Creative Ways to Turn Leftover Food into New Meals

Here are a few go-to ideas for turning leftovers into another meal.

Fridge with three tuber ware containers inside, each with a different colored lid and labelled with the word 'leftovers'

Shutterstock / Joe Belanger

At a young age, I learned from my Italian grandmother that every food has a purpose-and a repurpose. “Don’t waste…create!” she would say. If you’re someone who hates throwing away food, then using these tips will help you curb food waste. As food waste balloons into a global issue, home cooks can take steps to reduce their own waste, saving money and energy, without sacrificing good eats. Here are a few of my go-to ideas for turning leftovers into another meal.

1. Chicken

Chicken is one of the most versatile foods to have as leftovers. It makes a light, healthy weeknight meal. Pair it with just about any flavor or cuisine. Pass on the chicken sandwiches and instead get creative with one of these ideas:

• Skip the Mexican restaurant and enjoy Taco Tuesday at home. Shred leftover chicken to make homemade chicken tacos. Serve guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo on the side and let guests spice up their tacos any way they please.

• Meal-prep for the week with quick and easy salad. Top just about any greens with chicken, nuts and chopped veggies. We love this Thai-style recipe, as well as this chicken salad studded with almonds and fruit.

2. Steak

Got leftover steak? Lucky you! You can stretch it by slicing it thinly and combining it with a veggie-packed meal.

Tip: While it’s easy to microwave leftovers, heating steak in the microwave makes it unpleasantly tough. Instead, reheat it on the stove or in the oven-but just until hot, or you’ll dry it out.

• Stir fry isn’t just for veggies! Toss your leftover steak into a veggie stir fry to make a protein-packed dish the whole family will love.

• Skip takeout and make this easy lo mein at home. Adding a sauce and new flavors makes leftovers feel anything but redundant.

• Make veggie fajitas and toss in some sliced steak, or try delicious quesadillas.

• Briefly warm in a pan with herbs, and tuck into pita breads for a Mediterranean-style sandwich.

3. Rice

I sometimes make extra rice just so I can have leftovers. Rice is the perfect complement to loads of recipes; whether it’s the primary ingredient or a flavorful side, getting creative with this starchy grain is simple.

• Here’s a classic recipe for fried rice, which gets an even better texture when made with leftover rice, which is drier than fresh rice. For a new take, try this recipe for fried rice balls, which make a crunchy, indulgent side dish.

• Toss rice into virtually any casserole recipe, especially if you want to stretch the ingredients. In this spicy recipe, rice plays a starring role.

• Got a sweet tooth? Finish off the night (and those leftovers) with an easy rice pudding recipe.

4. Pasta

Don’t be miffed if you’ve ever made too much pasta and not enough sauce; it happens. Hot or cold, pasta is one of those ingredients that can stand on its own with a tasty sauce or be the perfect base for a little something extra.

• Take those leftovers and turn them into a hearty casserole. Whether shrimp and macaroni or tuna noodle, there’s a casserole for every occasion.

• Sometimes, lettuce just isn’t filling enough. Pasta salads can easily be made in advance, making them the perfect lunch or dinner for a busy week.

5. Cooked Vegetables

It’s easy for cooked veggies to go unused…there’s something a little less appealing (and a little soggier) about cooked-then-refrigerated vegetables. Instead of tossing them in the garbage, toss them on the grill!

Grilled vegetables have never tasted so good-from bacon-wrapped asparagus to grilled cauliflower, it’s easy to reheat these veggies on the grill and make them into a master side dish.

• Once again, casseroles to the rescue!

• Chop up cooked veggies and add them to any soup. Heat through, and they’ll take on new flavors, and boost the veggie power of your soup recipe.

Next time you’re facing down a fridge with nothing but a couple old leftover containers, don’t fret that you have nothing to eat. If in doubt, you can always put an egg on it.

Julia Mullaney
Julia Mullaney is a writer, blogger and self-proclaimed macaroni and cheese connoisseur based in New Jersey. She is currently a health & fitness writer for Cheat Sheet and previously worked as the editorial manager of Edible Jersey Magazine. Her work has been published in Rachael Ray Every Day, Art Quench, RMagazine and Edible Jersey. She is the author of Man, you can Cook!, a cookbook full of simple recipes for men who consider the kitchen to be uncharted land. In her spare time, she also runs a food blog full of original, easy recipes. Chow down at or on Instagram at @simplydeliciousblogger.