Let’s Talk Leftovers

Posted: February 19, 2014

Using leftovers for the kids’ snack time (or yours) is a great way to waste less food plus spend less time in the kitchen!

At school, I had a weekly class called ‘S.U.P.W – Socially Useful Project Work’. Never mind that us students normally substituted the U for ‘Useless’ as in all the years I was in that class, I have never seen a single socially useful item being made. In the UK (where I used to live), children’s TV programmes, on the other hand, have fine-tuned this ‘wealth from waste’ concept into practically an art form. Yogurt cups into fortresses, pipe cleaners into everything else BUT pipes (or cleaners), intricately designed forest from a few pencil shavings, you name it, they make it.

In the comments’ section of the previous month’s article where I doled out tips on how to make lunch boxes interesting, many mums had written how they make theplas / parathas / sandwich fillings from leftovers for their children’s lunch boxes. Most of the mums I spoke to regarding that article said the same – that they made creative uses of the previous day’s leftovers for the following day’s lunch. (I am guessing they went to schools that had vastly superior SUPW classes.)

As you now well know my belief that the time spent on your kiddies’ meals and the amount they eat are inversely proportional, I can totally jump on board this leftovers bandwagon.

But instinctively, I know this won’t fly in my house. My mum, for example, would be horrified at the thought of sending my children yesterday’s leftovers rehashed as lunch. Is this a Chennai thing, I wonder, because many of the aunties I spoke to said the same. One declared outright: “All this short cut will fly only in foreign countries, not in our Chennai heat, so don’t even think about it.”

So that was that. Or, is it?

Can we, really, remake the previous day’s leftovers into something yummy for our little picky eaters? If not for lunch, at least as tea-time snacks? Well, here are my top five refurbished snack ideas. If you are a recipient of a better class of SUPW lessons, then do share your knowledge in the comments section, for the good of all mumkind.

Grilled cheese sandwich

This is my absolute favourite as it carries a minimum level of fuss. This works best with dry veggies (or even meat – if the meat is cooked well, it should be safe, right?) and all you need extra are a pair (or five) of bread slices and some Cheddar. All I do is smear butter on the inside of the bread slices, stuff the filling, add grated cheese and bung the result into a sandwich toaster. Paneer can be easily substituted for cheddar, though a paneer sandwich will not result in a sticky, gooey filling.

Stuffed paratha / thepla

A favourite of the previous column’s commenters, this is another insanely simple thing to do. Mix up a batch of wholemeal atta dough. What I usually do is mix the leftover veggies with the dough and make them into triangle shaped parathas. Cook on hot tawa, a smear of butter on each side and hey presto! yummilicious is the name for it.

Mixed veg rice

Take some cooked rice, sauté in ghee, add the leftover vegetables, adjust seasoning and scarf down the results. And the beauty of this is, it is a marriage of not one, but two lots of leftovers – rice and veg! Beautiful, right?


The trick with making rolls with the vegetables/meat/cheese leftover from the previous day is to have some readymade spring roll sheets handy in the freezer. Then this becomes as easy as 1,2,3. Defrost spring roll sheets, neatly arrange a scoopful of filling, roll it up, brush the roll with beaten egg or milk and bake away. You can also fry the roll.

Crustless quiche

Like some lovely ladies I know, if you have a table top oven that is hosting the neighbourhood spider convention, then this recipe is the ideal one to send them packing and reclaiming your oven. Beat some egg, add a tablespoon or two of milk, season with salt and pepper, and half-fill the muffin cups. Add the leftover vegetables / meat, garnish with coriander and cook in a medium oven for 15 minutes or till the egg cooks. It cannot get simpler than this!

Yes, I do realise that the common theme of these is hiding the veggies (or the leftovers in question) in a wrap or some such, but who has ever heard of hiding in plain sight when talking about kiddie meals?

Homemade Tomato Sauce Recipe

As a bonus, here’s a proper recipe to make scrummy tasting tomato sauce at home, which goes well with all of these above-mentioned cheat recipes.

Unlike the store-bought, factory-made processed kind, homemade tomato sauce contains just 4 ingredients:


Rock salt

Lemon juice

Water, if needed


Rinse and clean the tomatoes well. Deseed them.

Take a thick-bottomed saucepan and on a medium flame, heat the tomatoes and salt. Add a few tablespoons of water to loosen it up a bit, if needed. Let it come to a boil. Then lower the flame and let it all simmer nicely, till the sauce reduces to a third.

Take a clean, airtight jar and pour a tablespoonful of lemon juice into it. Pour the tomato sauce in it and use it up within a week, keeping it refrigerated at all times.

Bid farewell to Heinz.

Pic credit: Vegan Heathen (Used under a Creative Commons license)

Mother, writer, foodie, margarita lover, Lavanya is the exception to the rule that women are

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  1. Nice article….but let me assure u…its not only a chennai thin, its a india thing!

    • Lavanya Donthamshetty -

      Lol! Seriously? I have had friends in Delhi say they use leftovers for the next day lunch etc. I should probably sic Child Protection Services on them eh? 😉
      Thanks for reading the article and commenting, Deepti.

  2. You are right about how some people express shock when you tell them you eat and feed leftovers to your husband and children! Of course, it is always nice when you do something tasty with them before you feed/eat them! My current challenge is how to help a University child cook an Indian meal in 10 mins 🙂

    • Lavanya Donthamshetty -

      Kala, that’s sacrilege isn’t it? Feeding yesterday’ s stuff to them? Please do give lessons when you manage to impart cooking wisdom to the Uni graduate 🙂 I think my mum conned me easily cos she madakkified me when I was in 7th standard.

  3. My mother is very unhappy with me as I feed my 1 yr old days old rasam, rice and dhal…..
    I tell her if she wants to feed her grandchild fresh food everyday, she needs to visit us more often and stay longer 🙂

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