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There’s nothing worse than planning your dinner only to find that the leftover lettuce has gone rotten or you forgot to pick up chicken and have to get takeout instead. It’s a common problem for busy people, but it doesn’t have to be.

In fact, making smart use of leftovers can limit your time spent in the kitchen, help you save money, and keep you on track with your healthy eating goals.

Plus, it’s a great way to reduce food waste and be more environmentally friendly. And who wants to spend hours at the grocery store anyway? Not us!

4 ways to take advantage of your leftovers

Rather than giving you specific recipes (hello, turkey-done-17-ways-after-Christmas) for leftover ingredients, we’ve put together four practical tips for using up leftovers in delicious and creative ways. If you combine using up your leftovers with smart meal planning, you’ll always have food ready to stave off those takeout urges. The Whisk app is a great free tool which allows you to meal plan with any recipes you want, as well as share it with friends and family. Plus, there’s lots of recipe inspiration for your leftover ingredients!

man against yellow background holding blue pot

Plan ahead and store leftovers properly

One of the keys to using up leftovers is to properly store them in the first place. No more leaving the cooked chicken out overnight, letting your cut onions be forgotten about in the back of the fridge, or finding shriveled and dry pasta because it was uncovered. Make sure to use airtight containers, and consider separating large amounts of food into smaller portions to make it easier to use later on.

For example, if you have a large batch of soup, you can freeze it in individual servings so you can thaw out just what you need later on.

It’s also helpful to plan ahead and think about how you can incorporate leftovers into your meals for the week. If you roast a chicken, you can use the leftover meat for sandwiches, salads, and soups throughout the week. By planning ahead and being proactive about using up leftovers, you’ll be less likely to let them go to waste.

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Get creative with repurposing leftovers

One of the most fun and satisfying ways to use up leftovers is to get creative and think outside the box. It’s always easy to shred protein into soups, salads, or sandwiches but you don’t have to limit yourself to that. With only a couple of added extra steps, you can transform leftovers into a totally different meal.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Turn leftover roast beef into a delicious French dip sandwich.
  • Transform leftover mashed potatoes into potato cakes or croquettes.
  • Combine leftover veggies into a frittata or omelette.
  • Leftover ham or meat can be made into a pie or quiche.
  • Extra rice? Fry it up with veggies for homemade egg fried rice.
  • Turn unused pasta sauce into a delicious soup (or vice versa).
  • Add new spices or tinned goods to turn ground beef bolognese into cottage pie, chili con carne, or burritos.
  • Use leftover pasta to make a tasty pasta salad.

The possibilities are endless, so don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works for you. You might be surprised at how tasty your leftovers can be with a little bit of creativity.

Embrace the art of the pantry meal

Another great way to use up leftovers is to embrace the art of the pantry meal. This means using what you have on hand to create a tasty and satisfying meal, rather than going out and buying more ingredients.

For example, if you have a can of black beans, some leftover rice, and a few veggies in the fridge, you can easily make a delicious black bean and rice bowl. Or, if you have some canned tomatoes, pasta, and ground beef, you can make a quick and easy pasta sauce. By being resourceful and using what you already have on hand, you can save both time and money.

blonde woman peering into fridge and taking out plate of leftovers

Don’t be afraid to freeze leftovers

If you’re really struggling to use up your leftovers, don’t be afraid to freeze them for later. This is a great way to extend the shelf life of your food and ensure that nothing goes to waste.

Just make sure to label and date your containers, and try to use up the frozen leftovers within a few months to ensure the best quality. Freezing is also a great way to have quick and easy meals on hand for those busy weeknights when you don’t have time to cook from scratch.

So next time you find yourself with a bunch of leftover food, don’t worry. Just pop it in the freezer and save it for another day!

We’ve added some of our favorite leftover recipes using common ingredients to this collection. Why not have a browse, see if anything catches your eye, and plan to make a little bit extra next dinner time?