4 Genius Ways to Stretch Any Meal—And Save Time And Money

Last Update: September 29, 2022

Other than cold pizza, do leftovers ever sound appetizing? Reheating and repeating three nights in a row doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of dinner plans most people look forward to.  

The average American family spends $500 to $2,000 a year on food that winds up in the trash—whether it’s food that never gets touched and goes bad, or just extra pot roast from last night’s dinner, it still ends up in the same place.

That number is staggering, but for some reason we still want to resist popping a storage container of yesterday’s meal into the microwave. It’s not that our food is unsafe. According to the Mayo Clinic, leftovers are safe in the fridge for three to four days, meaning that extra pasta from Monday night is still good for Friday’s lunch.

And brown-bagging it to work or stretching a meal a few extra nights is great news for those watching budgets. So why does it still bum us out? Because leftovers are boring.

But here’s the good news: Stretching a meal doesn’t have to mean eating the same thing day in and day out. It can actually be pretty fun, easy, and inexpensive to transform yesterday’s feast into a brand new dish.

Next level (next day) tacos

Perfect for extra veggies or leftover protein, soft tortillas or hard taco shells make the ideal vehicle for a quick meal. Quickly sauté the meat and veggies together and add spices like cumin and chili powder for taste—or take a short cut and mix in an authentic taco sauce for instant flavor.  Spoon the mixture into soft or hard shell tacos and top with cheese, jalapenos, and salsa. Olé!

Pumped-up pasta

One of the easiest ways to integrate veggies into a new meal? Mix them into your favorite pasta sauce. The more the merrier—cooked vegetables will bring heftiness and fiber to a pasta dish and make your meal feel more complete, and the richness of marinara sauce will help bring together all the flavors of your dish.

Going low-carb? Spoon your sauce over kelp noodles or mung bean noodles for a Paleo-friendly pasta option.

Loaded baked sweet potato

Want a filling, versatile lunchtime meal? Say hello to sweet potatoes. Especially plentiful around fall, this superstar starch is full of vitamin C and antioxidants—and cooks in about eight minutes in the microwave, making them a super easy bring-to-work meal.

Because they’re slightly sweet, yams easily compliment more savory dishes like lomo saltado as well as they do curries or honey-sweetened dishes. Reheat leftovers and spoon over a hot baked potato (cheese and sour cream are optional!) for a complete meal.

Blend leftovers into soup

Soup recipes are so fun to make—once you know the basics, you can totally wing any recipe. It comes in handy when repurposing leftovers—yesterday’s spicy chicken stir fry turns into tonight’s twist on Italian Wedding Soup, and last week’s frozen veggie dish gets blended into a creamy vegetable soup.

Start with a healthy fat like coconut oil or ghee and sauté something aromatic and flavorful, like garlic or onions, in the pot. Once onions are translucent and tender, add liquid. For a creamy soup, try half coconut milk and half bone broth; if you prefer something a little lighter, you can opt for all broth. Throw a few of your favorite spices in (you can’t go wrong with thyme and sage!).

Then add meat and vegetables to the pot, and simmer covered until flavors come together.  Opting for a creamier soup without the coconut oil? Try substituting your cooked vegetables for tomatoes in our Creamy Tomato Soup.

What do you do to make your meals last longer? We’re dying to know! Tell us in the comments below.

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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