Saturday, June 19, 2010

Leftovers - minimise waste!

 I'm proud to say my refrigerator rarely surprises me with a Nobel-prize-winning science experiment.   
I'd like it to look like this fridge too, but it doesn't quite :-)

More like

And here's some more harsh reality:  the average American family throws away 14 percent of their food (according to a USDA funded study in 2004). That's almost US$600 every year!  Can you think of something nice to do with $600?  Me neither.  Good thing.  (Apparently in total 25 to 50 percent of the country's food is thrown away, so commercial food producers are at least as guilty and you can't solve the problem by leaving the leftovers to them.)

There are so many reasons to have a meal plan for your dinners, and leftover usage is just one.  Design your meal plan around tasty leftovers and you are so far ahead of the game, you might as well be brushing that winners' tape off your midsection already.  As an example from our meal plan, a simple (vegan) Italian tomato pasta sauce over your kid-friendly spirals or macaroni also makes a wonderful dish reheated with big chunks of steamed potato stirred in.  Or the original could be a thick pizza sauce, modified to be pourable for another meal.   

When I make lots of sauce at a time, I have to guess how many containers to refrigerate for use this week and how many to freeze.  As a rule, twice in one week is the limit - after that it doesn't matter what shape the pasta is underneath, I will get complaints!  Also see Cooking and freezing.

Extra rice refreshes pretty well, and any other fine restaurant would also agree that Chinese veggie stirfry over rice (with cashews) is a different meal from Rice with Lentil Curry Sauce and fresh green salad.  

Plan your produce purchases based on your known favourite meals, and keep it simple!  We vary (if you can call it that) between hot vegies: broccoli, cauliflower, courgettes, mushrooms and salad: lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, gherkins and olives.  Perhaps not exciting, but relatively cheap and I know my family will, between us, eat all those and we won't have green slime from more adventurous vegetables puddling in the crisper.  More on keeping it simple:  Minimalist guide to eating.

Don't cook a full and separate meal every night of the week - that is the surefire way to join the queue (holding their noses and losing their money) from the fridge to the compost bin.

Leftovers for lunch

How can I be sure to have a nutritious homecooked lunch every day?  Eat yesterday's dinner leftovers.  If possible, feed them to the kids and husband as well.  Let me know your secret, if you succeed with that.  In any case, this solves your lunch menu problem while clearing your fridge too. 

Lunch leftovers and  scrapping it up
Now that I have two children in various levels of outside care, I regularly face the dreaded rattling lunchbox. It's a true potluck - at what point has DS lost interest in the available options except to mix them together?  We also have a snack bag habit for car trips.  In most cases, I'm more generous with loading than our appetites require.  For that investment in peace and contentment, I must pay the price of seeing sedimentary layers of stale biscuit and pretzel crumbs mixed with cashew bits and squashed raisins.

And like everyone, my family is prone to having more on their plates than they can handle at a sitting.  Food is love, after all.  While the compost bin is always an option, it's still a shame to waste food just because it is now unsightly.  

So savoury scraps get scooped into the "everything soup" freezer container and sweet scraps generally add a few extra spoonfuls of sugar to help my morning porridge go down.   

Knowing this food has a future purpose curbs my habit of eating the last leftovers off a plate just because they are there.  Some of you will understand this one already, and the rest of you might never understand.  But we can all understand that it isn't a good habit.

Over the top
Being too particular is the enemy!  Tonight's dinner was a surprisingly pleasing melange of pasta sauce and stirfry sauce.  That and some quick-cooking rice vermicelli saved us from dropping $20 at the takeaways (and adding cold to our colds at the same time).

  • Not all my leftover experiments are as successful.  OK, DH?  I am sorry...and no doubt will be again.
I save  the salt from bulk bags of cashews and pretzels for cooking rice or soup, and I win popularity contests with iceblocks from juice poured from tinned fruit. 
Here's some extra help for Your refrigerator

Now please share your cleverest leftovers secret!


  1. I was definitely raised to not waste food! I remember being on a school trip to the South Island and we were served a truly hideous cooked breakfast at a cafe somewhere. I stoically ate everything on my plate and then realised that wasn't normal behaviour, given how much was left on all the other plates! And this morning I enjoyed an odd and delicious breakfast of various leftovers heated up together. It did not look pretty, but it tasted great. And it was so easy!

  2. I do the yesterday's dinner left-overs for today's lunch. If I have made lots, I freeze individual proportions for my daughter. These are handy.. In the summer our playground serves free lunch every day (a tradition of many many decades) so on summer weekdays I don't have to worry about what's for lunch. And eating it out on the lawn is just so fun!!!
    I'm a creative cooker, I hardly ever follow a recipe and often try something new by just using things I have at hand... That reduces waste and sometimes makes for something surprisingly good :) I like to use lots of different spices and herbs to create different tastes.

  3. Alice, eating everything on the plate whether I like it or not is a habit of mine too... although it can be very frugal, I wonder if it also doesn't lead to my overeating when I seek something else that I actually like!

    @Cat - creative cooking rocks! Especially as a vegan needing to modify. I actually get a bit uncomfortable with the idea that I have to go buy everything a recipe says. Although I'd get better variety if I became adventurous, I generally get something that I like using what I already have.