Do you find you are often left with leftover food? From bread crusts to a half eaten apple the toddler left back in the fruit bowl, it’s easy to end up with leftovers in your kitchen. Using your food leftovers not only helps reduce your food bills, but also stops perfectly good food from going to landfill – which has a huge impact on the environment.
Why I love leftovers
I personally love leftovers!
It takes a lot of time and energy – both in utilities like electricity and gas, and your energy – to make a dish. Using leftovers you can make subsequent meals quicker and easier. Sometimes you won’t even have to turn the oven or hob on. Some nights it might be a reheated portion of the same dish as the night before, other times you can make a completely different dish. Roast chicken can be turned into a chicken pie or a chicken salad. Savoury mince can be enjoyed on spaghetti one night and then mixed with a tin of kidney beans and served on rice the next night.
Not only that, but using every scrap of leftovers that you can – whether a sliver of ham in an omelet or spoonful of bolognese in a soup, stops it from going to landfill. You’ve worked hard to afford to buy that food, so why waste it?
Living in Australia – but its also true if you are in the UK or America or other western nations – we waste an eye watering amount of food. Not only has that taken time, money and effort to produce, but you’ve had to pay good money for it. If food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, only behind the US and China. (See here for more info from the Climate Council in Australia and here for info from the BBC.)
According to the United Nations, 30% of the worlds agricultural land is used to produce food that ends up being wasted.
Whilst these numbers aren’t solely down to us the consumer, sadly we do play our part. One of the easiest ways we can help is to turn our leftovers into delicious meals and stop them from going to landfill!
Tips for using your leftovers
- In your meal plan include a meal that you can use any leftovers in, such as a stir fry, fried rice, or frittata.
- Empty the fridge – or the fresh fruit and vegetables – before you stock up again. The old veg tends to get pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten about.
- Keep a store cupboard of items to help you turn your leftovers in to meals (see my favourite ‘essentials’ below.)
- Get creative with those leftovers! Make a stew pie, a roasted veggie empanada, a mixed veggie and meat pizza… Stuck for inspo? Get in touch 🙂 Tell me the ingredients you are having trouble using up and I’ll try my best to make you a delicious, easy recipe!
- Although having said that, you don’t have to be imaginative – we find most leftovers are delicious on a slice of hot buttered toast!
- Don’t feel guilty if you slip if you find a mouldy orange in the bottom of the fruit basket or a rotten tomato lurking at the back of the fridge.
- If you have a freezer, use it. If inspiration for that slice of cooked chicken or crust of bread fails to strike, freeze it. Remember to label and date the bag or container, and check on what’s in your freezer often. I try to check once a fortnight before meal planning for the week, so I can use bits and pieces to stop them becoming freezer burnt.
- Invest in spices. Spices help utilise those leftovers! You don’t need many to start with. Either buy them in packets (it’s cheaper than glass jars) and store in old mustard jars or other small jars; or if you live near to a bulk food shop they can be great to buy a small amount or test a spice to see if you like it (and use it!). Start with buying the spices for the dishes you like to cook most often and expand from there when you can.
- Italian: dried oregano, dried basil, dried thyme.
- Mexican: ground cumin, paprika.
- Asian: chilli, turmeric, cumin and cinnamon.
- Serve meals in buddha bowls. These are great ways for using up odds and ends that wouldn’t necessarily make enough of a meal.
- I find tapas or mezze-type meals are also a great way of using up those small bags from the freezer. A small amount of soup as soup ‘shots’ in espresso cups, a baguette made into a pizza, some cooked veggies made in to mini quiches. They can be a fun way of eating too – my 4 year old son loves these kind of meals.
Basic recipe ideas for using leftovers
Here are a few versatile ideas that can use those leftovers:
- Soup – soups are a great way to use up leftovers, whether it’s a wrinkly carrot or spoonful of leftover cooked pumpkin or mashed potato. Blended soups, or make a minestrone type soup and add leftover cooked pasta or rice. Make an Asian broth and add noodles and leftover chicken.
- Fried rice – not only is fried rice a great recipe for leftover cooked rice, but it is also a simple way to use up wilting veggies or cooked meat or fish.
- Pasta bake – I find pasta bakes or lasagna style bakes so useful for using up odds and ends from the fridge. For example, add a few chunks of leftover roast pumpkin to the cheese sauce. Make a couple of leftover meatballs or some spoonfuls of leftover savoury mince go further by padding them out with a tin of lentils to make the meat layer.
- Pizza – another kid friendly dinner that is so useful for using up small amount of veggies and a handful of cooked meat. You can make your own homemade pizza dough or use puff pastry, naan bread or tortillas make a simple and quick pizza base.
Store Cupboard Essentials
These are my favourite ingredients that I try to always have in the pantry or fridge to help easily turn leftovers in to a delicious meal:
- Tomato Puree / Tomato paste – Adds a rich tomato flavour to soups, stews, sauces.
- Curry powder – Mild curry powder is another of my favourites. You can use it to make a basic curry with a tin of tomatoes or coconut milk. Add some tinned lentils or chickpeas and some frozen spinach or tinned corn for a quick meal. Sprinkle a little curry powder into a mayonnaise and yogurt dressing to make a tasty leftover chicken salad.
- Tinned tomatoes – plum tomatoes or chopped / diced tomatoes make a simple pasta sauce, pizza sauce, curry, or soup.
- Dijon mustard – adds flavour to a homemade salad dressing, and brings out the flavour of cheese in a cheese sauce.
- Worcestershire sauce – this adds extra flavour to a tomato sauce, soup, or casserole. It also makes the best cheese on toast – add a little before you put the toasts under the grill! If you are vegan or vegetarian then this sauce isn’t suitable for you.
- Puff pastry – this is a freezer essential rather than a store cupboard one, but I find it to be so useful for last minute meals! It is quick and easy pie topping for both sweet and savoury fillings. Or use it to make the last spoonful of a stew or some leftover cooked veggies into a pasty. Sprinkle some grated cheese and ham, or leftover meat and make a pizza. It’s also really useful to make sausage rolls or vegetarian sausage rolls.
Do you like using leftovers? Do you have any favourite leftover recipes? I’d love to hear them!