The Best Ways to Deal with Leftovers

At some point during every week, my refrigerator looks like this.

It’s not pretty.

There are stacks of bowls with prepped veggies and bits of this or that and still a couple of days before I “go to town” (I live in the country) to get groceries.

At this point, I always begin to look for ways to deal with leftovers

According to this photo I just took yesterday, there seems to be a plethora of beans. Stay tuned for what I use these for since I already had a couple of things in mind for this week.

I also have washed and semi-prepped veggies in the crisper drawers.

Here are some not-so-good ways to go about dealing with leftovers:

Deal with Leftovers with a Potluck

There’s always the makeshift “potluck” where everyone picks their favorite leftover, nukes it and eats out of the bowl.  But I value a civilized family dinner too much for that, and with one teenage boy and one not too far behind, they will resort to that in due time without my encouragement.

Deal with Leftovers by Dumping

Dumping it all out?  Sure that’s an option. But since a good portion of both my time and money budgets are dedicated to procuring healthy, sustainable and local foods, I REALLY can’t stand throwing out food.

To avoid either of these less-than-ideal ways to deal with leftovers, this is what I do:

Deal with Leftovers by Repurposing

I know tons of people who don’t like to eat a reheated version of what they had for dinner last night, although cold pizza and leftover Mexican foods are actually comfort food for me. So I’ve found a better way to deal with leftovers is to turn them into something else.

This translates into soups in colder months and though I don’t ever use a recipe, here is one to give you inspiration.  Mini Frittatas are great for using up bits of sausage or other meat, veggies and cheese – just sub in what you have for the amounts called for in the recipe. These are great for breakfast, snacks, lunch or even a quick dinner.  Leftover spaghetti gets turned into Sesame Noodle Salad – subbing tamari for soy (if GF) and honey or maple for the sugar.  Then there are the more DIY nights where I chop up all the leftovers and then let everyone have a hand in their dinner:

Leftovers Turned Pasta Bar

Pasta Bar

This is the favorite use of leftovers in our house.  The ingredients in the photo above were from awhile back when I was getting a veggie box from Riverdog Farm in California: fresh green beans, roasted corn, grilled squash and red Gypsy peppers, plus roasted chicken, cooked bacon, a few frozen peas, mushrooms, green onions, shallots, and garlic for flavoring.  For the sauce, we had olive oil, white wine and heavy cream, then of course, freshly grated parmesan.


Before you start your chopping of leftovers, bring a large pot of water to boil, then boil whatever pasta you have on hand, saving 3-4 cups of pasta water before draining.

We keep track of who wants what on our dry erase board on the fridge.  Everyone writes their order on the board, then my hubby (who is the resident Pasta Bar guru.) will set about making each order. Simply wipe out the skillet in between.  

Equipment Note:  You’ll either need a skillet big enough to two servings at a time (if two people want the same items) or a couple of small or medium skillets for individual servings in order to make this go somewhat quickly.

General order of cooking:

  1. Saute the onions and mushrooms first until soft.
  2. Garlic and shallots burn quickly so add them next along with any raw veggies, a few cranks of black pepper, sea salt and a big splash of white wine. 
  3. Cook til raw veggies are slightly softened and wine has evaporated then add cooked meat (not bacon, though). 
  4. Add cooked veggies, frozen peas (or other frozen veggies,) 1/4 cup cream and 1/2 cup of pasta water per serving.  Let cook for a minute then add drained pasta (if it sticks just run a little water over it) and a little more pasta water then stir well. 
  5. Add a little cheese to the pan to thicken the sauce a bit and taste for salt and pepper adding more if necessary. 
  6. Transfer to a serving plate or shallow bowl.  Garnish with a little bacon, green onions and/or more cheese.

Salad Bar

This is an almost weekly staple in our house.  The same ingredients as the pasta bar with hard boiled eggs added to the mix (if none are made, I’m always glad to make them since they are a super quick and protein-filled breakfast) and obviously sans the oil, cream and wine.  We typically have a simple vinaigrette with 1 part acid (lemon juice, vinegar or a mix) with 3 parts olive oil flavored up with a bit of garlic and Dijon mustard, salt and pepper sitting in the fridge.  (Check out this post for lots of DIY dressings.) Then I let everyone have a big plate to make the salad they want.  BONUS!! It requires almost no cooking.

My kids will eat a giant salad this way and I feel virtuous for getting them to do so!

Fried Rice

This is the ultimate leftover-makeover.   The most essential ingredient is cold rice.  It CANNOT be freshly made, or you’ll have a sticky, gooey mess. Brown rice works great in this.  It’s already a bit more sturdy plus with all the flavors going on, you tend to forget you’re eating the healthier version of the rice family.  Any kind of leftover veggies and meats can be used.  If I only have veggies, I’ll quickly whisk and egg and fry it into a large thin omelet to cut into strips for our protein.

To make this a DIY and give everyone a chance to choose what their fried rice contains, have them take a bowl and choose the “mix-ins” then have someone on fry duty. It only takes a few minutes per bowl as long as all the ingredients are already cooked. Just wipe out the pan with a damp paper towel between batches if you do it this way.

 Cooking Order:

  1. Saute onions and garlic in a little sesame oil then add any raw veggies along with a couple tablespoons of water. 
  2. When the water has evaporated and the veggies are soft, add cooked meat and rice and a big drizzle of sesame oil. 
  3. Stir fry until hot. 
  4. Add some frozen peas if you want and the omelet strips if you chose to make them. 
  5. Add any fresh herbs last (cilantro, basil or mint)
  6. Season with coconut aminos (or tamari/soy sauce) and rice wine vinegar or lime juice.
  7. Serve immediately.  I add chile garlic sauce to mine for a little heat, too.

I’d love to hear of things you do with leftovers. It helps to have an arsenal of ideas to work with.  Thanks for sharing!

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