While I’m out on maternity leave, please welcome Nikki Nies, a fellow Registered Dietitian here in Dallas, Texas. 

If you’re anything like me, when you initially buy ingredients you have visions of all the ways you can use them again—whether that’s adding bell peppers to fajitas or a stir fry, but getting from A to B from leftovers to meals can be overwhelming. There have been far too many times I have opened the fridge and stared at the half used bell peppers or the olives that I had to buy for the Greek salad I made ages ago. The good news? There are no rules or “right” way to cook a meal and use leftovers. We’re sharing some of our favorite ways to use pantry staples you probably already have (e.g. garlic) while getting satisfaction that you can use an ingredient to its fullest!

The below tips may help so you’re not reinventing the wheel. Additionally, by taking inventory of pantry staples on hand, this may help the creative juices flowing. New ideas for baked beans anyone?

  • Soups—great way to use wilting herbs or veggies such as tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, carrots and/or greens. Throwing in some protein—whether it’s animal or plant based is a great addition too
  • Pickle—by submerging apple cider vinegar or pickle juice with cabbage, carrots, zucchini or onions, this can be a superb salad or taco topper
  • Pizza—leftover tortillas, English muffin, Portobello mushroom caps or sweet potato can work well as your base. Skies the list on the toppings to add.
  • Salad or pasta—whether you have a tomato sauce or not—feel free to use olive oil and minced garlic, leftover sauce, protein and vegetables work well
  • Stir frys—similar to salads or pasta, you can’t really go wrong with what you put in your stir fry. By sauteeing any veggie with oil and minced garlic, you’ve got yourself a meal. Add a couple scrambled or fried eggs can work well to add more protein and use up the carton of eggs
  • Pesto or chutneys—Grab any wilting herb (e.g. cilantro, parsley and dill) and add a splash of oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper to a blender for a pesto or chutney spread.

As you can see, a lot of the above ways to repurpose leftovers is a “free for all.” There is no “right” way to repurpose. You might surprise yourself with a new favorite flavor combination, which is the fun part!

When in doubt, saute some veggies in a pan as a side to your favorite source of protein. Also, the freezer is a great way to salvage ingredients that you’re not sure what to do. I’ve even found that freezing milk that’s about to go bad can help “save” the flavor. Planning ahead enough time to defrost the milk for future smoothies is another step! Please share with us, what’s your favorite kitchen hack to repurpose leftovers?


Nikki Nies is a clinical dietitian in the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex. Previously, she interned at Brinker International, the parent company for Chili’s/Maggiano’s aiding in recipe testing and nutrient analysis. Nikki’s an active member of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and most recently she served on the Academy’s Member Services Advisory Committee and as the Texas Academy Northeast Region Director. Nikki’s the 2018 Northeast Region Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year.