Leftover Makeovers

Wastage. I’m pretty sure in the last few years everyone has heard the stats about household food wastage, but if you haven’t, here are a few taken from this SMH article:

  • NSW households are throwing away an estimated $1000 worth of food each year
  • Across Australia, around 4.45 million tonnes of food (worth about $7.5 billion) is thrown away each year

“Social researchers blame changes in household and house size and time pressures  for the substantial increase in wasted food,” the article says.

I estimate that pretty much the only food that leaves my apartment in the rubbish are the peels from vegetables and the pips from fruit. I spend around $20 a week on groceries with a bigger shop done once a month after pay day, and I eat mostly fresh fruit and vegetables. A few of my friends are surprised when I open my lunch at work and tell them whatever I have was made with leftovers. So, here are a few ideas to avoid having more food than you need and then what to do with some left overs.

To avoid having more food than I need, I try and sit down a day or so before I plan to do my groceries and plan out my meals for the next week. This turns into a big paper trail for me when I do it properly, because I use a few different books and notepads to track it. So, I write the meals onto a pad of tear-off weekly meal planner sheets, but use my diary to note any nights I won’t be home or lunches out at work and make sure these are allowed for as well. I usually sit with a couple of recipe books to get some ideas of what I want to make. Then, from my plan I form my grocery list.

But, all that being said, I’m an extremely busy person and don’t always have time to sit down and plan properly. So I also make sure to keep my grocery list handy in the kitchen during the week to mark down things like when I run out of cereal or sugar and so on. Basically, I recommend keeping a list and trying not to buy more than you can use or eat in a week. Do a big shop once a month for dry, non-perishable food items and shop for your fresh fruit and veg either once a week or on the day that you’ll need it.

I make myself sound virtuous, but in truth, even with my list, I’m prone to impulse buying. I’ve been known to buy whole cauliflowers when I only needed a half, 3kgs of oranges when really, five oranges is more than enough for a week, and so on. But when I do overshop, nothing goes to waste. Here are some ways I give my leftovers a makeover:

  • When I have left over mashed potato and steamed vegies, I throw them all in a mixing bowl, add an egg, some flour and some cheese and make them into potato cakes that I fry off on my BBQ grill. I also make zucchini fritters with any zucchinis that are going soft. Cooked fritters and potato cakes can also be stored in the freezer and make good snacks and accompaniments with salad.
  • Soup is another good way of quickly using up vegies that are going soft (or, that are fresh if you have an overabundance). If I’m making thick pumpkin soup or cauli soup or whatever else, I also save the extra boiled water before I puree because I also don’t waste any flavouring. I pour the water into a plastic container, label it as ‘pumpkin water’ and use it for the next lot of soup. It just adds a bit of extra flavour (and the water gets more and more flavoured with each batch)
  • Fat from roasted meats is something else I let cool and store in a plastic container, labelled in the freezer. This is again, good for stock (especially when you’re reducing a chicken or something like that. But it’s also a good base for gravies and so on.
  • I often decide I want a cooked chicken from the supermarket for sandwiches or salads, but being one person, it’s impossible for me to get through before it goes off. So when I get it home, I strip all the meat off, put it into portioned out freezer bags and freeze. If I’ve got time, I’ll chuck the carcass, skin and all, into a stock pot and make a soup or stock, but if I don’t have time, it gets tied into a plastic bag and stored in the freezer for a stock later on.
  • I eat frozen berries in my yoghurt of a morning. Mostly, I just throw a handful onto my cereal straight from the freezer (because I pack my lunch the night before and they defrost by breakfast time), but if I do defrost the whole bag, I always use every last drop of juice. I either stir it into my bircher mueseli, add it to a smoothie or reduce it with some sugar and make a fruit topping that can be added to milk for milkshakes or tipped into a batch of ice-cream.
  • If I am having salads and there’s any question that I won’t get through all of the lettuce or a whole bag of salad mix, I buy bags of baby spinach. When it starts to wilt (before it goes soggy), I drop it in a pot of boiling water for around 15 seconds, let it drain and freeze in zip lock baggies. It’s good then to use in lasagne, stir fries, stew and so forth.

Pumpkin water

Those are just a few ways to makeover your leftovers. But if you’re looking for some more ideas, I recommend you check out Leftover Makeovers: Quick and Fabulous Food from your Fridge and Pantry  by Sally Wise (ABC Books, RRP $24.99). This is one of my favourite books to go to to get ideas when I’ve got dregs of peanut butter in the bottom of a jar, fruit that’s starting to go soft, cooked meat and so on.

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