5 Great-Tasting, Healthy Recipes for Leftovers

Save money and eat like royalty with tasty transformations like Spicy Chicken Stew, Spinach and Spaghetti Frittata, and Lemon-Scented Bread Pudding.

July 13, 2010

Turn leftover potatoes and veggies into potato pancakes.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—One of the easiest ways to save on food costs is to simply reduce the amount of food you throw out. (Incredibly, the average American family tosses out 122 pounds of food per month. In fact, if we consider our food's entire supply chain, we waste as much as 40 percent of our food.) But thanks to our tips for storing and reheating, along with some clever and tasty recipes for leftovers from the Rodale Recipe Finder, you can drastically decrease the food you waste by creatively “repurposing” your leftovers.

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Leftover Lessons

Leftover meats—be it pork, chicken, or beef—can become a flavorful base for soup or stews. Cooked fish can be easily turned into fish cakes, and all these protein sources can be added to tacos and burritos. Leftover vegetables and cooked pasta pair perfectly with eggs to become frittatas, and vegetables and rice make for ridiculously easy fried rice and stir-fries. Always throwing out stale bread? No need to anymore. Its texture is perfect for bread puddings and soups such as Italian ribolitta, which was traditionally made by reheating leftover soup and adding stale bread to make it more filling (the name means “reboiled” in Italian).

Storage strategies are key as well. To make it more likely you’ll use your leftovers, not toss them, store them in clear glass containers so you remember what you have (Yes, the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon applies in your refrigerator, too.); clear plastic containers are made with polycarbonate plastics, which contain hormone-disrupting bisphenol a. And to ensure that your leftovers stay edible for as long as possible, check your fridge’s temperature. According to federal government recommendations, it should be between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Store hot leftovers in small, shallow containers, if possible, as this helps the food cool down more quickly. And don't stack too many containers on top of each other because a tightly packed fridge doesn't cool as efficiently. Refrigerated food needs circulating cool air to keep it at a temperature that inhibits the growth of bacteria. Finally, if you know you won't be eating your leftovers in the next three days or so, pop them in the freezer instead.

The best method for reheating leftover meat for sandwiches, burritos, or tacos depends on how you first cooked the meat. If you roasted, pan-seared, or cooked it on the grill, place it under your broiler for a minute on each side. The close, intense heat will crisp up the meat’s crust while keeping it moist inside. If you braised, boiled, or steamed it, reheat it in the microwave for a minute or two, covering it with a moist paper towel to help keep it from drying out.

What's left? Following are some great recipes for leftovers that make use of all kinds of leftovers, courtesy of the Rodale Recipe Finder.

#1: Spicy Chicken Stew. It’s easy to add leftover meat to savory stews, create fish cakes using any leftover cooked fish, or make versatile tacos with either beef, pork, chicken, or fish.

#2: Potato Pancakes over Baby Greens. Don’t throw away cooked vegetables you don’t finish! Potato pancakes are the perfect solution for uneaten mashed potatoes, and almost any leftover vegetables will work in this Mixed Vegetable Casserole.

#3: Spinach and Spaghetti Frittata. It’s easy to cook too much spaghetti. Next time you do it, use the leftover in this yummy frittata, or combine it with a leftover sauce in this Layered Spaghetti Pie.

#4: Easy Stir-Fry with Rice. Cooked rice is key when making quick stir-fries, and it’s the foundation of fried rice as well. This Pork Fried Rice and Vegetables dish will also take care of leftover pork and vegetables.

#5: Lemon-Scented Bread Pudding. Crusty stale bread is the base ingredient for bread puddings, and it’s essential in Tuscan Ribolitta (Bread and Tomato Soup).

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