We eat A LOT of leftovers in this house. In fact, I’d say almost every night, there’s something at the dinner table that’s recycled from the night before, whether it’s extra guacamole, leftover rice, or a full-on ‘rewrite’ of the exact same meal we had the night before. A while back, I posted a picture of our leftover mash-up dinner to Instagram and ended up getting a ton of questions, including ‘what’s the recipe?’ The recipe was: “There are a few random leftovers in the fridge that need to get used up.” With a lot of people talking about food waste these days—it’s one of the leading causes of trash in the US—it makes sense to try to use up all leftovers and wilting veggies from the fridge.
So, a few ideas: None of these are revolutionary, but often, we get tunnel-vision when we look in our own fridge, so we thought it was worth talking through a few of our favorite leftover ideas! I had two main goals: Not wasting food and tossing leftovers or veggies that were going bad, and making fast/healthy meals when time is of the essence.
Everything can be burrito bowl-ed
Ultra-runner Courtenay McFadden once told me that everything can be nachoed, and I’d take it another step and say everything can be made into a burrito bowl (with or without rice depending on how hefty you want the meal to be) with the simple additions of a tasty pico de gallo / guacamole, and some chili powder. That’s how we do most of our leftover/fridge cleanout nights.
Most things can be scrambled
Wilted veggies, leftover protein—make a scramble with some eggs in a skillet! You can use this over rice or over some homefries made with potatoes.
Wilted veggies can be sautéed
OK, you can’t save lettuce that’s literally melting. But you can save kale that’s starting to go yellow, peppers that are starting to wrinkle, beets that are shrinking into themselves, and mushrooms that have seen better days. In this particular dish, I also had some roasted cauliflower from a few days earlier that was in rough shape until I did a quick sauté on it and that revived it.
Got wilted herbs? The recipe for my high-protein, low/no-fat green goddess dressing is right here and while it uses basil, you can sub in cilantro or parsley or any bright green herb that you love.
… Or added to a sauce, stew or smoothie
Some veggies aren’t ideal for sautéing, like semi wilted spinach or super floppy tomatoes. But those can be quickly whizzed into a sauce for spaghetti with a food processor, or chopped and tossed into the slow cooker to make a stew. I love roasting over-the-hill tomatoes with olive oil and oregano, then making a simple spaghetti sauce!
Keep pantry staples on hand to bulk up leftovers
I think the best way to make good leftover meals is to have a few base supplies on hand that can be used with a lot of different ingredients to throw a meal together. We always keep cans of chickpeas, black beans, and rice in the pantry for this reason—if you only have half a serving of chicken or beef leftover, a can of beans is plenty of protein to add to the mix (or can stand alone as protein, of course). Beans and rice alone are a super quick, easy, nutritious meal, but they’re also fantastic bases for basically any flavor profile, any unused vegetables, any leftover proteins. And try new things with these! We did a quick roast of the chickpeas with a sprinkle of sea salt and chili powder and they were awesome.
Add interest with new flavors
I’m a fan of adding brightness with vinegar—I love chopping up a cucumber and putting it in a bowl of white vinegar for a couple hours for a super acidic touch to any salad or bowl. I think finding a few fun things like that that instantly make a meal more satisfying really helps tie leftovers together. And another super easy way to change up leftovers is—similar to nacho-ing your leftovers—taco bowl-ing your leftovers by giving them a quick toss in a pan with some chili powder, onion, and salsa. Or you can shift to a curry with a curry powder or sauce, or do a more teriyaki-style bowl with ginger, hoisin and soy sauce. I like starting night #1 with minimal spices so that the next night, I can ‘rebrand’ the same meal—same exact base, but totally different vibe!