A New Look at Leftovers

A New Look on Leftovers | Food & Nutrition | Stone Soup
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Most everyone has had the experience of opening the refrigerator to find next to nothing. Empty shelves and a variety of condiments isn’t going to make much of a meal.

At this sight, it is easy to call it quits, throw in the towel, jump in the car and drive to the restaurant down the street for some quick eats. I beg you though, STOP! You haven’t lost all hope quite yet, and in fact, you can probably pull together a few scraps from here and there to build a meal at home.

It’s hard to imagine this in a world that expects the creme de la creme, but a meal doesn’t actually have to be perfect.

More than likely, you have a meat of some sort stored away. That could be leftover pork chops, frozen beef strips or canned chicken. Either way, there’s a protein.

Even though the fruit or veggie drawer may be barren, don’t knock the frozen or canned veggies. Pull those out for a semi-homemade meal.

Sandwich bread or tortillas or rice or a potato? Any of those will work to build a meal. Pick one!

The key to re-purposing leftovers, no matter how empty your refrigerator or pantry shelves may be, is creativity. Use your imagination and the meal options become limitless (and MUCH easier to throw together at the last minute).

When I am in a pinch, here are a few meal ideas I keep in my back pocket.

  • Grilled sandwich
  • Loaded baked potato
  • Pasta
  • Tossed salad
  • Quesadilla or taco
  • Tortilla pizza
  • Soup
  • Enchilada or burrito
  • Stir-fry
  • Omelette
  • Hash

Hopefully these meals don’t sound too foreign. And more than likely, you have enough ingredients on hand to throw one together.

Just the other day I was working with leftover rotisserie chicken and a spinach and artichoke dip. Well, nuking each for a couple minutes is OK, but how boring! Instead, I thought to boil pasta and combine the chicken and dip with the pasta for a delicious, creamy take on chicken alfredo. Strawberries and green beans were the fruit and veggie around that day, which will work. Now THAT puts a fun twist on those ingredients to make a meal.

What about the always-popular baked potato? It never fails, we have a bag of potatoes on hand and ready for action. Yes, wrapping the potato in foil to bake is an option, nothing wrong there. I’ll challenge you though, throw a curve ball in sometime by chopping the potato into cubes, tossing in a bit of olive oil and seasoning for roasting. Layer the roasted potatoes with leftover meat, a drizzle of barbecue sauce, dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of cheese. Served with a fruit and veggie to make a meal and balanced plate!

Or, earlier last week we had leftover pulled pork that needed to be used. After glancing through the pantry, I found corn tortillas that would work as a perfect base. A little further below, canned corn. Nailed it. Next thing you know, everyone is shuffling through the build-your-own taco bar: pulled pork, corn dip (cream cheese, ranch seasoning, corn and canned tomatoes), shredded cheese and lettuce.

It is important to me that I feed my family well. Sometimes though, I don’t quite have the time or energy to put together something fresh from scratch. By repurposing leftovers, I am able to save LOTS of time and energy, while still creating a meal that I know my family will enjoy and is nutritious for us, too. Both are important to me, food that fuels and tastes delicious.

The ideas listed above are just a few meals that work for my family. Which of these could you try with yours? Or even better, can you add to my list? What fun twist have you tried to repurpose leftovers?

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Gretchen Stroberg
Gretchen Stroberg, RD, LD, CDE, is a consultant dietitian and farmer's wife. She is the author of Pastures and Plates. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram or at Pastures and Plates.