Every home cook has to deal with leftovers. In a small household, fewer people are around to eat them, and one person’s change in schedule throws everything off. In a larger household, bigger quantities are the challenge.
As always, advance planning is the key to saving time and money. Over the years I’ve used these techniques to get a handle on leftover food.
- Change your attitude. If the idea of leftovers depresses you, call it cooking in advance. Cooked food in the fridge is a blessing, not a trial.
- Plan menus with leftovers in mind. Salads can’t be frozen, nor can mashed potatoes. You have more leftover options with meal components than with a complete dish, but there’s nothing wrong with serving the same thing twice in a row. Start thinking about how you can adjust recipes to incorporate leftover foods you have on hand.
- Pay attention to quantities. It’s easy to overcook, especially when you have company.
- Be flexible. Having a set menu and shopping list makes it hard to use up leftovers. A flexible plan with daily adjustments works best.
- Store leftovers in small portions. Smaller amounts won’t overwhelm another dish.
- Or use larger portions as the basis for your next meal. Use it in something else, or serve as is. If it’s not enough for a complete meal, complement with a rich soup or side dish, or frozen leftovers from an earlier meal.
- Keep leftovers in the refrigerator, if you can use them in the next few days. You’ll see it and it will be accessible without defrosting.
- Keep a container in the freezer for scraps of meat, broth, and vegetables. When you have a good amount, you can use it as a base for soup. When adding more than a small amount to a container, refrigerate first so the frozen items won’t get defrosted.
- Set a spot in your refrigerator for foods you need to use up quickly. A turntable works well. Train yourself to inspect the refrigerator when planning a menu or shopping list.
- Prepare leftovers for the next meal right away. For example, discard skin and bones from chicken you’ll be adding to a soup.
- Seal food tightly and cool quickly. Reboil soups and sauces if they have been out for a while. Follow these guidelines for storing foods and helping them last longer.
- Keep a variety of containers handy. You can reuse food containers with covers, like from cottage cheese, coffee, or jam. Zippered bags work well, and can be washed and reused.
- Learn to cook with recipes that incorporate leftovers. I’ll give ideas in a future post.
What techniques do you use to avoid throwing away leftovers?
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