We can save so much money if we don’t let food go to waste. But what to do with leftovers? Check out these guidelines for what to do with last night’s dinner.
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“Waste not, want not.” That’s what our grandmothers used to say. It’s the basic premise that if you use up what you have, you won’t find yourself in need.
While I am not sure that one exactly follows the other, it is true that avoiding waste is good stewardship and will save you money, both of which help you stay out of debt and build wealth.
There are lots of ways to avoid waste, particularly if you’re practiced at recycling and repurposing items that might otherwise hit the dumpster. Avoiding food waste is a huge opportunity to save money and exercise good stewardship.
They say that Americans throw away between 25 and 40 percent of the food they buy. If your family can consume leftovers before they go bad, you will avoid throwing money away. It’s that simple. It’s also a major part of the Good Cheap Eats System.
But, what to do with leftovers especially if your family doesn’t like the sound of leftovers?
Here are some guidelines for what to do with leftovers from last night’s dinner:
Store it properly.
The USDA has stated that leftovers properly stored are good up to 4 days. What to do with leftovers after that point? Chuck it.
But before you get to that point, store it properly and use it up in the next couple days.
Having a meal plan on your frig will help you remember. A quick glance at the calendar will remind you when you prepared a certain item.
If you don’t have such a record, keep a sharpie pen in your kitchen and mark the date when you wrap up leftovers. Clean your fridge out every three days and you’ll be in good shape.
Pack it for lunch.
Packing lunches is a quick and easy way to use up leftovers. I often do this “on purpose” making extra dinner so that I know we’ll have extra for lunches.
Take your lunch prepping skills up a notch by packaging up the leftovers at the same time as serving dinner. Your lunches can cool while you eat and then you can load everything in the fridge at clean up time.
Here are my favorite containers for packing lunches:
- glass bento boxes
- Easy lunches plastic boxes – I also like these new Rubbermaid ones that are similar
- black meal prep containers
Too much taco meat? Freeze it in Soupercubes to add to casseroles, chili, or tacos.
Freeze it for later.
The easiest way to get into freezer cooking is to double dinner. Leftovers are basically that, a second batch. There’s no reason you need to eat the same thing twice this week. Freeze it!
Check out Quick Freezer Cooking Tips for When You Don’t Have Time to Do It.
Package up meal-size portions, wrap well for freezing, chill completely and pop them into cold storage. Some night next month, your future self will thank you.
Make something new with what’s left.
If eating the same thing twice in a week isn’t in the cards, then transform your leftovers into something new. I’m not talking about Mystery Meat or Hamburger Surprise. Lots of delicious meals can start with leftovers.
- Leftover veggies and meats can be incorporated into casseroles, quiches, soups, and stews.
- Leftover roast chicken or beef make a fantastic fillings for tacos, burritos, or quesadillas.
- Leftover rice and chicken or pork go great in fried rice.
- Grilled chicken and roasted veggies will top a pizza or fill a sandwich beautifully.
- Blend fruit salad into a smoothie, leftover veggies into a pasta sauce.
- Tonight’s taco meat can go into tomorrow’s chili or bolognese.
The options are virtually endless! Think through what your family likes to eat and chances are you can find a way to make last night’s dinner new again.
Honor the time and money you spent in the first place.
Remember that you spent good time and money to prep that meal in the first place. Don’t wrinkle your nose at extra food! We live in an amazing time when we have refrigeration and extra. It’s really such a blessing.
The trick is simply in knowing what to do with the leftovers.
Using up leftover cooked food (instead of throwing it out) is a great way to save money and exercise good stewardship.
What do YOU do with leftovers?
This post was originally published on January 16, 2009. It has been updated for content and clarity.
Soup is our favorite way to deal with these. Esp. LO chicken curry soup–we may look forward to it as much as the chicken curry itself.
Egg bake or quiche is another way I use up these bits. Sometimes it’s SW inspired w/ LO taco ground meat, cheese, olives, green onions, salsa for the moisture. Sometimes it’s pizza egg bake with red sauce for the moisture, and whatever pizza toppings we had left. Sometimes it’s LO easter ham chunks, greens, potatoes, and cheese with ranch or something for the moisture.
That’s awesome. Love it when leftovers are a hit!
I have been working in this.,I am doing intermintent fastung right now, which means not eating as much, which has resulted in more food waste initially. We do pretty well eatung leftovers for lunches in the past, but they were just stacking up. I have figured out 2 things at our house that help. 1. Have funny dinners (as a child this ment all leftovers came out of the fridge and everyone picked what they wanted. 2. Make smaller meals! I dont need to add the whole box of pasta, I can add just half. Something so simple has really made a difference. Instead of a couple of chicken breasts, I might just use 2 or 1.5 (for the huge ones).
I also think knowing what date something was cooked is essential. I menu plan for a month at a time on a calendar form the dollar store. But I dont keep strictly to the dates. When I make something, I cross it out and put the date I actually cooked it in the box. This really helps my husband prioritize what needs to be eaten first. What I made last night might be more tepting, but to avoid waste he might need to eat something that will be ditched the next day instead.
Great problem solving, Carrie! Sounds like you’re doing a great job.
I’ll either freeze leftovers, if it’s something freezable, or we have one night a week where it’s “eat whatever’s in the fridge night”. We can usually feed four of us with bits and bobs of leftovers, with some cheese and salad or a boiled egg added to fill plates if necessary. It can be quite fun, because no two plates are ever exactly the same, based on the quantities of each leftover item 😉
Sounds like you all have great attitudes about leftovers. That’s half the battle!
We usually just eat them the next day, thankfully my husband doesn’t object to leftovers. (grin) But I do remember a suggestion from a book/cookbook on eating cheap that said to always add something new the second time around. Some things it works better with than others, but it does help.
My favorite trick is one I learned from my mother. She would heat some milk in a small saucepan and then add a leftover baked potato to the milk cut into chunks or slices. Then she would take the potato masher and squash it up, add a pat of butter and eat her ‘soup’. It is quite tasty, although I usually also add some onion powder. It made a simple one serving soup when she needed something to eat when taking her medicine.
I sometimes freeze single servings for quick meals when I’m home alone. And sometimes I keep leftover veg and meat in a separate larger freezer container and add as time goes by until I have enough for ‘Heloise’ soup. I just heat some broth and add the contents and season to taste. It is never the same but always good.
You always have something helpful to add to the conversation. Thanks, Alice!
Could you share a link to your glass containers? I need to buy some for more food prep and yours look like the perfect size. Thanks!
Good question! I’ve added some of my favorites to the post!
Oh gosh, that picture is just too funny! I love that big hunk of meat just staring at me through the question mark, LOL!
Okay, this is too funny, I just blogged about wanting to do a better job using up leftovers and generally cutting back on waste in the kitchen!
THanks for the refresher of ideas and thoughts!
These are some great ideas for leftovers! I like the Grilled chicken and roasted veggies for pizza. One thing that me and my husband do alot is we always make single size portions of the leftovers and freeze them in small containers. My husband can then just pop one in his backpack (he’s still in school) and by the time it has thawed out it is lunch time and he can just pop it in a microwave at school for a minute or two and he has a cheap, healthy, fast lunch.
Another thing we do alot is with leftover white rice we turn it into sweet rice in the morning. We just put cold rice in a bowl and pour a little milk over the top and then add some sugar or I really like it with cinnamon and sugar. Its a great way to get rid of your rice, my kids LOVE it!
I almost always plan my meals based on what I know will be leftover, reusing the foods in new ways. I do occasionally hit a speed-bump when my family eats more than I expected though!