How to use leftovers effectively

Croissant cinnamon toast bread pudding

I have a pet peeve about wasting… I dislike it immensely. I am a firm believer in getting my money’s worth. I find it abhorrent to waste food, and as such, I have found ways to transform leftover meat, rice, and vegetables into new dishes which can be put together economically. Family members who may groan at the thought of leftovers, will not even realize that you have disguised yesterday’s roast chicken into today’s fabulous dinner!

Rice is a typical starch eaten in my home. Whenever I have a good bit of leftover white rice, I make fried rice. A vegetable fried rice can be made by seasoning the cooked rice with soy sauce and sesame oil. Peas or green beans, carrots, onions, and chives all add the high notes. If you have a few pieces of leftover protein, such as beef, pork, chicken or shrimp, you can make an amazing one pot meal or a special fried rice.

Leftover roast chicken can be shredded finely and used by stir-frying vegetables with Chinese egg noodles and some oyster sauce to make chow mein or low mein. Chicken salad or even chicken pot pie filling are also several ways to use rotisserie or fried chicken. Chicken sandwiches or quesadillas are quickly whipped up by using shredded chicken and adding salsa and grated cheese, then heating them on a griddle or pressing them in a panini maker. If you have deboned a chicken, you can make a chicken soup stock using the carcass with the addition of vegetables such as carrots, celery, and onion.

Grilled steak leftovers, thinly sliced make wonderful fajitas or quesadillas. You can also make a quick steak salad; sautée with sliced onions, soy or Worcestershire sauce, then serve on a bed of fresh greens with a vinaigrette. This same steak, with the addition of bell peppers and cheese can also be used to make Philly cheese steaks.

Stale croissants and bread do not need to be thrown out. You can make them into a delicious bread pudding or French toast. They can also be toasted dry in the oven at a low temperature and then pulverized in a blender or food processor to make bread crumbs. This is always a useful thing to keep on hand for addition to meatballs or crumb toppings for gratins. Stale bread can also be cut into cubes and sautéed in butter to make croutons for salads.


Never throw away the harder cheese rinds of Edam or Parmesan. They are wonderful compliments to pasta sauces and will melt adding terrific flavor.

When I cook bacon, I keep several pieces to make quick pasta dishes for busy days. I can whip up a carbonara sauce and add the bacon bits to any type of pasta. Cooked bacon is a great time saver. You can also use bacon pieces in sandwiches and salads. I find it a great addition to have some already cooked and ready to use.


If you have an abundance of fresh fruit which is ripening fast, you can turn it into jams or preserves. Berries are especially easy to use. Simply wash, cut into pieces and then cook on the stove top with some sugar for about 7-10 minutes until the fruit breaks down and becomes mushy. Add some lime or lemon zest and a squeeze of citrus while cooking; you will have a bright and tasty berry preserve. This is great on toast or bagels and cream cheese. Refrigerate the preserves as this method uses no pectin added; you need to consume within a few days as it will ferment after 1 week. I also make lots of pineapple jam with ripe pineapples that I use to make my Guyanese pine tarts. Remove the core and blend or break down into a fine consistency in the food processor. Cook with a good bit of sugar and spices such as cinnamon and cloves for about 20 minutes or until the sugars are just beginning to caramelize and the texture thickens.

With a little planning and thought, you can express your creativity and repurpose food. The old phrase that you heard so often as a child about wasting is still relevant today. Think of how efficient you will feel when you are able to economize effectively. There are so many ways to use leftovers other than reheating them in their original form. I hope you challenge yourself to try something new.

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