20 Easy Dinner Recipes That Use Up Last Night's Dinner Leftovers

Jess Richardson | Jul 31, 2019 Food & Party
20 Easy Dinner Recipes That Use Up Last Night's Dinner Leftovers
Image: iStock

Lamb Tagine With Apricots
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We know cooking is healthier and less expensive than eating out, but sometimes it just doesn't feel ... efficient. The fridge ends up packed with 17 different kinds of ingredients, none of which have a lot to do with each other and don't end up making new meals. And while we're all about eating leftovers, eating the exact same thing over and over gets boring ... which is why they often end up in the freezer (and if we're being honest, sometimes the trash, even though we feel awful about it). But with some advanced planning, we can come up with high-quality dinners that easily turn into a different dinner the second night. 

When it comes to making meals that can last in the fridge or freezer, we're huge fans of Instant Pot recipes. Some of them can be prepped ahead in bags so they can just get thrown in the Instant Pot and cooked the second we get home. Or, let the kids assemble dinner themselves, which is perfect for nights when we just simply do not have time to put a meal together in a coherent way. For those mamas, there are always things to feed the kids when they don't feel like cooking. Every mom should have a list of the easiest, go-to dinner ideas for busy, tired nights, to help with that constant dilemma of what to make. 

But using last night's leftovers is a time-tested tradition and the best way to get the most from the food mama has cooked for the family. We've put together a list to help with meal planning and to give some fresh ideas on this classic way of feeding a family. The recipes are divided into "original dinner" and "leftover dinner." Often the first meal has a milder flavor, or the spices used in both are the same, but they're different enough and switch it up enough to not bore us. 

  • Original Dinner: Blackened Tilapia

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    Blackened Tilapia
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    For the first night's dinner, try this recipe for blackened tilapia, which is absolutely delicious -- and healthful. Serve it with Mexican rice pilaf and roasted carrots with thyme and a Greek yogurt-based dipping sauce. 

  • Leftover Dinner: Blackened Tilapia Taco Bowls

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    Dinner 2: Blackened Tilapia Taco Bowls
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    Make extra seasoned tilapia slices the first night, and the next day, just warm them up in a frying pan and make these easy taco bowls --  incorporate the extra veggies from day one if there are leftovers of those, too!

  • Original Dinner: Crispy Garlic Roast Chicken

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    Dinner 1: Lemon Roast Chicken
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    Make this crispy garlic roast chicken, which is one of the easiest, least expensive, and most impressive-looking dinners we know, and depending on the size of the family and the number of sides served, and the leftovers can last for one to two rounds of leftover dinners. 

  • Leftover Dinner: Easy Chicken and Rice Soup Recipe

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    Leftover Dinner: Easy Chicken and Rice Soup Recipe
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    Shred some of the chicken from the garlic roast chicken to make this easy chicken and rice soup recipe, which is really healthy as well as being incredibly delicious, and is a crowd-pleaser when served with a salad and some garlic knots. 

  • Original Dinner: 5 Ingredient Pineapple Pork Chops

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    Original Dinner: 5 Ingredient Pineapple Pork Chops
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    Make this recipe for 5 ingredient pineapple pork chops on the first night. Serve it with a big mixed-green salad and some Spanish-style rice. It's a tasty dish on its own, whether or not there are extras for the next day. 

  • Leftover Dinner: Tacos Al Pastor

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    Leftover Dinner: Tacos Al Pastor Recipe
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    The next day, try this tacos al pastor recipe. It makes use of the pineapple and the pork, which will only taste better for having marinated together in the fridge overnight, and is always a family favorite -- who doesn't love taco night? 

  • Original Dinner: Easy Pan Roasted Chicken Breasts With Thyme

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    Easy Pan Roasted Chicken Breasts With Thyme
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    Prepare this recipe for easy pan roasted chicken breasts with thyme -- which is frankly amazing with garlic-mashed potatoes and some pan-fried green beans -- and set the family up for a treat the next day, too. 

  • Leftover Dinner: Easy Chicken Pot Pie

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    Leftover Dinner: Easy Chicken Pot Pie
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    Make this easy chicken pot pie with the remainder of the chicken breasts, and use extra thyme from the package to season it (use about double what the recipe calls for here -- thyme is a delicate flavor and we can go pretty wild with it). 

  • Original Dinner: Pan-Seared Sirloin Steak

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    Pan Seared Sirloin Steak
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    Use this recipe for pan seared sirloin steak for a satisfying dinner on the first night. Serve with a romaine and bell pepper salad, as well as a baked potato for a truly classic meal that takes little time to put together. 

  • Leftover Dinner: Steak Fajitas

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    Steak Fajitas
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    Use this steak fajita recipe as a basis for a family favorite. Make sure to toss the steak in late in the game so it doesn't overcook -- we just want to warm it up from last night, not cook it so much that it's tough, not tender.  The leftover bell pepper from the salad can repurposed here, too. 

  • Original Dinner: Easy Peel & Eat Old Bay Shrimp

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    Original Dinner: Easy Peel and Eat Old Bay Shrimp
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    This recipe for easy peel and eat Old Bay shrimp is absolutely fantastic, and is cost-effective when using bulk frozen shrimp. Take the extras and chill them immediately after steaming so they don't get rubbery. 

  • Leftover Dinner: Old Bay Shrimp Caesar Salad

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    Old Bay Shrimp Caesar Salad
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    The next day, we're all set to make this fantastic Old Bay shrimp Caesar salad, which is a full dinner on its own, but would also work as a side dish when company comes over -- they don't need to know they're eating chilled leftovers!

  • Original Dinner: Juicy Barbecued Chicken Thighs 

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    Original Dinner: Juicy Barbecued Chicken Thighs Recipe
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    This juicy barbecued chicken thighs recipe is incredibly flavorful and really easy -- and it can be served with some braised collard greens and cornbread, by the way. It's also perfect for making extra of to turn into next night's dinner. 

  • Leftover Dinner: Shredded Barbecue Chicken Sandwich 

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    Leftover Dinner: Shredded BBQ Chicken Sandwich
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    The next day, shred the meat on the remaining chicken thighs to make these shredded BBQ chicken sandwich, which is fantastic with the remaining collard greens and also goes well with a classic coleslaw recipe. 

  • Original Dinner: Lemon Garlic Parmesan Shrimp Pasta

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    Original Dinner: Lemon Garlic Parmesan Shrimp Pasta
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    This recipe for lemon garlic Parmesan shrimp pasta is such a wonderful dinner all on its own. Serve with roasted asparagus drizzled with olive oil and some remaining Parmesan for an elegant and healthful side, too. 

  • Leftover Dinner: Shrimp Salad Stuffed Avocados

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    Leftover Dinner: Shrimp Salad Stuffed Avocados
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    The next day, make these shrimp salad stuffed avocados, which is an incredibly healthy meal full of heart-healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids. It's a light meal on its own, or serve with a quinoa pilaf to fill it out.

  • Original Dinner: Loaded Vegetarian Baked Sweet Potatoes

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    Loaded Vegetarian Baked Sweet Potatoes
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    This recipe for loaded vegetarian baked sweet potatoes is absolutely delicious (and, sidebar, is a great way to use up leftover chili as a stuffing -- not to get too involved here!). But making sweet potatoes is a pain because they take like an hour to bake properly. So make a whole bunch in one go, and then use the leftovers the rest of the week.

  • Leftover Dinner: Sweet Potato Waffles

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    Sweet Potato Waffles
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    One use of sweet potatoes, other than just as an excellent side, is sweet potato waffles. These are a great, healthful way to use a waffle iron and to use up extra sweet potatoes (and is also a new way to use up leftover chili, in case way too much was made originally). 

  • Original Dinner: Lamb Chops With Garlic & Herbs

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    Lamb Chops With Garlic And Herbs
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    This recipe for lamb chops with garlic and herbs is frankly perfect. We love the flavor, the crust created by the cast-iron skillet, and all of the smoky richness of the meat. Serve with a side of lightly sauteed fresh green beans. 

  • Leftover Dinner: Leftover Lamb Tagine With Apricots

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    Leftover Lamb Tagine With Apricots
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    This leftover lamb tagine with apricots is an amazing use leftover lamb. It's also a way to speed up a traditional tagine, which usually cooks on a low heat for a long time -- and it's a sneaky way to get kids to eat some spinach, too. 

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