It's so easy to repurpose leftovers into something new and exciting. These 4 tips will have you singing a new tune about your leftovers in no time.

Leftovers, tortillas, and cheese on a counter, from Shelf Cooking

Every week you meal plan and you cook up a bunch of delicious meals and by the end of the week you probably have a bit of this and a little of that leftover in your fridge. Unfortunately, a lot of these leftovers probably end up getting wasted. Don't worry, if this happens to you, you are not alone!

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We're here to help you see that these leftovers have potential and if you're smart, you'll start using them up before they go to waste! It does take a little bit of effort to keep those storage containers full of food from going bad.

If you are not a fan of leftovers, we urge you to see why we love leftovers so much! Check out that post for some really helpful nuggets about all those uneaten edibles sitting in your fridge.


The first step to repurpose your leftovers is heating them up! But there are some serious secrets to heating them up correctly in order to get the most flavor out of your leftovers. We devoted a whole post to reheating leftovers like a pro! Which is great… if you want to eat them they way they are.

But today, we're talking all about how to transform those leftovers into something delicious, exciting and brand new. Here are 4 tips to repurpose your leftovers.


Hands adding leftovers to a tortilla with cheese, from Shelf Cooking

With time, anything you used to flavor your original meal fades. Sometimes into oblivion. It’s critical that you add some flavor to your leftovers with some fresh herbs and spices. 

Salt and pepper are essential. You might also add a little more of the herbs or spices you originally used in the dish – a shake of oregano, a sprinkle of basil leaves, a dash of curry.

In addition to salt, pepper, and spice, here are a few tried-and-tested tricks from the Jordan test kitchen you’ll want to try:

  • Lemon or lime juice (fresh or bottled)
  • Crystalized lemon or lime – this stuff is magical!
  • Red pepper flakes (add a kick without making it too spicy)
  • An appropriate sauce


If you're heating up leftovers and they’re drying out… wet it up, baby! Dry mashed potatoes? Stir in some melted butter and a little milk. Dry rice? Add a tablespoon of water before you reheat it.

Dry, crusty bread? Dip it in soup or spread melted butter on it. Or try this trick in the microwave – wrap the bread in a damp paper towel and nuke it for 10 seconds. (If it’s not quite as soft as you want, nuke it for another 10 seconds.)

Regardless of what you’re reheating, consider any of the following to moisten things up:


Hand adding cheese to dish to repurpose leftovers from Shelf Cooking

They don't put a cherry on top for no reason! A little topper seals the deal and adds some sorely needed texture to leftovers. Try some of these topping ideas:

  • Cheese! Toss shredded cheese on anything savory to kick it up a notch, especially when you broil it for a second in the oven. I'm obsessed with Queso Fresco (available in most grocery stores) and add it to just about anything Mexican.
  • Crushed tortilla or corn chips
  • Crushed potato chips
  • Cornflake crumbs (especially great mixed with a little melted butter)
  • Tortilla strips 
  • Nuts – sliced, slivered, candied, chopped, you name it
  • Onion straws
  • Croutons
  • Sunflower seeds (shelled)


As I said earlier, no one gets very excited about eating the same thing two or three days in a row – unless you repurpose it! And that, my friends, is exactly what it sounds like. Get creative and find a new purpose for the same old leftover.

It can be really difficult to get into the habit of thinking outside the box, so we wanted to share a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.


Bowl of soup with spoon, from Shelf Cooking
  • Grilled Chicken: Chop it up for chicken salad sandwiches. Dice it for soup. Add it to a casserole. Use it to make tacos, burritos, or enchiladas. Whip up a chicken stir-fry. Stir in some sauce and serve it over rice. Hey, another way to use leftover rice!
  • Leftover Hamburgers from a BBQ: Chop up the cooked patties and make hamburger soup, cheeseburger casserole, or chili (that’s how Wendy’s does it). Make mini sliders with different toppings than you originally used.
  • Ham: Toss it with whatever veggies are in the fridge to make ham-fried rice. Or turn it into the creamiest, most delicious ham and potato soup (there’s a recipe in this section).
  • Ham, Bacon, and/or Chicken: You’ve got to try chicken cordon bleu lasagna… it will blow your mind!


  • White Rice: Make chicken-fried rice, throw it in a soup, make Mexican rice, add it to meatballs or meatloaf.
  • Cole Slaw: Put it on a sandwich (shredded pork or chicken, BBQ beef, corned beef, or fish); tuck it in a taco (steak, chicken, or halibut); use it in egg rolls; or stir it into any salad for some added crunch. It’s even good on hot dogs! 


BBQ chicken wraps on a plate, from Shelf Cooking
  • Toss Practically Any Leftover on a Salad! Make a taco salad from enchiladas or tacos. Turn that grilled chicken into BBQ chicken salad. Use all kinds of things for Cobb salad. For real, you can take just about anything, put it on lettuce, add a killer dressing, and BOOM. It's unreal all the crazy combinations you can come up with.
  • Rotisserie Chicken: This one’s a gold mine, and the sky’s the limit! Just a few of my favorites include chicken pot pie, chicken noodle soup, BBQ chicken tacos, chicken salad sandwiches (plain or BBQ), chicken quesadillas, chicken wraps, chicken tortilla soup, chicken fried rice, chicken or pasta salad, chicken tacos, enchiladas, burritos, taquitos, Hawaiian haystacks, chicken and dumplings, BBQ chicken pizza, white chicken chili… you get the drift! With so many awesome ways to repurpose a rotisserie chicken, you’ll be tempted to get a dozen of them. But you can also use shredded chicken – which might save you a little money if you do it right.

Please note – these are just a few of zillions of things you can do with these items. The sky's the limit when it comes to repurposing leftovers. What's your favorite way to repurpose leftovers? Let me know in the comments!

Image reading "How to Repurpose Leftovers" from Shelf Cooking

Looking for more ideas?

Now go love those leftovers!