Looking back on this busy semester, I started out cooking full, well-balanced meals every day. But after a while, I had spiraled into a pattern of frozen foods and takeout to save time and energy. There has to be a compromise between the two, and it's super important to me not to waste food, so I've been experimenting with making a "real" dinner one night and transforming the leftovers the next day to make an entirely new dish. Here, I'll share my helpful tips about how to spruce up your leftovers, changing up your meals without putting in too much effort. Plus, who doesn't want to feel like the next Emily Mariko?

1. Make a quesadilla.

meat, vegetable, pancake, chicken quesadilla, bread
Wendy Zhou

A quesadilla is one of the easiest things to make, but I sometimes find myself still hungry after eating them if I only make them with cheese. One of my favorite things to make for dinner is Trader Joe's Chicken Shawarma, and one day, I decided to take these chicken leftovers and make a cross-cuisine concoction. I now make sure to make extra chicken just to turn it into a quesadilla the next day. The best part is that you can use any protein or vegetable, and you will always be adding some dimension to your quesadilla while minimizing your food waste. 

2. Put it on top of a salad.

salad, vegetable, tomato, cheese, spinach, lettuce
Bernard Wen

I love salad kits because they simplify the process of making a salad, but like quesadillas, they're often not filling enough without added protein. There are so many different kinds of salad kits, but I especially like buying Southwest ones, and adding leftover ground beef from tacos the night before. That way, the protein matches the salad kit and enhances its flavors. Other ideas include adding leftover grilled chicken to a Caesar salad kit, or leftover teriyaki shrimp or tofu to an Asian salad kit.

3. Throw it on some pasta.

Allison Reinhardt

I make a lot less pasta than the average college student does because I often find it boring and don't know what to pair it with. One of my friends recommended Trader Joe's Spicy Italian Chicken Sausage to me, so I decided to make my own version of my favorite pasta dish: orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe. Instead of broccoli rabe, I sauteéd some spinach, and threw in leftover roasted broccoli from the night before. I topped it all off with some extra virgin olive oil and enjoyed my take on an amazing Italian restaurant dish.

4. Put it on top of rice.

rice, cereal, risotto
Jocelyn Hsu

Rice is a staple in so many different cuisines, and for good reason! It's versatile and goes with virtually any sauce, protein, and vegetables you pair it with. Whether you use leftover rice to make the perfect fried rice or just add some leftover protein or veggies on top, rice is the perfect way to complete your meal. If you couldn't tell already, I'm obsessed with Trader Joe's, and their frozen jasmine rice is a must-have in my freezer. 

5. Make an omelet.

cheese, omelet, vegetable, tomato, sauce, pizza, crust, meat
Jocelyn Hsu

Omelets are always so much better with roasted vegetables in them, and if you have some left over, get ready for an easy yet amazing breakfast the next day. Leftover onions and peppers from fajitas, leftover sauteéd spinach, or leftover diced tomatoes from a salad are all delicious ways to up your omelet game. 

As college students, efficiency is everything, and if you can get two meals for the effort of one, then that time saved is time you can spend on all of the other things you need to get done. Knowing how to dress up leftovers is a skill that is useful, time-saving, and can even be fun! Get creative with your leftovers, and you might even end up with a new favorite dish. Enjoy!