10 Meals to Make from Leftovers

By: Debra Ronca

This swan is full of ingredients for your next meal. See more easy weeknight meals pictures.
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When your refrigerator is stocked full of tinfoil swans, white Styrofoam containers and a leftover holiday turkey, you don't need to go to the grocery store. You've got all the ingredients you require. Using your leftover food from restaurants and dinner parties to create new meals is a great way to save money and reduce waste.

The first thing you should know about leftovers is the correct way to store them. Follow these tips to keep you and your family safe:


  • Refrigerate or freeze unused food within two hours after cooking.
  • Wash your hands before handling leftovers.
  • Place leftovers in small, shallow containers with a secure cover. This helps the food cool down quickly.
  • If a stored leftover seems questionable, throw it out.
  • Remove stuffing from cooked poultry before storing.
  • Don't keep leftovers for more than four days.

Now, let's find out how to use your leftovers to create some delicious new dishes.

10. Leftover Bread

Use your leftover bread to make a yummy breakfast.
Use your leftover bread to make a yummy breakfast.
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With an abundance of leftover bread, you can cook up some delicious breakfasts and desserts. For example, make a "morning after" French toast. Don't limit yourself to just white bread -- leftover pumpkin, zucchini and nut bread all make excellent French toast. Top with some crushed fruit for an extra treat.

Once called "poor man's pudding," bread pudding was invented for the purpose of using up stale, leftover bread. However, the dessert treat is actually quite rich and delicious. Bread pudding consists of torn up or cubed stale bread, baked in a mixture of butter, sugar, milk, eggs and fruit. Many people also make a rich sauce to accompany the pudding, such as bourbon or caramel.


You can also dice up your stale bread, coat it with olive oil and place it in the oven to make homemade croutons. Or, tear up the bread and throw it in your food processor to make bread crumbs.

9. Leftover Chicken

Put your leftovers into a pot pie.
Put your leftovers into a pot pie.
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Perhaps you bought one of those rotisserie chickens from the supermarket, and now you're stuck with a surplus of roasted chicken. Luckily, chicken is a very flexible ingredient.

For example, try a family-friendly chicken salad. No cooking required. Just combine cubed or shredded leftover chicken, salad greens, olives, hard-boiled eggs, grape tomatoes and shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Top with your favorite dressing.


Chicken quesadillas are another good way to use chicken and any leftover cheese you might have as well. Served with salsa and sour cream, it's a quick meal.

Chicken pot pie is also great for leftovers. Sauté a few vegetables (carrots, onions, peas) with olive oil. Add some milk and flour to create a thick sauce, along with some salt and pepper. Mix in shredded chicken and put everything in a baking dish. Top the baking dish with a pre-made piecrust, seal the crust to the sides, cut a few vents in the dough and bake until golden brown and bubbly.

Did You Know? Tupperware is named after its founder, Earl Silas Tupper (1907-1983).

8. Leftover Turkey

Your Thanksgiving turkey won't go to waste if you know how to use the leftovers.
Your Thanksgiving turkey won't go to waste if you know how to use the leftovers.
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Some say leftovers are the best part of Thanksgiving. However, all that turkey can get boring fast. Here are some creative ideas for emptying out your fridge:

Turkey tortilla soup adds a little zing to your leftovers. Just boil together salsa and chicken broth. Add your turkey, along with sliced zucchini or squash. Top with tortilla strips, a dollop of sour cream and a lime wedge.


If you also have some cranberry sauce or jelly left over, try a spinach salad. Toss the turkey and cranberry along with baby spinach, sliced cucumbers and radishes. Finish with a vinaigrette dressing.

Turkey with noodles makes excellent comfort food. Cook egg noodles, and brown some onions. Heat up a can or two of your favorite creamy soup (cream of mushroom, for example). Mix up the turkey with the onions and soup, pour over the noodles, salt and pepper to taste -- and enjoy.

Did You Know? Each Thanksgiving, Americans consume about 690 million pounds of turkey.

7. Leftover Steak

Leftover steak makes for tasty stir-fry.
Leftover steak makes for tasty stir-fry.
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Were your eyes bigger than your stomach when you grilled all that steak last night? Never fear. We have some ideas for you.

Steak is excellent for a stir-fry. Just sauté your steak with your favorite veggies, soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil. Eat as is or serve over rice. Or, try a steak salad with baby spinach.


Beef stew is a comforting winter dish. Cube your leftover steak and dip it in flour. Slightly brown the beef with oil in a large pot. Add broth, chopped onions and veggies, some cubed potatoes, a can of diced tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about two hours or until the potatoes are soft.

You can also use leftover steak for a hearty beef stroganoff. Sauté your steak with some onion and garlic. In another pot, whisk together some milk and flour to make a thick sauce. Add the steak and then some sour cream. Serve over cooked egg noodles.

6. Leftover Ground Beef

Make a taco salad with your leftover ground beef.
Make a taco salad with your leftover ground beef.
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Leftover hamburger meat (or ground beef) lends itself quite well to many recipes.

Shepherd's pie, sometimes called cottage pie, is a traditional comfort food that's easy to make. Sauté some onions with butter, then add your leftover meat along with some carrots, peas and corn. Add some gravy or beef stock and salt and pepper to taste. Put the whole thing in a baking dish, top with mashed potatoes and bake until heated through.


Whip up a quick taco salad with leftover hamburger. Crumble the meat with some salsa. In a big bowl, toss together chopped romaine, corn, black beans, tomato and jalapeno. Top the salad with the meat and salsa, along with some cheese and crushed tortilla chips.

If you're a macaroni and cheese fan, try mixing your ground beef in with some mac and cheese. Add browned onions, tomato paste and corn for a Tex-Mex flavor.

Did You Know? Don't throw out those last dregs of beer or wine. Freeze them in ice cube trays to pop into a sauce or stew later.

5. Leftover Vegetables

You can put almost any vegetable in a quiche.
You can put almost any vegetable in a quiche.
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Perhaps your garden provided a bumper crop, or the vegetable tray from last night's party went uneaten. Here are some ways to use up extra vegetables:

Quiche is a very simple dish to make and lends itself well to just about any vegetable. Just fill up an empty pie shell with a mixture of beaten eggs and milk, shredded cheese and chopped up veggies. Season to taste and bake until golden brown on top.


Veggies are also good stir-fried or roasted. Sauté your vegetables with soy sauce and sesame oil. Add hot pepper flakes for some spice, and serve over rice. To roast vegetables, just toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in the oven until the vegetables are soft. You can eat them in a sandwich, as is, or with rice.

And don't forget you can always freeze leftover veggies to save for a soup to make later.

4. Leftover Ham

Sandwiches aren't your only option for leftover ham.
Sandwiches aren't your only option for leftover ham.
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You might think there's not much to do with leftover ham besides make a ham sandwich. But why not give some of these ideas a try, instead?

Put a new spin on the ham sandwich by preparing a "croque monsieur" instead. This rich French sandwich is grilled a ham and cheese sandwich, but with Gruyère cheese for a grown-up flavor. Top the grilled sandwich with a rich béchamel sauce. Heaven.


A cheese and ham quiche makes an excellent dish for brunch. Beat together some eggs with milk, add diced up ham and shredded cheese. Pour into an empty pie shell and bake until golden brown on top. Salt and pepper to taste.

Or, pull out the Crock-Pot and simmer a ham and split pea soup. All you need is a pound of dried split peas, your cubed up ham, onion, carrot and enough water to cover all the ingredients. Simmer until the peas disintegrate and you're left with a nice, thick pea soup.

Did You Know? 25 percent of edible food in the United States ends up going to waste.

3. Leftover Spaghetti Sauce

Use your spaghetti sauce for stuffed bell peppers.
Use your spaghetti sauce for stuffed bell peppers.
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Use your leftover spaghetti sauce to create new meals that don't have anything to do with pasta.

Pick up some premade pizza dough (or make your own) and throw together a gourmet pizza, using your sauce as the base. Top with whatever you have lying around in the fridge. Be creative!


Pizza burgers are always a family favorite. Just top your grilled burgers with mozzarella cheese and warmed up sauce. Forgo the bun and use garlic bread for a more Italian flavor.

Spaghetti sauce is also great as a topping for stuffed peppers. Slice off the tops of some green bell peppers. Clean out the seeds and stuff the peppers with a mixture of ground beef, cooked rice and sauce. Cover with foil and bake until heated through. Melt a bit of mozzarella cheese on top, and you're done.

2. Leftover Fruit

Mmm. Smoothies.
Mmm. Smoothies.
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The good thing about leftover fruit is that even if it's a little too mushy to eat plain, you can still use it in certain recipes.

Overripe bananas make the best banana bread. Add chopped walnuts or pecans for some delicious texture. You can also use your overripe bananas to create banana pancakes. If you don't like bananas, any fruit will work.


Put all your overripe fruit together to make healthy, delicious fruit smoothies. All you need is a blender, ice, milk, honey and your fruit. Blend it all together until frothy.

Make a fruit pie -- or a fruit crumble or cobbler. Bake some healthy fruit muffins (blueberry, strawberry or apple) for on-the-go breakfasts for the week. If you have an ice cream maker, add the fruit to a batch of vanilla for some sweetness.

Did You Know? Keep bananas away from your other fruit. They cause other fruits to ripen more quickly.

1. Leftover Cheese

Mac and cheese -- a kid's favorite.
Mac and cheese -- a kid's favorite.
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If you need to use up a bunch of cheese before it spoils, try some of these ideas:

Macaroni and cheese is a favorite with kids and adults alike. You can use gourmet cheese for an adult flavor, or regular American for the kids in your life. Why not throw in some of that leftover ham or ground beef, too?

If you're feeling kitschy, you can make a cheese fondue. Pull out your fondue pot, grab some white wine, cheese, garlic and cornstarch. Use your warm fondue as a dip for crusty bread, apples or whatever else seems yummy.

Fromage Fort is another popular cheesy option. Just run your leftover cheese through the food processor along with some white wine, garlic cloves and black pepper. You'll be left with a rich, creamy paste that you can spread on a baguette and toasted under the broiler until bubbly.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • "Fresh Ideas for Leftover Turkey." Better Homes and Gardens. 2009. http://www.bhg.com/holidays/holiday-slide-shows/thanksgiving/fresh-ideas-for-leftover-turkey/
  • Jaworski, Stephanie. "Bread Pudding." JoyofBaking.com. 2009. http://www.joyofbaking.com/BreadPudding.html
  • "Leftovers and Rollover Meals." RachaelRayShow.com. 2009. http://www.rachaelrayshow.com/food/categories/leftovers-rollover-meals/
  • Mollenkamp, Aida and Burns, Regan. "Things to Do with Stale Bread." Chow.com. Sept. 14, 2006. http://www.chow.com/stories/10107
  • Pépin, Jacques. "Fromage Fort." Food & Wine. April 2007. http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/fromage-fort
  • Resnick, Linda. "How Much Food Do You Waste?" GoodCooking.com. 2002. http://www.goodcooking.com/ckbookrv/winter_02/foodfaqs/foodwaste.htm
  • "Save Time and Money." WRAP. 2009. http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/save_time_and_money
  • Schaffner, Donald. "Handling Leftovers Safely." Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension. Nov. 1, 1991. http://njaes.rutgers.edu/pubs/publication.asp?pid=FS588
  • "Turkey History and Trivia." National Turkey Federation. 2009. http://www.eatturkey.com/consumer/history/history.html