What Mom Taught Me About Leftovers

Standing in front of the fridge, freezer or kitchen cabinets wondering exactly what else can I make for a meal. Looking for answers in the plastic containers, foil wrapped plates or mystery packages of foods that should have been eaten sooner because you forgot about it and just didn't want to eat it, again.

Trolling foodie groups on Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram for an idea of what can possibly be made for a meal that tasty, goodish and doesn't take too long to prepare. Is this you, too? Been there, done that.

Pre-COVID, you might have just picked up something on your way home from work or picking the kids up from work or sports practice. Today, you might be relying on fewer physical trips to the grocery store and ordering food online through delivery services. Much has changed. 


The last year has taught me to think more creatively about to do with the food I have. Here's my conclusion:

Think simply. That's it.

Food is only as good as what you'll actually eat. I've learned that no matter how healthy something is, if it doesn't taste good (appearance helps), the family won't eat it and it'll end up being wasted no matter how you try to "repurpose" it into something else. 

I ate many leftovers as a child and wasn't a fan, but that's what was served and I ate it. We did not keep snacks in the house (unless you count my Dad's secret stash of mixed nuts) and pretty much stuck to a three meals a day routine. The garden was part of our grocery store, as were local farm stands. To this day, I'm grateful that I learned to garden and can grow a decent tomato.


I didn't know it at the time, but Mom taught me how to make great leftovers. Whether it's macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, soups, stews or baked chicken, these are what we love and enjoy. She could use whatever was on hand to make a meal, and we'd eat it. Period.

Macaroni and cheese seems to taste better to me the next day, so I make enough to have a tasty leftover.

And while I occasionally like to try new recipes, I'm more inclined to check my pantry for pasta, dried peas or beans, and whatever bits and bites I might have in the fridge or freezer to mix into rice, whip up into a stir fry or spoon over a baked potato. This is what my mother did. And she did not have a large pantry with assorted spices or many boxes of pasta as I do.

A pita pizza is one of my family favorites. Toasted pita rounds with tabbouleh and hummus (a little fresh mint if you have it) is a meal in itself.

We've eaten breakfast for dinner many times (this is actually a photo of my sisters plate), and have gravitated for smaller "plates" of whatever is on hand--cut up veggies, hummus, cheeses, crackers or pita, leftover roast chicken, clusters of grapes, sliced pears or apples and, of course, granola. And soup and sandwiches never fails as a good meal.

Yes, I still do a fair amount of cook ahead meals; it's saved us many a day when  you look up and it's 6 or 7 PM and famished. This minestrone soup is an example of using vegetable broth, cut up veggies and tomato sauce which I had in the freezer to which I added spices and pasta.

Stir fries are one of my favorite go to meals, using veggies (fresh and frozen), cut up chicken, and a few spices to jazz up the taste. It's also a great way to clean out the fridge. Served in a bowl, over rice or noodles, it's a delicious meal.

Whatever you make, make it as tasty as possible. Perhaps add a few new spices, or sauces to your pantry--these have been invaluable to me when I come up short for dinner ideas. 

Pat Bennett is the founder and President of Pat's Granola, a Cleveland based food company. Pat's Granola is sold online at www.patsgranola.com and is also available at several Northeast Ohio businesses including:

Troubadour Coffee Roasters www.troubadourcoffeeroasters.com

Sports and Spine Physical Therapy www.sportspine.com

Local Flavors Shoppe www.localflavors.net

Rittman Orchards and Farm Market www.rittmanorchards.com

Locle Box www.loclebox.com

Market Wagon Northeast Ohio www.marketwagon.com

Made Cleveland www.madecleveland.com

Mister Brisket www.misterbrisket.com

Cleveland Hopkins International Airport www.clevelandairport.com

Nature's Oasis Lakewood 



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