Let’s face it, going out to eat has become quite expensive. These days, you want to go where your dollar stretches the most. This might mean going to a place that you know serves large portions so you can take home the leftovers. But when you get home, and your food is staring at you in the refrigerator, you’re left to answer the question: What to do with your leftovers? I am not someone who looks forward to the same meal often. I’m always looking to recreate the restaurant experience at home by creating meals with leftovers. Today we’re showing you how to make cheap and easy meals with your leftovers.
The US is unique because our restaurants frequently serve more food than a person can eat in one sitting. Taking leftovers is a common practice here, but many feel shame for taking complimentary items. But because we (thankfully) have strict health codes, anything left over on the table is simply discarded. According to a study conducted by the USDA, restaurants waste 4% to 10% of the food they bought, and 30% to 40% of the food they serve to customers is never eaten. This results in a substantial loss for the restaurant industry , which is on par to the average of food waste with consumers.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with eating your leftovers they way they were served. But if you’re looking to make a meal out of the small remaining portions of your meals, then explore the list below for some ideas! Regardless of what you ordered, this article will offer you some ideas on how to make the most of your meal, and what to do with it when you go home. And if you’re just looking for other recipes check out our recipes tab here.
Start with dining at Eco-friendly Restaurants
It seems like going out to eat, all rules can be out the window quickly. But if you select an eco-friendly restaurant before hand, it might make your choices easier. I’ve been thinking about writing a guide for eco-friendly dining, but for now, here are a few tips. Make sure the restaurant has plant based or plant forward offerings. These are not only healthier for you, but are typically less impactful on the planet. In my state, restaurants are now required to provide eco-friendly and biodegradable take away containers. But check ahead to see if the containers have biodegradable or reusable containers. If you’re interested on a guide to eco-friendly dining, let me know in the comments below!
A Note about Leftovers & Food Safety
An important disclaimer: make sure to consume your leftovers within three days of taking them home from the restaurant. These recommendations are made based on the assumption the food will be stored in food safe temperatures (below 40F) or the next stop is to a refrigerator. Food that is left outside of this temperature range is subject to spoilage, which can lead to food illness. Please be sure to store your leftovers safely before eating them!
Cheap Meals with Leftovers for Mexican Food
Mexican food is not only delicious, but it’s also one of the best foods for leftovers!
Many restaurants serve complimentary chips and salsa prior to the meal. Most servers clear these before your food comes, but you can ask to take them home. They make a great late night snack or create an opportunity for nachos 😉
You can take the salsa home and add salsa into your next rice dish, add with beans and frozen corn. You can also top on homemade tacos or your next omelette. The salsa will hold up for about a week when you take it home, so there are ample opportunities to use it.
If you have extra tortillas, a cheap way to use these leftovers for a meal is to make quesadillas or tortilla soup!
Burritos are one of those meals you can order off of the menu, but no matter how hungry you are, they are nearly impossible to finish. To make a cheap meal with leftover burritos, empty the contents into a bowl, and heat the up as a rice bowl. You can also cut up the tortilla, and place under the broiler to get crispy. Then you can use the crispy tortilla as a topping.
If none of these appeal to you, another great option to create a lighter meal with leftovers is to just heat up your food and toss it over lettuce to make a salad.
What to do with Leftover Chinese
If you order Lo mein or another noodle dish, you can always add more vegetables and protein at home to stretch it into another meal. Another easy way to make this a meal with leftovers is to fry an egg and place it on top.
You’ll commonly get a side of sticky white rice to go along with your meal, so it’s a good idea to take this home! A cheap way to transform leftover rice is to make fried rice. You can use up any leftover vegetables, rice, oil, and an egg. There are some great recipes to make fried rice on the internet, but I also make a tofu fried rice recipe!
Any additional protein (General Tso’s chicken, tofu, etc) – combine with rice and more veggies for a complete meal. You can use frozen veggies like broccoli for convenience.
Easy Meals with Leftover Indian Food
Despite being vegetable-forward, Indian food is deceptively filling! There’s almost always a bit leftover. Here’s a few ways I like to use the leftovers to create new meals:
Na’an is great for a snack. Warm it up and you can make a sandwich or just eat it by itself. I also like to add a sunny side egg up and eat it with my leftovers.
What to do with Leftover Pizza
The Pizza Eater isn’t in business yet, but you never know, maybe soon! Until then, try some of these other tips. Fortunately for me, NJ has some of the best pizza in the country. If you have leftover pizza, you can always freeze it and eat it at a later date, which makes a quick meal.
You can reheat the pizza for a meal the next day. There’s many ways to do this, but my favorite method is the oven.
If you want to get creative, cut the pizza into bite size pieces, reheat, and pair with a dipping sauce for a great snack.
Italian Food Leftovers
Many dishes in classic Italian American cuisine are also sandwiches. For example, leftover eggplant Parmesan can be made into a sandwich or served over fresh pasta. For me, these meals are great on their own and hold up okay for leftovers!
What to do When you can’t take your leftovers with you
If you’re traveling in a city, you can offer your leftovers to people who live local. You can also offer them to a homeless person who might not have the option for a meal.
You can also just be more mindful about how much food you’re ordering. What things do you find yourself taking for leftovers? Let us know in the comments below!
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