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Living Green-what to do with leftovers?

Updated on October 9, 2009

Waste Not, Want Not

A lot of us are trying to change our habits and live a little greener. And, with the economy being so shaky, many people are trying to stretch their dollar just a little further. And, living green is more than just putting energy efficient windows in the house. Reducing the amount of food that we throw away, not to mention packaging from convenience foods is good for everybody.

One of the ways I have found to save a bit is through the use of leftovers. There's a standing joke in my house that we eat leftovers ever night of the week. I think this is a stretch, but I do like to get the most out of my food dollar by not throwing away food if it can be "recycled" for another day (ew, recycled may be an unfortunate term to use with food. Try "rethought", "used in a new way". Whatever). My sister in Calgary is the champ of all things budget. She once fed a family of five, bought a home, and paid off debt on $200 a week. I was impressed. She's a fantastic cook who can make a gormet meal out of brown rice, tomatoes and a shoe.

But that's another story. Here are some of my ideas of how to stretch your family's food budget so as to counteract at least a bit of rising food prices.

1. Avoid ready made at all cost. Ok, I have been known to pick up a roasted chicken when I know I will have five minutes to prepare dinner, but you wouldn't believe how much you can save by always trying to avoid boxed dinners, already marinated meat and presliced lunch meat. It takes a bit of forethought and it will drive you crazy at first, but you can save a ton this way.

For example: boxed macaroni "dinners" which are high in transfats and sodium, not to mention the misleading "four servings". I know they only cost 79 cents, but you are getting no food value for the price. Shop pasta on sale, and you can get four times more macaroni for 99 cents. Stock up when you see pasta on sale for under a dollar. Find a place to stash it in your home. Then try this recipe:

1 lb. ground beef, ground turkey or bulk sausage (not good for you, but yum!)

1 chopped onion, bell peppers, celery, carrots, whatever you like

two cans chopped tomatoes, or one can tomatoes, one can tomato sauce

Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, garlic, whatever you like

Brown the beef, add onions, tomatoes and spices. Now, you have the base for any of a number of meals. Leave as is, add cooked macaroni and you have goulash (that's what they call it around here). Add canned beans (be daring and try something besides kidney beans), chili powder and canned chilies and you have chili. Serve with cornbread. Add cumin, taco sauce instead of the tomatoes and you have tacos. Serve with chopped tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, whatever you like in tacos. Add extra tomato sauce, hike up the Italian seasoning and serve with spaghetti and french bread. Guaranteed it will taste better than the boxed food, it will be more filling and cheaper in the long run, not to mention healthier.

Rethink convenience. For example, do you like patty sausage for breakfast? Instead of buying already formed sausage patties, six for three dollars, buy a pound of bulk sausage in a "tube" on sale for $2. Form them into patties yourself at home. You will get twice as much sausage patties for less. You can freeze for later if you want and they are a breeze to thaw!

Or, buy whole chickens on sale for 99 cents per pound and cut up yourself before you freeze it. Sometimes I will find whole chickens really on sale for 69 cents a pound and roast four of them in my oven when I get home. It uses the same amount of energy to roast four as it does one. We eat one for dinner and the other three get frozen for a quick dinner later.

2. Use leftovers creatively. When you make mashed potatoes, make lots. Leftover mashed potatoes can be used for shepherd's pie (use browned ground beef and spices, or your beef base from #1 on the bottom of a greased casserole, throw on cooked vegetables of your choice, or use leftovers, top with mashed potatoes and a little shredded cheese and warm up in the oven. Very filling), potato cakes (mix flour, egg and salt and pepper into the potatoes and fry slowly until golden brown), or as a filler in meatloaf.

Leftover chicken can be used to make pseudo Chinese food. Chopped onions, a little cabbage, a couple carrots sliced thin can be sauteed for just a couple minutes, add the chicken and warm up. Add a bottle of your favorite stir fry sauce and serve with rice. Or cut up and add barbecue sauce and simmer on the stove and serve over noodles. This is good with leftover pork, too.

Leftover broccoli can be made into soup: Saute an onion, chopped fine until soft. Add a pat of butter and a couple spoons of flour. Stir until it's a paste, add a can of chicken broth and whisk. Add broccoli and a bit of cream, evaporated milk, milk, or whatever you like and warm up. The trick to this one is to add enough flour to thicken, but not too much. Add garlic, salt and pepper and serve with biscuits.

Once you start using leftovers, you will start to think of new things to do with them. Just don't overdo and food poison the family. After it's been heated once or twice, throw it away. And, if you've made something that everyone hates, well, it was a learning experience and throw it.

3. Make a HUGE batch of cookie dough. I use an ice cream scoop to make cookie dough balls that can be frozen for later. Once you make a recipe a few times, it really doesn't seem to take that long.

4. Don't be fanatical. Change what you can and don't feel guilty about what you can't. Some people just don't like the hassle and mess of making cookies. So, buy the ready made ones. Just try to find packaging that keeps the garbage down. I hate those plastic trays cookies come in. They are not recyclable in our community. Refrigerated cookie dough, however, uses cardboard and a small amount of plastic. Cardboard is better than plastic. Or, boxed cookie/brownie mixes use even less plastic.


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    • Fawntia profile image

      Fawntia Fowler 

      8 years ago from Portland

      These are all good ideas. I used to buy prepackaged meals all the time when I was in school, but looking back on it I wish I had taken the little bit of extra time to eat better. It probably would have saved me some money, too!


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