How often do we diligently bundle up bits and pieces of last night’s dinner in reusable containers, only to let them languish at the back of the fridge? Often, there’s just not quite enough left to make a full meal, and so by the end of the week, these leftovers end up in the bin.
But repurposing these elements can be a simple, delicious way to cut back on food waste, a problem plaguing the world today. Studies conducted by the FAO show that approximately one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted every year—that’s about 1.3 billion tons! Any steps we can take to reduce that, however small, will contribute to the larger goal of reducing this waste once and for all.
Leftover side dishes like steamed broccoli or roasted root vegetables are perhaps some of the easiest to use up. While there might not be enough left over to serve them as originally intended, they make a great base for a pasta sauce, omelet filling or soup. They can even be added to a baked dish, like a casserole or pot pie.
The only thing to be aware of when using up leftover vegetables is, of course, that whatever seasoning was used on the original dish will define the flavor profile of the new dish. Roasted carrots with cumin and chili could be used as the base of a delicious Mexican fish stew, while broccoli with garlic and olive oil might be better served atop pasta.
Leftover Pasta or Risotto
While you could certainly reheat leftover pasta or risotto, these starches tend to lose out on texture after a night in the fridge. Instead, consider using pasta or risotto as the base for a pasta pie or arancini balls.
Leftover pasta pie is an easy, versatile dish that you can use as a vessel for other leftovers, like cooked veggies. Even arancini can be stuffed with small bits of leftover cheese or vegetables, using up two dishes of leftovers in one go.
Consider using your food processor to reduce stale bread to breadcrumbs, which can be used anywhere store-bought breadcrumbs are called for (like sprinkled atop Tilapia fillets in this stuffing-crusted Tilapia dish).
Leftover bread can also be used to make both savory casseroles and sweet bread puddings—the former being yet another place where leftover veggies can find a home.
Leftover fish can be a tricky ingredient to use up, as reheating it can sometimes leave it dry. The trick is to heat it as little as possible and use moist cooking methods like steaming or stewing to keep fish from gaining an unfortunate texture.
Consider serving any leftover fish fillets cold, as a topping for salads or poke bowls. You could also shred these fillets wrap them up with other ingredients, like rice and beans for delicious burritos or Tilapia tacos.
Leftover herbs can be a tough ingredient to use up. They have such a short shelf life, and seeing as people are often forced to buy big bundles of fresh herbs when they only need a little bit, much of these delicious aromatics end up in the trash.
But there are a number of ways to use up fresh herbs! Consider using them to make a fresh tabbouleh salad or a bright, vibrant salsa verde or chimichurri sauce. Any would be a wonderful accompaniment to simple baked Tilapia.
Finding creative ways to use up leftovers is an important tool to reduce food waste—not just for climate concerns, but also for your budget. Get the most from your groceries and you’ll really be making a difference.
Want to learn more about the issue of food waste? Find out how these companies are repurposing fish byproducts to eliminate unnecessary waste.