How often have you stored leftovers in the fridge only to find them spoiled days or weeks later? Learning how to use leftovers can prevent food waste and save you money by ensuring that you use all the groceries that you buy. Using leftovers can even save you time when you incorporate them into a meal later in the week. Read on for tips on how to store your leftovers and transform them into new meals.
Properly storing leftover food can lengthen the time that it stays fresh. If stored properly, leftovers can last in your fridge for 2-4 days. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours. Ideally, store food in glass containers with lids that snap closed. Glass containers work best because you can see what’s in them and you can put them straight into the microwave when you’re ready to heat up leftovers. Place containers in an area towards the front of the fridge so that it’s easy to see and you don’t forget them. Try to avoid storing leftovers in the produce bins or behind other items, because it will be easier to overlook them.
If you know that you don’t intend to use leftover food soon, place it in a freezer bag, label the bag with the date, and store it in the freezer to use when you’re ready. If you have a lot of leftovers to freeze, consider freezing only one or two portions per bag so you can later thaw only what you need. Remember to allow food to cool to room temperature before freezing it.
Leftover items that freeze well include sauces or broths, meat/poultry, casseroles, soups, pancakes/waffles, and baked goods. Vegetables with a high water content that you would typically eat raw such as lettuce, celery, or cucumbers don’t freeze well because they will become soggy when you thaw them. Some dairy products such as cottage cheese or sour cream also don’t do well in the freezer because they will separate when frozen.
Plan a Leftovers Night
Incorporate using leftovers into your meal plan for the week. Designate a night towards the end of the week when you’ll use up any leftovers you have for dinner.
One way to keep track of your leftovers is to make a list (on a whiteboard or paper) of leftover meals and ingredients you have in the fridge. This can serve as a reminder of what food you need to use up. Look at your list when you’re packing lunch or planning dinner so that you can try incorporating these foods into your meal.
Turn Leftovers into a New Meal
When you’ve cooked too much of something, you can use the leftover ingredients to create a whole new meal. Below are some common leftover ingredients and ideas for how to transform them into a different meal.
- Make fried rice (it’s actually best when made with rice that’s a day or two old)
- Add it to soups and stews to add volume
- Eat with a stir-fry
- Turn it into Mexican-style or Spanish-style rice for a side dish
- Season it and add beans for beans and rice
- Make rice pudding
- Make chicken salad
- Slice it to use in a sandwich
- Shred it and simmer in some salsa or taco sauce for chicken tacos
- Add it to a burrito bowl
- Make chicken soup
- Use in a quesadilla
- Add as a pizza topping
- Add to a pasta dish or mac and cheese
- Make lettuce wraps
- Shred it and mix with BBQ sauce to make pulled BBQ chicken
- Use in a casserole like enchiladas
- Make chicken curry
- Add it to a stir fry
- Make a “kitchen sink” type salad with leftover raw veggies
- Use in scrambled eggs, an omelet, frittata, or quiche
- Mix with chickpeas to make a bean salad
- Add them in a buddha bowl
- Make kale chips (if you have raw kale you didn’t use)
- Make vegetable stock (with raw veggie scraps)
- Add to canned soup to bulk it up
- Pasta salad
- Pasta bake
- Add to a frittata
- Mix with a few tablespoons of olive tapenade or pesto
- Add to soup
- Add it to salad greens
- Toss with pasta
- Fish cakes
- Fish tacos
- Add to a frittata or quiche
- Make a skillet hash
- Make potato pancakes
- Add roasted sweet potato cubes to a salad
- Mashed sweet potatoes
- Puree it and add to chili to thicken it
- Use in baking, make sweet potato bread
- Crumble it and make a tofu scramble (firm tofu)
- Add to soups such as miso or kimchi soup (firm tofu)
- Add to smoothies for protein (silken tofu)
- Marinate it and add to a stir-fry (firm tofu)
- Puree it to make a creamy salad dressing (silken tofu)
- Make chocolate mousse or pudding (silken tofu)
- Add to coffee
- Add to smoothies
- Stir into oatmeal
- Use it in baking to add moisture
- Make coconut rice by using it to replace some of the water when cooking rice
There are many ways that you can use up leftovers. If you don’t want to eat the same meal again, transform it into something new for your next lunch or dinner. Try turning one dinner per week into a meal where you use up whatever needs to be eaten in the fridge. Over time you’ll become more comfortable with taking leftover ingredients and finding a creative way to use them so that you never have food go bad.