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5 Ways To Keep Leftovers From Going to Waste

5 Ways To Keep Leftovers From Going to Waste

Leftovers are a big problem for many families. They just sit there, unwanted, until they rot and get thrown in the trash. It’s a big source of food waste, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some ways you can keep more of your leftovers from going to waste.

1. Freeze them for work lunches.

This only works for foods that can cope with being frozen and reheated, but it’s a great way to save on lunches for people who work outside the home. Freezing allows the food to stay good for longer, so no one is stuck with having the same thing for dinner one day and lunch the next.

2. Add them to other foods.

You don’t have to serve leftovers as is. Some can be combined into other foods to make them more appealing. Think soups, salads, sandwiches and stir fry. Not every leftover can be worked into something else, but it relieves the monotony of eating the same thing over again when it does.

3. Organize them.

Don’t let your leftovers get shoved to the back of the fridge and forgotten until the next cleanout. Keep them where you can see them. Mark them with the date the food was made so you don’t have to guess whether or not it’s still good.

4. Have leftover night.

If leftovers are getting out of control, declare a leftover night rather than cook something new for dinner. Anyone who is capable of reheating their own food can select their own meal this way, and the cook gets a little more time off.

5. Just eat them yourself.

Sometimes it’s not worth the trouble reminding people that there are leftovers available. As you remind others to consider eating the leftovers, remind yourself too.

Thinking About Food Waste – Blog Action Day 2011

#BAD11 – I enjoy participating in Blog Action Day each year. The topics are very interesting, and can be quite important. This year’s topic, food, lends itself to so many possibilities, but I decided to write about food waste in particular. With 3 kids, food waste happens, you can’t stop it entirely. You can try to control it.

Food waste is a huge part of the municipal solid waste generated every year. According to the EPA, it was 14.1% before recycling, and only a small percentage of food waste was recovered through recycling. You can read a detailed report on this at http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2009-fs.pdf. This doesn’t count composting at home; it’s just about what goes into the waste stream.

Some food waste is just in the nature of preparing food. The term includes the scraps that come about from preparing food. If you have a compost bin, the waste from preparing fruits and vegetables can at least be kept out of the waste stream and benefit your garden. Those bits aren’t as problematic as other kinds of food waste.

Cutting Down on Food Waste at Home

Home is the place where you have the most control over food waste. You have the ability to buy only what you need and to make sure leftovers are eaten in a timely manner.

Buying only what you need is often difficult, short of going to the store daily, which has its own serious problems. Most of us are simply not perfect at keeping track of the fresh foods in the fridge, and it often gets worse when those fresh foods become a part of leftovers. Even so, we need to try.

Some foods last better than others, of course. Just compare the shelf life of an apple to a banana. When you have fresh foods, think about preparing or serving the foods that spoil quickly first, saving the more durable fresh foods for later in the week.

To control leftovers, start with your cooking habits. How much will you and your family really eat at a sitting? How can you cook enough to satisfy everyone without having leftovers, or at least have fewer leftovers?

Next, figure out how to get people eating leftovers when you have them. If you have the freezer space, you can make them into frozen lunches to go to work or for those days you don’t want to spend much time on lunch. You can also make it a goal to eat those leftovers before freezing them becomes necessary.

Don’t forget your smaller amounts of leftovers. Sometimes you may need to combine two days of leftovers to get a good new meal out of them.

Kids can be some of the biggest offenders on food waste, and the hardest to control. I can’t tell you how often I have to remind mine to finish a half eaten apple or try to figure out a way to get them to eat a dinner they didn’t enjoy that much. I have a few standby additions my kids reach for when they don’t enjoy a meal, which really help limit the complaints and uneaten meals. The right cheese solves many problems with children. So does ketchup.

You should talk to your kids about why it’s important to not waste food. The recent Sesame Street special on food insecurity really hit home with my oldest, who had been quite reluctant to watch something as babyish as Sesame Street; then she had to watch it again the next night because it touched her so much. When I checked, they had the entire Growing Hope Against Hunger episode on that page.

Benefits of Wasting Less Food

The first benefit of wasting less food is obvious. You spend less money on food. That’s pretty simple. A 2006 study found that people throw away an average of 14% of the food they buy. Cut that number down, and you can save a nice little chunk off your monthly grocery bills, or about $600 a year for a family of 4.

Food waste is also an environmental issue. When food waste goes into a landfill, it decomposes and produces methane. Composting it, on the whole, is probably the better answer when you can’t avoid wasting food and have a way to compost it. Just make sure you aren’t doing anything that will attract rodents or other pests.

Is There Anything Else You Can Do?

While there’s only a little you can do directly about it, I suggest you take a look at the EPA’s food recovery hierarchy for more ideas on how to limit food waste. Most of us don’t have enough excess food that can be safely donated to food banks and such, but it’s good to know what kinds of things you should be encouraging in your community.

Remember the Leftovers!

Going through the fridge is one of those chores I don’t particularly look forward to. While I try to use everything up, some things get tucked away just wrong and are missed, wasted.

That’s particularly true with leftovers.

I’ve found a few things that help our family actually use up leftovers a little more often. It doesn’t work all the time, but it helps.

1. Don’t cook so much extra.

This can be a little hard to predict, especially if you aren’t sure if the kids are going to like what you made. But the better you can predict what will really be eaten in one meal the fewer leftovers you’ll have to deal with.

On the flip side, if you have something your family will love, sometimes leftovers are a good idea. This is especially true if you have the freezer space to store the excess and the food freezes well. Makes a great alternative to prepackaged frozen dinners on those nights that you just don’t feel like cooking.

2. Leftovers for lunch.

I use leftovers for my lunch. For my daughter’s school lunch. I try to get my husband to take them to work for lunch, but that almost never works.

For school lunches you want foods that either go well in a thermos or still taste good cold.

3. Stir-fry!

Chop up leftover meat into bite-size pieces, add a sauce and some vegetables, and last night’s meat tastes new.

4. Leftover dinner night

When all else fails, skip making dinner one night and just reheat a bunch of leftovers. You have to watch the age of your leftovers, of course, but when you have enough that are good take advantage.