One of the best ways to save money on your grocery budget is meal planning using leftovers, but not a lot of people actually enjoy leftover foods.
This is understandable, as leftovers are usually less appealing than the original dinner that they came from. Very few dishes taste better on day 2. So to make these meals more appealing, a great idea is to repurpose your leftovers.
Meal planning with leftovers not only helps to reduce food waste but also helps to save you money. Saving money is a great incentive on its own, but clearing space out of the fridge and using up the food that would otherwise go uneaten is an additional perk to help reduce food waste.
Growing up, you probably heard some version of the saying that goes something like, “eat what's on your plate because there are starving kids somewhere in the world.”
If that doesn’t still haunt you while you are eating, consider the money you spent on the meal. You don’t want to waste money, so don’t waste food. The two are not mutually exclusive.
What is Leftover Food?
Webster's dictionary defines leftovers as “something that remains unused or unconsumed.” The definition of food waste is food that goes uneaten or is discarded, resulting in food loss.
So as you can see, the two go hand in hand. You can prevent food waste by eating your leftovers, and as a result, you also save a lot of money on your grocery budget.
How to reduce food waste
Eat your leftovers. Find food scrap recipes that can help you repurpose your leftover meals. You can try a pantry challenge if you need a more creative reason to do this.
What to do with leftover food
While you could simply eat your leftover meal as originally intended by reheating it in the microwave or oven, you could also repurpose it into an entirely new meal. Meal planning with leftovers that have been repurposed into a new meal is one of the best ways to save on food.
You can create a lot of really cheap meals with leftovers. Think about it, if your family's dirt cheap dinners were only a few dollars the first time you made it, after repurposing it into a new meal, you’re saving money right off the top and making this one even more affordable on your budget. It’s like a rollover deal that benefits you and your family.
Creating cheap meals with leftovers is not difficult but does require a little planning and forethought. If done right, meal planning with leftovers can be considered when you initially write up your meal plan and grocery shopping list.
A good example of this would be my Creamy Turkey Dumpling Soup. It costs less than $10 to make from scratch, but by using leftover Thanksgiving green bean casserole, leftover turkey, and leftover mashed potatoes, the price tag drops further and further, making it a very frugal meal.
Easy Dinner Ideas with Leftovers
Below you will find some common dinner ideas and a bunch of great suggestions for meal planning with leftovers to create a whole new dish.
Leftover Chili Ideas
I make chili at home in the largest crockpot I own because I simply cannot make the recipe any smaller without sacrificing the tasty results.
What I put in my crockpot chili:
- Chili seasoning (or taco seasoning if I’m being lazy)
- A can of whole kernel corn, drained
- 4 cans of beans, drained and rinsed (I do a mix of black beans, kidney, and pinto)
- 1 pound browned ground beef
- 4 small cans of tomato sauce
- 2 cans diced or stewed tomatoes
- Diced onion
I let it sit on low for about 8 hours, and the flavor profile it creates is great. Even with everyone getting second helpings, there are always leftovers for future meals. If I have no immediate plans, it either gets bagged for lunches or frozen for a future dinner.
Here are a few ways you can use leftover chili
- Chili dogs
- Chili mac
- Served over baked potatoes. You can even top it with sour cream, cheese, and chives.
- In a tater tot and cheese casserole
- Chili cheese nachos
- Over frybread for an Indian taco
- Frito pie
- Tamale pie
- Poured over cornbread waffles
Leftover Taco Meat
On the rare occasion that there is leftover seasoned taco meat, or if you choose to make a bunch at once and divide it up over several meals, there are a bunch of versatile dinner ideas you can use it for.
- Tacos salad
- Fiesta bowls
- Burrito bowls
- Bolognese sauce
- Taco mac
- Walking Taco Casserole
- Taco soup
- Instant Pot Zucchini Taco Boats
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized just how differently we all make our meatloaves. I top mine with ketchup, and in the ground beef mixture, I have egg, quick oats, and a little Worcestershire sauce or A1. So with that being said, your meatloaf may make the following results vary.
Here are my three favorite Meatloaf Recipes:
But I’d like to quickly point out that meatloaf makes the perfect sandwiches the following day, which is the ONLY reason leftover meatloaf exists in my house.
- Chop up the meat and add it to a spaghetti sauce
- Crumble and add to chili
- Shepherds pie
- Meatloaf sandwiches. Slice, reheat, and enjoy between two soft pieces of white bread.
Making the homemade or buying them from the store, you may end up with more than is really needed for a meal, so why not meal plan the leftovers into a different dish? Repurposing meatballs is pretty easy with how many different ways you can use them.
Here are some suggestions, including what to serve with meatballs for dinner:
- Spaghetti and marinara
- Egg noodles and gravy (kind of like beef stroganoff)
- Meatball sub
- Baked meatball casserole
- Meatball soup
- Sweet and sour meatballs and rice
- BBQ meatballs
I think everyone has leftover spaghetti a few times a month- it’s impossible to make just enough, and it always looks like you’re trying to feed an entire football team.
Uses for leftover spaghetti:
- Spaghetti pie, frittata or baked spaghetti casserole
- Honestly not much difference between these three
- Baked in a french bread
- Take a canned roll of french bread from the store's fridge section, roll it out and pile the spaghetti in a log down the middle. Cut the left and right side into strips and fold the other ends up. Then place the dough strips so it looks like it’s being braided. Bake until cooked through.
If you didn’t mix the sauce and the noodles, you have even more options:
- Garlic noodles
- Stir fry and spaghetti noodles
- Pan-fried noodles
The sauce can be added to chili, used as a pizza topping, and sloppy joes!
Growing up, I recall one spaghetti dish from a banquet I was at. It was baked in a crust and had hard-boiled eggs inside. The baked spaghetti itself was about as tall as a two-layer cake! I have never seen or heard of it since.
Side note: If you know what I’m talking about, reply in the comments below!
The following leftover meal suggestions will be based on common cuts of meat. I go over this in my saving money on meat post, but this one definitely covers more meal suggestions and food waste recipes.
Leftover Chicken (Many Ways)
This is probably the most versatile of any meat. A whole chicken can be bought fairly cheaply and stretched into many meals. Meal planning with the leftovers should be no issue, but just in case you want to change it up, here are some other ideas:
- Grilled chicken can become:
- Chicken alfredo
- Caesar salad with chicken
- A roasted whole chicken can become:
- Chicken soup like chicken and rice or chicken noodle
- You can even make your own broth/stock using the bones!
- Chicken pot pie
- Chicken sandwiches
- Shredded chicken
- Shredded chicken
Ham is another pretty versatile meat in that you can eat it any time of day. It works as breakfast meat and a dinner feast. Here are some ideas for meal planning with the leftovers.
- Ham and potato hash
- Soup or chowder
- Ham and eggs
- Quiche with ham
- Ham bone and beans soup
- Ham fried rice
- Ham and pineapple kabobs with rice
- Scalloped Potatoes and Ham
Leftover Beef Roast
It doesn’t matter which cut of beef roast you choose to use, these same leftover dinner ideas could easily still apply.
- Beef dip sandwiches
- BBQ beef sandwiches
- The mixture can be rolled in corn tortillas and fried for BBQ taquitos
- Beef and noodles
- Beef Stroganoff
- Open Face Beef and Gravy Sandwiches
- Beef hash
- Roast salad sandwich
- Mince up some roast beef, boiled eggs, and dill pickles. Mix with mustard and mayo and serve on bread or with crackers as a dip.
- Shredded beef
- Beef and bean burritos or chimichangas
- Leftover beef stew can be made into a beef veggie soup
- Leftover soup can be thickened and turned into a beef pot pie
- Pot pie can get diced up and added to rice for a stir fry with a veggie salad
- Steak salad
- Pizza- using small slices or chunks
Leftover Pork Loin
Pork is such great meat, mostly because of how cheap it is compared to others, but also because of how many different ways you can use the same cut of pork. Not to mention- bacon.
Easy leftover pork recipe ideas:
- Pork Roast
- Shredded pork tacos
- Burrito bowls
- BBQ pork sandwiches on King’s Hawaiian Rolls
- Pork Chili Verde
- Pork tamale pie
- BBQ pizza
- Pork chops
- Diced into fried rice
- Pork and rice skillet
- Slice thin and use as meat on sandwiches
- Dice into a gravy and serve over mashed potatoes or rice
With so many different ways to plan your meal with leftovers, you can reduce your food waste and save money. Hopefully, this list of ideas can inspire you to write a frugal meal plan and save some money.
Do you suffer from a lot of food waste in your home, or are you pretty good at making sure that everything is eaten?
What are your favorite ways to repurpose your leftovers?