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This post marks the exciting conclusion of our food waste series. Part 1 and Part 2 discussed the economic and ecological impact of food waste, and tips to reduce it your own household. Now it’s time to shake things up. Dim the lights, put on some romantic music, and let yourself fall in love with leftovers… all over again.
Love your Leftovers
“I hate leftovers.”
Have you ever heard someone declare that? I have, many times. While I’ve never felt that way myself, I know a lot of people do.
But for most of history, re-purposing food was not only the norm, but an economic necessity. Leftover-scoffing is a recent phenomenon in our culture that didn’t become mainstream until the 1950’s.
If you frequently discard leftovers, this is where you might improve the most in your quest to cut back on food waste.
Consider the benefits of leftovers. There is so little effort needed to prepare them. Since the food has already been cooked, you can eat it cold without any threat to your health and well-being. If you do prefer it hot, less than 2 minutes in the microwave will make it so.
Many savory dishes containing onions, garlic, peppers, curry, and/or herbs actually taste better the next day. The proteins and starches in the dish continue to absorb those wonderful flavors and aromas for several hours after they’ve finished cooking. Is anyone else’s mouth watering at the thought?
Leftovers also retain most of their nutritional value. All the protein and fiber remains. Our bodies more readily absorb beta-carotene from cooked carrots and tomatoes than raw. You do lose a bit of are Vitamins C and B, as those are heat- and time-sensitive, but it’s easy to make up for elsewhere in your diet.
If you’re really opposed to eating the exact same thing twice or more in one week, there are a few ways you can spice it up… literally. As a bonus, many reinventions can “stretch” skimpy leftovers from one meal to make it enough for another complete meal. Think of it as a Leftover Makeover.
- mix in beans, veggies, or other new ingredients
- add new and different herbs and spices
- melt cheese on top
- top a potato (baked or mashed) or salad with it
- stuff it into halved bell peppers; bake covered for 30-35 min at 350 degrees
- roll it into a tortilla with other burrito fixins’
- put it in a sandwich or quesadilla with other fixins’
- toss it into scrambled eggs for a frittata
- simmer it in some broth to make “stone soup”
- throw it into a skillet as a quick stir-fry
All successful brands of processed foods get marketing makeovers from time to time. A recent Oxford University study demonstrates that foods taste better when packaged more attractively. Why should leftovers get left out of the marketing TLC?
Some families have a dedicated “leftover night”. While this is a great practice, calling it “leftover night” is a sure-fire way to elicit groans and eye-rolls. It’s about as thrilling as picking through the clothes your big sister tossed into the outgrow pile on “hand-me-down night”.
Instead of “leftover night”, my brilliant mother-in-law always called it “Smorgasbord”. All the uneaten food she’d worked so hard to make over the previous few days waltzed out of the fridge and arranged itself on the island. Everyone could pick and choose what they wanted and how much. It felt like a celebratory feast instead of a drab obligation.
I love the idea of rebranding “leftovers” so much that for the rest of this post, I’m referring to them as “Bonus Bites”. You’ve spent the money, time, and energy to prepare this wonderful meal, and now you get to enjoy it again? BONUS!!! Feel free to use this term in your own house or coin a new one, as long as puts leftovers in a positive light.
Enjoy Bonus Bites Responsibly
As we discussed in Part 2, you do need to make sure your Bonus Bites are safe to eat. No economic or ecological savings is worth a case of food poisoning. Follow the guideline “2 hours – 2 inches – 4 days“:
- Refrigerate food in 2 hours or less
- Store refrigerated food at a depth of about 2 inches
- Eat refrigerated bonus bites in 4 days or less
Another important tip is to reheat only once – no “leftover leftovers”. Warm up Bonus Bites on a single-serving basis to minimize the amount of food you need to discard. You can always put a little more in the microwave if you’re still hungry.
Parents: Let Kids Serve Themselves
Whether during a First Go-Around or Smorgasbord meal, any kid who can dish up without spilling 90% of the time should serve themselves. (They do get better with practice!) Parents can dictate what they eat, but the kids themselves decide how much. Kids’ appetites can fluctuate wildly: some meals, some days, even some weeks, they’re not as hungry as usual. At other times they can out-eat their grownups by a long shot. This makes it impossible for parents to predict how much to put on their wee ones’ plates.
The rule at our house: if you put it on your plate, you have to eat it… sometime. As my dear godmother always says, “We’re not members of the clean plate club!” Don’t set your kids up for a lifetime of bad habits by coercing them to keep eating past their satisfaction point. But if they’re too full to finish what’s on their plate: have them put it into a container, mark it with their name, and they can eat it later that day or the next. After dinner our kids will often add more to the container so it’s the right amount for school lunch the next day.
Best Bonus Bites Storage Options
Are you convinced by now to start treasuring instead of trashing your Bonus Bites? Great! Besides our baffling cultural aversion to Bonus Bites, why else do they get discarded?
A lot of food is either forgotten, or “lost” in the fridge until it’s too late. Here are some techniques to make sure that doesn’t happen:
- Keep Bonus Bites in a consistent place in your fridge. As we discussed in Part 2, the best place for them is on the top shelf, where they’re the most visible and accessible.
- Store Bonus Bites in clear containers. When people have to open a container or peel back a layer of foil to see what something is, that food will linger longer. People are lazy. Make doing the right thing easy.
- Divide Bonus Bites into leakproof, lunch-sized, fridge-to-microwave containers. This makes them easy to grab on the way out the door to work or school. Either Bento Box or single compartment containers work great, depending on your preference.
- Freeze Bonus Bites if you’re not sure you can consume them within four days. Foods that freeze well include meats, nuts, seeds, baked goods, and sauces.
Wrapping It Up…
In the past three posts, I’ve shared with you many actionable tips for eliminating food waste. None of these require any investment of time or money. All can be applied no matter the size or shape of your household. If you’d like to dive any deeper on this topic, I’d recommend visiting savethefood.com.
Thanks for reading, and for taking the next step to becoming SuperGreener!
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