Maggie Bob Gets: Creative With Leftovers

I read an article in the Guardian last week that said millennials waste more food than their grandparents generation. The article lays some of the blame on Instagram (which if you remember from an earlier post of mine is also apparently the reason none of us read any more), but whatever the cause I don’t find it surprising that we are wasting more food these days. In fact, the most surprising thing in the article was the revelation that apparently I count as a millennial!

So why do so many of us waste food? There’s definitely a lack of education when it comes to cooking. I know I’m fortunate in this respect as not only did I grow up with two parents who cooked – and had both done so professionally at various points in their lives – but my school offered a well rounded food technology syllabus. We had fully equipped kitchens at our disposal and I was even able to achieve my basic food hygiene certificate as part of my GCSE in the subject.

Harissa chicken and garlic couscous
Taking leftovers in for my lunch

Not only are many of us not taught how to cook, we’re also not shown how to manage a store cupboard; my dad always taught me to move old tins to the front and put the newer ones behind for instance. There’s also lots of bad information out there on use by/best before dates, and many people are overly cautious or afraid of eating something that will make them sick.

Surplus veg makes great soups

I think the final issue is a timing/planning one, and I know this is where I often fall down. Living with a spoonie makes it difficult to make a plan and stick to it at times. I know the virtue of meal planning, making sure everything gets used while it is fresh and incorporating one ingredient over a number of meals to use up whatever I’ve bought in. I do this to an extent, but try and reach a compromise where the mental health of those in the house comes first of course. Luckily I can afford to do this, but it still niggles at me when I have to throw something out because our plans have changed.

So how do I combat food waste? There’s a couple of great resources I refer to regularly: Jack Monroe has plenty of cheap recipes on their website which are ideal for using up bits of things, and I especially like the guide on how to shop for your kitchen store-cupboard.  I’m often to be found hanging around the Old Style board of the MoneySavingExpert forums where there’s always good suggestions for what to cook from what you have in. I would also recommend the Storecupboard Challenge on Penny Golightly for inspiration on using up all those last little bits in the cupboard instead of letting them go to waste.

Turning spoiling fruit in to jam

Here’s some of my top tips for reducing waste without sticking to a rigid or unimaginative menu like The Guardian suggests our grandparents did (Tuesday was always gammon and eggs, Friday was always fish etc).

  1. Learn to love leftovers: I’ve talked before about my love of leftovers, and being prepared to eat whatever I had for dinner again for lunch the next day has served me well. It’s obviously important that you store leftovers properly and reheat anything thoroughly before eating if you’re having it hot.
  2. Have plenty of recipes at your disposal: I have at least 10 recipes I love to make with butternut squash, so if I have one that needs using up, but I don’t fancy butternut squash lasagna, I could make soup, or curry, or roast it whole and top it like a jacket potato. This means I’m less likely to waste something because I wasn’t in the mood for a particular meal that day.
  3. Be soup-er inventive: Almost anything can be turned in to soup. I definitely feel like I’m ‘hashtag winning’ when I look in the kitchen to find a solitary carrot, some wilting leeks and a sad potato and – voila! – 30 minutes later we are enjoying the warm hug of vegetable soup.
  4. Be conservative: No, not politically or morally. I mean making conserves, preserves, jams, pickles – whatever. I’m yet to try pickling anything, but I did recently turn some sorry looking apples in to a jar of delicious apple sauce for my morning porridge.
  5. Know how to store leftovers properly: okay tiny confession – I often eat leftover rice, reheated the next day. I know I’ll have some friends gasping in horror at this. There’s a lot of bad experience about rice – incorrectly stored and reheated rice can make you very sick, I know. But I also know how I should prepare things properly, how to store them, and to make sure things are reheated adequately. And it’s not make me ill yet. Read up, understand about temperatures and bacteria, and make wise decisions. Just maybe stay away from nuking that leftover egg fried rice until you know what you’re doing.
  6. Plan for leftovers: We’ll have ‘rubber chicken‘ weeks – which I’ve mentioned here before. I’ll roast a chicken on the Sunday and we’ll have that in the traditional way, then the next few days are meals made with the leftover meat, usually culminating in chicken noodle soup to use up the carcass.

So there you have it. Do you have any recipes or meals you like to make with leftovers specifically? Please let me know in the comments.

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