Reinventing Leftovers: Creative Ideas to Help Give Meals Another Life

We all have eaten them. We all have dished out the same meal two nights in a row until it is completely gone to avoid throwing away any amount of food. In general, we all have eaten leftovers.

To be specifically correct, a leftover is defined as “surplus foods remaining unconsumed at the end of a meal, which may be put in containers with the intention of eating later.” Something the majority of people have done. However, when it comes to leftovers, we can only eat the same meal for a certain amount of time. For example, you have a large amount of lasagna uneaten. After eating it two or three more times, the delicious taste wears off. In comes the time to reinvent the leftover. The next time you have leftovers from a dish, make sure you aren’t eating the same dish twice; just another version of it. Reinventing leftovers takes creativity and a little bit of time, but will be well worth it in the end. Need some ideas? Take a look at the list of new ways to bring life into uneaten meals below:

  • Turn leftover meat and/or vegetables into a quesadilla – Any meat, chicken, steak, pork chops, etc. can be chopped up and mixed with cooked vegetables, cheese, spices and sauces. Then, place the mixture inside a tortilla and grill in a pan. Quesadillas are a great way to combine leftovers together and use them in greater quantities and in a new way. Wraps are another take on quesadillas that still use leftover meat and vegetables in a fun, creative spin.
  • Take uneaten rice and make it into a stir-fry – Creating a stir-fry doesn’t take much time at all and can be healthy. Using your leftover rice, combine it with vegetables, meat, sauce and other ingredients of your choosing in a pan on the stove. Then, cook until ready to eat.
  • Leftover bread equals homemade croutons – Using a knife, cut leftover bread, whether it be cornbread, rolls, etc. into small squares. Place onto a pan and drizzle with butter or olive oil. Bake or toast them in the oven. Before you know it, you have created an extra crunch for your soups and salads. You can also turn leftover bread into breadcrumbs with the use of a food processor.
  • Mashed potatoes can easily be turned into gnocchi – Mashed potatoes, mixed with flour and one egg, can be remade into the Italian potato dumpling, gnocchi. All you need is:
    • 1 cup leftover mashed potatoes (no need to reheat; just take right out of the fridge)
    • 1 egg
    • Salt
    • 1-2 cups all purpose flour

Then, combine the mashed potatoes, egg and salt into a bowl. Add ¼ cup of the flour and stir together. Continue adding ¼ cup of flour to the mixture until the dough is soft and can be made into a ball, but not sticky. Roll out the dough into a flat square. Then, roll into a large rope. Cut the rope into one inch pieces. Bring a pot of water with salt to a boil. Add the gnocchi pieces to the boiling water and cook for two to three minutes. Drain and top with your favorite sauce.

  • Cooked pasta can be used in more than one way – Cooked pasta doesn’t have to go to waste if it isn’t eaten in the first go-around. Instead, it can be revitalized into pasta salads, added to soups or stews, or made into a frittata.
  • Turn leftover fish into fish cakes. This recipe works best with cod or salmon, but does work with other types of fish, as well. Using a fork, chop the fish into small pieces. Toss it with bread crumbs, eggs, mayonnaise and spices. Then, bake or fry until ready.

There are few important things to keep in mind when inventing leftovers. Whenever possible, focus on the individual ingredients of a dish rather than the dish as a whole. Also, be purposeful when planning meals for the first round. Think of ingredients you can buy in large quantities and use in a variety of ways. Don’t be afraid to eat leftovers from dinner for lunch with a twist the next day. And lastly, dedicate a night each week to consume all the leftovers from dishes eaten that week. This tip will help break up the monotony that comes from enjoying the same dish several times in a row.

Most of the time, leftovers are unavoidable. But, they don’t have to be boring. The next time you are faced with them, turn to one of these ideas to make them more creative and enjoyable.


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