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March 20, 2018

Repurposing Leftovers

Written by: Erin Burke MS, RD, LDN

Leftovers… you either love ’em or hate ’em! Either way, no one likes wasting food. Put those leftovers to use and save money while keeping your nutrition goals in mind.

Fried Rice

Re-heat leftover brown rice or another whole grain in a frying pan with chopped vegetables. Once heated through, crack 1-2 eggs into pan and break up until well combined. Sprinkle with reduced-sodium soy sauce.


Toss leftover shredded chicken, burgers, or fish (Whatever protein you have on hand) onto a bed of fresh greens. Pair with some whole-grain crackers and a piece of fruit.


Microwave leftover pasta with a handful of raw spinach or frozen vegetables. The water content from the pasta and sauce will help steam the veggies in the dish. Start with 2 minutes and heat as needed. Need an easy sauce idea? Use a can of Italian seasoned diced tomatoes to add flavor without added sugar. If you are watching sodium, use a can of no-salt-added diced tomatoes and add your own Italian seasonings.


Tacos: Fill corn tortillas with leftover beans or shredded chicken, pork, or fish. Make use of your supermarket’s salad bar to grab some diced veggies, cabbage, greens, or cheese for toppings.

Quesadilla: Fill whole-grain tortillas with the ingredients above, and fold into a quesadilla. Spray each side with non-stick cooking spray and heat in a frying pan.

Burrito: Use a whole-wheat tortilla or FlatOut wrap to make your own burrito.

Enchiladas: Wrap ingredients into a 6″ whole-grain tortilla, top with enchilada sauce and cheese, and bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes.


Use a pre-made crust (such as Mama Mary’s or Boboli) or grab a ball of whole-wheat dough from your grocer’s prepared-foods department. Top this with diced tomatoes or pizza sauce and sprinkle with leftover chicken, beef, or pork and various veggies and cheese. Consider making your pizza on whole-wheat English muffins or a FlatOut wrap for personal pizzas.

Who says pizza has to be tomato and cheese? Think outside the box of standard pizza toppings! Try the following combinations, or use whatever leftovers you have:

  • Barbecue sauce with leftover roasted Brussels sprouts and shredded chicken.
  • Reduced-fat cream cheese with fresh garlic, spinach, and part-skim mozzarella cheese.
  • Buffalo sauce (i.e Frank’s) with shredded chicken, diced celery and carrots, reduced-fat cheddar cheese, and a sprinkle of ranch dressing mix.
  • Your favorite stir-fry sauce with shrimp or chicken, scallions, and broccoli.

(Open-Face) Sandwich/Wraps

Spread a thin layer of low-fat cream cheese, goat cheese, or other spreadable cheese and fill with leftover roasted/grilled vegetables and leftover chicken, ground beef, or beans. If you don’t have leftover meat, try placing a fried egg on top.


Toss leftover rice and chicken with some frozen stir-fry vegetables in a frying pan and season with soy sauce or your favorite stir-fry sauce.


Combine light coconut milk in a sauce pan with curry powder, cayenne pepper, and leftover meat or tofu and add a handful of frozen vegetables.


Heat reduced-sodium broth of choice with leftover noodles, rice, vegetables, and/or meat/tofu.


Toss nearly out-dated greens such as spinach or kale into a frying pan and turn them into an omelet or frittata for a savory breakfast or quick weeknight dinner. Need a quick lunch idea? Place them in a Tupperware container to re-heat the following day.

Baked Potato Buffet Bar

Make a buffet out of leftovers from the last several nights. Bake a potato for everyone in the family, and allow each member to load up their potato with leftovers of their choice.

Leftover Herbs, Fruits, and Vegetables

Herb Ice Cubes

No need for leftover herbs anytime soon? Chop them up and freeze them in water or olive oil in an ice cube tray. Then, just pop 1-2 of them into a frying pan or stockpot when needed. They will defrost and infuse directly into the dish.


Blend leftover herbs with olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic/onions and drizzle on pasta, salads, or grain bowls.


Blend garlic with leftover basil, olive oil, finely chopped nuts, and cheese. Nutrition tip: Cut down on the oil added by trying this with avocado!

Infused Oil

Make an onion, garlic, or herb-infused oil. Simply sauté said ingredients in the oil, remove the solid components, and keep oil in an air-tight container in the fridge. Nutrition tip: This is low-FODMAP friendly!


Blend over-ripe fruit that you don’t expect to finish into a smoothie. If you don’t expect to drink the smoothie right away, slice fruit up and freeze in freezer bags, and then blend into a smoothie at a later time.

Jams/ Jellies

Toss 1 cup fruit (berries work well) with 1 teaspoon corn starch. Microwave for 3 minutes and then allow to thicken in the refrigerator. Eat this with whole-wheat crackers and some cheese for a fun appetizer.


Chop up leftover fruit, such as apples, pears, or mangoes, and create a fruit salsa. Use this to top meat, fish or whole-wheat crackers.

Chopped Vegetables

Freeze various chopped vegetables in a freezer bag for future use. For example, onions, carrots, and celery can be a base for almost any type of soup. This makes cooking easier when vegetables are prepped and cut!

Miscellaneous Foods

  • Pulse leftover bread into homemade breadcrumbs, or toast to make your own croutons.
  • Puree beans into any style of hummus or add pureed beans to sauces for an extra boost of protein and fiber.
  • Peel and slice over-ripe bananas and freeze – these can be blended into smoothies or baked into banana bread.
  • Freeze leftover stock or broth in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, transfer to an air-tight container or freezer bag.

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