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For many people, the activities of daily life get in the way of eating nutritiously. Perhaps you woke up before the sun came up and went to the gym before heading to work. Or, you took the kids to school and then worked late, coming home exhausted and hungry. On top of that, you were so busy you completely forgot that you had to go food shopping! You open your fridge and see your leftover lunch from that new place down the street, the kids’ dinner from the weekend, and takeout from the night
before. You think to yourself, “What am I to do with all these odds and ends—how can I ever make dinner from this?”
No need to fear - with these simple makeover tips, you can turn leftovers into a new and delicious meal while making sure that your food is staying fresh and safe for your family.
#1 Make a Pizza:
DIY: Grab a tortilla or flatbread and go to town. Without pizza sauce? Use olive oil and garlic, pesto, BBQ sauce, Buffalo sauce, or just leave plain. Add leftover meat, vegetables, and any cheese you have.
Pizza Shop Re-Do: Use leftover slices of pizza in your freezer and take off all the sauce and cheese, just leaving the dough. You can now make this pizza treat into anything you would like—get the family to be creative! Take leftover BBQ sauce, chicken (cut into small pieces), chopped red onion, and some spinach to make a Zesty BBQ Pizza. Or make a Veggie Lovers Pizza with
leftover broccoli, peppers, onions, spinach or kale, tomatoes, and a little bit of cheese. The options are truly endless. Save time by skipping the hassle of making the dough, while keeping all the fun of making pizza your way!
#2 Soups, Stews, and Stir-Fries: Cold, rainy day? Try making soup! Take out a slow cooker or stove top pot and start cooking. Soups are great for leftovers because just about anything can be incorporated. Sauté onions, carrots, celery, or any raw vegetables in olive or vegetable oil. Add beef, chicken, or vegetable stock - if you do not have any stock, feel free to use water. Use the bones of leftover whole chickens or turkeys to add flavor and extra nutritional calcium. Toss in leftover vegetable medleys, meats, and a few spices and you have a great tasting soup.
Make a delicious chili using stewed or crushed tomatoes, your favorite can(s) of beans, some chili
powder, cumin, and a little bit of brown sugar and you can have a hearty chili base. Amp it up with leftover hamburger, chicken, and vegetables such as bell peppers, onions, zucchini, sweet potatoes, leafy green vegetables, or mushrooms.
For an Asian-themed meal, create a stir-fry with your leftovers. Heat a little oil in a wok and cook leftover protein (beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, tofu, etc.) with vegetables of your choice. Add different starches (such as leftover noodles or rice) and toss in soy sauce, duck sauce, ginger sauce, or sweet and sour sauce (just to name a few). Heat thoroughly and serve for a quick and inexpensive meal for the family!
#3 Easy Lunches: Sandwiches and wraps are easy to make, easy to eat, and can be taken on the go! Turning leftovers into sandwiches is a great way to incorporate leftovers into a new creation. Leftover meats are easy to throw onto a sandwich—whether chicken, turkey, roast beef, or even pork. Just add your favorite condiments and go! For a tasty BBQ-style sandwich, shred the meat, chop up some onions and cilantro and mix with BBQ sauce. Make an easy chicken salad with plain Greek yogurt (for more protein and less saturated fat than mayo), celery, onions, and even craisins. Not a meat lover? Sauté leftover veggies, add a balsamic vinaigrette and a little bit of cheese and you have a
sandwich that is full of flavor and a new twist on your old leftovers.
#4 Breakfast for Dinner: Omelets are an easy way to add a lot of leftovers into one meal; simply mix your leftovers directly into the egg mixture. Leftover roasted or cooked vegetables, potatoes, beans, and/or leftover protein (seafood, sausage, bacon, ham, chicken) all make great omelet fillings. Add
cheese, salsa, or chopped tomatoes and onions. Turn store brought salsa into something different by adding diced peaches or mangoes. Make your omelet Mexican style by adding your leftover fajitas. Toast leftover burger buns to create a delicious egg sandwich—you can even top it with leftover salad.
Turning leftovers into a new divine creation can be fun; however, food safety is most important. When reheating foods, make sure the dish has reached 165 degrees before serving. Check the meat, vegetables, and/or sauce (when appropriate). If taking food home from a restaurant, be sure to store it properly. Your leftovers should be able to make it into the fridge within four hours—after this, bacteria will begin to grow and multiply, putting you and your family at risk for foodborne illness. If you are storing a large amount of hot food, make sure that the food has had time to cool before putting it under refrigeration. Doing so can increase the internal temperature of the entire fridge and put the food already stored (along with the food you wish to cool) in an environment where dangerous bacteria can thrive. Creating an ice bath, separating into smaller containers, using an ice paddle or adding ice or cold water to food can safely cool it more quickly for faster storage.
Freezing meals is also a great way to keep meals fresh for a longer amount of time. Most foods can last up to three days after opened (unless specified on a container). Any longer may make it unsafe for consuming. It is recommended that foods be thrown out after three days of storage. However, freezing meals allows for foods to last for weeks, even a month, if cooled correctly. Still, it is important that, when thawing out foods, they are not left on the counter all day. The best way to thaw is in the fridge overnight. If the food is being served immediately, it may also be microwaved.
At The Sage: Nutritious Solutions, we love to bring creativity to meals and reduce food waste. Leftovers are a great way to use small bits of food and make something new and delicious! Still, it is important to keep food safety in mind so that everyone can enjoy the meal and be happy and healthy.
Jamie Pepper, Nutrition Intern