How to Use Up Leftovers & Save Money

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Shredded Beef Filling | Good Cheap Eats

One of the things that we get really practiced at during a down financial month or during a pantry challenge is eating up leftovers. It’s one way to fill the tummy without having to cook or spend money. I consider leftovers “free” in a sense, since the ingredients were originally destined for another meal and “should have” been eaten up.

Some leftovers are worth fighting over. My husband and I divide these Poblano Enchiladas even-Steven. No cheating, unless some bartering is involved. They are that good.

Other times, you might not have enough leftovers to feed the family, but you want to make sure they don’t go to waste. That’s when you need to think creatively about what to do with them. Leftover, cooked food, properly refrigerated, is good for four days. There’s nothing wrong with giving it new life in a new dish.

And, no, I’m not talking about Gramma’s Mystery Meatloaf.

One night last week we had grilled chicken, quinoa, and a salad. The first night, I enjoyed these items separately. The second day, I combined them for a fabulous lunchtime salad. The flavors were different the second day since all the components were chilled and tossed in vinaigrette. It was a great way to use up what we had and enjoy a great lunch in the process.


Here are ways to use up leftovers that retain the integrity of the ingredients, stretch your supplies, and help you avoid waste. You’ll eat well, too, which is the whole point, right?

How to Use Up Leftovers & Save Money

The following are great ideas for using leftover cooked meats and vegetables, preferably without sauces.

Reheat and eat.

Make an omelet.

Make Stone Soup.

Make fried rice.

Top a pizza.

Fill a sandwich or panini.

Make a salad.

Fold into a quesadilla.

Make a potpie.

Wrap in a burrito.

Freeze it to use later. Just be sure to label it with the contents and date.

What’s YOUR favorite way to use leftovers?

About Jessica Fisher

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

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  1. Stephanie M. says

    I absolutely thrive on making a meal out of leftovers because food is so expensive and it’s, to me, a crime to throw anything away needlessly.

    When I make a pork roast, I usually make it in the oven and put gravy on it when I serve it. So since the meat is otherwise dry, after eating the original way for two days, I usually chop it up small and add celery and mayo to it, much like a chicken salad and make a sandwich out of it. Or sometimes, I make homemade fried rice with it or sometimes pulled pork sandwiches.

    If I have leftover London broil, I love to make steak salad out of it. (Tossed salad with strips of steak and a balsamic vinaigrette with a good crusty loaf of warm bread is great especially in the summer when it gets too hot to cook. As with pork, sometimes, I add it to a stir fry as well. Sometimes, I’ll make a marinara sauce and put strips of the London broil in it and pour over pasta.

    If I have leftover white rice, I usually fry it in some butter and then add grated cheddar cheese and some scallions or peas and make a rice bowl out of it for my husband’s lunch. He could live on rice 24/7.

    If I have leftover chicken, the possibilities are endless; sometimes chicken tetrazzini, sometimes pulled chicken BBQ sandwiches, sometimes chicken croquettes with a gravy, sometimes I’ll add it to soup, chicken salad sandwiches, chicken with asparagus and hollandaise over noodles, etc.

    If I have leftover corned beef, I always make hash out of it.

    If I have leftover pot roast, I usually make pot pie.

    I once made a ham and counted the meals I got out of it and it was 17!! The first two days, we ate it as it was. After that I made ham chowder, which was several meals, ham and cheese omelets, ham and noodle casserole which was also a couple of meals, etc.

    With leftover pasta that has no sauce on it, I usually fry it in butter along with some ham (deli type is fine) and I whisk up several eggs and pour over and serve with a salad. Other times, I’ll make some kind of pasta salad.

    My husband and I have a saying: ” Nothing goes to waste” – and nothing usually does.

    • Great ideas. Thanks for adding them to the list!

    • Heather M says

      You really rock the leftovers! I’m impressed with how versatile you are!

      • Stephanie M. says

        Cooking and baking are one of my few passions. Because of that I have a lot of dinner parties. I always make way too much and then I’m stuck with a lot of leftovers. In November, I had a dinner party for fourteen people for my mom’s 75th birthday. For appetizers, instead of setting everything up in the den, I served appetizers on the dinner table. Everyone got a glass dish with a white paper doily on it. On top of that there was one tasting spoon with two little Swedish meatballs on it, a mini square white dish with some tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil, and olive oil, and a mini white cylinder bowl with shrimp cocktail in it. Since I made only exactly what I needed for that, I had no leftovers. For dinner I had made chicken caprese and angel hair pasta. With the chicken, I made way, way too much. I browned them the night before but I made about 20 pieces figuring someone might want seconds. Because the dinner was so heavy, no one could eat seconds and I ended up with about 6 large chicken breasts that I had to deal with the next day. I split them up; the next day we ate as is and with the rest, I just used to some make some enchiladas. But it all eventually went. I consider myself to be very thrifty in the kitchen like so many of you and it really bothers me when I have to throw something out. As a last resort, I usually end up giving it to my dogs. They have to eat too. 🙂

  2. Marci says

    For their Silver Award project, the girls in my daughter’s Girl Scout troop produced a cookbook called “When Life Gives You Leftovers, Make a New Meal” to address the issue of food waste. It’s available here:

  3. Good list and reminder! I do a lot of just reheating and eating, but tonight, I’m going to dice up some baked potatoes and fry them for dinner. Maybe add some salsa and cheese? I’m looking forward to these leftovers. Yum!

  4. Harriet says

    My favorite way to use left overs? Add cheese! Anything (almost) is better with cheese, right?

  5. I have used all of these ideas except the omelet. I’ll have to remember that one. Tonight I used leftover shredded beef from the freezer to make your stone soup recipe. It was amazing, and my family loved it! Thank you!

    • Glad you like it! It’s so versatile, you can make it work for anything. Never the same thing twice, hehe.

  6. Heather M says

    My peeps are mexican food purists (ok, so am I), so can’t quite make burritos or enchiladas out of very much leftover. But we do lots of one-pot type meals. Like you, fried rice is a big one in our house. Super easy, endless variations. I’ll also do a “kitchen sink” paella. Though it’s not really paella. Same flavors, using whatever veggies and proteins are around. It’s a good one when you have a little sausage, a handful of shrimp in the freezer, and leftover chicken or pork, but not enough of any particular one for a full meal.

    Pasta is a great base for random leftovers or to create new dishes out of things like leftover roasted veggies (or any type of leftover veggie) tossed with a vinaigrette or olive oil based sauce. You could also make a new light cheese sauce and use it with leftover ham and peas (a classic). Really, the variations are endless here, too.

    Love your lists, Jessica and Stephanie!

  7. Janet says

    Here are a couple of ideas I have not seen listed yet. Grind leftover ham to make deviled ham for crackers or sandwiches. Thinly slice ham to make chicken cordon bleu. Ham and pinto beans is a southern classic served with Johnny cakes.

    My paternal grandmother always made chipped beef on toast with white sauce with leftover roast beef. My maternal grandmother used LO roast beef to make raisin noodle soup (homemade beef broth, beef, egg noodles, raisins or gooseberries, salt & pepper) – sounds terrible but tastes awesome. A sweet and savory mix.

    Add beaten eggs and flour to leftover mashed potatoes, shape into patties and fry on a griddle to make potato pancakes. Served with warm maple syrup accompanied by bacon is a wonderful breakfast on a cold winter day. Potato soup is also an easy way to use up LO mashed spuds.

  8. Vanessa B says

    You are speaking my language! Making 2 or 3 “meat and sides” meals and reincarnating the leftovers really saves my bacon.
    Pizza and Fried rice are my favorite leftover recipes when the leftover protein is miniscule. You can really stretch with these 2 meals.

    One of my favorite things to have as leftovers is pesto. Pesto pasta makes a delicious frittata for breakfast. Spread it on a sandwich, add to a salad, use instead of red sauce for pizza.

    Lots of different things can be used as baked potato toppers or on a hot dog bar.

    I’ve even used leftover pizza made of leftover parts to make “pizza eggs” which resembled frittata. The kids loved it!

    I’ve used lots of different leftovers to make pizza pockets which is just a homemade hot pocket. L/O sloppy Joe with cheese, any barbecue mixture with cheese, sandwich bits, and more.

  9. Melissa says

    Last week someone blessed us with a dinner of chicken and ribs from Costco. We had chicken leftover, so the next night it was transformed into chicken and rice casserole. There were leftovers from that which later in the week morphed into chicken and rice soup (simply by adding the casserole to the pot and adding chicken stock and a few more veggies.)

    The previous week we had mexican shredded chicken from the pressure cooker which two nights later became tortilla soup by adding chicken broth, salsa, black beans and frozen corn to it and topping with crushed chips and cheese.

    So chicken broth is the magical meal stretcher!

  10. Jessica B says

    If a I have a few days of leftovers but no single thing enough to feed us all, we have “Buffet”. The leftovers all go on the counter and it’s a first come, first serve in the buffet line. My kids love to have control over what they are eating for dinner, so they enjoy it, and everything gets eaten!

  11. TSandy says

    I just bought a copy of the soup cookbook. I love homemade soups but I’m bored with my current repertoire. I’ve also wanted to try cooking crockpot beans forever. Living in the desert the more I can do in a crockpot out on the patio leaving my kitchen cool the better I like it. We eat a southwest salad with corn and beans (to make a complete protein) frequently and I’d love to pull out my own frozen black beans instead of opening a can. Besides the lower cost the less sodium is a winner. Thanks for some great ideas.

  12. Jenn says

    Our kids are huge eaters lately, so we don’t seem to have much for leftovers. I still hate to throw the little bits left out. I started a container in the freezer and in goes the tbsp of peas left or the little pieces of chicken, or the half cup of rice. When the container is full, I throw it all in a soup with homemade stock. It’s different every time and always yummy. Sometimes it truly turns into a gumbo type soup, but the kids love it with homemade buns. 🙂

    • Jenn says

      I guess it’s the same as your stone soup, I just freeze the little bits left over instead lol. 😉

  13. Ava says

    What about leftover Mexican food?

    • I think that depends on what’s leftover. Can you give me an example?

      • Angie Zamarripa says

        What can you do with lefttover enchilada casserole?

        • We rarely have leftover enchilada casserole. It’s a big favorite around here. If we do, we just reheat it the next day.

  14. Peter says

    Quiche is a perfect consumer of leftovers. It can include anything from crumbled meatloaf to ham to broccoli to cauliflower to peppers to carrots to fresh herbs to potatoes to turkey to seafood to wilting spinach to peas to celery to green onions to kale to…most any meat or veggie aging in your fridge. Just add crust (optional), eggs, milk and cheese (and any additional desired spices) and bake. It is the perfect, inexpensive dish to consume and give new life to things left in the fridge. Follow any recipe only for portions of meat/veggies, milk, eggs and cheese, but be creative after that. I’ve even made one with leftover corned beef, carrots and cabbage, then using Swiss as the cheese.

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