Creative ways to turn leftovers into family favourites

family eating together at a dinner table

Alice Piper

Posted March 24, 2022

No need to throw out those leftovers! Here’s how to turn any ingredient into a masterpiece.

When it comes to food waste, the 2019 National Food Waste Baseline report shows the average Australian household is sending roughly 4.9kg of food waste to landfill each week, adding up to a whopping $2,000-2,5000 per year. 

The good news is there are so many ways to get creative with leftovers and other loose bits and bobs in the fridge, using up everything you have and turning it into something even the fussiest of eaters will love. 

“There are great ways to regenerate leftovers, just remember that if you have leftover cooked foods, it should be cooled down and refrigerated as soon as possible if you’re going to use it again,” says RACV Club Executive Chef, Jason Camillo.  

Turn classic leftovers into something spectacular


A staple in most homes, and for good reason, rice is so versatile and is the perfect accompaniment to many meals. 

If you’ve made rice to go with a stir-fry, curry, or anything else – don’t throw out what’s left, but instead use it in another recipe. 

“Fried rice is a classic dish that works better when the rice is drier from being a day or two old,” says Camillo. “Or even create a sweet rice pudding for dessert.”  


Chicken is another versatile leftover, as it can virtually be made into anything and fits with every cuisine.  

Whether it’s leftover chicken breast fillets, thigh fillets or a whole roast chook, it’s easy to get more out of them.  

Think shredded chicken for a taco night or tossed together with some salad for a quick lunch, or even place the already cooked chicken into a curry or soup at the end so it simply heats through the rest and doesn’t dry out.  


When there are many mouths to feed and different taste buds to cater to, pasta is a crowd pleaser. However, getting the quantities exactly right can be tricky, and we’re often left with quite a bit more than we need. 

Take those leftovers and make a pasta salad for lunches, which is great for busy weeks, or turn it into another dinner like a tuna casserole. 

cooking pasta in a pan with utensils

Leftover pasta can easily be turned into pasta salad for weekday lunches. Image: Getty. 


Steak is one leftover that can be stretched into basically anything – a stir fry, quesadillas, a salad, or chow mein if you really want to get creative.  

So don’t throw out the uneaten meat from steak night, and instead turn it into any number things – just be sure to reheat the steak in the oven, or on the stove until just warmed through, as microwaving will dry it out. 


We all want to get the kids (and ourselves!) to eat more veggies, but when it comes to leftover veggies, they’re not so appealing once they’ve gotten a little soggy in the fridge. 

This is where the grill comes in handy, because putting leftover veggies on the grill gives them a whole new life - even throw in some bacon for a tasty side salad. 

“Another option is to add them to a casserole,” says Camillo. “Chop them up super small and put them into a Bolognese sauce or make a quick veggie omelette.” 

“You can even dice them up and wrap them in a good quality short crust pastry and bake it in the oven,” he adds.


If by some miracle the pasties didn’t get scoffed as soon as they arrived home from the bakery, there is a surprising number of things you can do with stale croissants. 

Try soaking them in custard - or perhaps chocolate flavoured milk – and baking them in a casserole dish on a low heat until they milk has thickened the top is crispy. 

“You can even turn them into bread-and-butter pudding,” says Camillo.  

“Just brush with butter and dollops of jam, mix 9 whole eggs with 1 litre of milk, add a quill of cinnamon - or ¼ teaspoon of ground cinnamon - and a pinch of nutmeg.”

“Then grease a baking dish with butter and place in your leftover pastries or old bread inside. Then pour over the milk and egg mixture. Bake in a 170 degrees preheated oven for 35 minutes, or till set. Allow to cool slightly, dust with icing sugar and serve with Vanilla ice cream.”

Those day-old breakfast pastries have just become a whole new after dinner treat. 


This one might technically not qualify as a ‘leftover’, but fruit is one thing that can easily be left too long, and then thrown out.  

Try turning old bananas into banana bread, or apples into an apple crumble. Even peaches can be turned peach cobbler, or a flan. 

“You can even puree fruits with a little orange or apple juice and make into ice blocks to eat on a warm summers day which make low sugar alternative to what you buy in supermarket,” says Camillo.  

“And any fruit you don’t want to use as soon as you buy it, pop it in a zip lock bag, put it in the freezer, and use it in a smoothie,” he adds.