In the UK, we throw out around £9.5 million tonnes of food each year – and much of that is edible food that doesn’t need to go to waste. If you’d like to live more sustainably – and save the pennies at the same time – then you could explore ways to put the food you might otherwise throw away to good use.
With a bit of creativity, we can turn almost all leftovers into a tasty and nutritious meal and make sure nothing ends up in the bin.
To get you inspired, here are 10 delicious money-saving recipes that are made from leftover foods.
1. Mexican rice and bean soup
A great way to use up leftover rice – and beans – is to make a Mexican-inspired soup. Rice and beans is a staple dish around the world for good reason: they’re cheap, filling, and packed with fibre, protein, and antioxidants.
If you have leftover rice, then why not use up any tins of beans you have in your cupboard (chickpeas can work too), throw in any veg you have in the fridge, and make a hearty, healthy, warming soup?
To keep things traditionally Mexican, you might want to think about adding some peppers to your soup. This will add a lovely depth of flavour, as well as a healthy dose of vitamin C. If you already have cooked rice, this soup can be knocked up in around 20 minutes.
If you have any avocados, fresh coriander, and limes to use up, they make great additions too. Adding a dollop of sour cream or a grating of cheese on top is also a good way to use up any dairy products you may have in the fridge.
To make Mexican rice and bean soup, you may want to try this recipe from Faithful Plateful. Have a watch of the video below to find out more about making this tasty soup.
2. Fried rice
Whether you made a big chilli the night before or ordered too much Indian takeaway, rice is one of the most common leftover foods. Fortunately, there are dozens of delicious recipes that help you use it up.
Because it’s so cheap, quick, and delicious, fried rice is one of the very best leftover rice recipes – plus, it’s also incredibly versatile. You can throw in almost any food you have sitting in the fridge and it’ll still taste great.
If you have eggs to use up, why not make a traditional egg fried rice dish? Vegetables like spring onions, spinach, peas, peppers, and courgettes all work really well in fried rice, and if you have any leftover meat in the fridge, you can add that in too. Similarly, if you have any tofu or mock-meat type products, they work just as well. To add extra flavour, you can add pretty much any condiment: soy sauce, sweet chilli, sriracha, sesame oil, oyster sauce… even ketchup can work!
For a super simple egg fried rice recipe that uses only five ingredients, why not check out this recipe by Kitchen at Hoskins? Or to see how versatile fried rice can be, have a watch of the video below, which shows you eight simple ways to cook fried rice.
Note: Leftover rice should always be stored and reheated properly to make sure that it’s safe to eat. The NHS has issued some helpful guidance on this here, which is worth a read.
3. Banana ice cream
When the weather is warm (or even if it isn’t), you may be in the mood for some ice cream – but instead of buying it from the shop, why not try making your own using old bananas? Not only is this a great way to save money, it also makes a much healthier alternative to traditional ice cream. It’ss a great way to use up ripe bananas that are about to turn too (banana bread isn’t the only good use for old bananas!).
Making your own banana alternative to ice cream couldn’t be easier: simply slice up your bananas and then freeze them in food bags or plastic containers. Once they’re frozen, put them in a blender, add a splash of your choice of milk, and whizz them up until they reach a smooth, ice cream-like consistency.
If you want to, you could also try experimenting with different flavours based on your taste preferences. Peanut butter, cacao, and strawberries work really well, and you can also add any toppings you have on hand – from chocolate chips and fresh blueberries, to raspberry jam.
Why not try this banana ice cream recipe from Lazy Cat Kitchen, which uses maple syrup and peanut brittle to jazz it up? To see how easy it is to make banana ice cream, have a watch of the video below.
4. Breakfast muffins
If you have any leftovers from a cooked breakfast and some extra eggs on hand, why not throw them all together the next day and make some egg muffins? Simply chop up any leftover breakfast bits like bacon, sausages (or veggie sausages), grilled tomatoes, and hash browns, and add them into your egg mix. If you have any leftover baked beans, you can even add them in too.
Leftover vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, onions, peas, or courgette can also go in – and if you like cheese, you can add anything you have sitting in the fridge. If you enjoy a bit of spice, try adding some fresh chilli to give it a little kick, or herbs like rosemary, garlic powder, basil, oregano, thyme, or sage. Simply pour your mix into a muffin tray and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the egg is browned.
To see how to make low-carb egg muffins using leftovers, check out this recipe by Montana Happy. Or, for more leftover breakfast muffin inspiration, have a watch of the video below.
5. Pasta bake
Pasta bake is cheap, cheerful, comforting, and (when it’s done well) seriously delicious. If you have any leftover pasta that needs eating, adding it into a bake is a great idea. Plus, because most people will have dried pasta in the cupboard, it’s a great way to use up leftover meat, cheese, and vegetables too – particularly veggies like tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, courgettes, and aubergine.
Pasta bake is really versatile, so if you have any leftover tuna or sweetcorn, you can throw that in too – and if you have milk that needs using up, you can use it to make a creamy and indulgent bechamel sauce to run through the bake. Then, if you have any bread that’s going stale, then why not use it to make breadcrumbs? A crispy crust will take your pasta bake to the next level.
If you’d like to make a pasta bake using leftovers, why not have a go at making Waitrose’s clear-out-the-fridge pasta bake? To see more inventive ways to use up leftover pasta – from leftover spaghetti frittata to leftover fusilli “muffins” – have a watch of the video below.
Most of us are familiar with the ‘Boxing Day Sandwich’, which uses up Christmas dinner leftovers to make a tasty sandwich – but there’s no reason why you can’t do this throughout the rest of the year too. For example, if you cook a Sunday roast, you can use the leftovers to make a lunchtime sandwich for Monday.
This works well whatever type of roast you have – whether you have roast chicken, beef, or even a nut roast. Simply add any leftover veg like roast potatoes, red cabbage, and carrots, and add a dash of mustard, horseradish, or chutney. If you have any leftover Yorkshire puds, you can cut them up and add them too for some extra texture.
Almost any type of leftovers can be turned into a truly epic sandwich. If you have leftovers from an Indian takeaway, why not make an onion bhaji sandwich? If you have any mezze bits lying around – e.g. falafel, hummus, babaganoush, and olives – why not make a Middle Eastern-inspired sandwich and jazz it up with some hot sauce or tahini? Any salad leftovers can go in too – whether it’s coleslaw or tomato and mozzarella salad. Even leftover macaroni cheese can be used to make a delicious and indulgent sandwich!
To see just how many different types of sandwiches you can make with leftovers, check out these recipes by The Spruce Eats. From spicy Thai chicken salad wraps to butternut squash and beetroot sandwiches, there’s something for every palate here. For more inspiration, have a watch of the video below.
7. Vegetable soup
One of the easiest, healthiest, and inexpensive ways to use up leftover vegetables is to make soup. You don’t even need a recipe or any specific veggies to do this; pretty much every vegetable can be turned into a delicious and nutritious soup with a little bit of effort – from sweet potato and tomato, to cabbage and leeks. All you need are vegetables, plus some stock, salt, pepper, olive oil or butter. Anything else you add is entirely up to you.
If you have any leftover meat from a roast, you can boil that down to make a stock – and if you have any old tins of beans or lentils in the back of your cupboard, then why not add them in to bulk up your soup? Then, you can jazz it up with a grating of cheese, a drizzle of oil, a scattering of fresh herbs, or even some bread crumbs or croutons made from stale bread.
To find out how to make tasty soup from any vegetable, you might want to read this article by The Kitchn. And to see how to make all different types of soup from leftovers – from roast chicken to old curry – check out these recipes by BBC Good Food.
To see how simple it is to knock up leftover vegetable soup, have a watch of the video below.
8. Potato cakes
Most of us enjoy some mashed potato now and then – but it’s one of those dishes you often seem to end up with too much of. If you can’t face another plate of sausage and mash, why not put your leftovers to good use and make some potato cakes?
Though they’re really simple to make, potato cakes are extremely tasty and very moreish, and are a great way to turn a comforting side dish into a satisfying carby masterpiece. Plus, potato cakes are incredibly adaptable and work well as a breakfast, a light lunch, a snack, or a side dish.
To make mashed potato cakes, all you have to do is mix up your leftover potatoes with an egg, some herbs and spices, and your choice of fillings: fried onions and garlic work really well, and you can add any meat, cheese, or veg you have in the fridge. Then, simply shape your mix into cakes and fry until crisp.
These loaded mashed potato cakes by Spend With Pennies contain bacon and cheese, and are then topped with a dollop of sour cream and spring onions for an indulgent twist. Alternatively, if you eat a plant-based diet, just leave out the eggs and try these cheesy vegan potato cakes by Connoisseurs Veg.
Have a watch of the video below to see just how simple it is to make mashed potato cakes.
If you have leftover meat or fish, turning it into a delicious, warming curry is one of the most satisfying ways to use your leftovers. Because curries are so versatile, you can make a curry out of pretty much any meat. However, meat generally tends to work best in Indian-style curries, while fish works better in Thai-style curries.
If you have leftover roast chicken from Sunday, why not make this leftover roast chicken curry from Easy Peasy Foodie? Or, if you have leftover lamb, this leftover lamb curry by BBC Good Food is a great way to use it up.
If you have leftover vegetables that need eating, then why not turn them into a curry as well? Pretty much every vegetable can be eaten in a curry – and if you have any tofu, beans, lentils, mock-meats, etc that need eating, you can throw them in too for an extra protein boost.
This vegetable curry by Love Food Hate Waste is a great way to use up old veg – and for a creamy, more indulgent curry, why not make this leftover roasted veg curry with coconut milk by Blas Y Tir?
Have a watch of the video below to see how to make leftover turkey curry.
10. Fruit smoothie or sorbet
Fruit is one of the most common foods to get thrown away – but it’s also one of the easiest to use up in leftovers. Whether you made an enormous bowl of fruit salad you won’t be able to conquer, or just have a fridge chock-full of ripe fruit that needs to be eaten, one of the quickest, simplest, and healthiest ways to use it up is to make a fruit smoothie.
All you have to do is throw the fruit into a blender, add a splash of almond milk or juice, and – for maximum health-boosting points – add a spoon of nutritional powerhouses like ground chia, flaxseed, or hemp seeds.
Or, if you don’t fancy turning your leftover fruit into a drink, why not turn it into a light and refreshing dessert, and make some fruit sorbet instead? Sorbet is just a combination of fruit mixed with sugar, and it’s super easy to make. You don’t need an ice cream maker – just a blender to puree your fruit. On a hot day, few things are as satisfying as an icy bowl of fruit sorbet – and if you fancy something a little more sophisticated, you can even add a dash of alcohol: just have a look at these sorbet recipes by BBC Good Food to get inspired.
To see how to make a grown-up fruit smoothie (that contains a splash of gin!), have a watch of the video below.
As these recipes hopefully demonstrate, even the most uninspiring leftovers can be turned into a delicious and nutritious meal. Whether you tend to end up with leftover meat, veg, or grains, there are endless ways to create new dishes from them – and doing so is just as good for our planet as it is for our purses.
You could even think about having a ‘leftovers night’ once a week, where you clear out your fridge and make sure everything gets used up. From indulgent sandwiches that’ll have you looking forward to lunch to healthy yet delicious desserts, you might be surprised at just how much you can do with leftovers!
Do you have any good recipes that use up leftovers? We’d love to hear about your favourite ways to use up food! Leave us a comment below, or share your photos and join the conversation over on the Rest Less community.