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Updated January 2023
How much money can I save by using our leftovers and reducing food waste?
Food waste is a huge issue – not only for our hard-earned cash, but our planet too. In the UK, we throw away a shocking 7 million tonnes of food and drink per year! And, a recent article reckoned that the average British household throws out more than £65 worth of food every month – around £800 annually – so it’s well worth changing your eating habits.
The good news is that there are plenty of delicious ways to make the most of our leftovers – and that extra cash can be put towards something much more fun.
How long can I keep leftovers?
Most leftovers can be kept in the fridge for 2-3 days, and if you make use of the freezer you can extend this for most foods to around 3 months. So if you want something to last longer, perhaps a week or more, then think freezer over fridge every time.
Plus, do you ever wonder why leftovers taste better? I think time often helps to bring out the flavours, particularly with meat and sauce dishes like curries, bolognese and casseroles – they often taste better second time around anyway! Making the most of your leftovers can be as simple as literally freezing extra portions rather than binning them!
How can I use my leftover food in new recipes?
This article goes beyond rescuing extra portions of meals – it might be that you’ve got small amounts of extra ingredients, stale bread or veg that’s looking a bit sad in the fridge that never even made it into a meal that week.
So if you need some leftover recipe ideas, then you’ve come to the right place because I’ve got tons of suggestions for just about everything. From family meal ideas, to snacks and treats – here’s how to use up leftover:
- Pasta and rice
Family meal ideas for using up leftover meat
These leftover meat recipes work well with pretty much everything – whether you’ve got spare ham, roast chicken, lamb, pork, turkey or beef – you can probably include whatever you’ve got with most of these meals. Using leftover meat to create new meals is a smart and budget-friendly way to reduce food waste – meat is expensive and delicious so let’s not waste it!
You might even want to cook a larger joint deliberately to stretch over other meals later in the week. (If you love a homemade soup or stock, a chicken or turkey carcass can be used to flavour both too!)
Make the most of your freezer – if you can’t use it in time, freeze leftovers for another time so they don’t get wasted. Here are some delicious meal ideas using leftover meat to create something the whole family can enjoy:
Use leftover pork, chicken or beef to make a stir-fry. Reheat the meat then add vegetables (bell peppers, broccoli, carrots etc – I use whatever’s left in the fridge or chuck in some frozen veg) and a homemade or store-bought stir-fry sauce for a super quick and easy dinner, serving over rice or noodles. Check out my yummy chicken chow mein recipe.
Sandwiches and Wraps:
Make sandwiches or wraps using thinly sliced leftover roast chicken, turkey or beef. Add your favourite condiments, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese for a quick, easy and super tasty lunch.
Create hearty salads by tossing leftover diced meat with fresh greens, vegetables and a flavourful dressing. You could also add ingredients like croutons, nuts or cheese for extra texture and flavour, or serve with a baked potato for something a bit more substantial.
Fajitas or Tacos:
A favourite in our house – turn leftover chicken, beef or pork into fajitas or tacos. Warm the meat with some seasoning, add some veg (like peppers, sweetcorn, tomatoes) and serve with tortillas / tacos, salad, salsa and sour cream dip. By combing the meat with veg, you can make even a small amount stretch much further.
Add leftover meat to a curry sauce made from onions, garlic, ginger and curry spices – simmer until heated through, and serve over rice or with naan bread. Curries are great for slow cooker meals so you can create something super tasty and packed with flavour with very little effort.
My daughter’s favourite – make tasty quesadillas by placing leftover shredded chicken, beef or pork between tortillas with cheese and any veg / seasoning you’ve got handy in the kitchen. Cook until the cheese is melted and the tortillas are crispy for a super quick meal. Check out my delicious recipe for chicken quesadillas – the black-eyed beans in this recipe really make the meat stretch even further.
A British favourite, use leftover roast lamb or beef to make a shepherd’s / cottage pie. Combine the meat with some mixed frozen vegetables and gravy, top with mashed potatoes, and bake until golden brown. This is a great example of a dish that gets even tastier when it’s been in the freezer for a while – so make sure you keep any extra portions too!
Omelettes or Quiches:
Incorporate diced leftover meat into omelettes or quiches – adding vegetables, cheese and herbs for a satisfying light dinner or lunch. These sorts of meals are great for using up anything in the fridge that’s past its best, and they’re so cheap and speedy to make to.
Toss leftover meat into pasta dishes like spaghetti carbonara, fettuccine Alfredo, or penne with a creamy tomato or cheesy sauce – it’ll definitely be a winner with the kids! Pasta is a cheap base for a meal, so with spare meat to use up you really can create a pasta dish for next to nothing.
Turn leftover chicken or turkey into a comforting soup by simmering it with vegetables and broth – adding noodles or rice for a heartier, more filling version. Soups are insanely easy to make and they freeze and reheat really well too.
You can also use leftover chicken or turkey to make a pate, it’s so easy – try my delicious pate recipe. This one is perfect for using up leftover turkey at Christmas time too! Pate can be frozen for about a month, so if you make more than you can use in a couple of days, freeze a few slabs for another time.
Make individual or family-sized pies using leftover meat, mixed frozen vegetables, and a creamy sauce or gravy. (Mushroom soup works well as a sauce too!) Top with puff or shortcrust pastry, and bake until golden brown for a hearty wintery meal. If you’re not a fan of pastry, or don’t have the ingredients in the house, slice potato on top to make a hotpot instead.
Create a quick and flavourful fried rice by combining diced leftover meat with cooked rice, mixed vegetables, soy sauce and scrambled eggs. This one is perfect for Chinese a fake-away dinner and it couldn’t be more simple to create. A perfect mid-week meal.
Blend fruit that is past its best with yoghurt to make delicious smoothies – just add a dash of honey to sweeten. You could even pour the mixture into ice lolly moulds for a tasty treat for the kids.
Leftover fruit, that’s perhaps gone a bit soft, is also perfect for making pies or jam. With google at our fingertips – it’s now so easy to find recipes to go with what we’ve got lurking in the fridge!
If you have any brown bananas, take a look at my banana bread recipe. It’s so simple, but super tasty, and you’ll never need to bin a banana again! Over-ripe bananas are also amazing mixed with double cream and sweetened condensed milk to make ice-cream! (My kids love both so much that they purposefully leave bananas in the fruit bowl! 😂)
Roast any leftover veggies with some tomatoes and blend to make soup or pasta sauce. Old, soft tomatoes are perfect for making pasta sauce or to use in chilli or curries. Freeze what you don’t use into small portions, to defrost another day.
If they’re already cooked vegetables, then you can easily through them straight in to things like quiches with very little prep time at all.
Another delicious option for leftover veg is bubble and squeak. Mix with leftover mash potato and cabbage for a tasty breakfast the next morning. My mini crustless quiches are also a fab way to use up leftover veg.
Broccoli, carrots or celery sticks that are going a bit limp can be perked up by popping them into a jug of water in the fridge. But if they’re beyond saving, use them to make soup or vegetable stock instead.
If you find that you often have leftover vegetables that you don’t use, have a look in the frozen aisle instead. Frozen vegetables cost a fraction of the price, they’re already pre-chopped and you can just use what you need to prevent any waste and save you money!
Family meal ideas for using up potatoes
If you have spare grated or chunks of cheese from dinners or sandwiches, pop it into a sealed container in the fridge. It can be used over sauces or pasta, added to omelettes or melted over toast or a jacket potato for lunch the next day!
If you have more herbs than the recipe calls for, chop it all and freeze into small tubs or ice cube trays so that nothing goes to waste. You can defrost a portion at a time, as and when needed, saving you money and food prep time when you next need some.
For super savings, grow your own herbs so that you can just pick what you need, or switch to dried herbs which last a long time.
How to never waste a slice of bread (or the crusty ends) again
It’s estimated that us Brits throw away a staggering 1 million loaves of bread every day – 900,000 tonnes each year! Bread has such a short shelf life, making it one of the most wasted products that we have in our kitchens.
But, with the crusts often binned, and our loaves going stale in just a few days, here are my top tips for making sure you make the most out of every slice…
Bread freezes really well, and defrosts so quickly. The best way to keep bread fresh, especially if you only shop once a week, is to put extra loaves into your freezer and defrost them as needed. You can also pop frozen bread straight into the toaster – which is always handy if you find, as hungry kiddies await their breakfast, that you haven’t got any fresh bread!
Sandwiches can also be made with frozen bread or rolls; just make them as usual and they’ll defrost by lunchtime. This can be a handy way of keeping your sandwich filling chilled in the summer months too!
Make a pudding:
Bread and butter pudding is such a simple dish to make, and it’s a great way to stop slightly stale bread from ending up in the bin! It’s super tasty too, and a very cheap pudding option – you can even use up stale croissants or muffins as well in this way, so be creative and adapt your favourite recipe to use up what you’ve got.
A quick 10 second blast in the microwave can bring stale bread back to life so, before you bin it, give this a go and you can get back to making those sarnies in no time at all!
Stale bread, sourdough loaf, ciabatta or baguette can be transformed under the grill into croutons, garlic bread, cheese on toast or bruschetta. For bruschetta add a little garlic, oil and a few of your favourite toppings, such as tomatoes or olives, or whatever is lurking in the fridge!
Buying ready-made breadcrumbs comes with a price tag, and the rest of the pot is wasted if you don’t need a whole tub. But, making your own couldn’t be easier! Just throw a slice of bread into your blender, and you’ll have breadcrumbs in seconds! This a great way to use up the crusty ends of a loaf, which usually don’t get eaten.
Did you know that you can blend bread straight from the freezer too? It’ll defrost as it blends! So keep those ends and, next time you fancy homemade nuggets or a need a breadcrumb topping for a pasta bake, blitz away!
Use the soggy cereal at the bottom of the box to make chocolate crispie cakes. Crushed / broken biscuits can be used as a base for cheesecake, lemon possets or chocolate fridge cake too. Have a look at my recipes for some ideas!
Cakes and cookies can be frozen so if you have any leftover don’t bin them – slice and pop into a freezable container. They defrost really quickly, so if you get them out in the morning, they’ll be ready to enjoy by lunchtime. (This is also really handy for last minute play-dates or picnics too!)
Pasta and rice
It’s so easy to accidentally cook too much pasta or rice – so weigh out the suggested portion sizes before cooking to reduce the chance of wastage. But, if you do cook too much, here’s how to make the most of it…
If you’ve already mixed pasta in with the sauce at tea-time, but you’ve got loads left, decant into small tubs for lunches over the next few days. Plain leftover pasta can be mixed with tuna, mayonnaise and salad bits to make a yummy pasta salad, or reheated in a pasta bake.
You need to be careful with rice as it can be contaminated by a bacterium. If you want to use leftover rice, cool it under running water and store it in a sealed container as quickly as possible. It’ll keep for one day in the fridge, or freeze immediately – just make sure it’s piping hot all the way through before eating.