Leftover Makeover

Why Should I Transform My Leftovers?

Maximizing leftovers not only saves you time in the kitchen but also saves you money on your grocery bill and reduces food waste. By utilizing your leftovers to make a new meal, you can get the most bang for your buck and turn a previously used ingredient into a new menu item – this keeps our weekly dinner menu exciting and fresh. It is estimated that the average American throws away roughly $1500 worth of food each year, either through spoilage or uneaten leftovers. With the cost of groceries steadily rising and the average monthly cost of groceries exceeding $1000, it is important that we think creatively about ways to use what we have. By transforming your leftovers, you will make your wallet much happier.

Turkey taco lettuce wraps prepared using leftover black beans and leftover ground turkey meat.

Turkey taco lettuce wraps prepared using leftover black beans and leftover ground turkey meat.
Julianna Lyle, ©2024, Clemson Extension

Easy examples of a leftover makeover start with a few simple items such as grilled or roasted vegetables, leftover pasta/pizza sauce, or protein items such as chicken.

  1. With your leftover roasted veggies, consider adding them to your morning omelet to make a flavorful, nutrient-dense breakfast.
  2. With leftover pizza sauce or pasta sauce, try adding it onto the top of a bagel with cheese and some leftover protein for a quick and easy pizza bagel lunch.
  3. Lastly, use leftover chicken, veggies, and extra brown rice to make quick and easy fried rice!

These are great ways to reuse the foods you have prepared and make them into something new and delicious.

Pro-Tip: Don’t forget about the ingredients in your pantry – adding spices and other easy ingredients, such as canned soup, beans, or grains like rice, can quickly take your leftovers from good to great!

Planning Meals: To really optimize your leftover makeover game, start by planning your meals out. Think of foods that you and your family love and designate a leftover night on your weekly dinner rotation. Once you’ve narrowed down your menu items, make a grocery list and see what ingredients you have stored in your pantry and refrigerator. Feel free to make alterations to your menu as needed. If you have ingredients that will go bad shortly, then try to find recipes that will use those up first.

For example, if you have bits and pieces of vegetables leftover from a week of cooking and they’re getting close to spoiling, try throwing them into a delicious stir fry; great vegetables for this include broccoli, carrots, snow peas, corn, peppers, onion, and garlic.

Also, see if you have any meats in your refrigerator or freezer that could be used this week. This will prevent you from buying ingredients that you already have and will also prevent wasting the foods that have been previously purchased.

Food Safety with Using Leftovers

Understanding how to handle leftovers is an important part of the leftover makeover game. Carefully label leftovers with the date the food was cooked and when it should be eaten. These should be placed in the refrigerator or freezer no more than 2 hours after cooking and can be safely stored in the fridge for roughly 3-4 days. To make sure that we are using our leftovers in the necessary amount of time, consider organizing your refrigerator and freezer with the foods that need to be eaten first at the front or where they can easily be seen.

When it is time to turn our leftovers into a new masterpiece, don’t forget that frozen leftovers should be placed in the refrigerator to thaw before reheating them. It is also important to keep our cooked food separate in our refrigerator from our raw menu items – such as grilled vegetables and raw chicken. Once you begin to transform your leftovers, they should be reheated until reaching an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. You can check this with a thermometer.


Utilizing leftovers to create exciting, new dishes is an easy way to maximize your budget and enhance creativity in the kitchen. For more ways to turn your leftovers into a meal to be proud of, join us for Stirring Up Healthy Recipes at noon on June 9th, 2024.

Stirring Up Healthy Recipes

Stirring Up Healthy Recipes is a FREE monthly cooking class that provides practical nutrition education to those living with a chronic disease diagnosis.

If you have not registered for Stirring Up Healthy Recipes – what are you waiting for? You can sign up by following the link HERE.


  1. https://foodhero.org/healthy-food/making-most-leftovers-saving-time-money-and-food
  2. https://tellus.ars.usda.gov/stories/articles/look-leftovers-reduce-food-waste#:~:text=Reuse%20or%20freeze%20leftovers.,pita%20pizza%20or%20baked%20pasta.
  3. https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-many-times-can-I-reheat-foods
  4. https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-do-I-reheat-leftover-take-out-food#:~:text=Reheat%20previously%20cooked%20foods%20or,and%20gravies%20to%20a%20boil.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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