Life School
Life School
Sprucing Up Leftovers 🥡✨

Sprucing Up Leftovers 🥡✨

This lesson is 913 words, a 3 min 39 sec reading time. It is the fourth lesson of Lunch 2.0.

📍 Introduction: 

Leftovers present the ultimate opportunity for an efficient and tasty lunch. Much of the work is already complete, meaning all you must do is spruce things up. With a little know-how on reheating and a couple of go-to dishes, you can create endless possibilities with what you have on hand. 

There’s an old saying, “every food has a purpose and a re-purpose.” Working with leftovers is one of the ultimate ways to lean into this philosophy. Both challenging and rewarding, sprucing up leftovers will stretch your prowess as a scrappy home chef. Go ahead, and get creative! 

🧂 Ingredients: 

  • Leftovers 

  • Additions 

✅ Instructions: 

  • Select leftovers to spruce up

  • Reheat (optional) 

  • Add base/toppings/sauce/other

  • Enjoy! 

📝 Notes Tips & Tricks:


  • Most leftovers will be fine in the fridge for ~5-7 days. 

  • Some items degrade over time (e.g., seafood, anything crispy, fried, or fluffy)

  • Some items improve (e.g., stews, braised meat, chili, curries, sauces, vinaigrettes, soups, chicken thighs, moist cakes) 

  • If an item makes for great leftovers, cook extra (e.g., roasted vegetables, rice/grains, roasted chicken) 

  • Regularly check your fridge to (1) discard expired items (2) make a plan with ingredients close to expiration (3) identify candidates for freezing (e.g., things you don’t want to use up just yet).

  • Give your leftovers priority placement in the fridge. Use clear containers so they don’t get lost. Check for both every time you cook.

  • Masking tape and a sharpie make it easy to label things. If you have roommates consider a color coding system (e.g., blue for “eat” and red for “don’t eat”).

Restaurant Takeout: 

  • Restaurant takeout makes for great leftovers. Order extra portions for later to amortize the delivery & service fees. 

  • Restaurants have an advantage with heavily stocked pantries & skilled labor. They are uniquely able to tackle more challenging tasks (e.g., dishes that require many unique ingredients or multiple steps over long periods of times). 

  • Examples of high-leverage takeout items: housemade salad dressing, dips, sauces, soups, grains, slow-cooked or braised meats, meatballs, dumplings, curry, pasta sauce, bread (e.g., pita, garlic), desserts (e.g., cake). 

  • Many takeout items are worth ordering specifically to freeze. (Freezer Stocking Reference Guide

  • Leftover sauce can be frozen for later or used as a marinade (e.g., tikka masala, teriyaki, pesto). 

  • When ordering, ask yourself what you’re in the mood for tonight, but also what can be helpful or enticing tomorrow. 

To continue reading please subscribe.


  • Microwaves can alter food texture (e.g., making it rubbery, chewy). Oven and stove typically maintain texture, although they take longer. 

  • When reheating in a microwave, stir and rotate every ~30-60 seconds. 

  • For items that seem dry (e.g., meat, pasta, rice, veggies), add some moisture (e.g., water, broth, oil, butter, sauce). 

  • To avoid soggy leftovers, try toasting or broiling in the oven.

  • Food safety tip: when in doubt, reheat items to 165°F.


  • FIFO (First In First Out): Whenever possible, use up items with the earliest expiration dates. 

  • Consider your second time eating a dish to be a redemption round for less successful dishes. Adjust spices and seasoning, or add textural elements to get it right. 

  • Overripe fruit makes for great smoothies. Or freeze for later use in jam, baked goods (e.g., banana bread), or oatmeal. 

  • Cooked veggies (e.g., boiled, roasted) make an excellent base for puréed soup. 

  • Popular additions to leftovers: cheese, toasted nuts, grains, herbs, condiments (e.g., soy sauce, hot sauce, mayo), pickled red onions, slaw, chips. (Salad Toppings Reference Guide)

📓 Reheating Leftovers Reference Guide

  • Pizza: Crisp in oven or toaster oven at 350°F for ~10 min.

  • Steak: Warm in 275° oven for 20-30 minutes to an internal temp of 110, then sear in a hot skillet to re-crisp the exterior. Or sauté. Do not overheat, or it will get tough & dry.

  • Roasted chicken: Wrap in foil and reheat at 325 until warmed through, or chop up and reheat in a saute pan with a little bit of olive oil, water, or stock.

  • Salmon: Warm in the oven at 200 for 20 min.

  • Roasted vegetables: Microwave (check every 30-60 seconds) or sauté for ~5 min.

  • Rice: Microwave (covered) with a little added water for ~1-2 min.

  • Soup: Bring to a simmer in a small pot. Or, microwave with a small saucer/plate underneath for easier handling.  

  • Sandwich: Separate components, heat separately, & reassemble. Or make a panini & heat in a pan. 

📓 Sprucing Up Leftovers Reference Guide

  • Grain Bowl: Use leftover grains (e.g., rice, quinoa) as a base to top with chopped/heated leftovers. Add missing flavor & texture elements (e.g., sliced avocado, boiled egg). 

  • Fried Rice: Use up leftover rice (1+ days ideal so rice is drier). Scramble an egg, chop & set aside. Sauté diced onion (scallion, garlic, ginger), then leftover diced up vegetables/protein, then rice. Add sauce (soy sauce, sesame oil, sriracha) & egg at the last minute. 

  • SaladUse up leftover dressing on fresh greens. Chop & add leftover grains, veggies, greens, or diced up proteins (Salad Toppings Reference Guide).

  • Sandwich: Toast bread in a pan or toaster oven. Add condiments, leftovers. Choose additions/toppings that round out flavor & texture elements.

  • Soup: Can use up nearly any leftover (e.g., vegetables, grains, meat)

  • Hash: Cube and sauté leftover potatoes (and/or other veggies and meat) with diced onion until golden and crispy. Top with herbs, ketchup, a fried egg, or grated cheese. 

  • Omelet/Frittata: Chop & heat up leftovers. Set aside. Make an omelet or frittata egg base. Add leftovers & desired additions (e.g., cheese, veggies).

  • Pasta dish: Chop & heat up leftovers (e.g., sauté roasted vegetables). Add to cooked pasta. Add sauce (optional).  

  • Baked Potato: Bake a potato & add toppings.  

  • Nosh Plate: Add sides (e.g., cheese, olives, slaw, pickles, other leftovers, bread, veggies).

  • Burrito/Quesadilla: Heat up leftovers & tortilla. Add guac/sour cream/beans/cheese.

  • Smoothies: Great for using up leftover fruit & veg.

  • Stir Fry: Sauté leftover meat & veggies. Add a soy-based sauce.

  • Quiche: Ideal for using up leftover veggies & cheese. Can be crustless if no pie dough on hand.

🎓 Further Study


📚 Want more? Check out the Table of Contents or Collections.

🎧 Prefer to listen? Subscribe on iTunesSpotify, or Overcast.