Better Leftovers

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about keeping your leftovers safe. One of the suggestions was to use them up by inventing new ways to reuse or recycle the food. This can help you avoid eating the same thing day after day and still not waste the food.

I know this is easier said than done.

With a little bit of thought and some preparation, leftovers can become planned-overs. The idea here is to think about the leftover food as an ingredient, not the same food the second time around. Of course, it takes a little time to plan, but in-the-long-run cooking this way will save you more time than the planning takes. Planning will also help with writing grocery lists to make sure you have the right ingredients on hand for the planned (and planned-over) meals.

A friend of mine always joked about a resort where he vacationed. He said the soup-of-the-day was always Cream of Yesterday’s Vegetable Soup. You don’t have to be so obvious, but you get the idea.

Here are some ideas for some planned over ideas for a roast (or even a
rotisserie) chicken:

  • Chop or shred to make chicken quesadillas or enchiladas.
  •  Slice on top of a green salad
  • Add grapes, celery, nuts, and low-fat mayo or Greek yogurt to make a
    chicken salad.
  • Cook the bones to make soup or stock (you could add any leftover vegetables for this, too).

I also talked about freezing the leftovers. Don’t just do this as an afterthought. Plan for it—especially if you’re a small family. You’ve probably heard the saying, cook once and eat twice… how about eating three times? If the recipe makes eight servings and you’re only feeding two or four people, prepare the full recipe and freeze half of it for another week when things are busy. That double or triple batch of chili could be three meals: dinner with cornbread, leftovers for lunch, and chili dogs on the weekend.

Another option is to take one recipe and just “tweak” it a little and have two dinners. Here’s an example shared by N.C. Cooperative Extension in Randolph County website. The recipe takes one sauce and, with just a few additional ingredients, makes two different meals. These recipes have been adapted from the Kraft/Heinz Kitchens. The portions are great for a family of two.

Planned-Over Sauce
1-pound lean ground beef
2 cups chopped onions
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups (14.5 oz can) Italian-style stewed tomatoes, undrained
¼ cup tomato paste
¼ cup zesty Italian salad dressing

Directions to make the sauce:
Brown meat with onions and garlic in a non-stick pan. Drain excess fat, if necessary. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, and dressing. Bring to a boil and cook on medium-low heat for approximately five minutes or until heated through, stirring occasionally. Remove one-half the meat sauce (about 2 cups), place in a shallow container and refrigerate.

Recipe #1 Spaghetti Bolognese (Makes 2 servings)

spaghetti with cheese in bowlAdditional ingredients:
¼ cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1/4 pound spaghetti, uncooked (makes 2 cups cooked)

Cook pasta as directed on the package. Drain pasta; place in a large bowl. Add the remaining meat sauce (about 2 cups); mix lightly. Sprinkle with cheese.

Recipe #2: Zesty Beef Chili

Additional ingredients:
1 (15-oz) can kidney beans (drained & rinsed)
½ cup salsa (you pick the heat—or what’s leftover in your fridge)
1 Tablespoon chili powder
¼ cup Mexican-style shredded cheese

Spoon refrigerated meat sauce (about 2 cups) into a large saucepan; stir in kidney beans, salsa, and chili powder. Cook and stir until heated through. Dish into bowls and top evenly with shredded cheese. Makes 2 two-cup servings.

Tips on these recipes:

  • Instead of commercial salad dressing, make your vinaigrette and
    spice with oregano and basil. You can control the fat, sugar, and
    sodium. I used a homemade balsamic vinaigrette when I tested this
    recipe and it added a sweetness to the sauce.
  • To increase fiber, use whole wheat pasta.
  • For more veggies add sliced mushrooms to the Bolognese Spaghetti sauce.
  • Salsa has quite a lot of sodium (about 900 mg per half-cup). To reduce this, instead of salsa in the chili recipe, add your own spices and perhaps some chopped green or jalapeno peppers.
  • Put the chili on top of a baked potato for another meal. Top with
    grated cheese.
  • If you use a small can (6-ounces) of tomato paste, you end up with
    about ½ the can leftover (which I didn’t want) so I added it all to the
    Planned-Over sauce. This sauce was very thick so I thinned it a little
    with some of the pasta water when making the Bolognese Spaghetti. The chili could be thinned to your liking with water.

I hope this has given you some ideas on how to take those boring leftovers
and turn them into something fantastic. Using up those leftovers in a new
way can not only save you time, but you’ll also save money by wasting less food.

Cheryle Syracuse wrote this article and more similar ones for the Family and Consumer Sciences Column in the Brunswick Beacon. Syracuse is an FCS team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, 910.253.2610 or by email at