For aspiring Paleo chefs, one big way to keep the cost of dinner down is to use all your leftovers, but reheating the same food again and again can get unappetizing pretty quickly, and it’s all too common to see a forest of Tupperware multiplying in the fridge, each half-full of a different leftover vegetable and none of them looking particularly appetizing. This is especially true for people who live alone and try to save money by cooking in bulk, only to realize that they don’t actually want to eat the same pork shoulder for five dinners in a row. Many people just end up throwing them all out in despair, which is a waste of good food and also good money!
To help save you from this trap, here are 17 quick and easy tips to save your leftovers from the trash can in easy, family-friendly, and appetizing ways.
This is such a convenient way to use your leftovers that you might find yourself cooking extra on purpose so you can take advantage of it. If you have enough leftovers for an entire meal (or several) but don’t want to eat the same thing two days in a row, just freeze a meal-sized serving of everything in a separate container to take out later when you’re in a rush. It’s like a Paleo freezer dinner! You can also do this just with the meat portion of a meal, if you’ll have time to quickly throw together a salad but not enough time to cook the meat.
For homemade condiments, this is also a useful way of preserving a large batch you made for a recipe but never used up. Freeze extra ketchup, mustard, or mayonnaise in an ice cube tray, so when you want some more, you can just pop out and defrost as many cubes as you need.
Soup or broth
Soup is one of the most incredibly versatile options in any chef’s recipe book, and it can take just about any kind of leftovers you like. Some ideas:
- Leftover vegetables: just toss them all in, with or without meat. There are very few vegetables that don’t go well in soup (lettuce might not be the best choice), but it’s very hard to go wrong here. Another alternative is to puree harder vegetables (like squash or broccoli) for a creamier, richer soup on a cold winter afternoon.
- Leftover bones: perfect for making a delicious and nourishing bone broth. Chicken carcasses are just the right size for a pot of broth, but also use the leftover bones from ribs, drumsticks, or any other bone-in meat.
- Leftover meat: Save it in a separate container, and add it to a pot of soup at the very end of cooking to warm it up – if you cook it twice, it will get tough and unappetizing.
Throw your leftover meat and vegetables inside a big bell pepper for an attractive fresh take on last night’s dinner. If you’re serving a crowd, get several different colors: peppers come in red, green, yellow, white, and even purple, so you can put together a whole rainbow on the table. They’re easy, too: just spoon in the filling, balance the peppers on a baking sheet, and bake in the oven until the flesh of the peppers is soft and the filling is warm all the way through. Some ideas:
- Thanksgiving peppers: leftover turkey, cauliflower “mashed potatoes,” and cranberry sauce to surprise your family with a new twist on holiday leftovers.
- Stuffed peppers, Italian-style: ground beef seasoned with basil and oregano, with tomato sauce and any leftover vegetables.
- Hawaiian pizza pepper: the rest of your chicken pineapple stir-fry, stuffed into a pepper – add ham or tomato sauce if you like.
- Breakfast in a pepper: your favorite pork or chicken sausage, with any leftover sweet potato or butternut squash.
- Ham “sandwich:” Leftover ham (or Dijon pork roast) with any vegetables you have; top with a smear of mustard when you pull it out of the oven.
Omelets or Frittatas
If you only have a little bit of something, an easy way to use it up is to just throw it into an egg dish. Get creative here: below are just a few ideas for how to transform some lunch or dinner leftovers into a mouthwatering omelet the next morning:
- Leftover meat from bulgogi: try an Asian-inspired omelet with the meat, some ginger, red pepper flakes, and green onions.
- Leftover lamb cutlets: slice the meat very thin, and add some olives and extra thyme if you have those left over as well.
- Leftover chicken masala or chicken curry: Southeast Asian flavors are perfect with eggs, especially if you beat the eggs for the omelet with a little leftover sauce.
- Leftover cream of tomato soup, pesto, or salsa verde: beat it into the eggs before you cook them, and add whatever vegetables you like.
Salads can stretch to accommodate almost any kind of addition, so don’t be shy about experimenting. Lettuce is traditional, but you could also use cucumbers or spinach as the base, and add whatever other vegetables you want to use up. Throw in some olive oil and vinegar, and call it lunch! This is the perfect “five-minute meal” for those busy days when you don’t have time to cook anything, and it’s so endlessly variable that it’s hard to get bored.
Stir-fries are the king of leftovers because they’re so incredibly easy. They’re traditionally Asian dishes, but can adapt just as well to almost anything. This post gives you some quick and easy recipes; just remember that if your meat is already cooked, you don’t want to cook it again. Just cook the vegetables and then add the meat at the end to warm up. Also take a look at the ideas below for some examples of how you could transform dinner into stir-fry at the drop of a hat:
- Jerk Chicken: Caribbean-style stir-fry with peppers and onions. Add some pineapple if you have some, and serve with fried plantains.
- Lemon chicken kebabs: Fry with sugar snap peas, thinly sliced carrots, and whatever else you have to hand, plus an extra squeeze of lemon juice.
- Pork chops: Fry with onions and as many leafy green vegetables as you can cram into the pan – add in any extra sauce from the recipe for flavor.
Most famous for hiding liver, meatloaf can be used to disguise almost anything you feel like putting into it. Vast amounts of spinach or other green leafy vegetables will disappear into a meatloaf as though they never existed (this is also perfect for getting picky eaters to finish their vegetables). Leftover roast vegetables of any kind will only add to the dish, and many sauces will add a surprisingly delicious twist – try some BBQ sauce in your meatloaf if you’re getting a little bored of the same old recipe.
The traditional meatloaf is made with beef and pork, but don’t be shy about experimenting with turkey or chicken meatloaf if that’s what you have. The taste will be a little different, but you might just find yourself discovering a new family favorite.
Have you ever bought a bunch of parsley, basil, or other herbs for a recipe, and then been stuck with most of the bunch still sitting in your fridge the next day, threatening to go bad? Chop up a quick batch of salsa to give this problem a delicious and useful solution. Salsa is endlessly flexible; you can make it hearty with avocados, fruity with pineapple, or lighter with citrus. Then eat it plain as a snack, or top a simple grilled meat dish with it for an elegant, colorful dinner centerpiece.
Spaghetti squash pasta
Spaghetti squash “pasta” tossed with olive oil makes a blank slate that you can dress up with any leftover cooked meat and vegetables You can find the recipe for cooking the squash here if you’re not already familiar with this delicious substitute for unhealthy wheat noodles. Sure, it’s easy to add any vegetables you like to a basic marinara sauce, but there’s no need to stop there. Some recipes that lend themselves perfectly to tossing with pasta include:
- Spiced duck breast: this recipe has both meat and vegetables, so if you save a little of each, you’ll have a colorful and rich-flavored “pasta” recipe the next day for lunch.
- Mussels in white wine sauce: pasta with seafood is a classic; make it even better by saving a little of the sauce to drizzle over the finished product (if you’re out of sauce, you can just use butter).
- Roasted bell peppers with any meat you have handy: spaghetti squash can be a little bland on its own, but these peppers give it a very pleasant tang.
- Ratatouille: give your “pasta” side some color with this vibrant and full-bodied stew tossed in.
Chili is essentially a thicker, heartier version of soup; it’s usually made with beans but doesn’t have to be. The main difference between chili and soup is all in the spices – the heart of any chili is the deep heat of peppers permeating the meat. Any kind of leftover beef is perfect for making a hearty Paleo chili – just add some tomatoes or cans of tomato paste, peppers, onions, and seasonings, and heat it all up. Some chili recipes also call for turkey or chicken, if that’s what you have.
Of course, you can get more complicated than that if you like, and don’t be afraid to throw in whatever other vegetables you have to hand. Some adventurous cooks play around with ingredients as far out as pumpkin, shrimp, goat cheese, and eggplant in their chili, so do a quick search for whatever your ingredient is and you might be pleasantly surprised to find a recipe already waiting for you.
Loaded Baked Potatoes
Despite the entire article dedicated to explaining why white potatoes are nothing to fear, they’re still a controversial food, so if you’d rather use sweet potatoes for this recipe, they’ll do just as well. But there’s absolutely no reason to shun either type of potato from your diet, and they make a perfect vehicle for dressing up leftovers with this quick tip.
Making loaded baked potatoes is simple – just bake the potatoes, then scoop out the flesh, mix it with whatever fillings you’re using, and pop the potatoes back into the oven until everything is warm. Some ideas to get you started:
- Any meat seasoned with BBQ sauce would make for delicious Southwest-style sweet potatoes. Add Jalapeno peppers if you like it spicy.
- Another Thanksgiving leftover trick is turkey and cranberry sauce inside a baked potato.
- For a Polish twist, stuff your potatoes with bigos, and top them with more sauerkraut when you’re done.
- Vegetable-stuffed potatoes or sweet potatoes without any meat at all make an interesting side dish for your next main meal.
- Greek baked potatoes with tuna (or lamb) and olives would probably work best with white potatoes.
Got just a few bites of vegetables hanging around in the door of your fridge? Blend them up, and toss them into a batch of meatballs for a little extra nutrition. A few extra vitamins never hurt anyone’s meal, and like meatloaf, this is a fantastic vehicle for hiding vegetables in case you need to.
If you like, you can also add the extra ingredient to change the flavor of the meatballs on purpose. Try adding leftover mayonnaise to turkey meatballs for a fantastic creamy flavor, or make beef or pork even richer with extra tomato sauce. Or use spicy chili or curry sauce to dress up the meatballs with some extra flavor.
Not all of us have a need for appetizers on a regular basis, but if you do, try transforming your leftovers into a quick and simple first course. The point of an appetizer is to look pretty and taste good, but not be filling, so you don’t need a lot of food. Some suggestions:
- Spinach leaf mini-wraps with one slice of red pepper and one thin sliver of leftover steak inside each.
- Your favorite Paleo-friendly crackers (or thinly-sliced cucumbers), topped with homemade mayo and a bite of leftover salmon or tuna.
- Toothpick “skewers” with a cube of leftover chicken sandwiched between two olives.
Dressed eggs, or deviled eggs, are as simple or as complicated as you want them to be. Since you only need a little of each ingredient, they’re perfect for that last little bit of food that won’t even make one serving. These BLT dressed eggs are one idea, but why stop there? What about using salad shrimp? Or spicy Cajun dressed eggs? Thai dressed eggs with coconut milk and leftover curry sauce? The possibilities are endless, and the results make for easy and popular snacks and appetizers anytime.
Cottage pie began as a way to use leftover meat, so using it this way is really just a return to tradition. This recipe gives you instructions for a cottage pie with lamb and sweet potatoes, but you can plug pretty much anything into the basic template of meat and spices covered with a crispy crust. You don’t even have to use potatoes – a puree of cauliflower, turnips, or another root vegetable would also be delicious. Some ideas to get the creative gears turning:
- Got extra eggplant cannelloni? Try an Italian-style filling, maybe with a cauliflower crust.
- Any kind of basic chicken and vegetable recipe (like this braised chicken with fennel) provides a perfect filling.
- A pork roast is also easy to work in, and delicious with just about any crust you care to spread over it.
While re-creating your old favorite foods with Paleo ingredients isn’t always the best strategy for long-term success, sometimes a pizza is just what you want for dinner, and the toppings provide endless opportunities to make use of the odds and ends hanging around the fridge. This recipe gives you the crust; after that, it’s up to you to add any toppings that sound good to you. Look past the pepperoni and try something new – maybe a Greek-themed pizza with lamb and olives, or a BBQ pizza with leftover ribs and fried onions.
If you have any relatively plain meat, you can make a quick curry by sautéing some vegetables, adding coconut milk and spices, and heating it all up, and then tossing in the leftover meat at the end. This won’t work with any kind of meat, but if the seasoning already there doesn’t clash with curry powder, this simple trick can give last a pork shoulder or a chuck roast some new life.
For a double whammy, serve the curry over a “bed” of other vegetable leftovers (broccoli or cauliflower would be perfect for this). The spicy sauce will make the vegetables more interesting and help cover up any dry texture that may have developed from sitting in the fridge.
As you can see, there are almost infinite ways to use those leftovers, including any extra sauce you poured over the main event. So instead of just throwing them away or pouring them down the sink, see how you can use the extras to add something special to another meal further down the line. It doesn’t just save money and help keep your fridge cleaner; it might also help you discover a new favorite recipe that you never would have considered!