When I was a kid, if I didn’t finish what was on my plate, my parents would bring up the starving children in Ethiopia. Thinking about the plight of those in developing countries, who don’t have enough to eat, never failed to make me appreciate the bounty that we enjoy in the United States — and it still does.
I can hear my mom’s admonishment every time I throw away a container of leftovers that has gone bad. But nearly as troubling as the imbalance between America’s plentiful food supply and the lack in other parts of the world, is the effect that food waste has on the environment. According to the EPA, in 2014, 38 million tons of food waste was generated in America, and only about 5 percent of that was diverted from the landfills. This is bad because food rotting in the a landfill produces methane gas, which in turn contributes to climate change.
The solution? Be sure to use up individual ingredients before they turn, and plan ahead to make sure that the food you prepare gets eaten, not wasted. Compost as much as you can at home and at drop-off events in your community.
Here are some of my favorite types of foods to make this time of year, and how I use the leftovers to make an entirely new meal later in the week.
1. Chili: Everyone has their favorite chili recipe. Mine is simple: sauté an onion and garlic in oil, add a couple of cans of rinsed black or kidney beans, a big can of crushed tomatoes, and a dollop of tomato paste. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. You can brown ground turkey or meatless crumbles in it, or keep it veggie, maybe adding a handful or two of frozen corn as it simmers. And of course, the seasonings: lots of cumin, a little chili powder, salt and pepper. Leftovers are super versatile. If you have a lot, you can spread it in a casserole dish, sprinkle with cheese, and spread cornbread batter on top to make a sort of chili pot pie. If you just have a little, it’s a good topping for a baked potato or a hot dog.
2. Pasta with Tomato Sauce. Make a big batch of homemade tomato sauce, and you can use it one night to toss with some pasta, and then another night to spread on homemade pizza or a calzone. Tomato sauce also freezes beautifully; just portion it into a plastic or glass freezer-safe container.
3. Roast Chicken. If you’re going to take the time to roast a chicken for dinner, why not roast a second one at the same time? You won’t be sorry, because there is SO much you can do with leftover chicken. I like it for chicken salad, pot pie, chicken sandwiches, or to dice on top of a salad made up of greens and grains. And, of course, I like to use the carcass to make my own chicken stock, which is another good use for vegetable trimmings from carrots, onions, celery, and herbs.
4. Cooked Salmon. Whether it’s broiled, grilled, or pan-seared, a little leftover salmon can be a delicious addition to many dishes. We like flaking it into chunks and eating it on crackers for lunch, folding it into scrambled eggs, or using it as a filling for onigiri, or Japanese rice balls.
5. Chicken and Dumplings. Hearty chicken and dumplings always seems to make too much. But I’ve found that leftovers can head in two different directions for your next meal. Once all the dumplings are eaten, thin out the pot with a little more chicken broth, and maybe simmer some noodles or rice in it, and it becomes a satisfying soup. Or, bulk it up with more diced fresh or frozen vegetables, simmering until they’re tender, then spoon it into a pie pan and cover it with a pie crust — or puff pastry, and it becomes a delicious chicken pot pie.
6. Meatballs. Making handmade meatballs takes some work, so it doesn’t make sense to make just enough for one meal. Luckily, there are lots of ways you can prepare leftovers. Among my favorites are to simmer them in a soup, such as an Italian Wedding Soup; top a saucy pasta with them, or enjoy them in a Vietnamese bahn mi-style sandwich. If you want to freeze them, spread them out onto a parchment-covered baking sheet and freeze them until solid, then transfer to a zip-top freezer bag or plastic freezer container.
With these ideas, you’ll have no excuse not to use up all your leftovers before they go bad!
Source: Environmental Protection Agency