The #1 Mistake You're Making with Leftovers

Get creative with it!

a person wearing an apron holding a spoon and transferring food leftovers into a plastic container
Photo: Getty Images

Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian Jessica Ball keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make Earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

Thanksgiving has officially passed, which means we are in the season of having ample leftovers. Whether you hosted a holiday gathering or were convinced to take things home from an event you attended, this is the time of year when the fridge is full of ready-made food.

Additionally, it can be hard to find the motivation to cook anything ambitious between gatherings. This is where your leftovers can come in really clutch. But to me, there are few things as boring as having to eat the same things day in and day out. However, it doesn't have to be that way. Behind storing them properly, the No. 1 mistake you're making with your leftovers is not getting creative with them.

What do I mean by this? Isn't the point of leftovers that you can just heat them up and go? Yes and no. While it's totally fine to enjoy a repeat of your holiday meal, the main thing that leads people to waste their leftovers is losing enjoyment of the foods and lacking knowledge on how to repurpose them. On the flip side, research has found that those who get more creative with their leftovers tend to waste less.

This doesn't mean you need to spend hours in the kitchen reinventing the wheel with leftovers from the meals you've already had. But a well-stocked pantry and a bit of creativity can go a long way in helping make leftovers feel fresh, new and exciting to eat. For example, we all know the joy of turning leftover turkey into a leftover turkey sandwich for lunch. But for dinner, you could turn the turkey scraps into Turkey & Wild Rice Soup with Vegetables, Creamy Turkey and Rice Bake or Turkey, Pesto & Broccoli Pasta—all of which take just 30 minutes of active time or less to make.

Leftovers like mashed potatoes and stuffing can be substituted in for your standard potato pancake if you crisp them up on the stovetop. I like to top them with an egg and some hot sauce for breakfast. Plus, you can almost always turn leftover proteins and beans into a delicious soup that uses up any leftover vegetables you have on hand, too. There are so many ways to repurpose leftovers that can change their flavor profile to give you an interesting meal with less active time required.

Making a point to get through your leftovers is a great way to save money, reduce food waste and get more comfortable in the kitchen. Plus, it can be a delicious endeavor. Getting creative can help you avoid the monotony of eating the same meal over and over again, too. For more beginner- and budget-friendly cooking tips, recipes and advice, check out Thrifty.

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