Using Leftovers Without Killing the Ones You Love

I am the self-appointed leftover queen.  As a trained chef I feed people; it’s in my DNA.  I have a tendency to cook more than my family of four can eat in one sitting.  In my defense I am not trying to be wasteful, but with teenagers you never know when you will have an extra mouth at the table.  On busy weeks, I will try and plan ahead to have a leftover day where we open the fridge and everyone picks their favorite, but on most week nights, if I am using leftovers I try and turn them into something new.  As a frugal person by nature I hate throwing food away, but there are times when I open a leftover container and am just not sure of its safety.

How to know if leftovers are safe to eat:

We’ve all had the “mystery meat” that got shoved to the back of the refrigerator and now has blue/green hair growing on it, and you think it might have actually moved on its own.  These dishes are moved directly to the trash, obviously, but what about that steak from two nights ago?  Is it still safe, or will you be taking a family trip to the E.R.?  According to the following are safe for the length of time given.


  • Cooked meat:  3 – 4 days
  • Blended salads (egg, chicken, macaroni, etc.):  3-5 days

  • Soups and Stews: 3 -4 days
  • Raw ground meat: 1 – 2days


  • Luncheon meat: 1-2 months
  • Ground meat: 3 – 4 months
  • Poultry (whole): 1 year
  • Poultry (pieces) 9 months
  • Soups and Stews 2 – 3 months
  • Cooked meat: 2 – 6 months
  • Pizza 1 – 2 months

Now That it’s Safe How Do I transform it:


To my surprise people tell me all the time that they don’t like leftovers.  I’m sorry, but you liked it Tuesday when you made it, but you no longer like that dish on Thursday?  I just don’t understand.  I realize in a perfect world we would have an endless variety available to us, but since I missed the bus to utopia I’ll have to work with what I have.  The key is when you are planning out your meals for the week, you should consider how you can change up any leftovers you may have.  Do you have a half a pan of lasagna? What about turning it into lasagna soup?  Left over steak? I see a stir fry later in the week.

Chicken is probably the most versatile for me.  If I have a roast chicken on Sunday for dinner, the remaining may end up being chicken enchiladas or chicken pot pie.

Another option for those who are still not ready to make lemon tart out of left over lemonade.  You could always portion out the remaining meal into individual meals and once a month open the freezer for an old-fashioned frozen dinner night.  I will make a vegie and starch like mashed potatoes, and a batch of brownies or fruit crisp.  If you have T.V. trays even better!  Choose a movie and for those of you “of an age” you can tell stories of those nights when you would get a Swanson® T.V. dinner and watch The Dukes of Hazard or whatever show was your favorite, back before movies on demand.

Give leftovers a try and see what you can do with them.  It’s a guaranteed free meal at least once a week.  Do you have a go to leftover recipe?  I’d love to hear it, please share it in the comments!


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