there’s no pectin needed–it’s naturally thickened with chia seeds.
  • Never throw away your brown bananas! Instead, mash them up into protein mug cakes, oat flour pancakes, or make High Protein Banana Bread. Brown bananas are ideal for sweet treats like banana bread because they are much softer and have a higher sugar content than yellow bananas. 

How to use leftover sauces & dips

Don’t waste those nearly-empty sauces or dips! Scrape out any last bits to add a flavorful punch to sandwiches and wraps. You can also combine with spices and herbs to make delicious marinades and dressings. Rinse and clean empty pasta sauce jars, mason jars, and dip containers to reuse for holding leftovers, ingredients like nuts and seeds, or storing herbs.

Recipes to try:

  • Try adding leftover tzatziki, pesto, or tomato sauce to this trendy TikTok wrap for a quick and easy lunch that’s packed with color and flavor. 
  • Stir leftover hummus (any flavor!) into warm, cooked pasta for extra creaminess and extra plant-based protein and fiber. For a thinner sauce, add a drizzle of olive oil or milk.
  • Didn’t use up the whole jar of pasta sauce? Combine broth and pasta sauce when cooking rice to create Spanish rice. Perfect to serve with seared chicken.
How to make tiktok wraps

How to use leftover rice and pasta 

Grains and pasta are a great source of fiber and B vitamins. Aim to choose whole grain options when possible to maximize the nutrient benefits. Cooked rice, pastas, and other grains make a great base for bowls topped with other leftovers like cooked vegetables, proteins, and sauces.

Recipes to try:

  • This aromatic Mixed Vegetable Curry is the perfect compliment to plain, leftover rice, couscous, quinoa, or other grains. 
  • For a delicious Mediterranean twist, try these Roasted Chickpea Bowls. You can also swap the couscous with other leftover grains like farro, orzo, or rice.
  • For a simple side dish, mix leftover plain rice or pasta with your favorite herbs or spices and a drizzle of olive oil to serve with your entree. 

How to use leftover bread and tortillas

Don’t throw out that stale loaf of bread! Stale bread is the ideal texture for making crunchy croutons, crispy breadcrumbs, and even fluffy french toast. Of course, if there are any signs of mold on your bread, then it should be tossed.

Tortillas are another item that often lends leftovers. If you aren’t going to use up the tortillas anytime soon, freeze them to use at a later time. To do this, simply place small sheets of parchment paper between individual tortillas, remove all air from a large ziploc bag, and place them in the freezer. The parchment paper makes for easy removal of one tortilla at a time.

Recipes to try:

  • Blend leftover bread into a crumb-like texture to use as bread crumbs to top creamy mac and cheese or coat crusted chicken tenders.
  • A breakfast classic, french toast is the perfect recipe for leftover bread that is slightly stale. In fact, the stable bread tends to absorb more of the egg mixture than fresh bread!
  • Use leftover tortillas to make quick and easy tortilla pizzas. Simply top a tortilla with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and your favorite pizza toppings, and crisp on the stovetop on medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes.
  • Make homemade tortilla chips by cutting tortillas into wedges, tossing with oil, and bake for 10-15 minutes at 350ºF.
Sharp cheddar, muenster, and asiago makes for an indulgent, three cheese Homemade Breadcrumb Baked Mac and Cheese. Some simple healthy recipe swaps help reduce the fat, maintain the protein and increase the fiber content of this classic recipe.

How to use leftover protein 

Protein is important to have at every meal as it provides fullness and satiety. Leftover protein can be easily combined with other leftover ingredients like grains and vegetables to make it a meal. Both animal sources of protein like chicken, turkey, beef, and fish or plant sources of protein like tofu, chickpeas, and legumes are great options. Add these leftover proteins to salads, sandwiches, soups, stir frys and more. 

Recipes to try:

  • Use up any leftover protein you have on hand in these customizable Power Bowls. Perfect for meal prep!
  • Top leafy greens with leftover grilled chicken, steak, or salmon for a savory, protein-packed salad. 
  • Didn’t use the whole can of chickpeas? Transform them into a crunchy snack by roasting them in the air fryer or oven.

What are some of your favorite ways to use up leftovers?

Audrey Fischer is a passionate foodie and Registered-Dietitian-to-be from St. Louis, Missouri. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Mississippi and is currently in the Coordinated Program in Dietetics (CP) getting her Master of Science degree in Food and Nutrition Services. In her free time, Audrey loves inspiring and helping others live healthier lives through simple, tasty, and beautiful food stories and posts on her Instagram page. You can find her on Instagram here: @barbs_botanical_bakes

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