Using Leftovers

Everyone has leftovers to use up every once in a while. Finding a way to make use of leftovers in other meals is a great way to prevent food waste. This is a guide about using leftovers.

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I've made reference in other posts to the fact that, when I was a child, we were quite poor. We didn't have a car. Few families in my neighborhood, did. I think we were the last to get a television.

We had two sources of heat. One was Mama's Red Mountain cook stove in the kitchen. The other was a tiny, poorly designed fireplace in the 'living room'. More heat went up the chimney than into the room. You might ask, why the single quotes encasing 'living room'. Well, our home was a tiny three room house. There were beds in every room. Our 'living room' had two full size beds in it.

As it neared bedtime, both fires were allowed to burn out. We couldn't afford to heat the house through the night and, of course, there would be no one up to tend a fire. In mid winter, if it was zero degrees outside, it was zero degrees in the bedrooms.

I slept under many heavy, homemade quilts. I woke up tired from being under all that weight all night. But, children are resilient. In a flash, I would grab my overalls and run to the kitchen in my long johns (you know, the ones with the trap door in the back).

Mama would have a roaring fire going in the cook stove. I would hold my overalls close to the stove to get them above freezing before putting them on. The same with coats. Taken from a freezing bedroom, you always held your coat near a fire before putting it on.

I will be honest with you. I was envious of other children who had more. Sometimes, I managed to put together enough pennies to make a dime. That dime would get me into the 'theater' on a Saturday morning. I would watch movies starring Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and other heroes of the day. Comedy was my favorite genre, though. Judy Canova could make me do a belly laugh right there in the theater, something an inhibited child such as myself just didn't normally do.

There was no ride to town. Bus fare was ten cents, each way. Twenty cents, I didn't have. I walked the four miles, there and back. Once inside the theater, the scent of hot buttered pop corn was almost overwhelming. It sure made my mouth water. No popcorn for me, though. That was another dime I didn't have.

It's hard for children to count their blessings when it seems that most all those around you are blessed with more than you. But, in retrospect, I now know I was more fortunate than many. I always had enough clothes to wear. I never went hungry. I had a Mother's love.

I remember some of my friends came from broken homes. Some did not have proper clothing to walk three miles to school in 20 degree weather. At age eight and nine, many had decayed front teeth. I think what I remember most about these children was how pale and thin they were, a sure sign their diet was inadequate. I even remember seeing a few children with bowed legs due to rickets, a result of vitamin D deficiency. So, while I was born to a poor family, I was more fortunate than many around me.

There were beans and potatoes on our table every day, yet we were a healthy lot. I guess that was because Mama supplemented those 'beans and taters' with lots of greens and such. And milk. Mama bought two gallons of milk a week from a farmer who delivered it to our home for the price of 50¢ a gallon.

The beans I ate for supper may well have been leftovers from 'dinner' (lunch). And you know what? They tasted just as good at the evening meal. I was a growing child with a big appetite. Of course they were good. I 'put away' so much food, some of the older folks would ask me if my legs were hollow.

Sometimes, leftovers were made into an entirely different dish. Mama used leftover black eyed peas to make little fried cakes. They were called 'pea sausage'. I think that was because they were flavored with sage. They were different and quite good.

We never had store bought desserts. Cakes were usually reserved for holidays. Between special occasions we had homemade pies and cobblers. Mama could turn leftover biscuits into a delicious bread pudding. Warm and fresh from the oven bread pudding, washed down with a tall glass of cold milk straight from the country. My, my, my.

Many years later, with Mama and Daddy gone, I still lived at home. Not the original home place. Somewhere along the way, we managed to get another house with a couple more rooms. I remember a married sister coming to spend a Sunday afternoon with me. We had a nice visit. It was one of those rare days when everything seems to go 'just right'. After visiting for a while, we both were hungry. Neither wanted to go out for burgers and neither wanted to cook a meal.

I went to the kitchen and looked around. Leftovers. I found a little of this, a little of that and a little of the other. I could heat these up and make a salad. I did, and I made a pan of biscuits. Those biscuits and those leftovers turned into a meal. A good, satisfying meal. My sister is gone now, but I'll never forget her saying "I believe that's the best meal I've had in a long time".

Even more years later, a customer offered me some cake. She had baked a nine inch, four layer, sour cream, fresh coconut cake.

Jackie: 'Doug, we will never eat all that cake. I want to bring you half of it'

Doug: 'Thanks Jackie, but I can't eat half a cake before it goes bad'.

Jackie: 'You can slice the cake and wrap each piece and freeze them. Just thaw a piece when you want some'.

Doug: 'Freezing will ruin the cake. It won't be any good'.

Jackie: 'No, you're wrong. It will taste even better than fresh'.

Doug: 'We'll see'.

Well, people, every time I thawed and ate a piece of that cake, it was better than the last. I couldn't believe it. Jackie, bless her heart, was right.

I still use leftover stewed potatoes to make potato cakes. Creamed or mashed won't do because there should be many small 'hunks' of potato in the cakes. Sometimes I crank 'em up with chopped onions or shredded cheese. Humble fare, yes. But I prefer them over Chateaubriand.

A lot of people will throw away perfectly good food rather than eat leftovers. They do it as a matter of principle."I don't eat leftovers". Well, I don't have a lot of time or respect for those people. With so many hungry people on this ship, wasting food is one of the greatest sins against mankind.

These wasteful people don't know what they're missing, anyway. I used to make an apple cake with pecan and cream cheese icing. It was always better the next day. Most of us are in agreement that potato salad is better the next day. So are pinto beans.The best onions for your hot dog? Don't use white. Don't use red/purple. Both are too strong. Use yellow skin, sweet onions. Chop them finely. And most important of all, chop them yesterday. The flavor will have mellowed, and you can pile all you want on that dog. That's right, yesterday's onions make the best hot dog.

Yes, as a child I was poor, but never went hungry. Except for the occasional meat or dessert we had, I could eat as much as I liked, and I did. There was just one rule. You were never to put more on your plate than you would eat. There was no scraping the plates before washing. There was nothing to scrape. Each of us had broken off a piece of biscuit at the beginning of the meal and placed it near the edge of our plate. That piece of biscuit was the last thing we ate, after we used it to sop up every last morsel of food on the plate.

Where am I going with all this? Well, I'm hoping what I've written will give pause for thought to those who are a little too quick to throw away perfectly good food just because they wouldn't want it two times in a row. They might discover that many foods actually taste better the second time around.

I won't burden you with all the current statics on world hunger. One person going hungry is too many. Multiply that by 805 million to get an idea of how grave the situation is. Now, take that figure and put it in the back of your mind. Let it sit there, quietly. It will know what to do and when to do it.

Please, enjoy your food, all of it.

Eat Leftovers And Be Grateful
    CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

    Why the silly name? I put this together with leftovers and pantry items for dinner. My 6 year old who loves cooking and recipes asked me if I followed a new recipe or I made this one up. When I told her it was my own, she quickly responded;"Congratulations, it's very good!" I just thought that was too cute.:)

    That being said, it passed the test with 4 kids. Not a single complaint, I have to admit it is really good, comfort food. The best part about it, I used leftover ground beef and potatoes that would have been tossed otherwise.

    I find it very helpful personally to keep some basic pantry staples on hand for those times when you want to whip up something quick.

    Congratulations Casserole

    Approximate Time: About 10 minutes

    Yield: Around 8-10


    • 3 1/3 cup Ground Beef
    • 1 envelope Taco or Burrito Seasoning
    • 3 15 oz. cans Drained Mixed Vegetables
    • 3 10.5 oz cans Cream of Mushroom Soup
    • 3 1/2 cup Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
    • 4 1/4 cup Mashed Potatoes
    • Dash of Basil

    My ground beef was originally prepared with an envelope of taco seasoning added. I would suggest adding this to yours as it gives it great flavor!

    I imagine this would also turn out quite tasty with leftover chicken if that is what you happen to have. Just use up those leftovers, it's like getting a free meal! :)

    *You could easily half this recipe for a smaller casserole*


    1. In a large mixing bowl, combine ground beef, taco or burrito seasoning, mixed vegetables and mushroom soups.
    2. Spread into a 13 by 9 inch casserole dish.
    3. Sprinkle with cheese.
    4. Spread potatoes over all, sprinkle with dried basil. It tastes good and makes it look nicer.
    5. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 35 minutes.
    6. Remove from oven and enjoy!
    7. Congratulations Casserole
    CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

    Need a fun way to get your family to eat leftovers? We have a "Leftover Cafe" night once a week. We decorate the table with fake flowers and candles, and play some music in the background.

    Taking turns each week, one of my daughters sorts through the fridge for leftovers from recent meals. Another makes a menu listing each food available. My little one just draws pictures, while my older daughter writes descriptions similar to what you might find on a fancy restaurant menu.

    One is the waitress, taking everyone's orders on a pad of paper and bringing them to the table with a French accent. I am, of course, the cook and am in charge of reheating everything. The kids think it's a blast, and actually eat more leftovers this way. Plus, it's great family time.

    Who knew eating leftovers could be so fun?

    By volvomom from San Diego, CA

    CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

    This is one of those meals that keeps on giving and changing into something new. It's the way I have been using roast beef. We love a good roast!

    1. The first night, cook it as a pot roast, using plenty of water and some onions, potatoes, celery and carrots. Season well. I like Cajun seasoning, but salt and pepper are great.
    2. The second night, slice it thin and serve it next to mashed potatoes and green beans.
    3. The third day, have it for lunch. Make a sandwich with good whole wheat bread, guacamole and thin slices of beef. Have an apple on the side.
    4. The fourth day, you should be able to pull it apart after all that heating and chilling. Shred and put into warm tortillas. Add cheese, salsa and whatever you like for tacos. Or, saute some onions and peppers and wrap them with the meat in the tortilla and serve as a fajita. Sour cream is nice, but so is plain yogurt, so use what you have on hand.
    5. This night, there are only scraps left, but still plenty of broth in the pan. Thicken the broth with a mixture of flour and water, then add a little milk if you want. Taste it for seasoning. Stir in the little bits of roast beef, scraping up the browned pieces on the bottom of the pan, and serve over a slice of bread or a biscuit alongside potatoes (which enjoy a bit of gravy on their own) and maybe some corn with butter and salt. Sometimes I mix in a tad of sugar if the corn isn't very sweet on its own.

    That is how two people made five meals out of one roast this week, and didn't get tired of it even once.

    By Coreen from Rupert, ID

    CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

    Living frugal? Try making two meals for the price of one. I make the commonly known American Chop Suey. We have that for two nights, it's always best the second night. Then we still have leftovers.

    Approximate Time: Very little, 20 minutes ??

    Yield: 6-8-10


    • 1 small onion, chopped
    • 1 stalk celery, chopped
    • 1 small green pepper, chopped,
    • 1 diced tomatoes
    • 1 dark red kidney beans.
    • 2 beef or vegetable broth
    • 2 water
    • can Seasonings: a little black pepper, season salt, garlic, basil


    1. I take the leftovers, put them in a soup pot and add the rest of the ingredients. Cook all this together and let simmer until the onions, celery and green pepper are tender.
    2. Wha-La- Enjoy! You can top each bowl of soup with any shredded cheese!

    Source: My own streching the dollar!


    CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

    Tips from our readers for organizing leftovers and ways to use them. It is possible to use every bit of leftovers in a different way so there is no waste.

    Organizing and Using Leftovers

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    Save containers from: Chinese Won-Ton Soup, frozen dinners, cold cut meats, to go meals, whipped topping tubs, dollar store plastic ware, etc. Perfect for packing leftover dinner for lunches the next day.

    I work at a facility for mentally challenged persons. This is a very rewarding job. I love it! I love to share! Whatever I cook for my own dinner at night, I pack at least 4-5 extra small lunches for those who don't bring their lunch. The appreciation in their face is all the thank you I need. I love to cook, and come from a large family. I don't know how to cook for one. This gives my cooking a true reason and reward now!

      CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

      I had leftover noodles from last weeks mac 'n cheese, and sauce and cheese from homemade pizzas sitting around needing to get used up, so I came up with this tasty dinner.


      Approximate Time: 30 Minutes

      Yield: 8 servings


      • 8 cups cooked pasta
      • 1 jar spaghetti sauce
      • 1 cup onion
      • 1 lb Italian turkey sausage
      • 6 cups fresh spinach
      • 2 cups mozzarella cheese
      • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese


      1. Brown turkey sausage and onion.
      2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
      3. Mix pasta, sausage, onion, spinach, sauce, and mozzarella cheese. Top with Parmesan cheese.
      4. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until top starts to brown.
      CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

      When we have salad night, we put out leftovers like corn, carrots, chickpeas, cold meats such as roast beef or chicken. We put them all in separate bowls and put out the salad lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, pickles, and onions, whatever you like in a salad.

      CommentWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes

      I like to make up a boxed mix like Rice-a-Roni, then with leftovers I can always add more veggies, next time to what's left. I can also add the appropriate liquid, like tomato juice, milk, or mushroom soup to make soup.

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      When cooking a meal, look for ways that you can extend or incorporate that meal into other meals. For example, I boil my pork ribs before baking them with barbecue sauce.

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      Have a "clean out the fridge/freezer" meal. Go through your cupboards and fridge and combine foods. I use old Salsa on noodles with left over cheese. This cleans out your supplies and rotates your cupboards.

      CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

      While growing up, I watched my mother as she always made food for all of us. Somehow she always had enough even if extended family or friends showed up.

      CommentWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes

      When out running errands, it is so easy to think about going thru the drive thru at my favorite restaurant, on the way home or halfway through my errand trip. If I've finished my errands and am going home, I try to remember what's in my fridge as leftovers.

      CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

      I already had leftover pot roast to which I added cooked carrots and heated all in thinned leftover gravy. To this mixture, I added the cut up leftover french fries. Voila! The fries were just like regular potato pieces in the stew.

      CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

      How many times have you opened the refrigerator and stared at an assortment of leftover items that needed to be used before they spoiled? I have a tight grocery budget and don't want to waste any of the items I purchase.

      CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

      Here are some strategies for leftovers: For pasta leftovers, like spaghetti, beat with eggs and cheese for Shipwreck. It doesn't take much pasta to make a meal of this.

      CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

      Last night for dinner, we all used leftovers with a baked potato as the starter. I had several leftovers in the refrigerator. You can come up with you own leftover toppings. We will continue to do the same at our house. I covered my baked potato with leftover broccoli and cheese.

      CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

      I had a lot of small containers of leftovers after Thanksgiving; and wanted to heat everything at once with not enough pans to do the job.

      CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

      My children have always enjoyed snacks and would gladly eat them for a meal if I would allow it. Occasionally I do indulge them in a snack lunch or dinner and they think they are really getting a big treat!

      CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

      I had a friend who used to call her meal leftovers "Encores". She said the word "leftovers" sounded bad and would make others dread having it for the next meal...

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      Make a big batch of stew, enough for leftovers. For a quick and easy meal pick one of the following and serve the leftover stew on top of cooked rice, noodles, or mashed potatoes. Super good and filling.

      CommentWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes

      Use leftover white gravy in dishes that call for white sauce. Extra benefit, if your gravy is the seasoned type, your white sauce will already be seasoned.

      CommentWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes

      When ever we have pizza, we get it with onions, green peppers, olives, pepperoni, sausage, ham, cheese, and tomatoes on it. We save the leftovers to use the next morning in omelets.

      CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

      Plan weekly menus with two large cuts of meat to roast and then plan leftover dinners with the leftover meat. Also, use leftovers for sandwich meat for lunches. - Joan

      CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes

      After raising my four children, I am now "down" to one (and one who keeps coming back!) My daughter and I don't eat meat, so it's always a challenge to come up with good, fast, healthy, and yummy meals. I made this concoction last night, and it's a hit! I call it Junk Pie

      CommentMoreRead More...Was this helpful?Helpful? Yes
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      Food and Recipes Food Tips LeftoversOctober 27, 2011
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