How to Make Soup from Leftovers

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Don’t worry about having the same thing twice this week. Did you know that you can make delicious soup from leftovers? It’s so gratifying to make soup from food you already have!

pot of creamy chicken noodle soup with vegetables

Soup is a wonderfully frugal, potentially delicious meal to serve your family. It’s comforting. It’s easy on the budget. And there are so many different soups to make, you can never tire of it!

Soup making is an art and science that’s been practiced for centuries. It’s a humble meal that is easily stretched to feed a crowd, and it’s super frugal, particularly when made with ingredients that might otherwise go to waste.

What a great way to exercise the “waste-not-want-not” mentality that will keep us all in the black these days!

Now, don’t go thinking you’re gonna throw everything in a pot, Pippi Longstocking-style. There’s a method here.

In a pinch of desperate times, like a zombie apocalypse, sure, you might toss leftovers in a soup pot, willy-nilly, but for most of us who want to enjoy our meals and who want our kids actually to eat the soups we prepare, a little care is in order.

How to Make Soup from Leftovers

What kind of leftovers are we talking about?

To make soup from leftovers, make good use of ingredients such as cooked meat, vegetables, noodles, grains, gravies, and sauces that you enjoyed in previous meals.

Often times, these leftovers aren’t enough to make a complete meal for one person, let alone a family, but when combined with broth and other soup ingredients, these leftovers add amazing flavor to your soup pot.

  • Gravy – adds flavor, color, and thickening to your soup.
  • Pizza sauce, pasta sauce, enchilada sauce – you might not even have to add spices since these are already heavily seasoned.
  • Mashed potatoes – Yes, really! Whisk leftover mashed potatoes into soup. They add flavor and act as a thickener as well.
  • Cooked meats and vegetables – chop into bite-sized pieces and add at the end of the cooking time so the meat doesn’t get tough or the veggies overcook.
  • Cooked pasta and grains – add near the end of the cooking time so nothing gets soggy or loses too much starch into the broth.
  • Cheese sauce, white sauce, creamed soup for cooking – these are great thickeners and elements to enhance your soup.
  • Chili or stew – offers a nice base of flavor for you to stretch with more broth, veggies, and meats.

I regularly package these small bits of leftovers in small containers to store in the fridge. If the kids don’t eat them up as snacks, I gather them up every couple days and add them to soup.

You can even freeze these — store them in the same place in the freezer to make them easy to find — and use them in soup later.

pot of tomato based soup with slices of bread on cutting board

Use wisdom when making soup from leftovers. If your family didn’t like it the first time, chances are slim that they will like it better in its new soup form.

That isn’t to say you can’t include ingredients your kids don’t like. In small amounts you can hide offending ingredients like squash, spinach, and kale. Stirring pureed pumpkin or other vegetable purees into your soup is a great way to increase your family’s vegetable intake without a fuss.

However, very strong flavors like curry or BBQ are not easily disguised. So, to make delicious soup from leftovers, be sure you’re using ingredients within the general flavor profile your people enjoy.

Use ingredients that are fresh. The word leftovers often scares people. It shouldn’t. Prepared food properly refrigerated is good for up to 4 days.

However, lazy and irresponsible home cooks have given leftovers a bad name.

Make sure that the leftover cooked meats, vegetables, grains, and sauces that you are using fall within that 4-day time limit.

How do you make soup from leftovers?

Soup making is not complex. It’s been practiced in households of both princes and paupers since the dawn of time. It’s a pretty easy process to make soup from leftovers. Often it’s a combination of leftovers and fresh ingredients to make a new kind of soup.

Follow this basic method:

  1. Heat some kind of fat (butter, oil, drippings) in a large pot.
  2. Add aromatics, such as onion, garlic, mushrooms, celery, or carrots to the pot. These would be new ingredients or leftovers from a previous night.
  3. Stir in broth or stock as well as longer cooking ingredients such as raw potatoes. Again, potatoes may be a new ingredient. If you’ve got leftover cooked potatoes, add those at the end so that they don’t overcook.
  4. Add vegetables, cooked meats, seasonings, and other leftovers you’re mixing in.

A great starting recipe for making soup from leftovers is Thursday Night Soup. Read through that recipe and you should get a basic idea of the parts of soup: fat, onion, liquid, seasonings, fillings. Another great starter recipe is Stone Soup.

How do you make soup tasty?

Tasty is a pretty relative term. But tasting the soup is key! Make sure that you taste as you add different elements to the soup pot. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Adding enough salt and pepper is key as well as rounding out the flavors. If you have bouillon or a soup base on hand that can enrich the flavor as can powdered truffle dust or other spice aisle ingredients that can add oomph to your soup.

In my experience, the soup broth is what makes or breaks your soup. Use a flavorful broth or stock and enhance it with spices and herbs for best flavor.

How do you make soup creamy?

Creaminess can be added to soup via a white sauce (butter cooked with flour where milk is added to create a thick creamy sauce) or the simple addition of cream or a vegan milk, such as coconut.

You can also add the texture of creaminess via pureed potatoes or stirring in dried potato flakes. Yep, instant mashed potatoes added to soup can thicken it as well as give it a little creaminess.

hands holding bowl of creamy cheese soup with vegetables

What spices to put in soup?

The spices you add to your soup will help to bring it all together. I usually keep a variety of custom seasoning blends on hand. These make soup-making so much easier.

Here are some great spices to use in soup:

Make soup from leftovers this week!

While the possibilities for soup from leftovers are endless, here are some suggestions:

Chicken Noodle Soup is a great follow-up after a night of baked chicken. Save the drippings as well as leftover cooked chicken, vegetables, and gravy . Prepare Any cooked vegetables leftover can be added as well.

Chili Bean Soup – only one or two portions of chili left? Add a quart of beef, vegetable, or chicken broth and a can of hominy or corn and simmer together. Serve with tortilla chips, salsa and grated cheese.

Corn Chowder – leftover gravy, corn, and mashed potatoes? Combine the potatoes and gravy with chicken broth with a whisk. Stir in corn and simmer until hot. Season with chopped dill and salt and pepper at the end.

Beef Stroganoff Soup – leftover beef stew? Thin with beef broth and bring to almost a boil. Stir in egg noodles. Cook until noodles are tender. Add a little cream or milk at the end.

Making soup from leftovers is not only a smart thing to do, but it’s also a delicious way to make the most of what you have. During the fall and winter months, you can easily make soup once a week from bits you have in the fridge and freezer.

Are you ready to make soup from leftovers?

Do you already make soup from leftovers? I’d love to hear about YOUR habits and what works for you and your family. I’ll see you in the comments section.

How to Make Soup from Leftovers

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Sonshine says

    We are having soup tonight too!

    Tonight’s soup is Chicken Veggie Stew/Soup. This mixture is so versatile that just by decreasing the liquid you can have the insides to homemade chicken potpie. 🙂

  2. Courtney says

    I was actually going to email you today and ask for a creamy tomato soup recipe. I hoped you’d have a good one. And here you’re posting about soup!

    Anyone with a rave/delicious recipe? I hoped to make it for a Christmas luncheon.

  3. FishMama says

    Sonshine, great minds think alike.

    Courtney, sorry, but my fam doesn’t “do” tomato soup, but I bet someone out there has a great ine. Lynn? Danielle?

  4. Janel says

    I have a tomato soup recipe that we like a lot —

    It works best with tomatoes fresh off of the vine, but I have made it with canned tomatoes.

    I just made a soup the other night from leftovers. It was simple — onion, carrot, celery, potato, leftover rotisserie chicken, Better than Bouillon broth, dried basil & salt and pepper. I chopped all the ingredients pretty small, and I think it was one of my better soups.

  5. Jenna says

    Leftover soup is a weekly meal at our house in the cooler months. I toss what ever grain (rice, pasta, quinoa), veggie (broccoli, green beans, squash) and protein (beans, roast, chicken) left overs we have from the week, and add frozen or boxed chicken stock and and a can of tomaotes and some chopped carrots, onion and celery. Serve the soup with slices of whole grain bread with cheese popped under the broiler. My oldest used to cry on soup night, the other day, he requested it! I haven’t made it this year yet, it’s just now getting chilly in TX. great post!

  6. Jan says

    Leftover soup has been a family favorite for years. I keep a gallon container in the freezer. Every bite of leftovers goes into the container as we clear the table. Mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, whatever. When the container is full, we make soup. Sometimes I add some diced tomatoes, or chopped onion, or if it seems too thin, add some thickening (flour and milk shaken together in a small bottle). It;s different every time, but it’s always good.

  7. Kristin says

    My weekday soup usually is a turkey/chicken veggie soup. I throw ground turkey or leftover chicken with leftover pasta sauce and noodles, chicken broth and whatever left over veggies we have from the week. Sometimes if we’re short on the red sauce we use some V-8 or canned tomatoes for flavor. When I feel creative or the ingredients call for it…I make sort of a taco or chicken tortilla style soup, just add taco or chili seasoning (or both!)

  8. Candi says

    Great ideas! I usually plan a soup every week. This week I did the crock pot rotisserie chicken and used the leftovers to make chicken stock and then take those and turning them into Chicken Posole.

  9. Jean says

    We have soup at least two to three nights in the winter, and I have it for lunch almost daily too. I make a big pot of broth at least weekly and then cut up veggies over the weekend and cook up any meat to add, like sausage . It then takes just a few minutes to throw a soup together. I always add more veggies than the recipe calls for and we usually have a meal in a pot. The other bonus is the broth helps in boosting immunity in the winter and if we are sick with respiratory infections, it helps speed the healing.

  10. Gale Harris says

    I make soup often in most seasons, but winter calls yearningly for soup, and the leftovers in my fridge are perfect for that. Sausage and rice, which I make a creole version of, translates wonderfully into a soup, with any leftover veggies from the past few days, and a few fresh ones chopped up, too. I made this just today, with leftover rutabaga, carrots, and squash, fresh green beans from my garden, and an onion chopped up in it, too. Some chicken bouillion and extra water made it all come together in literally about 10 minutes. Yummy on a rainy, cold day!

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