5 Strategies to Use Up Leftovers So They're Not Boring

You’ll be disappointed if everyone cleans their plates from here on in.

Chicken Salad With Apples and Cranberries recipe, chicken salad on bread

The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

Too many people turn up their noses at the mere mention of leftovers, which is A: ridiculous, and B: 100% a branding issue. Even the word “leftovers” implies they are sad, unloved specimens that only exist in our fridges because we didn’t have the heart to throw them away. We picked around them when they sat on our tables, culling the cream of the crop for our feast, then cast off the unwanted bits as if they meant nothing to us.

But imagine if we started calling leftovers “bonus food”? My, how that would change everything! We’d get excited about our bonus food like it was a special surprise—a delectable gift that our past selves made for our future selves, knowing that there would come a time where we were harried and hungry, and would need a little home-cooked somethin’ somethin’ to make our hearts sing. 

Leftovers do not deserve to be disparaged; they do not need to be a consolation prize, or something we “have” to eat because we’re too lazy to cook from scratch. To get you on your journey from scorn to adoration, check out these 5 strategies to look at—and use up—leftovers in ways that may be even more delicious than the original meal. 

  • 01 of 05

    Embrace Eating Them Cold

    Egg salad in a bowl with a fork

    celery, mayonnaise, red onion, mustard, salt, and pepper

    If you’ve never enjoyed leftovers straight from the fridge because you were too lazy to heat them up, you’re lying. In fact, there’s an excellent chance you ate them straight from the container while the fridge door was still open. Eating cold leftovers first thing in the morning is one of life’s small joys, not only because the change in temperature turns them into something exciting and new, but also because it’s fun to be greedy and messy while no one else is watching.

  • 02 of 05

    Remix Them Into Something New

    Kimchi Bokumbap: Kimchi Fried Rice with a fried egg on top

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

    Think about your leftovers as if they’re ingredients, not as completed meals. Use your imagination to turn last night’s dinner into something that tastes exciting and new! Turn leftover pasta into an “al forno” pasta dish by tossing with eggs and cheese and baking in a casserole dish. Turn leftover grains into stir fries and hashes; turn vegetables into whole new meals; make meat into melts with crusty bread and melted cheese. Once you discover all the ways you can repurpose leftovers, you’ll be sad when everyone cleans their plates at dinner!

  • 03 of 05

    Use Them to Jazz Up Prepared Foods

    Prosciutto Pizza cut into slices.

    The Spruce/Cara Cormack

    Canned, boxed, and frozen foods are fantastic time savers in the kitchen, and by mixing them with leftovers, you can make them taste homemade. Try stirring chopped or shredded meat into canned soups, or using yesterday’s dinner to turn frozen pizza into a gourmet creation.

  • 04 of 05

    Turn Them Into Lunch

    Turkey reuben sandwich recipe

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

    When dinner is that darn good, you’ll look forward to getting to enjoy it for lunch the next day and make your morning prep a whole lot easier. Make things more interesting by turning your leftovers into a unique, ultra-luxe sandwich, or toss with greens to make a loaded salad that rivals any pricey chain.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Go Full Buffet

    Grilled Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad in a bowl

    The Spruce / Ali Redmond

    Pretend you’re having a party, and use a few days’ worth of leftovers to turn your weeknight dinner table into a festive buffet. Leftovers seem more exciting when you apply a keen eye to presentation, so after reheating, move your food to your favorite serving dishes to create the set a luxurious tone.