Creative Ways to Use Leftovers or Other Extra Food


I picked up cooking as a form of self-care this year.

Finding new things to cook, making up recipes based on what’s in my fridge, and getting more creative with my leftovers are a few things that work best for me. Especially when it reduces food waste.

A few years ago, I started becoming more conscious of food waste, specifically how much leftover or spoiled food I was throwing out. I was constantly making too much food or not using up things like veggies quick enough.

As I learned more about food insecurity in America (especially in 2020) and the impact that food waste has on the resources that went into producing that food, I realized that I needed to think about things I could be doing differently.

“The water footprint of beef adds up to 1,800 gallons per pound—think 35 standard-size bathtubs—while a chicken’s water footprint is roughly 519 gallons per pound.” – Smithsonian Magazine 

Since it’s the weekend after Thanksgiving, I thought it might be fitting to write about some ways to use up leftovers and reduce food waste.

Use things up

This might mean eating leftovers at random times, like having cake or a leftover cheese board for breakfast. Maybe it means putting that last scoop of ice cream in your coffee. Or making a fancy lunch of homemade roasted sourdough with goat cheese and roasted squash seeds for no other reason than that they are sitting in your fridge. (Just me?)

Another really great way to use up leftovers, and my personal favorite, is to put them into a homemade “crunchwrap” or make them into a plate of nachos. This helps feel like you are eating something completely different, even though it’s essentially the same exact meal you had before, now with a tortilla or tortilla chips. This can really break up the monotony when there are several extra portions of something.

Toasted tortilla with hummus on top and jalepeno poppers on the side

Have a plan for your produce

Raise your hand if you have ever bought produce with the best intentions of using it, and then accidentally left it to rot. Ok, we are all raising our hands, right?

Some recommendations that I have here are to buy veggies that you actually like — not the kale that you think you should be eating but don’t like the taste of, but veggies you want to eat. If you buy too much of something, don’t like it, and/or get sick of it, give it to a friend or family member that will use it.

If the veggies are something that you plan to bring to work as a snack (even if that means to the couch you are sitting on, for some of us), try to wash and prep everything on Sunday afternoon for the week ahead. My best friend Kayleigh says this usually helps her.

As you are cutting the veggies up, consider saving the scraps for homemade soup stock. This allows you to use up the entire vegetable instead of wasting part of it, and making soup from scratch is actually really enjoyable.

The flavor is generally unique each time from the different veggie scraps you accumulate over time, plus you save money on buying stock from the store — which is often full of salt which is not great for your diet or your liver anyway.

If you have the budget for it, you may even consider switching to a meal kit service that sends you only what you need for each recipe, so veggies don’t just go in your fridge to die. (Another tip from Kayleigh.)

This can easily get expensive, but you don’t have to do it every week, and you can buy smaller amounts of veggies for other meals in between.

Donate extra foods to shelters and other organizations in need

Your local food bank is probably working harder than ever this year to keep helping put food on the table for families in need. While monetary donations are a huge help, so are donations of your extra non-perishable food products.

Now, this system isn’t perfect. I still forget about veggies that I buy. I don’t use up all the leftovers every time. Things get pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten about. I recently found a bag of my favorite Easter candy at the back of the fridge that was thankfully still good in November.

But as I embrace cooking as self-care and try to be more intentional with using extras and leftovers, I find myself lot farther along than I ever was before. Every effort counts.

Published by allisonljensen

Marketing professional + event planner, grief and self-care blogger.

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