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Simply Nutritious, Quick and Delicious

Don’t Leave Behind the Leftovers!


This blog post is written by Illinois State University graduate student and dietetic intern, Alyssa Laing.

Whether you’re cooking for a family or just yourself, you’ve probably come across the challenge of deciding how much food to make. We often overestimate what we will eat and end up with more than we need.  Instead of throwing away the extras, save your leftovers to eat again the next day or repurpose them into something else to save time and money! According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), households could save about $370 per person each year if implemented efforts to decrease their food waste.  There are a few ways you can save leftovers to reduce food waste in your household.

First, simply save the leftover food, refrigerate, and eat within 3-4 days. Use a clear container so you can easily see what you have in the fridge. If you don’t think you’ll eat the leftovers within this time frame, place the food in an airtight container, label, and freeze for 2-4 months. Finally, if you’re tired of eating the same meal, transform your leftovers into something new! By only mixing together the amount of food you will eat, this leaves the extra separate ingredients to be transformed into a creative new dish! Shredded chicken can be made into a casserole, used in soups, tossed into salads, mixed into dips, used as a pizza topping or made into tacos. Leftover rice can be added into soups, mixed into a rice bowl with chicken and veggies, made into rice pudding, or used to make fried rice. The options are endless!

Once your food is cooked and ready to be stored, refrigerate within 2 hours to ensure proper cooling. Bacteria that cause foodborne illness can multiply quickly if food stays in the “temperature danger zone” between 40° F and 140° F. When reheating foods, heat leftovers until they reach an internal temperature of 165° F.


Southwest Chicken Casserole (Printable PDF)

4 cups shredded cooked chicken

2 cups salsa

1 (15.25 oz) can corn, drained and rinsed

1 cup black beans rinsed

½ teaspoons garlic powder

½ teaspoons cumin

1 ½ cups shredded colby jack cheese (or Mexican blend)

Optional: Sour cream, guacamole, green onions. If you don’t have all of the spices, you could try substituting them for one packet of taco seasoning, but this would increase the sodium content.


Preheat oven to 350° F. Wash hands with soap and water. Mix the shredded chicken, salsa, corn, black beans, garlic powder, and cumin together and spread in a large casserole dish. Cover evenly with cheddar cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cheese is melted and the chicken is heated. Once done, remove from the oven and garnish with items of your choice! Enjoy.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 360 calories, 13 grams fat, 1120  milligrams sodium, 19 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 38 grams protein