Creative Ways to Reinvent Your Leftovers

Make the most out of your leftover food by finding creative ways to make new meals! Cooking with leftovers in mind can help save money and reduce food waste. Some common leftovers you may find in your fridge include leftover grains like rice and pasta, proteins like beef and chicken, vegetables, and sauces.  With some planning and creativity, you can come up with new recipes that you and your family will love.


While leftovers can be heated and eaten as is, it can be fun to spice up your palate! Listed below are a few tips to help you creatively transform your leftovers into an innovative and delicious meal:

  • Plan for a “Leftovers Day:” When planning your meals for the week, leave a day open for leftovers, so you don’t have to buy any additional ingredients while shopping for the week.  Think outside the box and invent a new meal by using produce and previously made meals found in your refrigerator!
  • Pickle your vegetables: Pickling your own vegetables is a fun way to use up any leftover vegetables still in your fridge and it is a common way to preserve foods and provide a zesty, tangy taste.  Some popular vegetables you can pickle include onions, cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, peppers, olives, and radishes. Pickled vegetables go great on top of tacos, sandwiches, and burgers or can be a refreshing side to your barbecue meal.  Here is a recipe from Have a Plant: Fruit and Veggies for Better Health to help you get started. For more food preservation resources and recommendations, check out the UC Master Food Preserver website.
  • Toss it into a salad: Almost any leftover can be incorporated into a healthy, nutritious salad!  A taco salad can be made from leftover enchiladas or nachos, while leftover grilled chicken and corn can be added to a BBQ chicken cobb salad. Finish off your salad with any remaining vegetables in your fridge such as tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, and mushrooms.   In addition, any leftover bread starting to go stale can also be made into croutons. To learn how to make homemade croutons, check out this video recipe from the American Heart Association.
  • Create an appetizing casserole, pasta, or pizza: Casseroles, pastas and pizzas are easy meals to transform leftovers because you can make simple modifications according to your food preferences and be creative with all ingredients you include. They are fantastic options for using up any leftover sauces, protein, vegetables, or even leftover pasta itself. Casseroles can be prepared for any meal of the day, whether it be a breakfast casserole filled with eggs, hash brown, sausage, and veggies or a beef noodle casserole made for dinner. A traditional pizza crust can also be substituted with leftover tortillas, naan, whole-wheat bagels, portobello mushrooms, sweet potatoes, or even eggplant.
  • Warm your heart with a bowl of soup: Soups are a nutritious way to use up any leftover produce and protein and can be easily prepared in a pressure cooker or slow cooker when you’re busy and on the go.  Pre-cooked chicken, zucchini, kale, celery, potatoes, and rice are just a few examples of leftover food you can put in your soup! Check out the CNS blog for more ideas on making a hearty bowl of soup or stew.
  • Make an Asian-inspired stir fry: Leftover rice can be made into fried rice with the addition of your choice of protein and fresh or frozen vegetables. Another option is to sauté any leftover vegetables with a protein such as chicken, pork, or tofu, flavor with your favorite stir fry sauce or leftover sauce, and serve it over brown rice.


For even more ways on creating new meals with leftovers, visit Food Insight’s webpage for tips and inspiration.

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