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21 Creative Ways to Spice Up Leftovers

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Save Money With Less Waste

Variety is the spice of life, and when it comes to family meals, it's important to break up the routine with interesting new dishes. Avoid burning out on classics like meatloaf and roast chicken by turning them into something new later in the week. Leftovers make excellent ingredients as the flavors meld and deepen in the refrigerator. Cheapism has rounded up 21 ways to dress up your leftovers and get the most out of any food budget.

Related: 55 Big-Batch Meals That Will Last for a Week

Mashed Potato Cakes

Mashed Potato Cakes

If you are left with extra mashed potatoes, one of the easiest ways to transform them is by shaping them into patties and pan frying. You can mix in anything from cheese and herbs to meat and onions to add extra dimension. Additions like flour and egg are optional, depending on the texture of your original potatoes — no need to add them if the patties hold their shape on their own. Bonus: Once pan-fried, they can be frozen and heated up in the oven at a later date.

Related: Celebrate Spuds With 27 Tasty Ways to Cook Potatoes

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This is a go-to recipe for using up ingredients left in the fridge. It's easy to buy more vegetables or meats than needed for a recipe and too often these perishable items go to waste. Once a week do a sweep and gather all the stragglers together to make lasagna. In addition to the pantry staples of pasta and tomato sauce, you'll need a little cheese to transform what would have been money in the trash into a hearty family meal.

Related: 25 Recipes That Make the Most of Summer Produce

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This savory pastry dish is a good option for leftover vegetables, roasted meats, and scraps of cheese. Starting with the classic base of eggs, milk, and simple seasonings, add leftovers such as sausage, peppers, and cheddar cheese. Pour into a pie crust and bake. The low cost of eggs makes this an inexpensive way to create a new meal that works for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Related: 19 Savory Pies From Around The World



Fresh tortillas are a delicious staple in many homes, and there’s no reason to toss them if they get stale or hard. Cutting up old tortillas and frying them is the first step to making chilaquiles, the quintessential breakfast dish of Mexico. Freshly fried old tortilla pieces get tossed with salsa and paired with eggs and/or meat for a hearty meal that works any time of day.

Related: Traditional Hispanic Foods Most Americans Don't Know About (But Should)

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Stuffed Peppers

This recipe is good for leftover rice or grain salads and pilafs, or lentils and beans. Cut a bell or poblano pepper in half and remove the seeds. Stuff the halves with the leftovers, top with a slice of cheese and a tablespoon of tomato sauce and bake in the oven. For less than $2, you have a tasty and nutritious twist on yesterday's meal.

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Simple and cheap, $1.50 worth of tortillas and cheese is an open invitation to reinvent your leftovers. Shred last night's roast chicken or use fresh summer corn salad for a savory filling. A little cheese and crispy flour tortilla go a long way to make even the drabbest of leftovers such as brussel sprouts and steamed broccoli tempting and delicious.

Related: 21 Delicious and Inexpensive Mexican Dishes

Pot Pie

Stuffed Pastry

Another time honored classic thing to do with leftovers is to stuff them into dough for pot pies, turnovers, and such. This technique is especially handy when cleaning out the fridge of odds and ends. Grab any leftover meats, cheeses, olives, and herbs and mix them into a simple bread recipe. What was once just absorbing fridge flavors becomes a special treat hot out of the oven.

Related: Babka to Yorkshire Pudding: 25 International Baked Goods to Try at Home

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Just about anything tastes good on pizza. At around $1 for the dough and just a few bucks for sauce and cheese, you can turn leftovers into a pizza party. Get creative with off-the-wall creations like mac ‘'n' cheese, Moroccan chicken, or taco pizza, or stick with classic combinations like meatballs and roasted vegetables.

Related: From Plain Cheese to Peking Duck: 25 Yummy Pizza Recipes

Kevin Brine/istockphoto

Pie Dough Cookies

These days we are all baking more, which means more leftover scraps from pie and biscuit doughs. Rather than tossing them, cut them into any shape and sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar and bake normally. These little bits and pieces become snacking cookies from something that would have otherwise gone into the bin.

Related: The 20 Best Classic Cookie Recipes

Chocolate Cake

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

Leftover red wine can be used to make a decadent chocolate cake. There are many recipes to choose from, and experienced bakers may even wish to make up their own. In most recipes, up to 1 cup of red wine is used for moisture and richness, contributing a velvety texture, deep color, and boost to the chocolate flavor — similar to adding coffee to chocolate. Any excuse for chocolate cake is a good one, especially when you can repurpose the last cup of a delicious bottle of wine.

Related: Cheers to Julia Child: 11 Recipes for Leftover Wine

Brownie Ice Cream

Brownie Ice Cream Cake

Fresh fudgy brownies are delicious, but once they become hard and crumbly, it’s just not the same. Instead of tossing them or suffering through hard, dry brownies, you can use it as a layer in a simple ice cream cake. Use it as a base layer and spread over softened ice cream, repeat as necessary for as many layers as you like, and use any crumbly bits and pieces as a topping. When ready to indulge, let it sit out of the freezer for a few minutes — the ice cream will seep into the brownies, creating a mix of textures.

Related: 18 Cheap Recipes That Celebrate Chocolate



As long as you have tortillas and salsa, you can make tacos. Literally any leftovers can be heated up, spiced up, and enjoyed in a warm tortilla with a tasty salsa. Leftover beans or lentils can be cooked down until they are scoopable, meatloaf or roasts can be chopped into bite sized pieces and quickly heated to get crispy edges, leftover deli meat can be sauteed with onions and garlic, and even leftover eggs or egg whites can be turned into an anytime breakfast taco. Using tostadas or hard shell tacos works just as well. 

Related: 30 Cheap, Delicious Ways to Fill Your Tacos

Creamy Hummus Salad Dressing

Creamy Hummus Salad Dressing

When there is just a tiny bit of hummus left, it can be tempting to just toss the container, but there’s a better option. Add the hummus to your favorite homemade salad dressing recipe for a creamy texture. Pro tip: Build your dressing in the almost-empty hummus container to use up every last bit.

Related: Is Homemade Salad Dressing Cheaper Than Store-Bought?

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The oldest trick in the book to get more mileage out of any food is to transform it into a comforting bowl of soup. Simply combine leftovers ranging from pasta primavera to three bean salad with broth and seasonings and voila, you've got soup. Enjoy immediately or freeze for later.

Related: 30 Easy Soup Recipes That Last for Days

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Stir Fry

If you're not excited about heating up last night's roast chicken and vegetables, dress it up with Asian flair in a quick sauté with soy sauce, chili paste, and a drizzle of sesame oil. Toss with noodles and you have a new flavor profile for just $1 worth of extra ingredients.

Related: 28 Recipes to Use Up the Bulk Food You Overbought at Costco

Tortilla Soup
Christina Brunk/istockphoto

Tortilla Soup

If you make your own beans from dry beans instead of cans you probably already know about the leftover bean water — the broth that is leftover once the beans are cooked. This liquid is full of flavor, texture, and nutrition. Turn this into a simple but heartwarming soup by adding in salt to taste, tortilla chips, avocado, queso fresco, a squeeze of lime, and your favorite salsa. Simple and humble, and very tasty.

Related: 12 Easy, Tasty Recipes That Celebrate Beans



There's not much that hasn't gone into a pasta dish at some point. The Italian staple is ideal for using up odds and ends in the fridge, from a container of olives to bits of roasted meats and vegetables. A few tomatoes cooked with garlic in butter or olive oil serve as base for just about any combination of noodle and leftover.

Related: Use Your Noodle: 20 Creative Recipes That Highlight Pasta’s Many Shapes

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Like pasta, risotto is less than $1 a serving and serves as a blank canvas for almost any addition. Explore fusion flavors by incorporating leftover soy glazed salmon and bok choy, or stay classic turning leftover beef stew into a thick ragu to enjoy over creamy arborio rice.

Related: 20 Cheap and Easy Ways to Use Rice

Tuna Sushi Rolls

Tuna Salad Sushi Rolls

Tuna salad doesn’t stay good forever, so it’s nice to have a plan for how to use it up creatively before it becomes a smelly mess. Layering it into a sushi roll is an easy and economical way to repurpose your favorite tuna salad recipe into a completely new meal that is easy to transport and gives an entirely new spin on the classic.

Related: The Best Sushi Restaurant in All 50 States

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Stock and Broth

Save your leftover vegetable pieces in a bag in the refrigerator, including the tops and ends of onions, garlic, celery, potatoes, turnips, and mushrooms. Once the bag is full slowly simmer the contents in a pot or pressure cooker, strain, and freeze for later use. Store-bought stock and broth can cost more than $1 a cup, while the homemade version has more flavor and is made from food you would normally throw away.

Related: 25 Ways to Stop Wasting Food and Save Money



Put a new spin on leftover taco filling, pot roast, or vegetable sauté by making it the filling for a toasted sandwich. Starting with a basic roll and the leftover of the day, add lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, and mayonnaise or chipotle sauce to elevate the layers of flavor. Wrap the sandwich in foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

Related: 15 Simple, Tasty Sandwiches That Cost $1 or Less to Make