loaves of bread close up

You’ve done it again: purchased fresh bread, forgot all about it, and then realized that it turned into a hard lump in your bread basket. If you tend to buy a loaf that isn’t packed with preservatives, that’s just what’s going to happen from time to time. But before you throw all that bread away (that you’ve already paid for!), you should know that there are actually all kinds of ways you can use stale and even hard bread. Unless your bread has started to go moldy, no worries — there’s still hope for it. You just have to get creative with what you decide to make with it.

It can be difficult to come up with all those ideas on your own, which is why we’ve concocted a list of the very best ways to use stale bread. By utilizing some of these ideas, you can reduce food waste in your kitchen — and save some money in the process. Plus, you may just find a new recipe that will soon become a favorite in your household. Without further ado, let’s take a look at some clever and creative ways to use that stale bread you have sitting around.

Croutons

croutons in small dish

If you’re a salad lover, then this use for stale bread isn’t going to surprise you at all. Croutons, which are basically just dried bread anyway, can transform a boring salad into something crunchy and delicious. However, you may not be the type of person to buy croutons in a bag, and we don’t blame you: The pre-cubes can often be expensive. However, making your own croutons at home will generally save you money, and it’s as easy as can be too.

Simply take that stale bread and cut or tear it into pieces. We prefer tearing the bread because it exposes more surface area to the heat of the oven, but if you prefer a neater look, cutting your bread with a knife will get the job done as well. Then, toss those chunks in some olive oil, and feel free to add in some seasonings if you like — we recommend a generous sprinkling of salt and sometimes a crank or two of black pepper. Then, put the breadcrumbs in the oven until they just start to brown. Take them out, let them cool, and you’ll have croutons ready to go whenever you make a salad.

Breadcrumbs

breadcrumbs on white background

Breadcrumbs can come in handy for all types of applications, so it’s always good to have some on hand. But, like with the croutons, buying breadcrumbs doesn’t always feel like the best way to spend your money at the grocery store. So, why not just make your own batch instead? It’s super easy — all you’re going to need is some stale bread and a food processor or immersion blender.

Our preferred method for making bread crumbs is using a food processor. Simply break the bread into smaller pieces, and add them to your appliance. If you prefer using an immersion blender, place those bread pieces into a bowl. Then, either process the bread or use the immersion blender to break up the pieces into crumbs. If your bread is already dry, then you’re good to go — just place the breadcrumbs in a bag and put them in the pantry so they’re always there for you when you need them for a recipe. If your bread is just stale but hasn’t hardened, you can either dry the breadcrumbs out by putting them on a baking sheet and letting them sit undisturbed or simply use them as is. These homemade breadcrumbs are going to make a lot of recipes a lot easier — and probably a lot cheaper too.

Panzanella

panzanella with vegetables

You may think you’re not a salad person, but that may be because you’ve never tried panzanella before. Panzanella is the ultimate salad for all the carb lovers out there. Yes, it’s packed with veggies, but it also features plenty of bread doused in olive oil. Intrigued yet? Best of all, it’s at its best when it’s made with stale bread. If the bread is already hard, you can just start mixing all your ingredients together. If it’s still on the soft side, though, all you have to do is pop pieces of that stale bread under the broiler for a minute on each side so the bread gets nice and toasted.

Then, take it out, and mix it with your other ingredients. Tomatoes are a classic choice for a panzanella recipe, and the bread tastes even better when it’s soaked up some of that savory tomato juice. You can also toss in cucumber, red onions, lemon juice, or whatever else you like in your salads. Don’t be afraid to get creative here! Regardless of anything else you decide to add to the salad, that crunchy, olive-oil soaked bread is sure to hit the spot every time.

Ribollita

spoon ladeling ribollita

It seems like Italian cooks always know what to do when it comes to stale bread, and like panzanella, ribollita is a perfect example of that. Ribollita is a kind of bread soup that is thought to have originated all the way back in the Middle Ages (via Italy Magazine). Legend has it that peasants would take bread that had been soaking in meat juices from the rich and then use that bread to flavor their soup. Back then, the soups likely would have been meatless (but probably brimming with beans). Now, though, a ribollita recipe can contain chicken or other meats in place of the bread, but if you happen to a have partially used loaf that’s past its prime, this is a great opportunity to give it new life.

Because you’re placing that hard, stale bread into a brothy mixture, the bread breaks down and becomes softer within minutes. It makes the soup nice and thick, and the texture of the bread turns almost pillowy. If you’re the kind of person who’s always dunking tons of bread into their soup anyway, there’s a good chance you’re going to love ribollita. Once you try this dish, you’ll never look at stale bread the same way again.

Stuffing or dressing

homemade Thanksgiving stuffing

When you think of stuffing or dressing, your mind probably first goes to Thanksgiving. Of course, that’s when the dish really shines, but if you’re like us, you don’t mind soaked, savory bread at any time of the year. And luckily, you don’t have to find a dressing-making kit at your local grocery store to do this dish justice. You may actually be better off if you just stick to the stale bread that’s on your counter right now. Stale bread works best because you want it to be able to absorb all that fat, broth, and flavor. That means the bread you left out and forgot about is actually beneficial in this case!

Essentially, all you have to do to make stuffing is tear your stale bread into pieces and cover it with an herb-y mixture. Other add-ins are encouraged to join in the fun (our Tuscan bread stuffing recipe includes additions such as pancetta, chestnuts, and cranberries). Place it all in a baking pan together, cover it with butter or another type of fat, and pop it in the oven, allowing that bread to get all browned on top. Within a few minutes, you’ll have a delicious, carb-filled side dish that helps you use up all the leftover stale bread in your kitchen. In fact, you may love it so much that you actually want your bread to go stale sooner. You’ve been warned.

Strata

strata with eggs and ham

For all those who want to use up all the extra ingredients they have in the fridge and pantry and are trying to make breakfast in the process, strata may just be your best bet. This breakfast casserole is great for when you have plenty of bread, some eggs, and a ton of veggies that are about to go to waste. You’re going to want to fully saturate your bread in the liquid, which, in most cases, will include eggs and milk. When you’re using fresh bread, this process doesn’t take long at all. However, you should note that when you’re using stale bread instead, it might take a bit longer. That’s okay — just budget an extra bit of time in to let that bread soak.

Strata is a fantastic breakfast option when you’re looking to feed a whole crew of people, and since it contains so much bread (and protein from the eggs), it’s super filling. Add meat to it if you prefer, or keep it meatless if you want something that’s on the lighter side. Once you start making this stuff for breakfast, you’re going to want it every weekday morning.

Meatloaf

meatloaf on table

Meatloaf is one of those dishes that will really fall flat if it’s not done correctly — it can easily dry out and fall apart on the plate, leaving you with a big mess and not much of an appetite. However, when it’s done well, meatloaf is delicious: It can be nice and moist and bursting with flavor. But if you’ve never made meatloaf before, you may not realize that there’s one crucial ingredient that keeps everything together — literally: bread. Adding breadcrumbs to the ground meat helps to hold the ingredients together so they don’t all fall apart once they leave the pan. And although you don’t have to use the stale stuff, it works perfectly here.

However, you should keep in mind that you’re going to want to soak that stale bread in milk or broth before you add it to your meatloaf. That’s because, since meatloaf can get dry, it’s important to add enough moisture to the dish to keep things from drying out too much. A quick soak in some liquid will ensure that your stale bread makes every bite even more enjoyable.

Bread pudding

bread pudding in dish

There are few desserts in the world that are more delicious than bread pudding. How could you not enjoy bread soaked in custard laced with sugar and spices and then baked until it reaches the perfect soft-but-chewy consistency? And luckily for all those who have stale bread in their kitchens right now, it’s actually better to use stale bread for a bread pudding recipe. That’s because to really get all those flavors evenly distributed into the dish, you’ll want the bread to soak up all the liquid you add to it. When bread is already stale and dried out, it allows more of that liquid to seep into it.

There are a ton of different bread pudding recipes out there, but most of them involve soaking the bread in a kind of egg mixture. Then, you can add whatever other ingredients sound good to you. Keep it simple with some cinnamon and raisins, or take things up a notch and make it even sweeter with the addition of chocolate chips. Once it’s all baked and browned on top, take it out of the oven and let it cool for a few minutes before you indulge.

French toast

French toast with berries

Stale bread is a worthy option for this breakfast staple, and it works for the same reasons we use stale bread for bread pudding. Because you’re dipping your bread into an egg mixture, you’re going to want it to soak up as much of that liquid as possible. When you use fresh bread, that bread already contains plenty of moisture, which means the liquid from the eggs isn’t going to seep in as well. However, when you use hard, stale bread, there’s a lot less moisture present, allowing more of the egg mixture to become incorporated with the bread.

Since French toast is essentially just soaked bread, you may be worried that using the stale stuff is going to negatively affect the taste of the finished product. However, that’s not the case, especially when you use plenty of sugar and other baking spices to add flavor to the dish.

If you have some extra time in the morning and some stale bread on the counter, making French toast is a great way to ensure you’re not throwing that bread out — and it’ll ensure you have a fantastic breakfast in the process.

Thickening soup

creamy broccoli cheese soup

We all love a good brothy soup from time to time. But as the weather gets colder and you want something heartier to put in your bowl, you may start thinking of ways to thicken your soup to give yourself a more filling meal. Of course, you can always use potatoes if you have some on hand, but it can be a hassle peeling them. If you want a quicker hack, you can always add some flour or cornstarch to your soup. But a surprising ingredient you can use to thicken soup happens to be stale bread.

Of course, you’re not going to want to dump a whole load of stale bread into your soup and expect everything to go smoothly. Instead, you’ll want to break that stale bread up into breadcrumbs. This will allow the pieces of bread to break down quicker, thickening your soup in a matter of minutes. This method can transform a thin, brothy soup into something significantly heartier in just a matter of minutes, and it helps you use up all that stale bread in the process. What’s not to love about that?

Crab cakes

crab cakes on white plate

If you love seafood, there’s no denying that crab cakes are delicious. It’s one of the easiest ways to incorporate more seafood into your diet at home because they’re so easy to make. And once you add in the flavor from that Old Bay seasoning, it’s clear why crab cakes are one of our all-time favorite dishes for a quick dinner. But if you just put a ton of crab and veggies in a bowl and try to form it into patties, you’re in for a rude awakening. All of those ingredients will have a difficult time sticking together, and you’ll be left with crab cake crumbles rather than actual crab cakes.

So, how do you bind all of the other ingredients together? You guessed it: breadcrumbs. And since we already know that stale bread can be transformed into breadcrumbs, it’s clear that stale bread is the perfect addition to this dish. Sprinkle a few breadcrumbs into the mixture if you just want to use it as a binder, or use more if you’re trying to add some bulk to the crab cakes.

Meatball binder

meatballs in pan

Meatballs are similar to crab cakes and meatloaf in that they don’t really stick together when they’re made with meat alone. Therefore, you need to add an ingredient that can absorb some of the fat and moisture from the meat and add some additional bulk in the process. Enter stale bread. Adding just a bit of homemade breadcrumbs into a meatball mixture allows them to stick together more easily, and it also makes the ground meat mixture go further. Once you add in all of those delicious spices, you’ll have meatballs that come together perfectly.

One thing you’ll want to keep in mind here, though, is that it’s important to use very fine breadcrumbs. If you use larger chunks, you may still be able to feel their texture when you bite into your meatballs, which is probably not what you’re going for. Using a food processor is a great way to ensure that you’re getting small-enough crumbs to work well in a meatball recipe. Just throw your stale bread into your food processor, and in a matter of seconds, you’ll have perfect breadcrumbs for making delicious meatballs to be eaten on their own or with pasta.