Thirteen Smart Ways to Manage Your Leftovers

leftovers-too-muchEvery home cook has to deal with leftovers.  In a small household, fewer people are around to eat them, and one person’s change in schedule throws everything off. In a larger household, bigger quantities are the challenge.

As always, advance planning is the key to saving time and money. Over the years I’ve used these techniques to get a handle on  leftover food.

  1. Change your attitude. If the idea of leftovers depresses you, call it cooking in advance. Cooked food in the fridge is a blessing, not a trial.
  2. Plan menus with leftovers in mind. Salads can’t be frozen, nor can mashed potatoes. You have more leftover options with meal components than with a complete dish, but there’s nothing wrong with serving the same thing twice in a row. Start thinking about how you can adjust recipes to incorporate leftover foods you have on hand.
  3. Pay attention to quantities. It’s easy to overcook, especially when you have company.
  4. Be flexible. Having a set menu and shopping list makes it hard to use up leftovers. A flexible plan with daily adjustments works best.
  5. Store leftovers in small portions. Smaller amounts won’t overwhelm another dish.
  6. Or use larger portions as the basis for your next meal. Use it in something else, or serve as is. If it’s not enough for a complete meal, complement with a rich soup or side dish, or frozen leftovers from an earlier meal.
  7. Keep leftovers in the refrigerator, if you can use them in the next few days. You’ll see it and it will be accessible without defrosting.
  8. Keep a container in the freezer for scraps of meat, broth, and vegetables. When you have a good amount, you can use it as a base for soup. When adding more than a small amount to a container, refrigerate first so the frozen items won’t get defrosted.
  9. Set a spot in your refrigerator for foods you need to use up quickly. A turntable works well. Train yourself to inspect the refrigerator when planning a menu or shopping list.
  10. Prepare leftovers for the next meal right away. For example, discard skin and bones from chicken you’ll be adding to a soup.
  11. Seal food tightly and cool quickly. Reboil soups and sauces if they have been out for a while. Follow these guidelines for storing foods and helping them last longer.
  12. Keep a variety of containers handy. You can reuse food containers with covers, like from cottage cheese, coffee, or jam. Zippered bags work well, and can be washed and reused.
  13. Learn to cook with recipes that incorporate leftovers. I’ll give ideas in a future post.

What techniques do you use to avoid throwing away leftovers?

Photo credit: MoToMo


  1. Aviva_Hadas says

    I look forward to see how you use cooked chicken. Whenever I make a whole chicken, I always set the breasts aside for a different meal. (I have two cooked breasts in my freezer right now – waiting for inspiration…) So many of the chicken dishes that I “want” to make start with raw chicken…

  2. Last night I added them to a stir fry, that I served with rice. One key is to just heat the chicken and not let it cook more than that (but I don’t often succeed). Dark meat isn’t as sensitive.

  3. Hannah, you’ve shared some wonderful tips with us. This is my first visit to your blog, so I’ve taken some time to familiarize myself with your earlier posts and recipes. I really like your blog and will be back often to see what you’ve been making. I hope you have a wonderful day. Blessings…Mary

  4. Whenever our kids complain about leftovers my hubby says to them “Remember, our ‘leftovers’ are better than some peoples’ cooking. Another tip is to put portions in small containers to take to work as an alternative to sandwiches. (Having a microwave at work helps).

  5. I am so happy that i came across your website. You have some wonderful tips and ideas. I love your left-over tips. I usually end up cooking too much, But now thanks to you I have a strategy for my left-overs. Thanks bunches…..

  6. I purposely make enough for shabbat to allow for one additional meal, but serve the “leftovers” on Monday night, they seem to go over better after a break. Also, I try to make most of our shabbat side dishes parve so they can be eaten for lunch the next few days, as no one in my household likes to eat meat for lunch. FInally, I try to be more accurate in preparing amounts of foods that don’t reheat well, and don’t worry to much about things that keep well, and can be eaten straight from the fridge. For example, nobody really wants to eat roasted potatoes, but leftover sesame noodles, tabouli and pasta salad are fought over.

    • Rachel, those are all good points. I cook potatoes,which keep better and can be made into potato salad, mashed, etc. (pareve=neutral i.e. not meat or dairy, can be eaten with both according to laws of keeping kosher)

  7. Being married to the King of Leftovers, I usually cook with leftovers in mind. My husband has turned leftovers into stir-fries, soups, salads, even pasta dishes. And as Sue’s husband said in one of the comments above, our leftovers are better than some people’s freshly made food. If you have a good freezer and a good imagination, nothing can stand in the way of a great second-hand meal.

  8. true, frozen mashed potatoes are terrible. try this: cut onion into cubes about 1/4 – 1/2″. separate the pieces. fry ’til golden in a bit of oil. smush with the potatoes in a bowl adding an egg or two depending on how much potato you have, and some bread crumbs. when you have the consistency you like, but enough to hold a shape, shape into patties. fry in a pan with hot oil. use as little oil as you can, but add some if necessary. cook them until they turn gold and flip them over to repeat. drain on paper towels. (you can also fry up the onions for the original mashed potatoes and just mix in and proceed as usual. delicious!)

    i serve as a side with meat or eggs. no one knows they were the leftovers from two days ago.

  9. Thanks for the tip, Barbara!


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