It's the end of the week. Your refrigerator is practically empty...except for the bit of cheese, a single scallion, a handful of spinach, and a couple of slices of ham. Sure, you could order pizza, or you could save cash and calories by whipping up one of these easy meals perfect for using up leftovers. We suggest recipes here, but don't be afraid to just use them as a template and sub in whatever you have in your fridge. That's the whole point, right?
This Italian egg dish is one of the most welcoming meals around. It will accommodate almost anything savory you have in your fridge, including cooked veggies, stray sprigs of herbs, cooked shrimp, chopped deli meats, shredded or cubed cheese, or even cooked pasta. Serve a frittata for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
To prepare: Heat a tablespoon of butter or olive oil in a medium oven-safe, nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the cooked ingredients you're using. Top with 6 to 10 eggs (depending on how big a frittata you want) beaten with salt and pepper. Sprinkle on cheese, if desired, and bake at 350° until set, 15 to 30 minutes.
Think beyond Mexican flavors when you think quesadillas. Nearly anything that will fit inside a tortilla can become dinner. Go all-American with shredded chicken, sliced apples, and cheddar cheese. Or try a riff on pizza with mozzarella, spinach, and smashed cannellini bean quesadillas dipped in marinara. Of course, a classic Mexican bean and cheese quesadilla will likely be met with cheers as well.
To prepare: Assemble your ingredients on one half of a flour tortilla. Cheese is a natural choice, of course, but shredded chicken, smashed beans, sliced fruit, and tender veggies are also excellent options. Fold the top half of the tortilla over to make a half-moon. Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Sauté the quesadillas one or two at a time until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes per side.
Smoothies are another concoction that are perfect for using up the dribs and drabs in your fridge or panty. Here's what's fair game: cow's or plant-based milk, leafy greens, frozen fruits, fresh fruits, dried fruits like figs and dates, nut butters, and seeds. Pick three or four ingredients and blend up a stellar snack or breakfast.
To prepare: Start with about 3/4 cup liquid per serving in the blender. Add your ingredients, making sure to include some frozen fruit or ice for frostiness, and blend away.
Soup is a classic clean-out-the-fridge meal. Ideally, you'll have some aromatics like onions and garlic to start and some chicken or vegetable broth to finish, but even those ingredients are optional. What works in soup? Most veggies, rice, noodles, lentils, cooked beans, shredded cooked meats, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and herbs, plus cheese and croutons made out of stale bread. Don't hesitate to spice things up with some curry or cumin from your spice rack.
To prepare: If using aromatics like onions and garlic, sauté in a little butter or oil. Add water or broth, then any uncooked veggies or lentils. Simmer until just tender and then toss in any cooked or tender ingredients such as canned beans, baby spinach, or cooked pasta. Finish with salt, pepper, and a squirt of lemon or lime. A dusting of cheese on top would probably go well, too.
If Italy offers up the frittata and Mexico the quesadilla, think of a stir-fry as Asia's answer to the conundrum about how to use up leftovers. A stir-fry comes together in minutes; be sure to have all of your ingredients prepped before you begin cooking. Pull the dish together with a sauce made from pantry staples like sesame oil, rice vinegar, and cornstarch, or simply dress with a little soy sauce for a savory finish. Grown-ups and adventurous kids may enjoy a drizzle of Sriracha or chili garlic sauce.
To prepare: Cook any protein (chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, etc.) in a wok or other large frying pan. Remove to a bowl, and cook any veggies in the same pan. Add the cooked meat, a sauce if using, and stir-fry until everything is combined. Serve over rice or noodles, topped with soy sauce, and peanuts, cashews, or sesame seeds, if desired.
The best part about salad is...almost anything belongs in a salad! Greens, of course, are nutritious salad standbys. But whole grains, hard-boiled eggs, salami, hearts of palm, olives, cheese, raw veggies, lentils, beans, croutons, and fruit all have a place in salads, and the list doesn't need to end there. All you really need for a dynamite salad is a delicious dressing. Buy one (preferably a variety without too much sugar or salt) or make your own. This is one cooking job to pass off to the kids. Just put two parts oil, one part vinegar, and salt in a jar. Seal and shake like mad.
To encourage more salad eating at your family table, serve the ingredients in separate bowls and allow everyone to assemble their own plate.
Fried rice is another Asian specialty that can incorporate all sorts of leftovers. The one requirement is cold rice, so this is the perfect meal for using up that container of two of Chinese takeout rice that has been languishing in the refrigerator.
To prepare: If you have some, sauté a bit of chopped garlic, ginger, and scallions and/or shallots in canola or peanut oil in a large pan. Add any thinly sliced raw veggies, such as thinly sliced carrots or chopped broccoli, and cook until tender. Toss in cooked veggies, such as chopped asparagus or spinach, and cooked meats or shellfish. Stir in the cold rice, then a beaten egg. Sauté until the egg is cooked through; finish with a drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil.