9 Ways to Upcycle Boring Leftovers

If you’re like me, there’s a set of staple foods that you tend to eat over and over. But even our favorite dishes get boring. Rather than eating the same thing over again, re-think leftovers. Upcycling dinner can save time and money while reducing food waste. Here are 9 ways to transform your dishes.

This Food Finances Friday Feature was inspired by our good friend Jan. She has been trying to simplify her life and reduce food waste, but her family refuses to eat the same thing the next day! With these tips, your family won’t even realize they are eating leftovers.

When we are cooking with real food (vegetables, meats, beans, grains), there are so many possibilities of how to prepare it.

Photo by Natural Chef Carolyn Nicholas on Unsplash

If you think ahead, then you can set aside some food during the cooking process. For example, if you are making chicken and rice soup and will have more than you need, you can set aside some chicken before marinating it so that the ingredients can be repurposed to make curried rice and chicken.

9 Ways to Transform

For each meal you make, think which parts can be transformed into:

  1. Southwestern dishes (taco, burrito, quesadillas, nachos)
  2. Potato dish (baked or fried)
  3. Rice dish (rice bowl, fried rice, curried rice, or stir-fry)
  4. Egg dish (omelet or frittata)
  5. Soup
  6. Pizza
  7. Sandwich or Wrap
  8. Salad
  9. Pasta dish (in the sauce, on spaghetti, or in a lasagna)


If you are having roasted portabella mushroom sandwiches for dinner, any extra mushrooms can be used on a pizza or in an omelet. Mushrooms are also great in either marinara sauce or in any pasta dish.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Don’t want to eat chicken and potatoes again the next night? Use the chicken for salad, sandwich, wrap, pizza topping, or taco. Even a small amount of chicken can be perfect in a soup or chopped up for a fried rice or curried rice dish

Spinach and tomatoes are two of my favorite ingredient combos, but eating them regularly can get boring. In addition to adding them with humus to wraps, I can use extras to make tortellini soup, an omelet, on a pizza, or to make Caprese salad or a sandwich.

Photo by Piotr Miazga on Unsplash


Leftover roasted vegetables and/or chicken can be added to ramen noodles (so you feel a little better about eating them by pretending they are healthy) or as a topping on spaghetti. They can also be pureed and added to your pasta sauce to sneak a little more veggies into the little ones’ diet. Roasted root vegetables make an excellent base for a savory frittata. More great uses for vegetable leftovers are pot pie, pizza, vegetable lasagna, veggie curry, and of course stir-fry.

Leftover cooked vegetables can be added to a chili or soup dish. Simply puree or leave whole and it will add a great depth of flavor to any bowl. Remember to keep the raw vegetable scraps to make free soup stock.

Beans and rice is another combo that can be prepared so many ways. In addition to making great tacos, burritos, or nachos, they can be added as a topping to baked potato, rice bowl, or (my favorite) tortilla soup.

Even chili can be transformed. My husband is famous for his chili and tries to make it every chance he gets. In addition to eating a big bowl soup-style, chili can also be a topping on a baked potato (or better yet, make chili fries) or eggs. You can even go southwestern and try chili-topped nachos.

Benefits of Upcycling Leftovers

Not only does re-using leftovers reduce food waste and helps put off another trip to the grocery store, you can have a little fun with it too.

Just imagine you are on an episode of Chopped and get the whole family in the kitchen for a friendly little competition to see who comes up with the best dish. You may even find a new dish your little one loves. I have found kids are more likely to try new things when they are involved in the process of thinking up and preparing new foods.

Final Thoughts

Compared to making a new meal from scratch, transforming last night’s dinner can save time in the kitchen, money, and stress. Not to mention reducing food waste. Hopefully with these tricks, your kids (and spouse) won’t even know they’re eating leftovers.


How do you repurpose leftovers?

Related Posts:

Don’t Throw That Out, I’ll Eat It

How to Save Time in the Kitchen

How to Start Decluttering: Pantry Clutter

How to Spend $100 Per Person Per Month on Food


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