Show of hands, who loves leftovers? Anybody? No? Well, I’m not surprised. Leftovers have gotten a bad rap over the course of time.
Old adages such as “Waste Not, Want Not” and “Clean Your Plate” still ring in our ears from our childhoods (and maybe our children’s childhoods as well!). We were continuously reminded that there were starving children that would give their eye teeth for just one bite of the tuna surprise that’s sitting on the table in front of us.
Even Pope Francis jumped on the bandwagon in 2013 saying, “Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry.”
All of this makes us feel like leftovers are something we must eat instead of something we could actually enjoy.
I would like to welcome you to the No Throw Zone as we talk about a few creative thoughts on how to use leftovers.
Safely Storing Food Leftovers
I’m gonna put this at the top of the list because it’s important to store your leftovers in a manner that will allow you to use them in a timely manner before they go bad. For cooked meats and hardy vegetables, the general rule of thumb is that they should be eaten or frozen within 5 days of putting them in the refrigerator (which should happen within 2 hours of cooking them!).
This 5 day rule doesn’t apply to everything so make sure you do your homework. Cured meats can be stored up to 14 days in the fridge after being opened, whereas a fruit or vegetable salad will probably look mushy and unappealing by the next day.
It’s best to use the “first in, first out” method of using your leftovers. When you put a container in, pull any existing containers to the front so they can be used first and the older stuff won’t be hidden in the back!
Keep in mind that’s OK to toss something that looks or smells “funny”. Or, as often happens to me, if you can’t remember when you made it. Never take the chance of getting sick just so you can say you didn’t have to throw it away!
What’s For Lunch Today?
How about leftovers from your dinner last night?
Nothing’s easier than depositing your leftovers from diner directly into a microwave-safe container to have for lunch the next day. Many dishes are even better when the flavors have had a chance to meld overnight. Don’t believe me? You can’t argue with science, man.
Let’s take that soup or stew, for example. This type of dish is typically simmered for some amount of time, both to cook the ingredients and to evaporate some of the liquid, which makes the broth more concentrated and flavorful.
This evaporation process continues as the dish cools and even in the refrigerator. The meat and vegetables absorb liquid as well, causing them to become more tender and flavorful as time goes on. These chemical reactions are what turns that tasty dinner into a heavenly lunch!
Make It New Again
When my kids were growing up, a family favorite was turning stew, pot roast or boiled dinner into hash a day or two later. Simply remove the meat and veggies out of the liquid, chop ‘em up small and crisp it up in a saute pan with a little oil. Use cornstarch to turn the broth into gravy and you’ve got a real “stick-to-your-ribs” kind of meal. My kids now use this recipe for their own families!
You can also turn any kind of leftovers in a stir-fry. Give them a quick saute and then toss with soy sauce, sesame oil, grated Parmesan or whatever you’ve got on hand!
Puree leftovers to stir into pasta sauce to kick up nutrition and flavor. Or mix them in with pasta and some grated cheese for an easy-peasy meal.
Leftover meat or seafood? How about a sandwich? Or toss it up with some lettuce and your favorite salad dressing! Nachos, chicken salad, ham salad…the possibilities are endless.
Quick And Easy Soup
Soup’s On! Make that quick and easy soup. Got some bouillon? Puree you leftovers to add for a comforting, tasty broth or mix them in as they are for hearty soup. Top it with freshly made croutons (made from any kind of leftover bread) and dinner’s ready!
Feeling adventurous? How about some ramen? I know this recipe calls for chicken, celery and carrots but you’re feeling adventurous, right? Go ahead and try it with some different ingredients. Basic, dried, unflavored ramen noodles can be found in the Asian section of your local supermarket and have a long shelf life so why not stock up?
And, just for the record, making your own soup or ramen broth is about one million times better than that “instant” stuff.
Improving The Bottom Line
Using (reusing?) your leftovers has benefits far beyond the cost of trash bags. Not only are you saving money on your grocery bill, you’re reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as your ecological footprint. You’re improving the bottom line for yourself and the whole world.
And lest I end this sounding like your mother, I will also point out that you’re creating tasty and nutritious meals to enjoy with your family and friends. Because that’s the real bottom line, isn’t it?
All my best,