Give Leftovers a Makeover Back »

Getting quick, nutritious meals on the table can be challenging for busy families. To make the most of your food preparation time, consider incorporating leftovers as planned-overs. “Planned-over” means planning ahead to buy or prepare amounts of food that give you servings for more than one meal, and then planning ways to use the leftovers.

Planning for Leftovers

Using larger recipes with enough servings for multiple meals is another strategy for meal planning. Simply put extra servings in freezer containers and label, date and freeze for quick meals later. This can save you time preparing another meal for future use and reduce the number of ingredients you need to buy.

Food Safety Considerations

If you use leftovers, be sure to follow safe food handling practices. Refer to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Refrigeration & Food Safety Fact Sheet which includes a chart for storage times for refrigerated foods. These guidelines also apply to the food that you bring home from a restaurant.

Tips & Techniques

Saving leftovers is something that many families do as part of their weekly menu planning. The following strategies can be used to give new life to leftover foods.

  • Use extra veggies in omelets, sandwiches, or stews.
  • Freeze leftover soups, sauces, or gravies in small reusable containers. 
  • Puree extra cooked vegetables in a blender or food processor and heat with pasta sauce.
  • Place extra chopped onions in a freezer bag; lay flat to freeze.
  • Cut bell peppers into slices and freeze on a baking sheet for a few hours. Transfer to a freezer bag.
  • Use leftover meat to make barbecued meat dishes, tacos or chili.
  • Use leftover rice to make rice bowls or stir-fried rice.
  • Make French toast, bread pudding, bread crumbs and croutons using older bread.
  • Heat leftover pasta in a pan prepared with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs for a little pizazz.
  • Use small amounts of extra fruits, vegetables, cooked eggs, or nuts to make a chopped salad.
  • Makeover leftover pasta by adding foods such as bite-size chunks of cheese, chopped fresh vegetables and boiled egg wedges. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.
  • Create a fruit salad using extra fruits and low-fat vanilla yogurt.
  • Use leftover chicken or beef in fajitas, tacos, soups, or salads.

Additional Information

The possibilities for using leftovers are endless. Check out Sample 2-Week Menus from Choose MyPlate. Some lunches use leftovers from recipes prepared for dinner the night before.


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