Those of you follow me on Instagram @myrelationshipwithfood will know by now that, when it comes to throwing away food, it’s something that I’m very much against – it feels like throwing hard earned money in the bin.
In fact, I love the challenge of creating something delicious with leftovers from previous meals or bits and pieces I have lurking in the cupboards/fridge. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who sometimes makes a bit (or a lot!) more than is needed because leftovers are EXACTLY what I want (especially when it comes to my mother’s or mother in laws cooking!)
Over the course of time and through experience I’ve established some “tips ‘n’ tricks” that can really help – either to minimise waste OR to make the most of the leftovers that you find yourself with.
- Change your mindset – Some might see leftovers as being something negative, a burden – something that you resentfully have to find storage space for and try to figure out when/how you’re going to use them up. BUT what if you looked at them as fun challenge – albeit a culinary one -and potentially as the basis of something delicious. All of a sudden it can really make the whole process more enjoyable! Plus, using up leftovers is a real skill – I know that I’m always really impressed by those people who can rustle up something divine from nothing more than the contents of their store-cupboard and a relatively bare fridge!
- Before you shop, plan – Meal planning and making a shopping list is something that gets talked about a lot – and can come across as dull, boring and only for the super-organised – but it’s actually really easy to keep it quick and simple. Before I do our main shop, I have a quick chat with Jamie about what we’re each up to in the forthcoming week – e.g. what nights I will be a “football widow” and a solo supper will be required, what days he will have more time for a leisurely breakfast and if/what nights when either we will both be out or he will need to fend for himself. Once I’ve established that, I do a quick check of the fridge/freezer/cupboards to see what we have and what we have run out of (the latter go straight onto my shopping list) and then start making a rough plan of meals and looking for inspiration (cookbooks, magazines, Instagram and Pinterest are fab for this) and then the items I need then also get added to the list. Something that I should say here though it that my approach to meal planning is a bit more fluid than it might be some – i.e. rather than rigidly saying “We are going to have X meal on Y day”, I try to keep it as flexible as possible – after all there are some days when you find yourself with less time to make dinner than you thought or you are just craving something specific.
- Shop smart – Once I get to the supermarket, I do my best to stick to my list as closely as I can. I won’t lie, there are times when I might see something on a special offer or see something particularly delicious looking and add it to my trolley –I’m only human! – but on the whole I try to resist the temptation of buying things just because they’re on offer or “just in case” – i.e. the half price chocolate, 4 for 3s etc. I pay close attention to the “use-by” dates on things like meat, fish, dairy etc to ensure that what I’m buying will keep as long as I need it and also take a bit of care when choosing my fruit and veg – there’s nothing worse than getting home and finding half your pack of strawberries are mush or that your avocado is already past its ripe & ready best.
- Eat wise – forget your usual “Eat 5 fruit & veg a day” type recommendation – I mean use what you have cleverly – after all, it is a precious resource. I try to be mindful (and encourage Jamie to do the same) of how many different things are open / partially used in the fridge and to keep the number low where I/we can as, once open, the clock is ticking on how long something will stay good for. For example, before opening a new pack of cheese or dip like hummus, I will look to see if we already have any open/partially used ones and, where possible, use those up first. I know that it’s not always possible – there are times when you may have Cheddar open but only Feta will do – but I try! How you stock your fridge/cupboards when you’ve been shopping is also important here. Where I do buy multiple items (e.g. two packets of deli meat) I make sure the one that needs eating sooner is closer to the front and so more likely to be grabbed than the one with the longer date – the “proper” name for this is stock rotation.
- Savvy store-cupboard – something that really helps when it comes to making the most of leftovers is having a good stash of “hero” ingredients – the ones that can come to the rescue when you find yourself a bit stuck – for example, sundried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, Tamari (gluten free soy sauce). To find out more about my “heroes” and to get some inspiration for your own then check out my post called “The Little Kitchen”
- Sensible storage – when it comes to your leftovers, make sure you store them properly. By this I mean as soon as they’re cold get them into in a lidded container / well wrapped and, if appropriate, in the fridge -this is especially important from both a hygiene AND taste/quality perspective – and for foods like rice, chicken etc.
So once all of that is done and I find myself with some luscious leftovers, how do I use them? Well here are some real life examples!
- Friday night dinner/Sunday lunch are normally family gatherings for Jamie and I and we are lucky that our mothers are incredibly generous when it comes to leftovers – we rarely leave without a few containers of edible goodies!
From my mum it might be leftover roast chicken – which will be added to a salad, used in a stir fry with some vegetables and mung/rice noodles or be mixed with cooked rice and a good dollop of Ketchup to recreate one of my mum’s classic recipes. If it’s her meatballs then they will be reheated and served with some freshly cooked pasta (red lentil or pea) and, if there isn’t enough sauce already then I will add some (out of a jar is fine)
Meanwhile Jamie’s mum makes a fabulous cottage pie (in fact she’s famous for it) and, if we’re lucky, then we will be sent home with some of that – which will be reheated and served either with any leftover vegetables that we’ve also been lucky enough to come away with OR some freshly cooked ones. If it’s just the leftover veggies in our “doggie bag” then they will be used to create a delicious frittata – perfect for lunch or dinner – and a dish in itself that makes great leftovers!
- If I’m at home making dinner I often cook a bit extra so that I have something delicious ready for lunch, or the basis for our dinner the next day e.g. I might cook an extra fillet of salmon to have with salad at lunch, or cook some extra rice and veg (like red cabbage) that I can utilise in the coming days.
- A full fruit bowl on your work surface looks great – but be careful not to overload it as some foods (e.g. bananas, pears, grapes) will continue to ripen – and some produce a gas which encourages others to ripen more quickly. Also, an overloaded fruit bowl can mean some fruit gets bruised or left to rot at the bottom. Most fruit (especially soft fruit like berries) lasts longer if its stored in the fridge – although if you can try to get it out a little while before you want to eat it so that it isn’t so cold when you eat it that the taste is dulled. If you do find yourself with fruit that’s getting a bit “long in the tooth” then either freeze it (frozen bananas are fab for baking or making “ice cream”, mixed berries can go straight from frozen into a smoothie) or mix it with some plain yoghurt and top with granola for a delicious snack or breakfast.
- Eggs are a regular for us at mealtimes – as you might have gathered if you follow me on Instagram Stories! For breakfast it might be scrambled, poached or fried eggs (Jamie makes the perfect fried eggs – his mother taught him well!) or they might go into shakshuka – especially if we have any leftover tomato sauce and veggies. Hard boiled eggs are great to have in the fridge for a quick, nutritious snack or for adding to a salad such as a Niçoise. And sometimes there are days when all you really want for dinner is a quick omelette (maybe with any leftover smoked salmon or veggies) or plate of scrambled eggs. Plus don’t forget about cakes, pastry, quiche, using to coat meat/fish before breadcrumbs – eggs honestly have to be one of the most versatile ingredients I can think of!!
If Jamie and I go out for a meal then I will often ask them to “bag up” any leftovers and bring them home and use them up in meals over the coming days. The same goes for takeaways – leftovers go in the fridge, not the bin! Finally, I thought I would share some of my favourite “Whip Up Meals” that are made using our leftovers to help get you started –
- Fried Rice – a great way of using up leftover rice, cooked meat and any dregs of vegetables you have in the fridge (or already cooked) – if you’ve got no meat (or aren’t a meat eater) then throw in an egg or some tofu. Season with Tamari or Teriyaki sauce
- Frittatas – lots of veg (raw or cooked) to hand? A box of eggs that have been sat a while? Turn them into a delicious lunch, dinner or snack with one of these. (P.S. Any leftover salmon – especially smoked- is a delicious addition)
- Buddha Bowls – one of my specialities and so versatile – make them using any cooked rice, meat/fish, veggies, grilled cheese, tofu or hard boiled eggs you have to hand – perfect for lunch or dinner
- Soups – sweat any leftover veggies (cooked or raw) in a pan with some onion and garlic, add some good stock (from a cube is fine) and leave to simmer. Make it more substantial by adding in a tin of drained & rinsed beans (e.g. Cannellini) any leftover cooked tofu or shredded meat you have (e.g. any bits of leftover roast chicken) and some noodles/small pasta shapes.
- Stir Fries – again this is a great way to use up any odds and ends of vegetables (especially if they’re starting to look a bit sad) and leftover protein like meat, tofu or fish (if already cooked add to the pan a bit later on). Season with Tamari or whatever your sauce of preference and serve with rice or noodles!
When I write recipes, I always try to include tips on how to use up leftovers – or how to change things up – you can find lots of examples of these in my cookbook “My Relationship with Food” PLUS if you follow me on Instagram and watch my Stories you will often see me using up leftovers – so why not come follow me if you don’t already?
If you make any of these, or have your own favourite ideas for leftovers, then don’t forget to share your pictures on Instagram @myrelationshipwithfood and by tagging #myrelationshipwithfood or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org – I love seeing them!