Rules for Leftovers

If a trip to the supermarket doesn’t make you sick, you may not be paying attention to prices. Food costs are increasing by leaps and bounds and, we’re hearing from those in the know, there’s no relief on the horizon.


For some grocery buyers, coupons are the method of choice they use to keep their food costs under control. But that doesn’t work for everyone. In fact, it works well for a very small number of people who have the temperament and commitment to couponing as a part-time job.

There’s another way to keep food costs down: Use it up.

The average American doesn’t eat 20 percent of the food he or she purchases, and every household throws away an average of $2,200 of food each year, according to a report from the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.

With the cost of food soaring, now is a good time to rekindle the fine art of leftovers!

1. New name the second time around. Just saying the word “leftovers” produces a nasty taste in the mouths of many people I know. Members of my own family equate that word with rotten food or something totally disgusting pulled from the back of the refrigerator. So the rule is to never utter the word leftover. Instead, think of anything left over as an ingredient for a future dish with a new name.

2. Store foods safely. Cooked foods should not be allowed to cool to room temperature but should be placed in clean, covered containers and refrigerated immediately after a meal. Partially used foods from cans should preferably be transferred to clean, covered glass or plastic containers rather than being stored in the can. As a general rule of thumb, use perishable foods within two or three days.

3. Develop a system. Keep it secret if you must, but come up with a system for leftovers and then stick with it. Your system must include a means of seeing at a glance which foods need using up. Storing all perishables in see-through containers reminds you of their presence each time you open the refrigerator.

For some, keeping a running list of leftovers on the refrigerator door with dates by which they must be used, helps. Make a daily survey of which foods need to be used. Some people plan the use of leftovers as the food is first prepared.

Menu plans are probably the most foolproof method of making sure a food gets used during its safe-storage time.

4. Make the judgment calls. Decide if the leftover items are really worth using. Most things are, but not everything. If it was bad the first time around, it may be beyond an effective rescue. If it followed you home from a restaurant, will you really take it to lunch tomorrow? Or, if it will require that you spend $10 to incorporate fifty-cents worth of something left over you might want to rethink it.


If throwing out perfectly delicious green salad were a crime, I’d be serving a life sentence. It kills me to do it, but until researching for this column I had no idea there was a second life for fresh green salad, dressed or not. Once tossed, passed and partially consumed, that’s it, right? Wrong.

Gazpacho salsa. The idea here is to blend it with V8 Juice to create a thick gazpacho (a cold Spanish/Portuguese tomato-based raw vegetable soup). Add a little hot sauce, and serve with chips for an appetizer. Extend it even further with the addition of red pepper and cucumber.

Salad dressing. Mix the leftover salad in a blender with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and some garlic or herb seasonings and you have dressing for your next salad. I tried this and the results were amazing. You have to try it. Just make sure you have your seasonings handy. I added garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

Make soup. Here’s another idea. Turn that salad into hot vegetable soup: Process the leftover salad in a blender or food processor with 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock. Pour into saucepan, stir in another 1/2 cup stock or the amount needed to create a nice consistency. Heat thoroughly and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve garnished with sour cream and a sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs like basil, chives or parsley.

Add to soup. Ina Garten, popular TV cook, blends it all together and adds it to her hot soups. The greens and vinegar add great flavor to the soups. Make sure you adjust the seasonings, suggests Ina. And a dash of cream to finish can’t hurt, either.

Got a question or feedback about this post? Please leave it in the comments below so others can read it too! If you have a question about a post or recipe, I bet others are wondering the same thing!! It’s only fair to share… 😉

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14 replies
  1. penny50
    penny50 says:

    I don’t understand why anyone has problems with “leftovers” When I was growing up my mom would cook several chickens, or a roast or a ham on the weekend. We ate sandwiches all week for lunch from this and several dinners as well. Fortunately my husband was raised the same way. I can cook a ham and warm it up with vegies and potatoes for a week or more. In between ham meals we will have spaghetti or pizza. My children also eat “leftovers” without complaint. They are now in their 20’s and continue to do so on their own. After we eat most of a roast chicken, I make chicken noodle soup from the carcass and leftover meat using my slow cooker. I must add that I am rather picky, so I don’t like foods mixed together in sauces, etc.

  2. Carol Rowe
    Carol Rowe says:

    Anyone that does not like the dressing or sauce on the leftover,rinse it off before you put it in the fridge, it’s almost like starting with new ingredients

  3. Carol Rowe
    Carol Rowe says:

    When we were raising our children, I would prepare 1 favorite meal each evening , label and freeze the leftovers. On Friday evening everything was reheated for dinner, everyone got their favorite meal a second time. There are 6 of us so it worked great.

  4. House Mouse
    House Mouse says:

    I don’t like salad dressing, for the most part, so I take leftovers from my salads, heat in a pan with a little butter or oil, add eggs and scramble until the eggs are cooked through.

  5. Jo Anne Taylor
    Jo Anne Taylor says:

    This is my formula for winter meal planning: make a huge pot of spaghetti sauce. Day one is pasta. Day two, add chili beans, cumin, and chili powder for chili. Day three (if it makes it that far!) chili dogs. I also have a recipe for herbed lentils and rice that the whole family loves. Any leftovers make great stuffed peppers or stuffed acorn squash. If I cook on Monday (spaghetti) and Tuesday (lentils and rice). I pretty much have the rest of the week made!

  6. Deretta Austin
    Deretta Austin says:

    My husband and I have always called them “planned-overs!” We PLAN to have more than one meal out of almost everything!

  7. Deb F
    Deb F says:

    I take the little 1×2″ post-its and partially cut them almost thru to the gummy side into 4 strips. I keep them and a fine point + regular Sharpies in my kitchen junk draw and rip a strip off to write the date on each left-over container. That way there’s no guessing when we had it last. If you use plastic wrap just write on the wrap. When we have enough for everyone, we have a ‘left-over night’. Yay! No figuring out what to cook. If things aren’t used within 1 week we throw them out. Easy-peasy! I also keep a calendar on my fridge and write what we had each night. It helps me figure out my meals this way too. Had beef and chicken the last 2 nights… time for pork or fish. Rotisserie chicken? De-bone, add some GF gravy and pour over mashed potatoes or rice. Yummy. L-O spaghetti sauce? Date it, freeze it, and then use when you have enough containers for another meal. So many ideas. Been doing it for years.

  8. Jennifer Martin Van Rosmalen
    Jennifer Martin Van Rosmalen says:

    I make lots and lots of omelets with remaining ingredients. Super healthy and nothing goes to waste!!!

  9. Barbaric Bird
    Barbaric Bird says:

    My preferred method is to make up “plates” just after dinner. Cover with Saran wrap and stack in the fridge. The plates are easy to find, pull out and microwave. Also found that a counter-depth fridge leaves less room for things to be pushed to the back, so I have fewer unpleasant “discoveries” and less wasted.

  10. Laura
    Laura says:

    My late neighbor never used the word “leftovers”. Her term was “planned overs” because she planned on using them to create a new dish the next day.


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