65 Healthy Meals You Can Make From Leftovers
I have a problem, and it’s about time I admitted it: I am a big-time food-waster. Each Sunday I go shopping with the honest intention of using every ounce of soymilk and every last spoonful of avocado I load into my cart. And every Saturday I throw away something like a few cups of rice, a half-carton of spoiled yogurt, and sometimes even (gasp!) a whole rotten avocado.
But this World Environment Day (coming up on June 5), I’m taking matters into my own hands. The Day’s theme is “Think.Eat.Save,” also the title of the U.N. initiative to reduce global food waste. In the U.S. alone, we waste about 40 percent of our food, amounting to about $165 billion per year.
So to do my part and to help readers do theirs, I’ve rounded up a bunch of ways to cut down on the amount of food that ends up in the trashcan. What follows is a list of 65 creative ideas for meals to make out of leftovers, from French onion soup to banana ice cream. Some of the ideas are made from entire leftover meals (think half a pizza pie); others make use of ingredients that tend to spoil quickly (like, ugh, brown bananas).
So read on, and don’t forget to share your favorite meals to make from leftovers in the comments. With any luck, it’s possible we’ll never have to take out the trash again.
1. Curried Noodle Patties
From one of our favorite veggie bloggers comes this recipe for a slightly spicy snack. No one will guess that these little patties used to be last night’s soggy spaghetti. Plus they feature tofu for some extra low-cal protein.
2. Spaghetti Frittata
Spaghetti for breakfast? Impossible! For this meal (which works for lunch or dinner, too), you can use plain pasta just as easily as pasta smothered with sauce. Pump up the meal’s protein value with eggs, milk, and some veggies for good measure. Fry in a pan and voila! Frittata.
3. Crisp-Fried Pasta with Egg, Goat Cheese, and Tomatoes
The name of this dish alone is enough to make our mouths water. Instead of letting leftover plain pasta go limp in the refrigerator, crisp up those carbs and turn them into a gourmet, balanced meal. All it takes is a single skillet!
4. Pizza di Spaghetti
Is it pizza? Is it spaghetti? It’s both! There’s no delivery required for this pie that totally transforms regular ’ol pasta (plain or with sauce). Plus this pie packs more protein than the traditional kind, with eggs, milk, and cheese.
5. Pasta Stir Fry
Stir fries may look fancy with all those colorful veggies, but they’re surprisingly easy to whip up with whatever ingredients you have hangin’ out in the fridge. Just throw together some leftover plain, cooked pasta (hopefully whole-wheat!), veggies (broccoli and mushroom work well), a protein source such as meat or tofu, and your sauce of choice.
Personally, I can never finish a whole loaf of bread before it goes stale. Solve this problem by freezing half the loaf immediately and turning it into breadcrumbs later. All it takes is an oven and a cheese grater or a food processor. Season any way you like (but go easy on the salt to keep it low-sodium!). Then put those breadcrumbs to good use when baking or pan-frying; or use them in meatloaf, homemade chicken nuggets, or homemade fish sticks.
7. French Onion Soup
Adieu, wasted bread! This recipe actually calls for the stale stuff, either a baguette or another crusty variety. Each bowl uses two slices of bread, one on the top and one on the bottom. The whole dish is actually pretty nutritious, since it packs cheesy calcium and a whole lot ’o flavonoids from those onions .)
No one wants to eat day-old French bread… unless it’s on top of a salad! Season the cubes with butter (or olive oil), salt, and whichever herbs provide your favorite health benefits. (We’re thinking oregano, a great source of omega-3 fatty acids.)
9. Savory Bread Pudding
Leftover white bread makes an appearance in this delectable dish, which also features shiitake mushrooms, known for lowering cholesterol, boosting heart health, and even aiding in weight loss .
10. Panzanella Salad
French bread or boule left over from a cocktail party? No problema! This Italian dish combines bread cubes with lots and lots of colorful veggies for a salad that’s more filling than your typical bed of greens.
11. Mac ’n Cheese
Hold the Wacky and the Easy; this recipe’s all about the homemade stuff. Feel free to mix and match with different varieties of cheese here — the recipe just calls for four cups of leftovers. And don’t hesitate to throw in some leftover veggies either — spinach and tomato are our personal favorites. When the meal’s just about ready, sprinkle with those breadcrumbs you made from leftover bread (see above).
Fondue doesn’t exactly have a reputation as the healthiest appetizer. But this easy recipe cuts down some of the calories while retaining the flavor. Shred leftover cheese and combine with the rest of the ingredients; then use whole-wheat pretzels or bread or veggie sticks for dipping.
13. Brie Bruschetta
No one will know these melt-y bits of toasts are actually the leftover scraps of Brie and Camembert from last night’s cocktail party. Just grill some bread and top with cheese, tomato, ham, and cream (skip the cream to cut some calories) for a protein- and calcium-packed little treat.
14. Fromage Fort
Instead of ordering takeout the night after a big cocktail party, try blending all the leftover cheeses together with garlic, wine, and herbs. (The dish’s name is French for “strong cheese.”) It’s a protein- and calcium-packed meal that works for an appetizer or an entrée.
15. Tomato and Avocado Grilled Cheese
This one is kind of a “duh” suggestion, but it’s still one of our favorites. Assemble sharp cheddar cheese, tomato, and avocado on whole-wheat bread and grill — simple as that. The resulting sandwich is so gooey and tasty, you’ll forget it’s got a whole lot o’ protein and fiber inside.
One pizza party too many? Chop up the leftover slices and combine with eggs for an added dose of protein. That fancy frittata will have nothing in common with the greasy stuff chilling in the cardboard box.
Instead of trashing all the leftover slices, salvage the good stuff and use the toppings in a breakfast omelet. It’s a power combination of egg-y protein and fiber (assuming those toppings include some veggies and the crust is whole-wheat).
18. Leftover Pizza Croutons
So croutons made out of leftover bread makes sense. But leftover pizza — say what? Turns out all we have to do is slice crust-less cheese pizza into little bite-sized squares and heat them up. It’s a great way to pump up the protein value of tomato soup (featured in this recipe) or any other vegetable soup variety.
19. Leftover Pizza Quiche
Let’s face it: Not too many people would be impressed if we served them a store-bought pizza pie. But homemade quiche? Now that’s a different story! To transform those leftover slices into a gasp-worthy meal, chop up the pizza and combine with spinach, eggs, and ground meat; then pour it all into a pie crust (consider using whole-wheat). Protein, calcium, and iron? Check, check, and check!
20. Leftover Pizza Breakfast Casserole
Pizza in the morning, pizza in the evening… Those Bagel Bites guys knew what was what. Salvage last night’s leftover slices by chopping them up and turning them into a breakfast casserole fit for a king. Milk, eggs, and a drop more cheese make this recipe the perfect hearty weekend brunch.
21. Healthier Rice Pudding
This super-simple recipe uses up all that rice (brown or white) left over from last night’s dinner. We call it a “healthier” dessert because it cuts back on sweetener with just a tablespoon of honey, agave, or maple syrup.
22. Veggie Fried Rice
Give that leftover brown rice some personality without having to spend hours in the kitchen. Eggs and beans provide a powerful vegetarian protein punch; veggies provide fiber (and flavor!).
Otherwise known as risotto balls, Arancini call for Arborio, or short-grain, rice. This recipe is slightly more complicated than some of the others on this list, but still totally doable. Finish off by rolling these butter- and Parmesan-filled babies in the breadcrumbs you made from leftover bread (see the “bread” section of this list).
24. Leftover Rice Balls (Bolinho de Arroz)
Yes, this dish is fried, but the good news is we can adjust the recipe to use as little (or as much) oil as we want. Combine leftover rice (white or brown) with all the ingredients to form the balls; then fry them and sprinkle (lightly) with salt. Then serve plain or with spicy ketchup! (If you’re not into frying of any sort, you could try baking ’em instead.)
25. Easy Chicken and Rice Soup
Going once, going twice… This recipe, which uses up leftover long-grain white rice, is perfect for a cold or rainy night. (It’s also a great way to use up leftover chicken.)
26. Brown-Rice Veggie Burgers
Frozen veggie burgers may seem like the obvious choice for non-meat-eaters on burger night, but this dangerfood can be filled with sodium and even some toxins. Here’s an idea for a healthier homemade patty that also uses up all that leftover brown rice. (Rice is the stuff that makes the veggies in most veggie burgers stick together.) Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend; then form into patties and grill.
27. Enriched Cream of Wheat with Egg and Vanilla
Scrambled eggs and omelets aren’t the only way to eat eggs in the morning. Add some protein to that breakfast bowl by combining egg whites with milk (consider using low-fat), sugar, vanilla, and cream of wheat. As tasty as it sounds, it’s also a great source of protein and calcium.
28. Egg Drop Soup
For me at least, soup recipes conjure up images of slaving over the stove for hours. But this dish is actually pretty simple to prepare: Just add veggies, eggs, and egg whites to broth and heat for a minute. Then slurp up all that protein and enjoy.
29. Berry Pavlova
This meringue dessert is all about using up those egg whites leftover from recipes that call only for the yolks. Top with lots and lots o’berries for extra heart-healthy benefits .
30. Artichoke Bottoms with Egg Yolk and Goat Cheese
Who knew we could impress guests with leftovers? Each artichoke bottom holds one egg yolk and a little bit of goat cheese. Serve this protein- and calcium-packed dish over salad as an appetizer or light lunch.
31. Basic Custard Ice Cream Base
I scream, you scream, we all scream for egg yolks! This recipe does require an ice cream maker, but the satisfaction of creating a healthier homemade ice cream (without all the sugar and preservatives in some of the store-bought stuff) is totally worth it.
32. Chicken Soup
If last night’s chicken dinner didn’t have healthy healing powers, tonight’s just might. Vegetables star in this Greatist-approved, slurp-worthy recipe that can supposedly cure the common cold.
33. Chicken Club Salad
Put leftover plain chicken breasts to good use by cutting them up and using them to top a salad. The protein-fiber combination is the perfect option for a savory, satisfying lunch.
34. Mediterranean Chicken Wrap
No need to shell out big bucks at the local tortilla shop; just recycle last night’s chicken cutlets in your own, healthier creation. Grab a whole-wheat tortilla and use it to wrap plain sliced chicken and your choice of grilled veggies.
35. Chicken Taco Bowls
Call up the muffin man, but hold the pastries. Use the tins to make mini tortilla bowls; then fill with sliced leftover plain chicken and veggies. It’s a great alternative to the restaurant variety, since we can throw on as many veggies as we want.
36. Pineapple Chicken Stir Fry
If the Mayo Clinic gave this recipe the thumbs-up, it gets our vote. Slice up a plain chicken breast and add it to rice, veggies, and piña. Sweet and simple!
37. Turkey and Corn Enchiladas
Post-Thanksgiving or anytime of year, we’re always looking for a good way to use up leftover turkey. So here’s a recipe for a protein-packed roll-up: Shred the turkey and roll it in whole-wheat tortillas; add corn, cheese, and sauce; and bake.
38. Leftover Turkey Pot Pie
When it’s time for a solo weeknight dinner, whip up one of these babies instead of ordering takeout (again).
40. Steak Tortillas
Personally, I always prepare dinner as though someone else might be arriving any minute. So if you grilled one too many pieces of meat, slice up the leftover one and use it in a tortilla. The recipe calls for lettuce and tomato, but feel free to top with other veggies for added health benefits!
41. Shepherd’s Pie
This recipe is pretty flexible, and depends a lot on what kinds of leftovers we have lying around the kitchen. Here’s the basic idea: Trim the fat and chop up the steak; then combine with the potatoes and other vegetables. A sprinkling of cheese on top gives it a nice warm, yellow-y glow. It’s a great way to get all your nutrients (namely protein and calcium) in one big bite.
42. Steak Fried Rice
Fried rice strikes again! This time it features chopped-up leftover steak, sliced into thin strips. To pump up the health factor, use a minimum amount of oil to fry and add even more veggies than the recipe calls for.
43. Sliced Steak Sandwich
It’s last night’s dinner disguised as today’s lunch. Slice up leftover steak into thin strips; then slide some bread underneath and some onions on top. (Consider eating the bread plain, without the melted butter, to cut some calories.)
44. Pork Taquitos
These tiny tacos are so cute that we almost don’t want to eat them. Just shred leftover pork and use it to fill warm corn tortillas. The recipe goes perfectly with guacamole made from our favorite superfood and a dollop of sour cream.
45. Pork Chop Spaghetti
How do we convince kids to eat their meat and veggies, and not just dine on Spaghetti-Os every night? Chop up those leftover pork chops and mix them in with pasta and sauce for a heartier take on spaghetti ’n meatballs. It’s easy and affordable to prepare — and even easier to eat!
46. Leftover Pork Taco Nachos
These nachos have got it all: protein-packed pork and beans, cheesy calcium, and crunchy chips on the bottom. Serve ’em up at a party or on game-day, or pack them as a snack the night after a too-big dinner. Don’t forget to take a picture of how pretty they look!
47. Leftover Pork, Apple, and Cheese Quesadilla
Honestly, we never would have thought of putting apples in a quesadilla, but this recipe made us think twice. The whole shebang is actually pretty low in calories (especially if we add cheese in moderation) and even more nutritious if we use high-fiber tortillas.
48. Baked Banana Bread Doughnuts [Photo by Kelli Dunn]
Take those mushy bananas (yuck) and turn them into a delicious delicacy. But don’t be fooled — this isn’t your mama’s doughnut. We’re talking whole-wheat flour, Greek yogurt, and other wholesome ingredients that taste just as good as the Dunkin’ variety.
49. Banana Bites
This super-simple recipe is perfect for kids (or, um, adult kids). Before bananas get all brown, stick a few in the freezer. Then slice them up, dip them in chocolate, and roll them in toppings of your choice (we’re thinking walnuts).
50. Banana Ice Cream
Let’s talk about perfection. This one-ingredient summer dessert recipe requires a freezer, a blender, and a mouth. Plus every spoonful packs a powerful potassium punch. Yum.
51. Banana Smoothie
Here at Greatist, we’re super-fans of smoothies. They’re great on-the-go breakfasts, post-workout snacks, and healthy desserts. For this recipe, combine frozen bananas with skim milk, peanut butter, vanilla, and (optional) chocolate chips to make a protein-, calcium- and potassium-packed treat.
52. Oatmeal Banana Bread
This is the kind of breakfast we would wake up early to eat. Overripe bananas star in this recipe that also features cranberries and a dash of pumpkin spice. Ready to bake in just 20 minutes, it’s a healthier, homemade version of the slice that sits on the bakery counter for hours.
53. Eggs with Tortilla Chips, Salsa, and Cheese
Get out some aggression by crushing up a half-empty bag of tortilla chips until they’re all crumbly. Fold chips and salsa into scrambled eggs and cheese for a new spin on a breakfast staple.
54. Pinto Beans with Tortilla-Cheese Crust
Pinto beans are the big white ones thought to help prevent heart disease . Here they star alongside cheese, crushed-up leftover chips, and veggies such as onions and peppers.
55. Chicken Tortilla Soup
Whoever said soup wasn’t compatible with chips ’n dip was obviously crazy. This recipe blends the best of both worlds: crunchy chips and hearty black beans combined with chicken broth. Slurp it, munch it, or spoon it up — just be sure to savor and enjoy!
56. Baked Tortilla Breaded Fish
No one will ever know that this beautifully breaded fish was made partly from the crumbs at the bottom of the chip bag. Crush up the already-crushed chip particles and follow this recipe for a dinner-party-worthy main dish.
57. Vegetable Soup
Especially if you cook for one, it’s hard to eat a whole head of broccoli or cauliflower before it spoils. Instead of wasting all those nutrients, turn them into a heart- and belly-warming bowlful of goodness. Veggie soup not filling enough? Beef up the broth with some leftover ground turkey, rice, or pasta.
58. Vegetable Smoothie
Save a few bucks with the green juice trend and make your own with broccoli leaves, celery, ginger, apple and parsley. It’s a great way to use up the parts of broccoli you wouldn’t normally eat, and parsley left over from another recipe. The greener, the healthier!
59. Pickled Vegetables
When faced with a plateful of veggies left over from a party, there’s only one thing left to do: Pickle. It may sound intimidating, but the steps (chopping, boiling, jarring, flavoring, etc) are actually pretty simple. It’s a good technique to make veggies last (a long, long time) instead of just tossing them right away.
60. Stacked Roasted Vegetable Enchiladas
Gone are the days of tasteless potluck contributions; instead, we’re talking photos that will make your mouth water. This nutritional powerhouse looks like a creative version of lasagna, using tortillas instead of noodles. It’s actually pretty easy to throw together, and so filling that one slice can make a meal.
61. Fish Tacos
No need to head to a seaside restaurant to get your fill of fish: Just use whatever leftover cooked flaky fish you have lying around and assemble tortillas with your favorite combination of veggies. It’s a better option than dining out, anyway, since we can ditch the fried stuff and add however many veggies we desire.
62. Spinach and Shrimp Salad with Chili Dressing
Now that we’ve taken care of all that leftover cheese (see the “cheese” section), we’re ready to tackle the shrimp left over from last night’s festivities. This one’s easy: Just toss veggies, then add shrimp and dressing. It’s a great low-cal lunch or dinner option.
63. Salmon Chowder
You don’t need to be from Boston to enjoy a nice bowl of chowda’ every once in a while. This low-cal dish is filled with protein, omega-3s, and fiber. Just mash up some leftover cooked salmon, add your favorite veggies, and bam: a nutritious, filling appetizer or snack.
64. Thai Fish Cakes
Here’s another, more exotic use for that leftover cooked flaky fish. These little cakes are an awesome low-calorie, protein-packed appetizer or snack. Top with homemade tartar sauce and enjoy!
65. Fish Pasta
So long, tuna casserole; This fish pasta is oh so much classier. Cut up leftover white fish and sautee (note: you can use leftover raw fish and cook it, or sautée leftover cooked fish and just sautée until warmed through). Next, add to (leftover) whole-wheat pasta. It’s the ideal combination of protein and fiber that will leave us full for hours.
What are your go-to leftover recipes? Share ’em in the comments below or tweet the author at @ShanaDLebowitz.
- Flavonoids in food and their health benefits. Yao, L.H., Jiang, Y.M., Shi, J., et al. South China Institute of Botany, The Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou ReJiYou, The People's Republic of China. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 2004 Summer;59(3):113-22.⤴
- Dietary Shitake Mushroom (Lentinus Edodes) Prevents Fat Deposition and Lowers Triglyceride in Rats Fed a High-Fat Diet. Handayani, D., Chen, J., Meyer, B.J., et al. Metabolic Research Centre, School of Health Sciences and Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute, University of Wollongong, Wonllongong, Australia. Journal of Obesity 2011;2011:258051.⤴
- Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health. Basu, A., Rhone, M., and Lyons, T.J. Department of Nutritional Sciences, 301 Human Environmental Sciences, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA. Nutrition Reviews 2010 March;68(3):168-177.⤴
- Pinto bean consumption reduces biomarkers for heart disease risk. Winham, D.M., Hutchins, A.M., Johnston, C.S. Department of Nutrition, Arizona State University Polytechnic, Mesa, Arizona. Journal of the Amerian College of Nutrition 2007 June;26(3):243-9.⤴
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