Looking for ways to save money AND prevent food waste? Leftovers are the answer! Transform them from so-so to stunning and you’ll never turn your nose up at leftovers again.
It’s funny how different people react to the topic of leftovers. There are those who wax lyrical about them, professing their love to the rooftops – ‘yes, I LOVE having leftovers for lunch the next day!’.
And there are those who loathe them, dismissing them out of hand ‘oh gosh we never eat leftovers at home’.
No doubt there are others on the sidelines who look at both parties and shrug – ‘I guess I’ll eat them if they’re there? But otherwise, meh?’.
As you’ve no doubt guessed, we are firmly in the camp of ✨Leftover Lovers✨.
Not only is eating leftovers great for reducing food waste and saving money, but we really do feel ridiculously happy when leftovers are there right when we need them most.
Why Eat Leftovers?
We’re cooking recipes all the time for our food blog, so we often have leftover portions we need to find a home for. We’ll either eat them that day, pop them in the fridge for lunch or dinner, freeze them for later or give to our family.
It’s especially good because sometimes, our brains get so overloaded from a day of filming, photographing or working on the computer, that we literally cannot make one. more. decision of what to cook that night.
Having a home-cooked meal ready to go from the fridge or freezer is a relief because it helps us avoid blowing the budget on takeaway or choosing unhealthy, easy options to eat with the least amount of effort.
(Hello ramen noodles… yes you are still in the pantry. Perhaps another day…)
Eating Leftovers Saves Money
Making food last as long as possible is one of the pillars of frugality, so eating your leftovers is an obvious frugal quick win.
You’ll make your budget go further, use less fuel by avoiding unexpected trips out for more groceries or takeaway, and require less food overall as you’ll be reducing portions that end up in the trash or going uneaten.
Leftovers Prevent Food Waste
Are you ready for this? 7.6 MILLION tonnes of food are wasted in our home country of Australia alone.
The worst part? 70% is still edible.
Just let that sink in.
Almost ¾ of our trashed food in Australia could’ve been eaten.
Not only is this a terrible waste of food in its own right, it’s also a waste of farmers’ time, effort and resources, not to mention packaging and transport in getting that food from farm to shop. Instead it’s ending up from plate… to bin.
If you’re on the fence or still in camp Hell No Leftovers (if that’s the case, well done for getting this far) we’d love to share a few ideas that will hopefully change your mind. You too can transform last night’s leftovers into tonight’s epic feast.
Here are our best tips and ideas for becoming the King or Queen of Leftovers!
One Good Thing Becomes Another
Sarah’s mum is our idol when it comes to leftovers. One of our favourite stories is how she transformed leftover rotisserie chicken into a chicken minestrone soup, then the next day, turned that into a chicken vegetable curry with eggs (shakshuka style) served up with toasted pita bread to make it go even further.
Another win was the time she turned one night’s leftover beef curry into a tasty beef and lentil soup.
All it takes is a little intuition, a little know-how, and a little curiosity to answer the question: ‘What happens if I do this?’
Not sure how? It’s all about getting creative to see what you can come up with. Read on for our best tips and ideas to get the most out of your leftovers.
How to Reuse Leftover Food – Top 5 Quick Ideas
One simple tip is to keep a few easy recipes in your repertoire. Then it’s a matter of knowing which ingredients play nicely together in your cooking pot or on your plate.
- Just add fried veggies on the side.
- Turn it into something else – pasta, veggie bake, rice bowl, stir fry over noodles etc etc.
- Blend it all into a soup!
- Fritters, quiches, veggie tarts
- Get creative – what new ideas can you come up with?
If all else fails, make sure it ends up in compost or your green waste bin. Never throw food into your general rubbish. When it rots in landfill, it generates methane, a hazardous greenhouse gas.
Where to Find Leftovers
Okay, that might sound funny, but if you’re not yet tuned into the golden opportunity of leftovers (or too used to throwing them out) here’s how to get your hands on some:
- Batch Cook – Intentionally cook extra so you know you’ll have a few portions leftover. If you know you won’t have time to eat them within 2-3 days, pop them into the freezer, portioned out into airtight containers.
- Family & Friends – Our families understand our love of leftovers, so they’re used to us piling that meal’s leftover pasta, veggies, chicken, or just about anything else in containers to take home. We do the same for them with our recipe leftovers from Wandercooks, especially when we’re making big batches of sweet slices, cookies or cakes. We even got some stainless steel containers [link here] from our local op shop that are different from everyone else’s usual containers, so we all know these are the special ones we use for sharing.
- Restaurants – Don’t be afraid to ask for a takeaway container. We’ve come a long way from the old dingy doggy bag these days. Since Covid, many restaurants offer takeaway meals through delivery services like Uber or Menulog, so they’re likely to have good and often compostable / zero waste containers you can use to take your leftovers home. Even better – bring your own!
How to Make Leftovers Last
- Get Good Containers – Look for ones that are dishwasher safe, microwave safe, oven safe etc. We love glass containers with good silicone seals, so they preserve food well, are safe for reheating and are easy to clean. Avoid crappy plastic takeaway containers – they break far too easily, don’t play well in the dishwasher and who knows what chemicals are leaching into your food when you reheat something in the microwave.
- Process Veggies in Advance – So you get faster at cooking or to make things more convenient.
What to Do With Leftover Food At Home
Edible Veggie Tops
The greens from veggies like radish and beetroot are super nutritious, so if you can get your hands on some, don’t throw them out! Turn them into:
If your bread is stale and no good for even toast anymore, just shred it up and use it in these amazing treats:
- Chester squares
- Fruit cake or
- Bread & butter pudding
Fruit is looking a bit wrinkly, sad or tired? Don’t throw it out. There are so many ways you can make use of it and prevent food waste.
- Jams or marmalades
- Sauces or coulis
- Cordial – this is a great way to use up an abundance of lemons or limes!
- Add it to home-brewed kombucha
- Freeze it – Frozen fruit is great for smoothies and sauces
- Cakes with zest or juice in the batter and/or juice glazes
- Pies – crustless peach pie with almond essence crumb – divine!
Meat Sauces – From Pasta, Tacos etc.
Leftover meat sauces store amazingly well for 2-3 months in the freezer, but we’ll usually use them up much quicker than that:
- Over a fresh batch of pasta or zoodles
- As a filling for toasties or grilled sandwiches
- As a topping for rice bowls with lots of fresh veggies, pickles or ferments
Leftover Roast Meats and/or Veg
You can do so much more with roast leftovers than you might first think. Try them in your next batch of:
- Cold rolls / rice paper rolls
- Shredded chicken sandwiches
- As a topping for baked potatoes
These days we always buy or make plain Greek or natural yoghurt so we can use it in our sweet and savoury creations. This way you can control the sweetness, flavour it with your own jams or fruit sauces, or whip it up into cakes, doughs, batters and more. It’s so versatile! Keep some on hand for:
- Make your own yoghurt pizza dough or yoghurt flatbread
- Yoghurt sauces for yiros/gyros – even amazing over roast veggies or grilled chicken
- Light dips with veggie sticks or crackers
- Serve on toast with cherry tomatoes and basil as a “super easy tomato tart”
Leftover Egg Whites
Ever find yourself cooking a recipe that uses only egg yolks and thinking, what will I do with the whites? Ponder no more with these tasty creations:
Leftover Egg Yolks
Same as with egg whites, there’s no need to throw out leftover egg yolks. Use them up in:
Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know You Could Freeze
The freezer is one of the most under-appreciated appliances for preventing food waste. Not just useful for storing your ice cube tray, frozen meals or meats before you’re ready to use them. Set yourself up for successful, sustainable and delicious home cooking by storing these pre-prepared ingredients in your freezer:
- Grated Cheese – Grated cheddar, mozzarella, “pizza cheese” mixes etc. Just avoid soft cheeses.
- Herbs – It’s easy to learn how to freeze fresh herbs. Some you can simply wash, dry and freeze in an airtight bag or container. Others freeze better in water or oil. For example, you can freeze chopped rosemary in oil, then pop it straight into your frying pan when cooking your next batch of bolognese.
- Veggies – Not just the humble peas and corn, you can also prep and freeze broccoli and cauliflower, green beans and capsicum / bell pepper. For greens like spinach, first chop and blanch until softened, then drain out the liquid and freeze in portions to make it easier to use later.
- Avocados – This will give you some extra time to use them up, but they don’t defrost as good as fresh, so best used for smoothies, ice cream etc
- Fruit – Again, best for smoothies or cooking. Freezing can damage the cell walls of the fruit so this changes the texture, but the flavour is preserved and just as delicious!
- Ginger – Fresh ginger tends to dry out in the pantry or fridge, so we love to prep our ginger as soon as we can after buying. We’ll usually mince some for cooking, and slice some for flavouring kombucha (which pairs amazingly well with frozen lemon slices – no need to defrost before adding to your 2F ferment, either).
- Veggie Scraps – Keep a ziplock bag in the freezer and collect all your veggie skins and stems to turn into veggie scrap stock. You can then turn that into all kinds of things – soups, stews etc.
- Baked Treats – Most cakes, slices and muffins, especially those without glazes or icing, can freeze really well. Cut them into individual portions to make it easier to eat later. To defrost, just microwave in a short burst or two, or leave them out on the bench until softened enough to eat. (Or if it’s the middle of summer, you could even eat it frozen for a refreshing treat).
- Cookies – Some homemade cookies can be frozen either as dough or after baking and cooling. Check your specific recipe for a guideline of how long to store them.
- Citrus – You can freeze lemons, limes and oranges whole or as juice ice cubes. Freeze the zest with water as ice cubes for a refreshing beverage.
So, are you ready to give leftovers a go?
We hope this sparked a few new ideas for that food sitting at the back of your fridge, freezer or cupboard.
If you’re an avid leftover extraordinaire like Sarah’s Mum – we’d love to hear some of your creations or tips in the comments below.