Use leftovers to make meal preparation easy!
As a college student who mostly cooks for herself, I constantly have leftover food. Most easy recipes make 3-4 servings, so unless my housemates and I have family dinner night I usually have lots of leftovers. In addition to having cooked leftovers, I also end up with leftover groceries. I feel like anyone who cooks runs into this situation almost daily. A recipe will call for a cup of spinach but the grocery store only sells spinach in bunches of 3 cups, so one ends up with 2 cups of spinach to use up within a few days before it goes bad. I hate wasting food, so I use a few easy recipes/ tricks to use up common leftover food and groceries.
Stir Fry Almost Anything
I make myself some sort of stir fry several times a week. It’s so easy and you can add almost anything. Leftover veggies? Chop them up with some tofu/chicken and toss them in pan with oil and spices, microwave some instant rice and you have a meal! Leftover protein? Same thing. My favorite thing about a quick stir fry is that you can add whatever mix of spices to flavor your meal. So, you can go a lot of directions with very basic ingredients. My favorite is mixing leftover veggies like spinach/tomatoes/ onion with chickpeas and letting it cook in a little bit of coconut oil. I add salt, pepper, garlic powder, and sometimes some curry powder. It takes less than 15 minutes and helps me clear out my “getting old” veggies.
Stir frying leftover rice is a great way to turn it into a complete second meal. I chop up half an onion, use frozen peas, and chop up a carrot or two to add to the rice. In fact, I’ve just started buying a pack or two of the frozen chopped pea/carrot mix just because I know I’ll end up having leftover rice eventually and it makes the recipe even easier. I stir fry it in a little sesame oil and add scrambled egg, and it quickly turns into a complete next day lunch/dinner.
Make fiesta rice with leftovers!
See recipe for fiesta rice.
Make egg dishes like omelettes with leftovers!
I’ve recently have been all about making omelettes. I used to only make them for breakfast but I’ve added them in as a “any type of meal” meal because they’re so nourishing (full of protein), easy, and most add-ins taste good with them. Leftover veggies or cheese add flavor to an omelette and are a great way to use up that random zucchini and half cup of leftover cheddar cheese that have been in your fridge for a slightly questionable amount of time. Experiment with leftover combinations, I made a potato- cheddar cheese-tomato omelette the other day and it turned out really tasty.
Make Frozen Fruit with leftovers
Fruit is tricky because it starts to spoil so easily. I’m not entirely sure fruit counts as a “leftover” but it’s one of those groceries I always buy too much of and have to race to finish quickly, so I’m including this tip. I started freezing fruit on the cusp of getting brown or mushy. Its helped me save lots of fruit from going bad which I’m all about because it saves me money. Tossing out bananas or berries because you didn’t finish them fast enough feels so wasteful. Now if I notice bananas, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, etc. are going bad I just throw them in a ziplock bag and freeze them. You can use frozen fruit for smoothies, eat it plain, use the bananas for banana bread, or use frozen berries in a berry cobbler.
or how about a tasty frozen dessert called nice cream!
Repurpose Stale Bread Products
Bread type products are another tricky leftover food because they get stale before they actually go bad. Slightly stale bread or tortilla chips aren’t the most appetizing, but are definitely still usable and a shame to waste. For slightly stale bread try making french toast ( I love french toast and scrambled eggs for dinner) or chunking it up and toasting it to make homemade croutons for a salad are my two go to options. Chips that are slightly stale can be crumbled up and used to coat tofu, chicken, or fish as a fun and easy dinner.
Make Soup with almost any leftovers
There’s a soup recipe for almost everything. Leftover chicken? Chicken soup. Leftover potatoes? Potato soup ( I made potato and leek soup with oldish potatoes for dinner the other day and it was so good). Leftover veggies? Veggie soup. In addition to accommodating almost any type of leftover, most soups tend to be pretty low maintenance to make and freeze well. Leftover frozen soup to eat later made from other leftovers? The definition of being thrifty with your groceries.
Everything but the Kitchen Sink + a Simple Base
I’m not sure if this is a “duh” piece of advice but combining a simple meal base such as a bed of spinach, pasta, or quinoa with whatever you have laying around the kitchen can probably be used to create a pretty tasty meal. For example, I had half a container of goat cheese to use up, so I made some quinoa and tossed it with pecans, spinach, goat cheese, and dried cranberries I had laying around and was really happy with the dinner. Grains bowls and salads are simple so they take on flavors really well and go well with most add-ins.
Simply put, there are solutions to prevent having to throw out food and decrease waste.
Wasted food is not great for the environment or your wallet. There are so many easy ways you can repurpose leftover food. If none of my suggestions fit, I recommend literally googling “ Ways to use X in cooking”, the internet will have some creative suggestions. Keep a few cooking staples and spices around your house and get creative yourself. Enjoy cooking and making something new out of something old.
See our graphic below to help you repurpose your leftovers in time before they spoil!
Looking for more recipes ideas and how to meal plan for you and your family? Reach out to us at 301-474-2499 or at [email protected] to set up an appointment with on of our Registered Dietitians!
Contributions to this blog from Caroline Best, dietetic intern.
Whether you are a novice in the kitchen, or a seasoned chef, Dietitian Klara will work with you to help you reach your nutrition goals. Co-author of Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating, Cooking with Diabetes and Cooking with Food Sensitivities Guide.