5 Creative Ways to Turn Leftovers Into Healthy Meals

How to use the random mix of food that winds up in your refrigerator? Here are 5 ways to turn leftovers into healthy meals.

Sometimes I wind up with a medley of disconnected feeling leftovers in my fridge and I ask myself- “what can I do with these?” I’ve come up with a few meals that I know I can make quickly and easily with practically any type of food that I have leftover, whether they came from a restaurant or were leftover from a meal that I prepared myself.

This helps me to avoid ordering takeout and throwing out perfectly good healthy food. More money in my wallet and more progress when it comes to eating well- win, win!

With the addition of some high flavor staples that I always keep at home, here are 5 types of meals that I frequently make using whatever leftovers I find myself with:

#1 A Big Salad

fresh caesar salad on bowl with parmesan cheese

Turn your leftovers into healthy salad meals. If you get into the habit of keeping some staples in your kitchen that don’t go bad quickly – canned beans, nuts, dried fruit, frozen veggies, and dressings for example – then you can add your leftovers to some salad greens and find ways to make it feel like a cohesive meal using these staples.

Bagged salad mixes- like the ones including spinach, romaine, cabbage, etc. – are one of the things I make sure to keep at home at all times, because you never know what you’ll wind up with that could form a great salad.

Have Chinese food leftover? Sauté up some frozen vegetables like broccoli and green beans and add those along with your leftovers to a salad. Why not throw in some almonds, baby carrots, a package of prepared brown rice, or other vegetables and proteins that you may have on hand?

The same idea works with Japanese, Mexican, or Italian leftovers. Use shelf-stable additions that you keep around to round out your dishes, plus some bagged salad greens, to add high-impact flavor and lots of nutrients.

#2 Tacos/Burritos

Assuming you have either some wraps, tortillas, or hard taco shells at home, you can make quick tacos with any combination of leftover meat, fish, beans, and vegetables.

I like to add in some frozen corn, canned black beans, hot sauce and taco seasoning mix. Jarred roasted peppers, salsa, crumbled tortilla chips, also work well when preparing dishes with a Latin flair.

One of my favorite tacos to make combines leftover fish and vegetables that I frequently take home from restaurants, mixed with some salsa and canned black beans. These are protein packed, nutrient rich, and cost hardly anything to make!

The possibilities are endless, so get creative  and turn your leftovers into healthy tacos meals.

Here are more ideas:
  1. Shredded Meat Tacos:  Use leftover cooked chicken, beef, or pork to make shredded meat tacos. Heat up the meat in a skillet with some spices like cumin and chili powder, and serve in warm tortillas with toppings like cheese, lettuce, and salsa.

2. Fish Tacos: Use leftover cooked fish, such as salmon or tilapia, to make fish tacos. Season the fish with cumin, paprika, and lime juice, and serve in warm tortillas with toppings like cabbage slaw, avocado, and sour cream.

#3 An Omelet or Quiche

turn leftovers into healthy meals

As long as you’ve got some eggs and vegetables at home, a good omelet can come together in minutes. Any good quality cheese, herbs, other leftover meats, and potatoes or bread can also take it to the next level.

Combine your leftovers with frozen vegetables like broccoli, spinach and peas to add even more nutrients and volume. Vegetables like onions and sun-dried tomatoes also stay fresh in your kitchen for a long time and work really well in omelets and quiches.

Here are some quiche ideas you can try with leftovers:
  1. Tomato and Basil Quiche: Use leftover tomatoes and fresh basil to make a summery quiche. Add some mozzarella cheese for a delicious Caprese-inspired dish.
  2. Ham and Cheese Quiche: Use leftover ham and shredded cheese to make a classic quiche. You can also add vegetables like onions, peppers, and mushrooms to add more flavor and nutrition.
  3. Spinach and Feta Quiche: Use leftover spinach and feta cheese to make a Mediterranean-inspired quiche. Add some sun-dried tomatoes or olives for more depth of flavor.
  4. Chicken and Broccoli Quiche: Use leftover cooked chicken and broccoli to make a protein-packed quiche. Add some cheese and herbs like thyme or rosemary to elevate the flavors.

#4 Pasta

Most people have at least a box of whole grain pasta and a jar of tomato sauce in their cabinets at home. Use any sauce you may have to make a base out of (basic tomato sauce, puttanesca, pesto, etc.) and combine with any shelf-stable whole grains- including pasta, quinoa, or brown rice.

Garlic, onions, and dried spices like parsley, oregano, and basil all last a long time in your kitchen and really make the dish taste like it took all day to cook. Use these to mix together with your leftovers and you’ve got a tasty dinner in less than 15 minutes.

Here are some ideas for using leftovers to make pasta dishes:
  1. Baked Pasta: Mix cooked pasta with leftover tomato sauce, meat, and cheese to create a baked pasta dish. You can also add vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, or spinach to make it more nutritious.
  2. Pasta Salad: Cook some pasta and add any leftover vegetables, meats, or cheeses you have on hand. Toss with a simple dressing of olive oil, vinegar, and herbs for a refreshing pasta salad.
  3. Pesto Pasta: Use leftover herbs like basil or parsley to make a fresh and flavorful pesto sauce. Toss with cooked pasta and top with grated parmesan cheese for a simple and delicious meal.

#5 A Stir Fry

turn leftovers into healthy meals

This is as easy as it sounds. As long as your leftovers are cooked pretty basically, you can add them to a big pan with garlic, soy sauce, sesame dressing, or teriyaki sauce and you’ve got a meal. Bonus if you have some fresh ginger at home or other Asian flavored dressings like chili sauce, siracha, or brown rice vinegar.

Again, frozen vegetables and whole grains (like brown rice) really come in handy when making a stir fry. Frozen broccoli, onions, peppers, peas, edamame, green beans, and cauliflower all work really well in Asian dishes and save you the hassle of washing & cutting everything yourself.

Instead of throwing out your leftovers and relying on takeout or another restaurant for your next meal, repurpose that food and use it to your benefit.

Turn leftovers into delicious healthy meals! It is all about planning ahead and stocking your kitchen with the right essentials. Take the time to buy some of these shelf stable favor boosters and you’ll be saving yourself not only money when you use more leftovers, but the guilt of not having a healthy week of eating too!


About the author

Jillian Babcock

Jill is a healthy food lover and Certified Holistic Health Counselor. She loves “healthifying” recipes and practicing yoga as she works toward become an instructor. You can find her around NYC seeking out all the latest things related to health and fitness.

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