leftover-containersFor those who celebrated Easter or Passover, the celebrations with family and friends have left behind a refrigerator full of food of all different types and portions. The dilemma: what to do with all of those leftovers? 

Well, I am definitely from the old school wherein you do not waste anything. I remember my dad telling me as a young child that, “in some poor countries, people could eat for a week on what we throw in the garbage!” I now realize he was exaggerating just a little to get me to eat all of my dinner, but his point was well taken. Often, we don’t think about the food that we are throwing out, which could be another way to stretch our food dollar. So, what should you do with all of that leftover food? Below are some helpful tips on ways to use leftovers that retain their flavor, texture, and appeal, as well as keeping them safe to eat.

Start with an Action Plan. Planning for what to do with leftovers should begin even before the meal is prepared. Cooking a large meal is a lot of work, so for some food items you may want to plan for some leftovers, which means buying a slightly larger portion than what your need to begin with (e.g. a larger Turkey or Roast). For some things like desserts that may be too tempting to resist over-eating, the plan might be to have them portioned out so that your guests take them home at the end of the night. To that end, you also need to plan to have adequate amounts of storage containers on hand, as well as freezer bags, wax paper, or other wrapping material available to be able to quickly carry out the plan and reduce refrigerator clutter.

Portion and Freeze. The sooner you can refrigerate or freeze your leftovers, the less likely you will be the victim of food borne illness. It is recommended that you plan your meal to be completed as close to serving time as possible and to refrigerate within 2 hours of being at room temperature or reheat. Warm, moist, environments can be the perfect breeding grounds for bacteria to grow which could lead to food poisoning. The rule is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. (1) By portioning out your leftovers and immediately freezing the ones that you know you will not be able to eat the next day, you will not only be preserving their flavor, texture, and color, but also keeping them safe to eat as well. Putting the date on your food is also a good practice, so you will know how long it has been in the freezer.

Create a New Dish. Eating the same food, the same way for two or three days may be fine for some, but for others it can also become rather boring, losing all taste appeal. Creating a new dish with a change in texture, such as adding a sauce, or making it into a loaf or patty, could create an entirely new taste sensation and appeal. Creating a casserole or skillet dish works well with leftovers as well as stuffing a baked potato with a meat, vegetable, or bean combination sprinkled with a little flavorful cheese can cause your mouth to water with delight.

Combine with Whole Grains. There are so many whole grains that can be used in combination with your leftover meat or bean dishes to make a dish that is both high in fiber and loaded with taste. Whole grains like Quinoa and Pealed Barley also provide protein which can make a vegetable dish a complete meal. Served with sliced fruit and you have a completely nutritious meal.

Make a Salad. Whether just the plain meat or beans on a fresh green leafy salad or a chopped turkey or chicken salad, with mayo, herb seasonings, apple, mandarin oranges, dried cranberries or raisins, or green grapes, you can’t go wrong with a tasty and colorful salad. The key here is to make sure you make it flavorful. That little touch of herbs, combined with the sweet of the fruit goes a long way to create a new taste sensation that is sure to please. A nice fresh tomato and wheat cracker or multigrain bread will be a meal sure to delight.

Preserve for “Potluck Soup.” This is my favorite, especially for the cooked vegetables that you may only have a little bit left and the juices that come from them. Have your container ready, and instead of just throwing them out, save them in the container in the freezer.  Over time, you might find that there are several little containers in the freezer. Take them out and just dump them all into a large soup pot, and heat them up. Don’t worry about the combination as it will all taste good together. To these leftovers you can add more frozen or fresh vegetable as well as meat or bean scraps. The final ingredient would be your favorite whole grain, like whole wheat noodles, brown or wild rice, quinoa, or barley.  And, voilà …you have your own creation of a Potluck Soup.

So take a little time to plan out what new and interesting ways you can think of to use up those leftovers and continue to experience the flavors of the season. Enjoy!

Yvonne is the owner of Y-EAT Right…Nutritional Consultant for Healthy Living, She conducts special workshops to promote healthy nutritional and living behaviors. To find out more about her services email her at: yeatright@aol.com or phone her at (414) 639-5660.

Reference

1. US Department of Health &Human Services (2015). Keep Food Safe: By Events and Seasons. Retrieved from here.