Did you know that as Americans we waste almost a pound of food per person each day?? Put that in the perspective of how much money literally goes DOWN the DRAIN- or out with the trash- and we’re talking LOTS OF MOOLAH.
We try hard as a family to not throw away food or be wasteful. (Prime example, I just saw my husband put away the butter dish with just a small pat left over from the kids’ breakfast toast. ? Some might toss that amount and clean the dish, but I’m sure the thought was – that’s the perfect smear for tomorrow’s slice.)
Full disclosure – I am firmly NOT a straight “let’s do leftovers” person either, and you’re not going to find me up on a soap box discussing the virtues of cooking a huge batch of a single dish then eating the SAME thing every night until it’s gone.
I’m sure my aversion to re-heating and re-serving leftovers stems from my OBSESSION with cooking. (I realize I’m not totally “normal” ; -) Haha. When I’m home, I’m whipping up something new and exciting for my family of guinea pigs!
So with my personal aversion for STRAIGHT leftovers, and coupled with our desire to be thoughtful about food waste, I’ve got to get creative!
On any given night, it’s impossible for me to gauge the appetites of 5 people. INEVITABLY we have leftovers. And while I am not inclined to just re-heat and re-serve, I AM excited to figure out how to re-purpose them into a new and different dish.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as tossing leftover roasted vegetables into my salad for lunch. And sometimes I go full on CHOPPED! – You know that Food Network show where the contestants get basket ingredients and have to figure out how to compose a dish from completely random ingredients!
Re-purposing is one way, but there are several other tips and tricks that can make a HUGE difference, so read on! I’ve got ideas for getting the most out of what you buy at the grocery, and help you put money back in your pocket!
Before I dive in, I want you to know I always welcome questions and feedback! If you have something you want to re-purpose but have no idea where to start, drop me a line and I’d be happy to toss out an idea!
Keep an Organized Fridge
Practice FIFO. Standard practice in commercial kitchens is something called FIFO, which stands for First In / First Out. Makes sense right? Use the oldest thing first. Sometimes though, things get lost in the abyss of the fridge or freezer, and good organization will help you avoid this.
Designate drawers and shelves for specific groupings so they don’t get lost in the shuffle. I have a cheese drawer, a root vegetable drawer, an onion/garlic/ginger etc. drawer, and a greens and herbs drawer. I also like to designate one for meats and proteins, especially since if there are drips it is contained and doesn’t leak onto other items in the fridge.
Once a week, look around and do a “fridge assessment”. This should be a good backstop, since most items will last at least a week and you can catch anything that is on it’s way out before it’s too late. I secretly LOVE when I find something random (like a jar of egg whites leftover from a recipe that only called for the yolks), because of course it would be absolutely wasteful NOT to make homemade meringues! (Check out my recipe for Forgottens).
Keep an Organized Pantry / Cupboard
Similar concept to the fridge here, so I’ll keep it short. Keep an eye on expiration dates. Take stock of what’s on your shelves at least monthly to avoid tossing out expired product. And if you have something that is on the cusp of expiration, don’t automatically chuck it. Most often these dates are suggestions of when the product will be at it’s peak, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will harm you if you eat it past the recommended date. Check out this article from the USDA: Before You Toss Food, Wait. Check It Out! or FoodSafety.gov or other trusted resources for specific recommendations and guidance. For any ingredient that I’m cooking with, I start with three basic observations: LOOK for signs of mold or decay, SMELL for any off putting odors, TASTE for any tanginess.
Bring Home Restaurant Leftovers
Restaurants are notorious for over-serving us. We’ve come to expect huge portions when we go out, but it is usually way more food than we can eat. Often too, (and I am guilty of this), we get so excited about the menu that we over-order. Instead of sending the leftovers back to the kitchen and into the dumpster, wrap them up and bring it home.
Make More – On Purpose
Doesn’t sound right does it? Let me explain why it works. Picture this – I have three sweet potatoes, but only need two for dinner. I leave the last one sitting in the fridge, and it doesn’t get used because one sweet potato won’t make it around for my family of 5. So it gets forgotten in the root vegetable drawer.
Instead, if I roast the extra sweet potato with the other two, the next day I’ve got it for lunch. I can split it open and top with leftover guacamole and black beans. Or smash it up and make sweet potato biscuits.
Or, say I only need half of a cauliflower… I’ll roast the remainder, and toss it into a salad the next day with some dried cranberries, and chicken leftover from dinner the night before.
Having extra cooked food in the fridge means you can easily throw together an interesting side dish or salad without having to do extra meal prep.
Don’t Over Serve at the Table
We are more likely to scrape what we cannot finish into the trash or down the disposal. Instead, start out small and take more if you’re still hungry. And with untouched leftovers, see below ?
My favorite challenge! Whoops… I’ve got too many lentils. What to do? Hmm, lentil hummus, lentil salad, toss them into a soup, make a veggie burger out of them, etc. etc. If you made too much, but just aren’t in the mood for more of the same, figure out a way to incorporate it into an entirely different dish. And seriously, ask me for help! Post a comment below, a question on my Facebook page, Instagram, or Contact Me and I’d be happy to offer suggestions! Right now, I’ve got a 16 ounce container of ricotta in the fridge with only 2 tablespoons taken out… any ideas out there? I’m leaning toward a lemon ricotta cake, but am open to suggestions!
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