The 1-2-3 Leftovers Game Plan Every Busy Cook Needs

A budget-friendly guide to bookmark straightaway.

January 10, 2019
Photo by Mark Weinberg

Melissa Hemsley is one half of the U.K.-based Hemsley + Hemsley, the wildly popular food and wellness company she founded with her sister, Jasmine. Melissa's first solo cookbook, Eat Happy: 30-Minute Feelgood Food, champions quick recipes that focus on maximizing flavor, limiting waste, and as the title suggests, keep you feeling bright. Read on for her guide to tackling leftovers and making something out of (seemingly!) nothing.

Good food should never go to waste, especially when it’s still fresh and perfectly usable. My Filipino Catholic Mum and army Dad, both sticklers for zero waste, had a saying: "Every grain of rice!" Don’t waste a thing, in other words. When you’re down to that last handful of salad leaves, a quarter of an avocado, or a few wilting herbs, think again before you throw them away. Here are a few suggestions for creating something out of seemingly nothing and saving money in the process so that you can deservedly feel pleased with yourself!


Berries: Simmer in a pan to make a compote and use to top yogurt, porridge, or pancakes. Freeze fresh raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries to use in desserts and smoothies.
Bananas: Cut ripe bananas and freeze to make smoothies and ice cream.
Apples/pears and stone fruit: Stew or roast and use in crumble or porridge.
Tropical fruit: Freeze pineapples and mangos in chunks for making smoothies.

Lemon or Lime Wedges

Squeeze any leftover lemon or lime wedges into a jug of water, or use for a smoothie, to brighten up a soup or stew, or to make Tahini Lemon Drizzle.

Salad Leaves and Herbs

Watercress/rocket (arugula) and fresh herbs: Blend into a pesto, or whizz up with a little extra-virgin olive oil, and use to top soups, stews, or roast veg.
Lettuce: Grill it or fry it Asian-style.
Spinach: Blend into a smoothie or a pesto, or stir into a stew or daal.

Raw Vegetables

Avocado: Add to a smoothie, make guacamole, blend into a dip, or into a dressing to make it really creamy. Chop up to top a stew or soup.
Cucumber: Pickle it, add to a smoothie or stir-fry (try it!).
Courgette (zucchini): Grate into scrambled eggs or smoked trout muffins, or slice to top a pizza.
Broccoli/cauliflower: Save the stalks! Cut off any really knobbly bits, then thinly slice and cook with the florets, or grate when making a vegetable "rice."

Cooked Vegetables

Packed brunch/lunch: Add to a Waste Not Want Now (grain and vegetable) Bowl.
Instant soup: Use to make a really quick soup: Fry onions and/or garlic, add the leftover vegetables, some stock, salt and pepper, plus any herbs and spices, and blend together.
Pizza: Top a pizza or Pizza Omelette.

Cooked Legumes

Freezer: Make a big batch and freeze them.
Packed brunch/lunch: Fry them in spices and add to a Waste Not Want Now (grain and vegetable) Bowl.
Dip: Add to dips, e.g. hummus or tapenade.
Soup: Blend into soup for extra creaminess.
Baked beans/bean mash: Use for baked beans, or to make mash.


Coconut milk: Add to a smoothie, soup or curry, or for creamy drinks.
Nut milk: Add to a soup or for making smoothies and other drinks.
Tinned tomatoes: Simmer with some herbs or spices until thickened, then scramble in some eggs. To ensure you use every last drop in the tin, rinse it out with a little of whatever liquid you are using in a recipe (e.g. stock or water) and add to the dish while it is cooking.

What are your favorite ways to use up leftovers? Let us know below!

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Hana is a food writer/editor based in New York.


Emilye January 16, 2019
thanks for the useful tips!
Anu January 10, 2019
Thanks for these helpful ideas! Trying to get better about not wasting food.