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Tips for Eating More Leftovers

ByKim Robson:

There is little that upsets me more than wasted food. In a world where approximately one billion people suffer from food insecurity, throwing away perfectly good food should be a crime against humanity.

Before produce even makes it to the grocery store, after harvest, 25% to 30% of all food crops in the U.S. are plowed under or left to rot in the fields because of cosmetic blemishes, oddball shapes, or being too large or too small for the packaging. Hidden Harvest, a grassroots organization that recovers wasted produce from fields and packing houses in Coachella Valley, California, distributes its gatherings to the community’s hungry and needy. In France, supermarket chain Intermarché has launched its successful “Inglorious Foods” campaign, offering imperfect produce at substantial discounts. Even New York City has challenged its restaurantsto reduce their food waste.

This is all great, but what can we at home do to reduce the amount of food we throw away? By saving and eating more leftovers, that’s how! I just hatefinding a science experiment growing inside a long-forgotten Tupperware container at the back of the fridge. These few tricks and tips can help us learn to love instead of avoid our leftovers.

Transparent Containers

The easiest way to forget about leftover food is to make it invisible. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Transparent glass food storage containers like theseare a great investment. They’re nonreactive, dishwasher safe, impervious to stains, uniformly sized and stackable, and look super smart in your fridge. I’ve seen clear containers like this at the dollar store, too, so don’t think you have to spend a fortune. Got any unused Mason jars from your last adventure in canning? Use wide-mouthed glass jars to store leftover food. They’re tough as nails, dishwasher safe and totally reusable.

Label, Label, Label

Here’s a common refrain: “Honey, what’s this?” Followed by, “Is it still good to eat?” You can rely on the unreliable “look for any signs of mold test” and the age-old “sniff test.” But these are not the best methods. All too often, these tests are taken too late and the food gets summarily tossed. Instead, keep a roll of masking tape and a Sharpie in your kitchen drawer, and use them every time you put anything into a storage container: label what it is, and when it was stored. That’s all you need to do in order to up your time-management game!

Avoid the Dead Zone

There are certain things that keep more or less indefinitely in the fridge (fig jam, mole concentrate; I’m looking at you, old friends). These are the things that should be stored in the “dead zone,” i.e. the back of the fridge. Nothing back there is readily visible without removing half the shelf’s contents. Your leftovers should be kept right at the very front edge of the fridge so you’ll see them front and center every time you open the door and wonder, “What can I make for dinner tonight?”

Plan on Leftovers

When I cook, it’s just for hubby and myself. Most recipes are written for larger serving portions, though, and often there are plenty of leftovers for another meal. (Always nice to have handy when you’re tired and just want to warm up something.) For larger households, though, you can double or triple a recipe and stash individual portions in your fridge for quick meals or box lunches.

In fact, plan your meals with leftovers in mind. Some foods are much better the next day: cold pasta, soups or stews, dal and curries, burritos, pizza, chili, roasted veggies, casseroles, and shepherd’s pie all taste amazinga day or two later, after the flavors have had time to marry.

Dress Salads on the Plate

Making a Big Salad? Set the salad dressing on the table and let people dress their own portions to taste. That way, any unused salad will keep in the fridge far longer. Wet salads don’t last in the fridge for more than twelve hours before they just look gross.

Leftovers as Recipe Ingredients

Don’t have enough leftovers for a stand-alone meal? Use them as the base for another recipe. Use roasted veggies in an omelet or frittata. Use refried beans in a tortilla with shredded cheese for a quick quesadilla. Sprinkle roasted nuts, grated cheese, or chopped hardboiled eggs over a salad. Just about anything can go into a soup: chopped meat, rice, vegetable trimmings, lentils, noodles, chicken carcasses or beef bones. Make bread pudding with stale bread. Cold rice is perfect for making fried rice — just add precooked veggies and any leftover protein you have lying around.

Breakfast, anyone? Fry some cold mashed potatoes as a side for eggs, or top reheated dal or chickpea curry with a poached egg. YUM.

One of my favorite ways to use Thanksgiving or Christmas leftovers? Try Sam the Cooking Guy’s Leftover Thanksgiving Benedict: fry a bit of stuffing in the form of a patty; then add a slab of turkey, a poached egg, and top with warmed-up leftover gravy. YUM.

Make it Leftover Night

At the end of the week, or whenever the fridge has filled up with containers, have a Leftover Night. Warm up everything and set it all out on nice, warmed dishes. (Presentation goes a long way!) Your family can pick out whatever they want to finish off. Set out lots of condiments to dress up the food: grated cheese, chopped scallions, a salt shaker and pepper grinder, ketchup, mustard and hot sauce, which can go a long way toimprove the look and flavor of leftovers.

Do you have any tips for making the best use of leftover food? Share your techniques with us in the comments!

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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