Reducing Food Waste: Creating New Meals with Leftovers

When it comes to my Tuesday evenings, there’s always one show I tune into, "Chopped." If you haven’t seen it, it’s a show where four chefs compete by using an unusual combination of ingredients to create a delicious meal. Entertaining and exciting, as a foodie, I just can’t get enough of it.

One of the most popular themes on the show is the leftovers episodes, where all of the ingredients are leftovers. And with 53 percent of Americans trying to reduce food waste by using leftovers from cooking, it’s no surprise why.

Let’s be honest, leftovers aren’t always the most appetizing—and who wants to eat last night’s soggy dinner? I definitely won’t throw it out (can you say "food waste galore"?), but eating it until it’s gone is never fun either. So I took a page from "Chopped" and decided to see exactly how creative I could be with yesterday’s meal.

Oh, and while making delicious new meals to reduce food waste is the goal, sometimes your leftovers have been left over for a little too long. Keep this USDA cold storage chart handy to make sure your leftovers are still safe to eat.

Turn Meat into a Salad

Because chicken is so cheap, I like to get the whole bird and roast it. It’s super easy and perfect for meal prep. But chicken can also get boring really quickly. The easiest way to repurpose it? Chop it up, add in some diced celery, tarragon, a little bit of curry, dried cranberries, and Greek yogurt, and I now have a delicious chicken salad that can be eaten on some whole wheat bread.

Don’t limit yourself to chicken. Add some horseradish, Greek yogurt, and scallions to roast beef, or add diced apples, grain mustard, and Bibb lettuce to pork.

Vegetables Make Great Fritters

I always keep carrots in my crisper drawer. They’re easy to grab as a snack, plus they last pretty long. Of course, sometimes I keep them in a little bit too long. No worries, carrots are really versatile. If they start to get soft, I just boil and mash them up; add in onions, flour, eggs, salt, and pepper; create little patties; and sauté them to make little carrot fritters. They’re perfect with a dollop of Greek yogurt, and they make for a great side dish.

And while parsnips and potatoes are obvious fritter choices, vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are perfect for fritters too.

When in Doubt, Turn It into a Dip

I love salmon, but it really doesn’t last longer than a day (which is why I often get single serving-sized packages). The once crispy skin is now soggy, and the meat itself is often dry. Yuck! Lucky for me, there are tons of salmon dip recipes and they’re all delicious. My favorite is chopped-up salmon, capers, lemon juice, and a little cream or cottage cheese. Mix it up, and you have a perfect dip that goes great on some wheat crackers. This is also great for smoked salmon that needs to be eaten quickly before it becomes a food safety hazard.

When it comes to dip, your options are limitless: red meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and even fruits, which can be turned into a delicious dessert dip.

Don’t Limit Yourself with Fruit

Just like carrots, I like to keep apples around as a snack, but when they start to get soft, you literally have an infinite number of possibilities for repurposing this delicious fruit. One option is to grind in a food processor with cinnamon and maple syrup for some applesauce. Or sauté them with some chicken to create a sweet side dish. You can also blend it with some spinach and oranges for a vitamin-enriched fruit smoothie. Or throw some into a food processor and add to yogurt or cottage cheese.

And of course, don’t limit yourself to apples. Fruits are extremely versatile. Blend grapes and pears together and freeze for some fruit popsicles. Or add some oranges and grapefruit to a salad. Mash up bananas to make banana bread. With a little creativity, you won’t have to throw out fruit ever again.

While it may seem hard and complicated, you don’t need to be a world-renowned chef to turn last night’s soggy dinner into a new, delicious lunch. In fact, it’s quite easy.