What is incrediably cheap, useful and a renewable resource in your house you can tap to save money which requires no capitial investment? Now think about, give yourself a second. Ok, it’s your leftovers.
Leftovers?!?! Yes, leftovers. I couldn’t find a formal study showing the food waste in this country but I found a few references to estimates ranging from 20 to 30% of what food we buy goes to waste. So if you think about it that means if your not eating your leftovers you could reduce your food bill by 20% or more just be eating them. So if you are spending $700/month on food you could be saving almost $1700 annually just be eating your leftovers.
Despite how easy this can be to do I find when I talk to people about it they always seem to say “But I just ate that I don’t want to eat it again.” Who said you had to eat it the exact same way in again the day after you eat it? You really don’t. All it takes is some planning or a little creativity.
So your first option with leftovers is a little planning and some freezer space. If you lack a creative bone in your body, even you can manage to do this. Freeze your leftovers into single individual portions with a piece of tape with a today’s date on it. Build up a supply to allow you to have four meals of leftovers. The start a leftover night once a week where you eat them. That way you will have some choice in what you do eat for leftovers. Also you need to make sure none of your leftovers get’s older than 2 months old, so if you put it off eating it for 7 weeks your stuck eating it on week 8.
Alright, so that one way to handle leftovers. I personally don’t freeze much myself. I prefer to try and reuse things the same week we generate them. Often lunch on the weekend consists of leftovers or I take them for lunch and I try to have one leftover night per week. Also I’m ok eating some of the same food again within a week, but if you really hate it here is some ideas on how to avoid that fate.
Using up leftovers is basically an exercise in creativity, but here are a few standard ways people use them up.
- Soup. Did you know most restaurant’s soup of the day is likely made up of leftovers? It’s true. I’ve worked in a kitchen before so I know. So steal this page from the industry’s play book and do your own leftover soup. Take 2 to 3 cups stock (chicken, beef, vegetable) and add about 1 cup of leftover starch (pasta, rice, potato). Then add about 1/2 cup protein (beans, meat, etc) and 1/2 to 1 cup of vegetables. Then spice it up with what ever comes into your head (bay leaf, rosemary, thyme, basil are all classics). Simmer for an 30 minutes to an hour and serve. Trust me you won’t make the same soup more than once and it won’t taste anything like what you already ate that week.
- Casserole. This is another classic trick used by my own mom for years. Mix 1 to 2 cups starch (or mix up what starch you do have like 1/2 cup rice with 1/2 cup pasta) with 1 can of cream soup (mushroom or tomato are classics). The cut up your leftovers into small parts and add in what ever is in the fridge (meat, vegetables, etc). If your leftovers are making everything a little too liquid like feel free to add some dry pasta or instant rice to help soak up the extra liquid as you bake it. Or if it looks too thick add a little bit of water. You want it to look a little thick going in as the water content of what you add will turn the entire thing more liquid as you cook it. Add spice(s) of your choice mix then top with either some cheese or bread crumbs mixed with butter and crumbled on top. Bake uncovered for 1 hour at 350F.
- Stir Fry. Cook up or reheat some rice or pasta. Then chop up what every you have into small pieces. Fry it up in a hot pan with some oil in the bottom. Mix well. Then add in some sauce. A typical mixture is something like 1 tbsp of water, 1 tbsp of soy sauce, 1 tbsp of other sauce (pick something out of the fridge or peanut butter works well too), 1/4 tsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp corn starch and spices like garlic powder, onion powder, ginger. Feel free to adjust to anything you like. Then mix it well and add it to the pan after you remove it from the heat (otherwise you can boil off your water content too fast and your corn starch will turn into a mess on the bottom of the pan, if this happens add some water and simmer for a while stirring to help reverse the effect somewhat). Serve over rice or pasta.
So hopefully that helps with your war on your leftovers. If you’ve got another idea please share with a comment.