5 Recipes That Will Use up Any Leftover Ingredient

Save your wallet and the planet by combating food waste

Marco Verch via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Meal prep is all the rage right now, and for good reason. It saves money, allows you to eat healthier, and even combats food waste — which is beneficial to the economy and our environment. Still, if you’re cooking for one or even two, it’s difficult to use up every last bit of your ingredients so nothing gets thrown in the trash at the end of the week. Even if you’re a pro meal-prepper and use the same items for multiple meals, odds are that you’re going to be left with things like: half a chopped red onion from a taco garnish, a fistful of parsley from a soup recipe, or a quarter cup of vodka sauce from Wednesday night’s pasta dinner.

You may not think these ingredients could work together to create a new meal, or that there isn’t enough to cook anything substantial. But, with a little creativity and a few base meal items, you can continue saving the planet and your bank account right into the weekend.

Here are five different add-anything recipes that will use up those leftover ingredients — we’re looking at you, two scallions from enchilada night — in a cinch. No more feeling guilty for tossing half a potato or a bunch of cilantro in the garbage. Use one of these meal/snack bases instead, and you will clear out your fridge in no time — plus that’s one less meal you have to think up and go shopping for!

Pizza

Mini pizzas are one of the best ways to use up leftovers…it just seems so exciting to create an entirely new flavor of pizza. And you thought Hawaiian was weird — just wait ’til you start combining. For a quick cheat, use tortillas (whole-wheat to be healthier). Just throw some sauce on the tortilla and add whatever toppings you have left that fit with a theme — leftover ingredients from a specific meal make for a good pizza since you know the flavors already work together. Then top with some shredded cheese, and pop in the oven on a cookie sheet at 350° for 10–15 minutes. Black beans, corn and chili powder make for a Mexican pizza. Onion, peppers and mushrooms make a perfect veggie pizza. The possibilities are endless!

Quesadilla

Using the same additions as the last recipe (tortillas and cheese), quesadillas are another quick and easy way to use up random bits of food. Drizzle the oil of your choice in a pan, put one tortilla down, add some shredded cheese and your leftover ingredients, put the other tortilla on top, and let it cook for a minute or so. When you see the bottom getting toasted and brown, (carefully) flip the whole thing over. Let that side cook for a little bit, with the cheese getting nice and melty in between, and then pop it on a plate and slice into quarters. It’s a five-minutes-or-less meal (actually). Of course you can make it like the pizza and toss all of your leftover veggies in, or you can get even more creative. Olives + feta + red onion + topped with lettuce after it’s cooked = Greek Salad Quesadilla. Tomato sauce + chicken + mozzarella cheese = Chicken Parm Quesadilla. Just turn whatever meal you had earlier in the week into a quesadilla later.

jeffreyw via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Hummus

Until recently, I forgot how insanely easy and cheap it is to make your own hummus. It’s just chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and/or other seasonings, blended up in a food processor. Use this simple base and then added the leftovers you have lying in your fridge to create a delicious new dip. The other week I added in a spoonful of black beans, some chopped green onion, squeezed a little hot sauce, sprinkled some cumin, and voila. The same day I made another kind with leftover sundried tomatoes from a pasta dish, some parsley that was going bad, extra garlic, and a little Italian seasoning, and it was scrumptious as well. Just remember to save the chickpea juice from the can — you can keep adding and blending until you get the smooth consistency you like.

Salad

Perhaps a little obvious, but of course you can add any random leftovers to a bed of lettuce and have a themed salad. But, different than the other suggestions, this is a great way to use up extra fruit too. The key is tying it all together with the best dressing! I love the sweet vs. sharp combo of berries with balsamic.

Paella

This may not technically be paella, but “random stuff mixed into rice” wasn’t the best headline. If you’re in the mood for something a little heartier, try mixing some cooked rice or quinoa with your leftover ingredients. I can just imagine the beans and corn mixed in with some onion, hot sauce, maybe some avocado (and egg?) on top? Yum yum.

So there you have it. Just think of how much food you won’t have to waste!