I’m an obsessive food saver.
A scrap of this? A bite of that? I’ll keep it, thank you very much. Those dribs and drabs will be used somehow, you can be sure of that.
I cringe to see food wasted, whether in my own home or when eating out. My close family is used to my not-to-subtle offers to “take care of those leftovers,” though I admittedly bite my tongue when I am eating with people I don’t know as well.
I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember. Perhaps it comes from my dad who has always been careful to package up leftovers for later use. Or maybe I’m scarred by the chore of cleaning out the refrigerator as a kid—and having to deal with the food I found long forgotten on the back shelf.
It could be a result of living on my own and learning how much money and work goes into every bite of food. After all, I’m also a penny pincher when it comes to the electricity bill—always dimming lights and lowering the temperature of the thermostat. Money is time and time is valuable, and once you get me started I just can’t help myself.
Thankfully, I’ve found someone who loves me for who I am, these quirks and all. My husband, Lyle, and I can now laugh about our silent thermostat battles and The Great Cauliflower Incident from several years back—the poor guy was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner one night and I looked over as he tossed a lone bite of cauliflower into the trash.
“Why are you tossing that?” I asked, the fire starting to rage inside me.
“There is only one piece left,” he replied, a bit confused and taken aback.
“But I would have eaten that!” I exclaimed. “It would go great with a scrambled egg tomorrow for breakfast or on a salad with the leftover chicken!”
Let’s just say that now I tend to be the one to clean up leftovers after dinner and on the rare occurrence that he is on dish duty, every last scrap is saved.
I recently came across a cooking show that was made for me: Struggle Meals on the Tastemade channel. The host prepares budget-friendly recipes and shares his secrets for stretching a dollar as he tries to keep the meal price at or under about $2 a serving.
This show has inspired me to start saving grocery receipts to calculate how much we spend on groceries every week and the cost per serving of the meals we eat. We recently had pinto bean tostadas that came in at 96 cents apiece (stay tuned for the recipe!).
While I realize that not everyone is going to go to this extreme, I do encourage you to get creative in stretching the life of the food that you buy. Becoming friends with your leftovers can save both time and money.
Here are some leftover ideas for you:
· Package up your leftovers into individual meal portions as you are cleaning up your kitchen after dinner. This gives you a grab-and-go option for lunch the next day and is much easier than trying to put something together in the midst of the morning rush.
· Add just about anything to salad greens for lunch or dinner the following day: chicken, fish, cooked vegetables, rice, pasta, beans, nuts…the list goes on. When it is time to eat, simply top with your favorite dressing.
· Use extra grains as the base for a “bowl” by topping brown rice, quinoa, or even oatmeal with dinner leftovers. Right before mealtime, top with salsa, teriyaki, or any other sauce that matches the flavors.
· Keep corn tortillas on hand to wrap up anything that is left behind from prior meals—turn fish into fish tacos, grilled chicken into quesadillas, or even use tortillas as thin pizza crust.
· Scramble just about anything into eggs. Try salmon, grilled vegetables, or beans and top with avocado, cheese, or salsa. The same can be said for frittatas, they can take just about any leftover you can imagine (think veggies, potatoes, even pasta!)
Hopefully this list has given you a little inspiration to use up more of your leftovers so that you don’t become a victim to the long-forgotten containers in the back of your fridge.
As you can tell, I’m always interested in new ways to save and use up leftovers, so leave your tips in the comments below!