What To Do With Leftover Food: 12 Quick and Easy Ideas

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Does your family complain about leftover nights? Or maybe they don’t mind leftovers, but they get tired of eating the same meal two nights during the week.

There are many easy ways to reuse leftover food so that you don’t have to eat the same thing twice. And using up your leftovers reduces food waste. In addition, incorporating leftovers into your meal plan means one less meal to buy, which will save you money. Read on for tips for reusing your leftover food.

What To Do With Leftover Food: Food Safety

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Some people are scared to eat leftover food for fear of getting sick. However, if handled properly, leftover food is safe to eat. Let’s cover the basics of proper handling of leftover food.

In order to keep you and your family safe from foodborne illness, a few methods of handling leftover food need to be followed.

According to this article from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service on the safe handling of food, these are some guidelines to follow to decrease the risk of getting sick from bacteria growth in food:

  • Cook food to proper temperatures
  • Keep food out of the “danger zone” where bacteria grows (between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Wrap leftovers well
  • Refrigerate food promptly
  • Use food within 3-4 days
  • If you aren’t using it within 3-4 days, freeze it immediately

As long as you are careful with how you are handling your leftover foods, they are perfectly safe to eat. Incorporating leftovers into your meal planning can really help to make dinner time easier, help you to spend less time in the kitchen, and help you to save money.

Meal Planning With Leftover Food

Meal planning is one of the best ways to save money on food. Planning your menu will help you avoid stopping at the grocery store after work to pick up ingredients for your dinner, which can help prevent impulse buys and overspending. In addition, integrating meals that repurpose leftovers into your meal plan will help you save even more money because you’ll end up buying fewer ingredients.

If you need help with meal planning, you can download my free Meal Planning Guide. This includes a sample monthly meal plan, monthly and weekly meal planner printables, tips to help you succeed with meal planning, and more. I’ll send it directly to your inbox, and you’ll also receive some other helpful surprises.

Here’s a preview of what it includes:

Meal Planning Guide

Download your free Meal Planning Guide here.

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Keep reading to learn what to do with your leftovers!

Easy Ways to Reuse Leftover Food to Save Money

Quick and Easy ways to reuse leftover food

1. Turn the Leftovers Into a Casserole

Do you typically have a decent amount of leftover food after each meal but not enough to feed your family twice? Turning those leftovers into a casserole is a fantastic way to use them.

For example, leftover chili can be turned into chili tater-tot casserole, leftover chicken can be turned into cheesy chicken and rice casserole, and leftover ham into ham and potato casserole. You get the idea. Pair any protein or meat with a cheap food to turn it into a simple, inexpensive, and hearty weeknight meal.

If you usually don’t have much leftover food, plan to make a little extra one night to turn into a quick casserole for a busy night.

Don’t forget about including leftover side dishes in your casseroles also. Vegetables can easily be thrown into a casserole to make it healthier, mashed potatoes can be used for Shepherd’s pie, and cooked pasta can be used in many different ways.

2. Eat Leftover Food as a Side Dish

Eating leftovers as a side dish is a great way to use up foods that can’t be used easily in another dish. For example, soup is a dish that can’t be changed into something else. However, you could serve it as the main course with a side salad or garlic bread on the first night. Then on another night, plan to have a simple sandwich, such as a BLT or grilled cheese, and enjoy the soup on the side.

Have leftover casserole but not enough to feed your family a meal? Try the casserole as an accompaniment to something else.

Quick and Easy Ways to Reuse Leftover Food

3. Use Leftover Food in Sandwiches or Wraps

Turning leftover chicken into chicken salad, ham into ham salad, or even just using leftover chicken breast to make a chicken breast sandwich with lettuce, tomato, bacon, etc, is easy and quick.

Turn leftover pork, steak, or fish (be careful if you are reheating so it doesn’t dry out) into a wrap, and add your choice of fixings.

4. Top a Salad with the Leftovers

Chicken, pork, steak, shrimp, and fish would all be deliciously served on a bed of lettuce and vegetables.

5. Turn Leftovers into Tacos, Fajitas, or Quesadillas

Take any leftover protein and turn it into a Mexican-inspired dish. Quesadillas are especially easy to prepare for busy weeknights and are perfect for when you don’t have a lot of leftover meat or veggies. Adding cheese will bulk up the meal and make it more filling.

Serve your tacos or fajitas with a side of black beans or Spanish rice for a super frugal meal.

Quick and Easy Ways to Reuse Leftover Food

6. Use Leftovers in Soup

Adding your leftovers to a homemade soup is an easy and delicious way to repurpose them. Leftover chicken can become chicken noodle soup, leftover turkey can become turkey rice soup, and leftover ham can become ham and bean soup. You could also add your leftover vegetables to any soup you want to make.

7. Have a Clean Out the Fridge Night

This may not be creating a different meal out of your leftovers, but if you accumulate a lot of leftover food but not enough of one thing to use in a specific meal for the whole family, have a “clean out the fridge” night. Everyone can pick which leftovers they want for dinner from the fridge or freezer, and you won’t have any food waste.

8. Take the Leftovers to Work for Lunch

Leftovers make packing lunch for the next day incredibly easy. You won’t have to think about lunch ideas for the week when you plan on taking leftover food. Pack your leftover food into a reusable container immediately after dinner and place it in the fridge for a grab-and-go lunch.

Quick and Easy Ways to Reuse Leftover Food

9. Use Leftovers in a Bowl Meal

Bowl-style meals allow you to experiment with different flavors and textures. An easy way to make a bowl meal is to use a type of grain, such as rice or quinoa, on the bottom and then top the grain with anything and everything. Leftover proteins, vegetables, and legumes are the perfect toppings to create a delicious and frugal meal.

10. Throw Leftovers in an Omelet or Egg Scramble

Just have a small amount of leftovers? Use them the next morning in your omelet or scramble some eggs, throw in your leftovers, and melt some cheese on top.

11. Use Leftovers in Fried Rice

This is a great way to reuse leftover food. Using your leftovers to make fried rice is easy and tasty. Throw some egg rolls in the oven, and you have an easy Asian-inspired meal!

Quick and Easy Ways to Reuse Leftover Food

12. Use Leftover Food as Pizza Toppings

This is another easy way to use leftovers when you don’t have enough for a second meal. Just about anything tastes great on top of homemade pizza.


Learning how to reuse leftover food is a simple but effective way to save money on your budget while cutting back on food waste. It’s also a huge help when it comes to monthly or weekly meal planning because you can easily plan a simple meal using leftovers for your busy nights. Try one of these tips in your next meal plan to save time and money.

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