Friday, January 30, 2009

Creative Use of Leftovers

One of the easiest ways to make a big impact on your finances is with your grocery budget. One of the best ways to make that stretch is to USE your leftovers.

Pretty much everyone knows about planned over leftovers (rubber chicken, etc), but what about those little dabs that you don't know what to do with? Let me give an example.

Sunday: you cooked fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob and biscuits.
You have leftover 2 and 1/2 pieces of chicken, no mashed potatoes, but you do have a dab of gravy. You've got 2 corn on the cobs and 1 biscuit.

Those two whole pieces of chicken I would use to pack a lunch, but the 1/2 pc of chicken, the corn (cob and all) I would put in my creative leftover bucket (just an empty tupperware designated for holding leftovers). The biscuit I would put in my bread bag (a ziploc containing heels, biscuits, rolls, whatever non-sandwich bread item is leftover and won't be used the NEXT day). Both the "bucket" and the breadbag are in my fridge's freezer compartment. I add to them all week long and about once every two weeks I can use the contents to make something else.

You might notice I didn't save the gravy. I would send this out for scraps. Tomato sauces generally keep well, and if there are serving size amounts of spaghetti sauce, then I will save these. White sauces and gravies, however, I will make as I use them. They only take pennies to put together and it makes for a nicer finished product.

I've found that the cardinal rule of leftovers is this:

If it won't be used the NEXT day, then it will sit in the fridge until trash day

So I make a plan for each leftover item when I'm cleaning up the kitchen. Most of our leftovers are used for lunches at our house. But many times there are odds and ends that I'm not sure what to do with. But if I put them in the fridge for us to eat later, they almost always end up going to the trash when we clean out the fridge.

Anything that is a full serving, can be stored in freezer bags. We like to make individual servings for a lunch day when there aren't leftovers. This also keeps us from having the same thing for four days in a row.

Soup, chili, and casseroles are ideal for saving as "lunch menu" freezer items. Leftover rice I will also save by itself, bagging in two cup sized servings. Rice is great to add to other dishes or to pull out and use as a sidedish, if it is packaged is usable amounts.

So you have your bucket and your bread bag. What do you do with them now?

I generally will take a look at the contents and decide to do one of three options:

  1. MAKE SOUP: meat of nearly any kind, assorted veggies, beans, rice, noodles...pretty much any kind of leftover you can think of can be used in a soup. Just add your liquid base (broth, cream sauce, tomato sauce or a combination. Then just add your leftovers and some fresh (or not leftover) ingredients too. Follow the ingredient list to decide how you want to season your soup. It can be zesty, savory, or have an ethnic flare. It's all up to you and the ingredients you have. Remember that corn cob? You can use the cob to flavor the soup (it's also good to flavor stocks). Just be sure that you cut off the corn to use and throw away the actual cob after the cooking and before serving.
  2. MAKE A CASSEROLE: By adding rice, noodles, or anything that you can "layer" then you can make what was "leftover" new again. Make a double pie crust and add your leftovers to a creamy sauce and make a "Lotsa Pots Pie". Add eggs and cheese and make it into a quiche.
  3. WRAP IT UP: If your leftovers are mostly beans and rice, or things that can have a Tex-Mex feel, why not wrap them up in a tortilla with some cheese and grill for a tasty sandwich type wrap. Another idea is to pick up some egg roll wrappers (they can be found in your produce section, usually with the organic food and tofu) for less than two dollars. You can season your leftovers with a theme of Asia with a little seasoning, soy sauce and rice or cabbage, or you can think outside the box and use the little wrappers on anything that you could wrap at all. I have used them with leftover chicken, cheese and rice casserole and they were delicious! Just be sure that you seal them up tight before you fry them. You can bake them too (I don't think they are quite as good though). Just be sure you let them brown on both sides.
To be truly frugal, don't forget to save your bones, celery tops, and other things that might be thought of as "waste" to use when you make your broth. A large ziploc can keep these kinds of things throughout the week. So that on kitchen prep day you can make a stockpot of broth without batting an eye.

For more frugal ideas to help you stay on your budget, please visit Crystal @ Biblical Womanhood for Frugal Friday, the blog carnival that highlights frugal tips and budget stretchers. Check it out!


  1. Leftovers are definitly a thorn in my side! I will have to try to incorporate some of your ideas.

  2. I love creative leftovers. I started a blog about it earlier this month. It's still in its infancy stage, but I'm hoping to do a lot more with it. I love turning little bits and pieces of one night's dinner into an entirely new meal - it's lots of fun!

    I just found your blog tonight and am very interested in looking around a bit - it looks great so far! :)

  3. Thanks so much Janelle. I'm excited about looking around on yours too!


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