We get it. Eating the same thing you had yesterday or the day before isn’t always the most appealing, but neither is throwing $1,500 in the trash. That’s the value of the food the average four-person household throws away in America each year.
So hear us out: Leftovers can be good! And eating them can help you save money on your grocery bill while minimizing your food waste footprint. What’s not to like about that?
Check out the tips below so you, too, can become a leftover lover.
Plan for leftovers – or don’t
Leftovers are most likely to go uneaten when they’re a surprise. The best way to avoid that? Plan for them! Some food will last better in the fridge than others – use that knowledge to your advantage. Here are some ways you can avoid having leftovers you won’t want to eat – or plan for ones you will.
- Adjust your recipe to cook less if you know what you’re making won’t keep well (for example roasted zucchini or French fried potatoes)
- On the flip side of that, if you’re planning to have something extra (say you’re meal prepping), make something that will hold well for a couple of days. For example, chili typically tastes better as time progresses, giving you no excuse not to eat it!
- If you’re making a salad but don’t know how much you’ll go through, keep the dressing on the side instead of premixing it. This will allow for any leftover greens to last longer because they won’t get soggy from sitting in dressing.
A note on storage
To make your leftovers last, don’t leave them on the counter for more than a few hours – otherwise you run the risk of bacteria growth. And when you’re packing them up for the refrigerator, an airtight container is best to prevent them from drying out.
Reheat the smart way
Use whatever appliances you have at your disposal, and pick the appliance likely to do your leftovers justice. Pop chicken or pizza into an oven or toaster oven over the microwave, heat your soup on the stove, etc.
For things like pasta, a little bit of added pasta sauce, olive oil, or butter will help loosen things up. Your taste buds will thank you for the extra TLC.
Make a new meal
When leftovers are at their least appetizing, the best thing to do is make something new. Get creative! Turn a bowl of pasta into a pasta bake. Grab a can of beans and turn leftover chicken and rice into a burrito. Top today’s pizza with yesterday’s roasted veggies. And above all, use flavorful sauces to your advantage. We’re confident there’s a way to spice up last night’s dinner.
If you have an array of leftovers piling up in your fridge, have a leftovers night! Rather than cooking something new, pull out all your leftovers and pick at them for dinner. Think of it like small plates at home.
Don’t forget about your scraps
While food scraps may not fall into the traditional definition of “leftovers,” it certainly is left over food. And often, you can utilize them more than you may think! A favorite strategy from team Spoonfuls is to save things like onion skins, carrot peelings, and the ends of celery to make soup stock. But it can be even simpler, like using a leftover bell pepper from dinner prep in your omelet the next morning. Check out this Food Waste Feast’s Hero Recipes and IKEA’s Scrapbook for some inspiration.
For more food waste tips, check out:
- What you need to know about “expiration dates”
- Minimizing Food Waste with a Growing Family
- 5 Tips to #StrikeFoodWaste
- Food waste, food rescue, and why it matters
Did you know Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ hosts low-waste cooking workshops? A part of our culinary education program, Plenty, these workshops (free for nonprofit partners) help people maximize the food they have in order to eat well and waste less. They’re a great opportunity for staff engagement and help support Spoonfuls’ food rescue work. Learn more.