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Cook once, eat twice: how to make the most of your leftovers

The never-ending cycle of feeding children nutritious yet easy meals leaves most of us feeling exhausted at times. Finding recipes that can be adapted for multiple family dishes is a great way to save time and money, while adding essential nutrients to your diet.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Sep 2, 2021

family having dinner

It’s not easy to find new and exciting meals that children will actually eat – whether they’re three or 13. So if you’re stuck in a mealtime rut you’re not alone. To help you save time and money, we’ve sourced recipes that use leftovers from common family favourites to create delicious new dinners.

Read on for meal-time inspiration and healthy eating advice from specialist registered dietician Nichola Ludlam-Raine:

"A balanced diet is really important for the health of not only our children but for us too, and meal planning is a great way to help you plan for a healthy diet.

This means including a variety of foods throughout the week such as plenty of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, good sources of protein like lean red meat, fish, eggs, dairy, beans and lentils in addition to healthy fats, to provide essential macronutrients as well as vitamins, minerals and fibre."

1. Make the most of your roast: recipe ideas for leftover roast lamb

thai broth

With a little forward planning a Sunday roast (like roast lamb) can provide two or even three more meals.

Quick Lamb wraps

These Greek-style wraps are a quick and easy midweek meal, perfect for using up left-over lamb roast.

Method: Heat a little oil in a large wok or pan. Cut up leftover lamb into strips and add to the pan with two cloves of chopped garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes until piping hot, then add chopped mushrooms. Once the mushrooms are cooked, stir in flat leaf parsley, cooked rice, lemon juice and seasoning. Heat for 1-2 minutes.

Combine Greek yoghurt and fresh mint to make a quick sauce and serve in tortilla wraps.

Thai Lamb Broth

A tasty Thai-inspired soup with fresh basil and coconut milk.

Method: In a large pan or wok, gently heat strips of leftover lamb and Thai green curry paste. Add sweet potatoes, coconut milk, stock and two teaspoons of sugar. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add mushrooms and peas (or green beans), season and cook for 3-4 more minutes. Ladle the broth into bowls and garnish with tomatoes and basil.

What Mumsnetters say

“I find I can often get five meals out of a leg of lamb (there are four of us), and four meals out of a £6-£7 joint of beef or pork. Cooked meat works fine in a curry or stir fry with vegetables, in an open pie with pulses, some extra veggies and a mash potato topping, or in a sauce of some sort."

Did you know?

Lamb provides several essential vitamins including B12*. Vitamin B12 plays an important role in the functioning of our bodies. It can help reduce tiredness and fatigue, support our immune system to work normally and can help normal psychological function.

2. Shake up savoury mince: recipe ideas for leftover beef mince

savoury mince

Beef is high in vitamin B12. A batch of savoury lean beef mince is versatile and can be used in cottage pie, Bolognese and even chilli con carne. But have you tried an all-in-one mince supper?

All-in-one mince supper

It’s no wonder one-pan dishes are always a winner when it comes to mid-week family meals. This dish provides maximum flavour and enjoyment with minimal washing-up.

Method: Heat a large non-stick frying pan and cook the bacon for 1-2 minutes until lightly coloured. Add the peppers and cook for a further 3-4 minutes. Add the mince sauce, chopped tomatoes, cooked rice, stock and paprika. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes.

Mince and sweet potato frittata

Perfect for supper or a light lunch, with beef mince, sweet potato and peppers, this frittata is pan-cooked with beaten eggs.

Method: Heat some oil in a large shallow, non-stick frying pan under a moderate heat and fry sliced sweet potatoes until golden brown. Reduce the heat and cook for a further five minutes until tender, turning occasionally. Remove and drain on absorbent kitchen paper. Remove any excess oil from the pan.

Heat the same pan until hot add savoury mince, leeks and yellow pepper and cook for 5-7 minutes until the mince is piping hot and the veg is cooked. Add a dash of cayenne pepper, seasoning and chives or chervil. Stir and cook for a further five minutes. Carefully pour over beaten egg evenly and finish with the sliced potatoes, reduce the heat and cook for a further 5 minutes until the egg is set. Transfer the pan to a preheated grill (check that your handles are heatproof) and cook until lightly brown and the egg is set in the middle.

What Mumsnetters say

“I often do a big cook up using lean mince on a Saturday or Sunday to serve 6-8. I serve up two portions the following Monday and freeze the rest. My favourite recipes are the ones that only need rice or pasta and veggies served with them so almost no effort on defrost day. I take it out of the freezer before work. In the evening I transfer it into a heat-proof dish and put it in the oven. Set the timer for 25 mins while bringing brown rice to boil and serve with plenty of vegetables.”

Did you know?

Lean red meat provides high-quality protein and a range of vitamins and minerals** that contribute to good health. Some of these nutrients can be more difficult to get from a plant-based diet, such as high-quality protein and vitamin B12. Beef is also a source of iron. Iron helps the immune system to work normally.

3. Revamp a classic: recipe ideas for leftover pork

pork pasta

Roast pork with mash and veg is a crowd-pleaser with lots of young families. Get ahead of the week by cooking up a bit extra and you’re set for a some more easy meals. When you're re-heating any meat, always ensure that it's piping hot before eating.

Creamy pork medallions with pasta and peas

This tasty dish can be ready in just 20 minutes and you only need six ingredients, to make it.

Method: Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling water according to packet instructions until just tender (al dente). During the last 3–4 minutes, add the peas. Drain, keeping a little of the cooking water aside. Put a lid on the pan to keep the pasta and peas warm. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and reheat the pork for 3–4 minutes until piping hot. Add the lemon zest, juice and crème fraîche. Simmer gently over a low heat for 30 seconds.

Add the pasta and peas to the sauce and toss, thinning down with the reserved cooking water if necessary. Season. Divide between four bowls and garnish with a little parmesan, fresh basil and black pepper.

Pork adobo kebabs with vegetable rice

Homemade kebab skewers can be a great way to encourage children to try new things – it’s a wonder what they’ll eat when you put it on a stick. This is a perfect recipe to make with a double batch of pork medallions. Marinade and freeze half for another meal.

Method: In a medium bowl, mix together vinegar, garlic, pepper, soy sauce and oil. Add the pork medallions, stir, cover, set aside and marinate for 10 minutes.

Preheat the grill to moderate. Drain the pork from the marinade (reserve marinade). Thread the pork onto the skewers alternating with the pepper, mushrooms and pineapple. Grill the kebabs for around 10 minutes, turning occasionally until cooked. Serve on top of rice and spoon the sauce over the cooked kebabs.

Pork and black bean noodle stir fry

Use black bean sauce and fresh parsley to cook up a tasty meal in minutes.

Method: Cut leftover pork medallions (or left-over pork roast) into strips. Heat a little olive oil in a large wok or frying pan and add the pork and stir-fry veg. Once the veg is cooked and the pork is piping hot, add black bean sauce, 100ml water and fresh egg noodles. Stir-fry for a further two minutes to heat through, garnish with fresh parsley and serve immediately.

What Mumsnetters say

“Another good tip for using up meat leftovers is special fried brown rice. We stick all sorts of healthy stuff in it, including frozen veg or any leftover veggies that need eating – it’s one of our favourite dinners and such a good way of using up leftovers.”

Did you know?

Pork is a rich source of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 helps the formation of red blood cells. Pork is also a source of four essential vitamins and minerals^ that help the immune system to work normally.

Ask a registered dietitian

nichola ludlam-raine

We posed specialist registered dietitian Nichola Ludlam-Raine some commonly asked questions about how to enjoy red meat as part of a healthy balanced diet. Here's what she said:

Can red meat be part of a healthy, balanced diet?

Meat such as pork, lamb and beef has been eaten by humans since prehistoric times. The Department of Health suggests that red meat can be enjoyed as part of a healthy balanced diet. Not more than 70g of red meat a day (approx 500g/week) is recommended.

All children should eat a balanced diet, the NHS advises that children over the age of five should follow the proportions on the Eatwell Guide. This can include meat or other sources of protein such as beans, fish and eggs.

Children don't need as much food as adults, and the amount they need depends on their age and size, but it is important to form healthy eating habits from an early age. This means allowing them to try a variety of different fruits and vegetables across the week, in addition to some wholegrains and healthy fats too.

Try to get children involved in the cooking process so these habits continue into adulthood. Both red and white meat can be introduced to babies from around six months of age as part of a healthy, balanced diet. To reduce saturated fat intake, choose lean cuts and make sure to remove/drain any excess fat from meat to ensure it’s a leaner option for all the family.

How do I encourage my fussy eater to try new things?

Exposure and role modelling is key when it comes to encouraging your little one to try new foods – keep offering 'refused foods' and try to eat those foods as a family at mealtimes.

To reduce any pressure on your little one, offer more preferred or liked foods alongside new or disliked foods and try to make the plate both fun and enticing – you could present vegetables on a wholemeal dough pizza in the shape of a smiley face, make fruit kebabs for dessert or even cut up sandwiches or cucumber slices into shapes with cookie cutters. Where possible get your children involved in the cooking process and talk about the foods and where they come from.

One thing I do with my toddler is use one of their toys – a doll or a teddy for example – and we pretend to feed them too. It works to encourage my little one to start eating every time! Short-handled cutlery can also make the eating process easier.

What is vitamin B12 and what foods can I find it in?

Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient not naturally present in plant-based foods that plays an important role in the functioning of our bodies. It can help reduce tiredness and fatigue and support our immune system. Sources of vitamin B12 include lean red meat, dairy (like milk and cheese), as well as eggs, fish and foods fortified with vitamin B12.

About Nichola Ludlam-Raine

Nichola is a specialist registered dietitian with over 10 years of clinical experience working for the NHS as well as privately. Nichola has a first class BSc honours in Sport & Exercise Science from Loughborough University, a Post Graduate Diploma in Dietetics from Leeds, an MSc in Health Science and she is a published author in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. Nichola promotes all foods to be eaten in moderation as a part of a healthy balanced diet, and she believes that variety is the spice of life.


These recipes may contain allergens. Cooked meat should be placed in a sealed container and stored in the fridge when cool. It should be eaten within 2-3 days. If re-heating, ensure food is piping hot throughout before serving.

*Lamb is a source of niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), phosphorus, zinc, vitamin B6, potassium and vitamin B12. 100g raw, lean lamb

**Beef is source of the following B vitamins, Riboflavin (vitamin B2), Niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin B6, vitamin B12. 100g of raw lean beef

^Pork contains vitamin B6, vitamin B12, selenium and zinc