Ever since our ancestors began hunting food, leftovers have been a persistent problem. While it took us a long time to learn to properly store our food, it has always been a race against time to make good use of that food before it spoils. Cave people had no choice but to use up their food quickly, but with the advent of the fridge, keeping leftovers for a week (or longer) can be a real problem! What can you do with those leftovers?
Whether you’ve just had a party with too much food, or ended up cooking too much, here are some tips to keep those leftovers from filling your fridge and becoming a nuisance.
1. Store them properly.
The first step to getting rid of leftovers, unless you decide to be wasteful and simply throw them away after each meal, is to store that food properly. Storing it safely will extend its shelf life and keep you from getting sick with food poisoning!
Things like sauces, chili, fruits, and doughs can be frozen. Freezing your leftovers will drastically increase the shelf life and you can enjoy that food weeks later without having to worry about getting sick!
If you are unsure whether you can freeze a food or not, check online! Freezing, however, can damage a lot of foods so be sure that you are freezing the right ones.
2. Eat them!
Hate them or love them, leftovers are a fact of life. Unless you have frequent houseguests to raid your fridge and eat your leftovers, you’ll need to come up with a system to use up that food. Keep the oldest leftovers near the front and place new leftovers in the back. This prevents something from getting lost in the fridge. Nobody wants to deal with a stinky science experiment in a few months. This strategy is used at the grocery store to move their older food, so you should do the same!
Have a designated leftover day of the week. As long as it’s a consistent day, any leftover food will be in the fridge for no longer than a week at a time. Any longer than a week, and you can risk becoming ill (and some foods, such as fish, should be kept for no longer than a few days.)
3. Try a new recipe.
If you’ve got leftovers of a food that you don’t really know what to do with, check online for an interesting or unique recipe that can use your extra leftovers.
For example, leftover mash potatoes can be used to make potato pancakes. Or you can take leftover rice and create a Chinese-style fried rice dish. Have fun and experiment! That food would likely go to waste otherwise.
4. Hold a leftovers party.
If you just have too many leftovers, invite a few friends over to eat them up! This works well if you had a party and have lots of party type foods like finger-sized snacks and dips. Tell your guests not to bring anything but their appetites and have fun stuffing your faces!
Make sure to invite only close friends and be sure to tell them that the reason for the party is to eat up food before it goes bad. You don’t want to offend anybody by offering them a stale cracker, for instance!
5. Donate them to a soup kitchen.
If you had a large event or celebration with too much excess food for the guests to finish off, consider donating that food for a good cause. Many cities have soup kitchens that you may be able to donate that food to. This may be a longshot with all the newer food safety issues, but it could be worth a shot nevertheless.
Foods still in original packaging, such as frozen burgers or hotdogs would likely be well received. Call ahead to find out!
6. Feed them to your dog.
Dogs are people too. Well, they really aren’t and really shouldn’t be fed table scraps, but if you have a food that you know for certain is safe for you dog, put it in his or her food dish at their dinnertime. Knowing whether or not it is safe means checking with someone that knows pet nutrition, such as your pet’s veterinarian.
Go easy on the leftovers though: pet obesity has become an issue in the same way human obesity has. Don’t feed Rover anything that you know could compromise his health!
7. Throw them out.
Alright, sometimes you need to throw in the towel. After a certain point you need to cut your losses and simply chuck out that old food. It can be heartbreaking to discard the rest of that quiche that you worked hours to perfect, but getting you or anyone else sick is simply not worth the hassle.
Throw out foods that have been sitting in your fridge for any longer than a week (or even shorter for foods that spoil quickly.) At least once per week you should go through your entire fridge to throw out any food that is spoiled or soon to be spoiled to keep it from stinking up the rest of your food.
8. Compost your leftovers.
If your municipality doesn’t already have a composting program for food wastes, look into starting your own compost bin. Check online for how to build a DIY compost bin or go get one from your local home and garden store.
Composting your spoiled leftovers is good for the environment because it slows down landfill dumping. It can also provide you with broken down compost fertilizer to keep your vegetable garden healthy. It’s the circle of life!
9. Have a food fight!
Probably the worst solution in terms of wastefulness and messiness is having a food fight, but if you don’t mind cleaning up sticky, smelly food mess, throw a food fight with your friends and family. A pie to the face will brighten anyone’s day (perhaps!)
Note: this is a terrible solution, so please, please, please do not have a food fight!
Whatever it is that you decide to do with your leftovers, the most important thing is simply to keep on top of what you are putting in and taking out of your refrigerator. Leftovers have a tendency to build up simply because it’s easy to forget about what you have in the fridge. If you often find yourself with too many leftovers, try a few of these solutions to break your cycle of food wastefulness.