6 Recipes That Transform Leftovers From 'Blah' to 'Yum!'

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Tired of leftovers? Don't toss them — try these six recipes that turn leftovers into another delicious and healthy meal.
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Leftovers get a bad rap — especially if they're served up just as they were the day before. But 'zhuzhing' them up a bit (in other words, working them into a new dish) transforms them into a brand new and appetizing meal and even helps cut down on food costs and waste.

The trick is to reframe the way you think of leftovers. In The Pleasures of Cooking for One: A Cookbook, the author, Judith Jones, sums up this idea perfectly:

"The secret of making cooking for one fun and creative is not to think of a meal as self-contained, but to understand that home cooking is an ongoing process, one dish leading to another."

We've pulled together six recipes that do just that. Take leftovers from the night before — think spaghetti, mashed potatoes, cold pizza or even wilted salad — and create an entirely new meal incorporating said leftovers.

These recipes will help save you time and money, along with doing your small part for Mother Earth.

1. What to Make With Salad Leftovers

Garden Pesto Linguine

Turn tossed wilted salad into a bright green pesto to pair with linguine.

Too often, a tossed salad that you don't finish (or start!) at lunch or dinner winds up in the garbage. But don't toss it out — just transform it into pesto. Yes, wilted leftover salad is a terrific starter for a fresh-tasting garden pesto sauce that's loaded with antioxidants.

This pesto gets its green color from the salad, of course, but from pistachios, too. Pistachios' hue comes from lutein, an antioxidant that may help protect your eyes from the blue light we're subjected to each day from all of the screen time, according to a June 2017 study published in Foods.

Pistachios also have a purple hue, which comes from the anthocyanin content, as explained in an April 2012 paper published in Nutrition Reviews.

Get the Garden Pesto Linguine recipe and nutrition info here.

2.  What to Make With Leftover Spaghetti With Marinara Sauce

Portobello Spaghetti Pies

Last night's spaghetti becomes today's Portobello Spaghetti Pies.

Made too much spaghetti last night? That's a good thing because now you'll be able to whip up these savory pies that might actually be tastier than that bowl of pasta. Meaty portobello mushroom caps, which are packed with vitamin D, are the base of these pies.

Very few foods contain vitamin D, which makes foods like mushrooms, along with salmon and soy products, important to include in your diet, according to the National Institutes of Health. It's called the sunshine vitamin because we rely heavily on the sun's rays to help our bodies make enough vitamin D. If we aren't getting enough sunshine or vitamin D in our diet, then supplementation is required.

Get the Portobello Spaghetti Pies recipe and nutrition info here.

3. What to Make With Leftover Grilled Chicken Breast

Grilled Chicken Breast Salad Tartines

Instead of just enjoying chicken breast leftovers, mix up this chicken salad with grapes and pecans.

Turn boring grilled boneless, skinless chicken breast into a tasty new take on chicken salad. Load it onto large slices of whole-grain sourdough toasts and you've just created a trendy tartine. We know chicken breasts are an excellent source of lean protein but pairing it with grapes and pecans ups the nutritional offerings.

We often think of grapes as a great snack food but they're delicious in recipes, too. Grapes have more than 1,600 phytonutrients, which help promote antioxidant activity and keep our cells healthy, according to the California Grape Commission.

They pair perfectly with pecans, which also contain antioxidants and have been shown to help support heart health, according to a small November 2010 study published in The Journal of Nutrition.

Get the Grilled Chicken Breast Salad Tartines recipe and nutrition info here.

4. What to Make With Leftover Cheese Pizza

Pizza 'French Toast' Bruschetta

Cold pizza isn't exactly the healthiest breakfast but turning it into Pizza “French Toast” Bruschetta bumps up the nutritional offerings.

OK, cold pizza is still tasty the next day, but it's even better in this recipe, which fuses pizza, french toast and bruschetta. By soaking a cold slice of leftover cheese pizza in an egg mixture and cooking it in a skillet just like french toast, you're adding more protein to this breakfast dish.

We tend to eat most of our protein later in the day while breakfast is typically rich in carbs. But adding more protein to our a.m. may help with lean muscle gains, which in turn supports weight management and overall health, according to a June 2014 study published in The Journal of Nutrition. Researchers found that people who more evenly distributed their protein intake throughout the day saw an increase in muscle protein synthesis versus those who saved protein for later in the day (dinner).

Are You Getting Enough Protein?

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Get the Pizza 'French Toast' Bruschetta recipe and nutrition info here.

5. What to Make With Leftover Mashed Potatoes

Mashed Potato Soup

Mashed potato soup takes the comfort of mashed potatoes to a whole new level.

Show this comfort food a little love by giving it a second life as an upgraded soup. You'll still get the comfort you're looking for but it'll be from the warming bowl of this mushroom-based broth with an added creaminess from the leftover mashed potatoes.

Regularly enjoying soup before a meal, or even as a meal itself, may help you reach your weight-loss or weight-management goals. An April 2014 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that regular soup sippers weigh less, have smaller waistlines, and consume fewer calories compared to those who skip the soup. They also tend to have better diets overall, with more protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Get the Mashed Potato Soup recipe and nutrition info here.

6. What to Make With Leftover Grilled Vegetables

Vegetable and Goat Cheese Panini

Grilled veggies rarely hold up the next day but add them to a grilled veggie panini and you've got yourself a delicious lunch.

Leftover grilled veggies just aren't the same, but sandwich them between two pieces of grilled whole-grain bread and you have yourself a whole new meal.

When shopping for whole-grain bread, make sure the ingredients say 'whole grain' or 'whole wheat.' Some say 'multi-grain' or '10-grain' but they may not actually be made up of whole grains, but refined grains instead. Another tip is to look for the whole grain stamp.

Whole grains have all three parts of the grain — the germ, endosperm and bran — which means they have more fiber and other nutrients compared to refined grains, which have been stripped of one or more of these parts, as explained by the Whole Grains Council.

Get the Vegetable and Goat Cheese Panini recipe and nutrition info here.

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