Article By: Dalia Pelayo-Mark
It’s time to shine some light on a wasteful habit that everyone is guilty of- wasting leftover food. I come from a large family, and a lot of food on the table comes with a lot of food left over. As you read this, I bet you have a container of food that’s been stashed in the refrigerator for weeks, overlooked and forgotten. It’s not just you– a survey from Glad found that nearly half of Americans have found an item in their fridge in the past month that they didn’t realize was there. It makes the most sense (environmentally, socially and financially) to get smarter and more innovative about using the food that we purchase, including leftovers. Here are a few tips I’ve gathered for using those extras:
First Tip: Create leftovers intentionally. When you’re planning meals, think about what the extras can be used for in other meals. It’s a real time and budget saver. If you prepare twice the vegetables you’ll need for tonight’s dinner, you’ll have the starting point for a soup or pasta dish later in the week. Anticipate using leftover roast chicken on sandwiches; cook twice as much rice as you need and freeze the extras for use in a later meal.
Second Tip: If you find your fridge or freezer stuffed to the gills with leftover food, commit to “eating down the fridge” one night a week. Making a point to designate days when you clear out the fridge will not only help keep your fridge clean, but help you to be less wasteful with your food overall.
Third Tip: Turn extra pasta or cooked vegetables into a frittata. Blend cooked vegetables with a can of whole tomatoes and create a veggie-packed sauce for pasta. Create burritos with leftover cooked rice, meat and vegetables, and top them with sour cream and salsa.
Fourth Tip: The steamed, roasted or grilled vegetables that you serve as a side dish one night can become soup on another day. In a blender, puree the vegetables with three or four cups of vegetable or chicken broth, then warm the soup in a pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and finish the soup with a bit of pesto, olive oil or croutons.
Fifth Tip: If that loaf of good bakery bread loses its freshness after a day or two: halve the loaf crosswise, drizzle it with good olive oil and rub it with the cut side of a halved ripe tomato. Season the bread with salt and pepper, wrap in foil and bake until warm.
Sixth Tip: As an alternative to composting, keep vegetable scraps to make stock. Keep a gallon zip-top bag in the freezer and add various vegetable trimmings: carrot and fennel tops, ends of onions or leeks, tomato cores, stems of herbs and greens, corn cobs, and the like. Any produce that’s past its prime in the fridge can go in as well. When the bag is full, defrost the contents, dump into a pot and add water to cover. Simmer for two hours, strain — and you’ll have better-than-store-bought veggie stock(which can be frozen in that same gallon bag).
So why should you really use leftovers? Well, the National Resources Defense Council estimates that up to 40% of food grown, processed and transported in the U.S. will never be eaten. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, roughly 70 billion pounds of food is lost in the United States each year, and nearly one-third of that food waste happens because we purchase, cook or serve more than we consume. Getting into the habit of using up our leftovers is one way to have an impact on this important issue.