Healthy Eating 101: Making New Meals from Leftovers

Think about leftovers in a new way to make new meals and keep them interesting.


By Aimée Suen, NTP


It happens--you’ve made way more than you thought for dinner, brought home a bigger box from the restaurant than you planned, your dinner party or get together left you with a lot of uneaten food, or just couldn’t leave your relatives house without an armful of food.

The first leftover meal can be okay, but eating the same thing for days can get boring. There are also people out there that just don’t like leftovers. Leftovers don’t have to be dull, repetitive, or exactly what you ate the night before. Start to think of your leftovers as ingredients or shortcuts to new meals.

Here are a few ways you can take common leftovers and make them into new meals.


Whether it’s red meat, fish, or chicken, you can go beyond just reheating and eating the next day. Meat has the advantage of being able to anchor a dish, and you can add newer flavors around it and it can take on a new life.

Different Sides: Make different sides to go with your protein than what you originally ate it with. These can be vegetable based, grains, a side salad, or soup.

Make a Salad: Cut the meat into strips or smaller pieces and enjoy over a bed of greens and any other vegetables or grains you like. Adding a dressing will also add a new flavor you didn’t enjoy before.

Wrap it Up: Shred or chop the meat and enjoy it in a taco with coleslaw or lettuce topped with some fresh tomatoes or guacamole. You can also add some vegetables, beans, or grains and put that in a wrap or burrito.

Finish a dish with it: If you’ve got half of a meal planned and you’re missing a protein component, used your leftover meat to finish the dish and cut down on cooking times.


It’s really to make or order too much salad or any kind, if it’s just one with greens or it also has grains in it. Thankfully, salad is so versatile you can easily add ingredients to the salad or use the salad in other ways to keep it fun.

Add New Ingredients: You can turn a side salad or a smaller salad into a more substantial meal by adding protein (meat, fish, beans, tofu, a fried or hard boiled egg) or any grain (if the salad doesn’t already have one). You can also throw in leftover roasted vegetables or raw vegetables you like.

Turn it into a Side Dish: By pairing it with other food, you can add new flavors to the entire meal. If you have a lot of salad, you can also plan more meals with this salad because you’re enjoying a smaller amount per meal than you would with an entree salad.

Wrap it Up: Just like with leftover meat, you can also turn salad into a wrap, whether that’s as a burrito, taco, or just a wrap. Add any meat or protein to make it more filling, and you can add different spreads to add more flavor, like salsa, guacamole, hummus or pesto.

Side Dishes

A big catch-all category, side dishes can range from soup, smaller salads, grains, pasta, or vegetables. Luckily side dishes are also really easy to turn into a new meal.

Soups: Pair with other side dishes to make a meal or make the soup a side dish in a different meal. If you’ve got a broth-based soup with ingredients, add some additional vegetables, grains, beans, or protein.

Grains: Use this as a side dish in a different meal, put into a soup or salad, or add them to a wrap to make it more filling. You can also add roasted or sauteed vegetables on top it and add some spices to give the grains new flavors.

Pasta: Add a protein or new vegetables to the pasta. Depending on the kind of pasta you have and how much you have, you could bake it into a casserole and add some additional vegetables, protein, or a new sauce. If your pasta doesn’t have a lot or any sauce on it, add a different sauce. This can be tomato-based, pesto-based, or a white sauce.

Vegetables: The most versatile side dish of them all! You can toss vegetable sides into a salad, with grains, add beans, pair them with different proteins, put them in a wrap, even throw them in a soup. If they’re raw, you can roast them and add new seasonings to them. You could puree them and make them into a dip, too!

Beans: Add your leftover beans to your taco, burrito or wrap. Toss them into a salad or with some grains. Depending on how much you have leftover, you can turn them into bean burgers or meatless meatballs. You can also pulse them up into a dip or to beef up a pureed soup.

There are many ways to breathe new life into leftovers. If you have a lot of leftovers regularly, start with one or two of these suggestions and see how you like them. The key is to have fun and be open to experimenting with how to make them different than how you originally enjoyed them. You never know what new flavor combinations you could discover!

Healthy Eating 101 returns with lots of delicious options on how to use a pound of dried beans.

Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on InstagramTwitter and Pinterest.

Second Photo Credit: Brent Hofacker/; Third Photo Credit: 3523studio/; Fourth Photo Credit: Anna Shepulova/; Fifth Photo Credit: Timolina/