A wooden bowl filled with rice and vegetables

The other night, I was too lazy to shop for food after work, so I had to scramble and figure out what to make for dinner. Looking around my kitchen, I found a little uncooked pasta, some leftover rice, and a bit of ground turkey. None of this was enough for a meal in itself.

I decided to combine these ingredients and make a “rice a roni” type of dish. When I was a child, Mom served a meal made from a box of Rice-A-Roni once in a while. It consisted of rice, vermicelli pasta, and seasonings for the broth. Add-ins like peas and cheese added substance and flavor.

My dinner of rice and other leftovers worked out great, it was delicious! It was frugal, filling, and it used up what I had in the house. Meals like this are a great way to avoid food waste!

If you don’t have pasta, you can make what my husband and I used to call “fried rice.” Usually, we fried onion, garlic, and ginger and then added whatever we had to our cooked rice. A little meat, some bok choy, and a grated carrot can go a long way when sautéed with rice. I also really like rice with roasted peanuts and topped with a cooked egg!

And if you want to be a little fancy, you can try an elegant pilaf for dinner. When I make pilaf, I toast rice with onions, garlic, and spices and then simmer it in broth to cook the rice. (This process retains the texture of the rice.) A pilaf lends itself to lots of add-ons and flavors. Add raisins, almonds, or even lentils and yogurt for a classic Indian-style dish. Garnish it with tomatoes and cucumbers and it makes a wonderful meal all by itself!

I am glad that I remembered good old Rice-A-Roni the other night. Combining rice with leftovers —  including a little pasta — can make a tasty meal and help prevent food waste. And all of these recipes work well without meat. This is perfect for Lent meat-free Fridays or any time you want to reduce your food’s carbon footprint.

By Joanna Lacey

Joanna Lacey lives in New York and has collected thousands of ideas from the frugal habits of her mother and grandmother. You can find her on Facebook at Joanna the Green Maven.