Pre-pandemic, leftovers were like cooked peas on a kid's plate: shoved to the side and thrown away. But in 2020, once-neglected leftovers became our weekday heroes, saving us from making brand-new meals and scrubbing mountains of dishes every single day.
Part of the reason leftovers worked so hard for us this year is because we got creative with them. Sixty percent of respondents said they're looking for recipes to use ingredients they already have on hand, according to an April 2020 survey from the communications firm Hunter.
Instead of half-heartedly tossing leftover turkey into a salad, this year we transformed it into fried rice and tacos — two of our fan-favorite leftover recipes that saw 25 percent more traffic in 2020 than in 2019.
But it wasn't just our readers who were in on the trend: Pinterest users got creative in their hunt for leftover ideas, too. Searches for "leftover chicken breast recipes" have quadrupled since October 2019, the social media site tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Harnessing the power of leftovers this year helped us save time, money and sanity. Keep scrolling to see 2020's most popular leftover recipes on LIVESTRONG.com and our food-tracking app MyPlate.
1. Turkey Fried Rice
"Fried rice is a comfort food that contains everything you want in a balanced meal: lean protein from leftover turkey meat and eggs as well as fiber and antioxidants from the carrots and peas," says digestive wellness expert Alyssa Northrop, RD. "You can also consider bumping up the fiber even more by using brown rice instead of white."
Get the Turkey Fried Rice recipe and nutrition info here.
2. Turkey Tacos
These turkey tacos use up the leftover turkey meat sitting in your fridge and pack a fiber punch with whole-grain corn tortillas, carrots, green cabbage and avocados, Northrop says. "Plain yogurt is also an excellent alternative to sour cream both in taste and nutrition. If you can, try to opt for plain Greek yogurt, which is much higher in protein than both regular yogurt and sour cream."
Get the Turkey Tacos recipe and nutrition info here.
3. Chia Crunch
"This breakfast recipe is an excellent way to use leftover quinoa and makes the most out of the bulk-sized yogurt containers that sometimes spoil," says plant-based nutrition expert Kelly Jones, RD. "It also provides protein, fiber-rich carbohydrates and healthy fats from the chia seeds. You can even add fresh or frozen fruit for an added pop of color and antioxidants."
Get the Chia Crunch recipe and nutrition info here.
4. Spicy Chicken and Basil Pizza
If you're tired of your usual chicken dishes, Jones recommends trying this simple-yet-delicious pizza recipe. "This Spicy Chicken and Basil Pizza is an easy way to use leftover chicken before it spoils," Jones says. "The use of whole-wheat pita as the crust makes it a super quick (and nutritious) weeknight option, and the basil adds some brightness so it won't feel like leftovers."
Get the Spicy Chicken and Basil Pizza recipe and nutrition info here.
5. Rotisserie Chicken Lasagna
Rotisserie chicken makes for an easy workweek meal to rely on, especially when you're too exhausted to cook but also don't want to order takeout. And this Rotisserie Chicken Lasagna is a cozy comfort-food dinner that's good for you, too.
"This recipe is a perfect way to transform your leftovers," Jones says. "Feel free to add leftover spinach or any cooked vegetables you have in the refrigerator before they spoil, too."
Get the Rotisserie Chicken Lasagna recipe and nutrition info here.