One of the easiest ways to reduce your food spending is to reduce your food waste! Now, I'm not recommending that you consume spoiled or expired food just to save money...but I AM recommending that you find a way to use it BEFORE it spoils or expires. The theory is a no-brainer, right? But the practice and the follow-through take a little work and planning.
It's pretty easy for my family to get rid of our leftovers. Sometimes we eat them for lunch, and we almost always have "leftover buffet" for supper one night of the week. That's not to say that we've never thrown away a few pieces of questionable casserole, but as a rule, we can make almost any prepared food disappear.
But what about when we have leftover ingredients? That's a little harder. It's that half can of evaporated milk left over from making caramel bars, or those two "my casserole only called for four" green onions left from the bunch.
Leftovers or leftover ingredients might not be a problem for those of you with large families or multiple teenaged boys. I'm guessing that you rarely have leftovers, and you don't ever have extra ingredients because you have to double everything! But this is a common problem for those of us with small children (read: small appetites), and maybe for some of you empty-nesters.
Using up ingredients and finding creative ways to use leftovers ("plannedovers", if you will) are things I'm working on, and I'll be posting about that as part of a new series. "Waste Not, Want Not" will provide you with recipes and/or ideas to use up leftovers or leftover ingredients from the regular, weekly set of sale recipes (uh, that's not a confusing sentence or anything). For example, if I post a recipe that uses only a half package of fresh mushrooms, I might also post an idea or recipe that uses the other half of the package. Or if I stumble onto a brilliant way to turn a few pieces of leftover casserole into a new and exciting meal (don't hold your breath on that one!), I'll post that.
Please note: this doesn't mean that I'll give you ways to use your leftovers every week, or that I'll give you a way to use up every single ingredient called for in the weekly sale recipes. Sometimes you'll be on your own, because I might not have any bright ideas, or I might run out of time for bonus posts like these. In spite of being posted at random, I hope that this series will help you cut down on the amount of food that lands in the trash or compost bin at your house!
Here are a few general ideas to get you started (and this is not to say that I'm the expert! As I said at the beginning of this post, this is something I'm working on, so I'm learning as I go!):
1. Your freezer is your friend! If you know for sure that you won't be able to use up a vegetable or fruit before it goes bad, chop it up and put it in the freezer! You can also freeze partial cans of pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce to be used at a later date. Of course, there are a few things that are NOT freezer friendly, such as lettuce, mushrooms, eggs, and garlic cloves.
2. Plan ahead. If you're planning a meal that calls for only half of a package of fresh mushrooms, think about what you'll do with the rest of them. Plan another meal that uses mushrooms, or make sure to cook omelets for breakfast one day.
3. Rethink your definition of "cleaning out the fridge". Instead of pitching everything that has gone bad, make a mental note to notice leftovers and ingredients BEFORE they go bad. Their destination will be the pizza, smoothie, sandwich, or freezer, instead of the trash can or garbage disposal!
4. Frozen fruit makes a great addition to smoothies, and some frozen fruit can also be added to muffins and quick breads.
5. Make soup! Start a container of leftover vegetables in your freezer. Add to it each week, and when it's full, you'll have a good start to a healthy soup. You can also freeze your leftover gravy and add that to the pot of soup.
6. Leftover vegetables can be quickly sauteed and added to omelets.
7. French toast is a great way to use up bread that's getting a little hard.
8. Make pizza! There are all kinds of unique pizza recipes on the internet, so check them out, or get creative on your own. You might find some new favorite pizza toppings!
9. Leftover meat can be used on sandwiches, in wraps, or over lettuce for a salad. If you have to freeze the leftover meat before using it, think soup or casserole instead.
10. Quesadillas are another great use for leftover vegetables.
11. Still stuck? Head to allrecipes.com or cooks.com and type your ingredient into their search engine. "Broccoli" yields 7,650 possibilities on Cooks.com, and at Allrecipes.com, you can even make a list of ingredients that you DON'T want included in your recipe.
What are you cleaning out of your fridge this week? A science project? Or tomorrow's supper? Do you have any creative ideas for serving leftovers?