Skip to Content
  • Save
  • Pinterest
  • Email
  • Facebook
  • Print

5 Easy Ways to Take Leftovers From Good to Great

Updated November 4, 2020
There's more life in leftovers than you might think. This article will help you take your leftovers further than they've ever gone before with dinner recipes using leftovers. From freezing tips to reimagining last night's meal completely, there are many tricks you can use to get the most out of your meals. When you've got exciting recipes using leftovers, they can even taste better than the original meal. No leftover is left behind in this article!
Betty Crocker and its parent company General Mills know that food waste is a major social, environmental, and economic challenge and we’re invested in change. We work to eliminate food production waste and partner with Feeding America to ensure surplus food gets from grocery stores and restaurants to people facing hunger—not garbage cans. In 2018 we started the Taste Not Waste project to tackle the 40% of food waste that happens at home. This year we’re introducing the #pantryraid challenge to waste less and save more. When we all do our part, we can make a difference in the amount of food that gets thrown out. Join us!

Leftovers sometimes get a bad rap, but they can save both time and money—and who couldn’t use more of those things? The truth is that 40 percent of the food we buy ends up in the trash, and leftovers are a big culprit. Having a plan and a few go-to tricks for reviving last night’s dinner is key. Here are five we swear by.


5. Freeze for Later

One-pot cheesy chili-mac being poured into glass container

If you don’t think you will get to the leftovers within two days, freeze them. And we don’t just mean dinner leftovers either, did you know that pancakes freeze well? When you’re ready to stow your leftovers in the deep freeze, learn how to do it like a pro with Advice from the Betty Crocker Test Kitchens.


4. Remix into a Family Fave

Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa Nachos with Queso

Another way to approach leftovers is to think of them as ingredients to remix and create something new. There are three foods that everyone knows and loves: pizza, tacos and sandwiches. These foods are also endlessly customizable and thus, brilliant ways to turn your leftovers (and whatever else you can find in the back of the fridge or pantry) into a guaranteed winner-dinner.

Remix as pizza: The rule of pizza is that there are no rules; anything goes. Start with basic pizza crust and start piling on the leftovers. Leftover chicken + barbecue sauce + cheese = Grilled Barbecue Chicken Pizza. Had spaghetti last night? Turn it into Spaghetti Pizza (yes, really!). Or skip traditional pizza crust all together and make French Bread Taco Pizza or Middle Eastern Pita Pizzas.

Remix into tacos (or nachos!): We consider taco shells and tortilla chips pantry items, because having them on hand means you can transform your leftovers with almost zero effort. Leftover beef barbacoa = Beef Barbacoa Nachos with Queso. Sloppy Joes make great tacos: Sloppy Joe Confetti Tacos, so do meatballs: Turkey Meatball Tacos.

Remix for sandwiches: If there’s an easier way to reinvent leftovers, we don’t know what it is. The basic components of a sandwich are: bread, filling and condiments and there’s no wrong way to mix and match. These Italian Breaded Pork Chops, Muffin-Tin Barbecue Bacon Meatloaves and Zesty Italian Chicken recipes are all prime candidates for dinner tonight and sandwiches for tomorrow.


3. Switch up the Presentation


We eat with our eyes first, so why not take yesterday’s meal and elevate it to drool-worthy status by plating it with style? Just reheating meatloaf doesn’t do a lot to excite our eyes, or taste buds. But if you use a slice of meatloaf as the base, dollop mashed potatoes on top, then dot the outside edge of the plate with ketchup, it feels gourmet—and irresistible.

Our sister site, knows exactly what we’re talking about and is an excellent source for tips on how to plate like a chef. Best of all, it’s easier than you think!


2. Get Saucy

Chimichurri Sauce

Sometimes all you need is a shake, drizzle or dollop to give your leftovers new life. That’s where store-bought condiments come in, but we’re not just talking ketchup and ranch. With the explosion of international flavors, there’s no shortage of ready-made options.

If you like Sriracha, try harissa, a Tunisian smoky-hot chili pepper sauce, or Gochujang, a Korean sweet and spicy pepper sauce. Furikake is a Japanese seasoning that’s usually sprinkled over rice, but brings extra flavor to vegetables and fish, and is worth having on hand. For a hit of sweetness, which is great on sandwiches, seek out chutney or quince paste—a thick Spanish jelly that pairs well with Manchego cheese.

You can also make great super-fast dips with what you have on hand to add zip to otherwise ho-hum leftovers. Because, let’s be honest, everything is better with a sauce or a dip!

Ketchup + mustard + mayo = animal sauce
Maple syrup + Dijon mustard + olive oil = maple mustard sauce
Ranch dressing + dried dill = dilly ranch
Yogurt + refrigerated pesto = easy green goddess dressing
Parsley + olive oil + garlic + vinegar = chimichurri sauce


1. Lean in to Leftovers

Easy Slow-Cooker Fire-Roasted Pot Roast

Some foods are even better the next day, which makes you want leftovers. Here are the ten recipes we always double for exactly that reason. Whether you freeze some for later, or spend the whole week eating the same thing, plating differently, or drizzling with a sauce is totally up to you. Just don’t let them go to waste!

Hacking your leftovers is just one of many small ways that you can make a big difference when it comes to food waste at home. What other tips and tricks do you use to taste not waste your food? Tell us in the comments below or join the #pantryraid challenge on Instagram.