Growing up, eating leftovers was never an option. It was a given. Leftovers were snacks. Leftovers were thrown in a big dish and became the most delicious casserole. As I got older, I learned some people just toss leftovers. If people knew how to reuse leftover food maybe so much wouldn’t be thrown away.
Now if you are like me and you have a small family (one toddler, here) you may plan on leftovers.
I purposely make more than we’ll eat of a recipe so that I can serve it again in a week. This drastically cuts down on kitchen time because I’m making two suppers with the same amount of dirty dishes and time. This is a great strategy for making supper when you work late.
Most recipes are easily reheated and some even taste better the second time! Take lasagne, for instance. The night I make it, it tastes good. But after it’s reheated and the flavors have had time to marinate and blend, it tastes amazing.
If you don’t want the same meal too soon, just throw the leftovers in the freezer and they make a quick meal many weeks later.
Don’t worry! There’s a free cheat sheet available at the bottom of this post to help you hack your way through leftovers.
Storing Leftover Food
I love my glass food storage containers. They are easy to stack in the fridge and the clear sides make it easy to see what’s in the fridge at a glance.
You can store leftovers two ways: in a bunch of individual, small containers or dumped all in one.
The types of food determine how I store mine. I don’t hesitate to combine noodles and sauces, gravy and potatoes and meats together.
If you pack lunches, store the leftovers in individual servings and throw them in the fridge or freezer. This way when it comes time to pack, you just have to grab a container. The portioning has already been done.
For smaller odds and ends leftovers, just throw them all in one container in the freezer. You can keep adding to it and then when you get enough just pull it out and make soup or casserole.
Reheating Leftover Food
Like I mentioned earlier, I love my glass food storage containers!
When my leftovers get out of control I take all the containers out of the fridge and put them on a baking sheet. I take the lids off and throw the whole baking sheet in the oven for a half hour or so and call it supper.
Even though I have a microwave, I don’t use it a ton. But if I do reheat my leftovers in the microwave, I only reheat in glass. No plastic in the microwave.
With a glass storage container, I just pull it out of the fridge, throw it into the microwave and eat it out of the same container. No extra dishes!
For reheating leftovers on my stove, cast iron is where it’s at. Butter and/or water, low heat, leftovers and a lid.
Don’t forget to print off your free cheat sheet on How to Reuse Leftover Food!
How to Reuse Leftover Food
1. As Lunch
In our house, it’s just my son and I home most of the day. If I’m hungry I usually eat leftovers. My son’s lunch is leftovers.
2. Make a Soup
3. Make a Casserole
Combine the leftovers as they are in a buttered baking dish. Top with a layer of cheese or bread crumbs and bake.
My sister-in-law dumps leftovers in a baking dish and mixes up a box of Jiffy cornbread to top it with.
4. Buffet Supper
As I mentioned above, just pull out all the containers of leftovers and reheat them. Kids will think this is fun because they get snippets of all kinds of different foods.
You can add the uniqueness of the supper by adding in some sliced cheese, pickles, olives or other snacks foods you don’t normally serve for a meal.
5. As a Snack
If your children get hungry between meals and ask for a snack, offer them leftovers. Make it a rule that if there are leftovers in the fridge, that’s what snacks are.
Read More: How My Mom Raised Healthy Eaters
6. Add a Cream Soup
In my free resource library I have a recipe book “Accent Your Meal” with a recipe for cream soup. Just mix up a batch and stir it into your leftover hodge-podge and bake for 30 minutes at 375.
Or keep some cans of cream soup on hand that aren’t full of a bunch of questionable ingredients.
Cream soups make everything better!
7. Fry It
Heat a cast iron skillet, add copious amounts of butter and bacon grease and dump in the leftovers. Reheating leftovers by pan frying adds a little different texture and changes the flavor, too.
One thing my mom would do with leftover mashed potatoes is add an egg or two and fry them like pancakes for breakfast the next morning. We would eat them with syrup and butter.
Read More: Building a Stash of Quality Cookware
8. Shepherd’s Pie or Pot Pie
Reuse leftover food by dumping it in a greased baking dish with some broth and covering it with mashed potatoes or a pie crust.
9. On a Sandwich
Everything is cooler on a sandwich! Let your kids have fun and be creative with leftovers. Sure, you have meatloaf sandwiches, but how about a spaghetti sandwich? Or a macaroni and cheese sandwich? A green bean casserole sandwich?
Read More: How to Make Homemade White Bread
Even if your family has already turned up their noses to leftovers, it’s not too late. You can’t control what your family eats but you can control what you serve them.
By slowly introducing leftovers into your meal plans and serving them for snacks your family will adjust to this new way of eating.
Sure, your kids might refuse to eat a meal or two, but they won’t go hungry for long. Eventually they will eat what you make them if you stick by your guns.
Make your leftovers fun and creative. Or keep it simple. Either way, you can see how easy it is to reuse leftover food.