Eat Leftovers to Save Money and Waste Less

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When I read The Kitchen Counter Cooking School last year I was stunned to learn that we Americans waste about 40 percent of the food that is actually produced for consumption. Some of that has to do with what doesn’t get harvested or what stores consider imperfect and don’t sell.

The rest is just us being wasteful.

Tonight I threw out soggy coleslaw from Saturday. It was just a little too ripe. It would have made a nice snack if I had planned to use it up sooner.

And somewhere else in the world someone goes hungry. Food waste is one of the biggest sources of money waste. But it also is just wrong.

Especially when we can avoid it.

Tonight we ate leftovers. I had a different plan for dinner, but when I looked in the fridge and saw how full it was, I changed my plan. It was  a hodge-podge meal of noodles, stale restaurant fries and corn dogs from a birthday celebration, sauteed chicken, and salad fixings. Some items were new; some were clearly “leftover”.

  • Was it the most exciting meal we ever had? No.
  • Did it fill our bellies? Yes.
  • Did we make use of something we already had? Yes.

Two out of three isn’t bad. And we saved money in the process.

How do YOU save money?


This is Frugal Friday. In an effort to make these weekly financial discussions more interactive, I’m no longer posting a link-up. Feel free to leave a link in the comments. But better yet, chat with us on today’s topic.

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  1. I totally believe that one of the biggest, if not the biggest, category we can save money in our budgets is in the food budget. Last week we had a meal of eating almost exclusive leftovers along with a salad, and it makes me feel good and efficient to help clear the fridge, so we don’t forget to use up remnants of certain foods left to mold. I hate to think about all that food having to be thrown away if we don’t eat it, and we really can save so much money if we eat out of the fridge more. I wrote more about it here if you are interested in reading more.

    Blessings this weekend!

  2. I eat leftovers almost every day for lunch and we plan a dinner of leftovers once every ten days, if not every week. My three boys are at weird ages (1.5, 4 & 6) where they will eat me out of house and home one day and then the next they’ll just pick at their food and not eat a lot. I have a hard time cooking the “right” amount for them so this usually yields a lot of leftovers and I refuse to throw them away! That being said, empty the fridge night is one of my kids favorite because they can pick any combination they want and then I serve everyone a fresh fruit or vegetable.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      We have fickle eaters here, too. Somedays a lasagna is inhaled in seconds. Other days, it’s leftovers all week. I don’t get it.

  3. We have what we call a penny supper every week where we eat up all the little bits and pieces of leftovers. Leftovers are also used in sack lunches throughout the week. Despite our best efforts we still throw food out each week, sigh. With my kids it is feast or famine. One day they eat everything in sight and the next all they do is pick at their food.

  4. Adelle F. says:

    My mother in law called leftovers “must-gos.” I’d never heard the term before I met her, but I think it’s perfect – that is really what they are: food that must go before it is wasted. We now often will have a “must-gos” night when I haven’t made a dinner plan, am not sure what to make and there’s a lot leftover in the fridge; I just clear out all the leftovers onto the table and everyone gets to pick and choose which things they want.

  5. Every Friday at our house is “buffet day”. For lunch, all the leftovers from the week are placed on the table and it’s “first come – first choice”. Since we don’t have a microwave, sometimes foods that originally were served hot, are served cold – such as some pasta dishes. Or, I combine several leftovers into something “new”. My family knows that if it’s really tasty, they’d best enjoy it and if it’s “not my favorite” they’ll probably never have to eat it again because there is a good chance we’ll never have this combination of leftovers again. Unless, of course, it’s really good – then we might plan to have the same leftovers!

  6. Great post. I love to buy “imperfect produce” It usually is riper and tastes better. We have gotten into a society that thinks that all fruit should grow and be “perfect”. We go to those stores that only stock perfect looking produce. You can get great deals on produce that is not quite the right size or shape if you look. There are two stores in my area that have great produce deals, they carry the slightly imperfect and sell it cheap. It is a great deal for me and my family.

    In our home I am getting pretty good at leftover surprises. Pasta goes well with many leftovers. Dad’s lunchbox is usually filled with second round surprises. The biggest key is to not wait to long. I worked in a kitchen with a chef that had great ideas for leftovers, but waited too long to use them. On the chef’s day off, We would go through and toss out anything that was getting too old to be used. Sometimes like a week and a half later he would think about those leftovers and be ready to use them. We would be like, “sorry that is all gone”. But then I got thinking and started using the next tip.

    Once or twice a week take a quick peek in the fridge. Try and incorperate the leftovers into the next meal or two. If it looks like you will not be able to do that right away, throw those leftovers in the freezer. Here is the important part; plan a day to clean leftovers from the freezer and use them up. (It does no good to freeze them and then forget them until a year later when they are all freezer burnt and get thrown out anyways. ) I keep a bag in the freezer for leftover vegetables. When the bag is full, I know that a soup day is right around the corner. Back to the story about Chef. We would freeze the leftovers for Chef and then when he would get around to thinking about what to do with those leftovers They were ready and safe for him to use and serve.

    Once we made the best sloppy joes ever, all the people wanted us to keep that recipe and make it again. The problem was that we took all the leftover meats and such from the freezer and mixed it with a bit of barbeque sauce and spices. It was a one of a kind meal. It was one that could not be reapeated. That is the joy of leftover cooking, you never know what kind of unbeliveable meal you may be able to create from the lowly leftover.

  7. We do leftovers or re-makes for several lunches every week. While it is not the most exciting, it does save us a lot of money by preventing food waste. My challenges with leftovers are that with a little of this and a little of that it feels like we spend a long time at the microwave and my kids seem to fight over who gets what. And of course we have more leftovers if the original meal wasn’t the kids’ favorite. After reading Carrie’s From Garbage to Gourmet, I’ve be inspired to do better and really make use of all the food we bring into the house.

  8. Fridge Cleanout is on the menu just about every Sunday night. It is served along with a salad and sometimes baked potatoes. It’s a great way to serve all the leftover food, buffet style so everyone gets a little of this or a little of that.

  9. We often eat leftovers for lunch, too. I try to freeze and label items that I know will not be eaten before they go bad. I have also learned to make several main dishes from bits of leftovers—quiche, crockpot fried rice,soup, etc. Our biggest waste seems to be produce that spoils before it is eaten. Fruits can be frozen, but I’m not sure what to do with lettuces. Maybe eat more salad! =)

    • @Kristi, have you ever heard of salad in a jar? I have had the same thing with lettuce. Last year I stumbled on salads in a jar. When I take the time to do it, I am amazed at how we will all grab the cool salad in a jar that’s already made and eat it instead of something else. My jars are a bit too big, so I’m justifying buying the cool Ball blue jars this weekend so that I can have one serving of side salad in a jar for lunches. Last weekend I had my husband grill a few extra marinated chicken breasts that we could top the salads with. I made them up, put them in the fridge. It was the first thing to go on my lunch plan for the week. 🙂 The teens could grab a salad for lunch quicker than they could make a sandwich! I got the concept from

      • Great idea! I have heard of salad in a jar, but I’ve never tried it. I have lots of jars, too. =) Thanks for the suggestion.

  10. I am new to LAM, but I have been reading all of the articles and catching up for the last few days. The funny thing is that I am not a mom (to human babies), but I can relate to 80% of the posts

    In my household we are lucky that we have very little food waste. My husband and I both grew up in very poor families that made due with what they had. He was also in the army for 10years and he is ok with eating pretty much anything. I try to use leftovers in recreated meals. For example,if I bake a chicken, we will eat it with veggies, he will take some for his lunch at work, then I will use to rest to make pot pie or soup. He almost always brings his lunch to work, and he enjoys doing that because he can work through lunch and leave earlier. I work in a restaurant that serves a ton of delicious and organic food so I mostly just pack myself a snack because I get a DEEP discount on the food at work.

    Worst case scenario Jackson (one of our furbabies) gets a couple scraps in his dog bowl. Sidney (our other furbaby) is allergic to everything so he can’t have scraps 🙁

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      Glad to hear that you’re finding a connection here at LAM! Thanks so much for taking the time to chime in.

  11. Such a good (and timely) post. We’re getting ready for a trip out of town, so we’ve been working hard to eat up all our perishables. I was amazed with the things I could make with just what we had! When we get back and I restock, I plan to do my best to use it ALL up. 😉

  12. This is such a great and practical post. We love leftovers and usually have no trouble using them up since we often eat them for lunch!

    Lately, I’ve been cooking a bit more on Thursday-Friday and saving up some of the leftovers to eat through the weekend when we’re super busy and in and out of the house. It’s so nice to not have to cook and saves us money since we’d be tempted to eat out otherwise!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      I had a friend who would cook a TON of food on Friday or Saturday so that she could take Sunday off. It was always great stuff, like a Mexi-bar, but made weekend meals real easy.

  13. Am I the only one who doesn’t have letovers? Seriously! We eat it all the first time. Sometimes i wish we had some for the next day lunch. Good job ladies at doing your best not to waste your food! We are a family of 9, 5 are growing boys.

    • @Claire, it’s the same way here. I’ve only got two hungry teenagers, but if there’s leftovers, it’s usually only enough for one for lunch. I actually PLANNED this week for extra so that we could have some extra grilled chicken to top our salads for lunches this week. I know we used to have leftovers, but now these kids always eating lots. 🙂

      • We have four growing boys in our family of 6 and now we hardly have leftovers…they are usually midnight snacks, but it still saves me money! However. I try to plan to have some extra if I want leftovers, so they have those snacks…and I make extra on Saturday so I don’t have to cook on Sunday. It does me good to eat simply.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      Usually we only have enough for one or two people.

  14. I need to work on using up leftovers. I do try to freeze meals that don’t get used up in 2-3 days. Makes for a quick meal on another night when we don’t have time to cook.
    I have some good news about wasted food… food banks in California are using that “imperfect” produce to feed people in need. You can leave more and find your local food bank at (or outside of California).

  15. Leftovers are usually what’s on the lunch menu. 🙂 Lettuce is my number 1 wasted food. I always have such good intentions!!!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      I find that I waste less lettuce when I make a big bag of salad-ready lettuce to use all week. We eat more salads that way.

  16. I think my best soups are the ones I make strictly from what’s already in the produce bin. I’m planning to make a vegetable soup for Sunday lunch with celery, carrot, onion, green and red pepper, leftover black beans from another dish and a couple cups of ditalini from my stockpile of pasta.

  17. We have leftovers a lot. I am trying to reduce what I cook so we don’t have so much food leftover, but it’s difficult. Other times I incorporate the leftovers into something else – leftover veggies get made into pasta primavera, a pizza or soup. Same with leftover meats. I am also trying to be better about freezing foods BEFORE they go bad and then using them later. Tough going, but getting better!

  18. I plan for a meal of leftovers about once a week. It’s a frugal way to keep the teenage boys and Hercules (hubster) fed 🙂 Also, hubster takes leftovers in his lunch box several times a week. My children know how to turn leftovers into new things to make it seem less like leftovers. Simple things from taking a leftover chicken breast and cubing it to place atop a salad or into a quesadilla, to the more complex like taking mixed veggies, some rice and adding an egg and some soy sauce for some quick fried rice. And if all else fails, there’s always the dog who is happy to help empty the fridge 😀 Thanks for all your hard work to keep us financially afloat with your tips and helpful hints. Keep it up!
    Kristy ~AKA the Mama to the Man Crew

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