Ever since I starting cooking as a full time adult I have been a fan of the leftover meal. This is due to the fact that the kitchen is not my native habitat (that would be the couch with a cup of tea and something to read). Also because without factoring in leftovers, I found the grocery bills were just getting more and more astronomically expensive.
Over the years, I have discovered that utilising leftovers not only comes with the added bonus of not cooking two nights in a row, but they often taste better than the original meal. Soups, curries and stews in particular often thicken and become more delicious overnight magically in the fridge, leading to double bonus points all round.
It also gives you the special kind of warm and fuzzies that comes with knowing your sustainable practices are helping the environment. Because when you throw away food, you’re chucking all of the resources, water and energy that went into growing, packing and transporting it.
Sustainability Victoria’s Love Food Hate Waste website is full of practical tips, advice and recipes to help families reduce the amount of food they throw away.
But in the meantime, here are some of my all-time best keep secret tips for ways to reduce your food waste, and therefore save money, time, effort and the environment.
When cooking, consider meals that can be repurposed as leftovers. Image: iStock.
1. Plan your shopping list from the kitchen
You need to check (or assign a little helper to check for you) as you write your shopping list. This helps to avoid common conditions such as the Tower of Tinned Tuna, where multiple items are repeatedly bought each week due to a lack of memory/fear that you don’t have them and will therefore ruin dinner. Ahem.
It takes no time at all to peek in the onion bowl, count your carrots and positively identify green produce that can be utilised in your next soup as you go, and is well worth the trouble.
2. Audit existing supplies before you plan your meals
Similarly, a good starting point for planning your weekly meals is to look at the things that have been overlooked in your fridge and panty. Do you indeed have a Tower of Tinned Tuna? If that’s the case, a tomato-based tuna risotto will hit the spot. Do you find you’ve accumulated but are not getting through cheeses? Grate them into a white sauce and put a bit of old fashioned mac and cheese on the menu. The kids will love it.
Check what's lurking at the back of the fridge. Image: iStock.
3. Plan for lunches using dinner leftovers
I often think about lunches in the context of dinners. Vegetarian lasagne? I’ll set aside a few roasted veggies for rather gourmet Turkish bread sandwiches that week with whatever other filling I had planned. Tuna Putanesca? A smear of it on a cheese toastie takes it up a notch. And the best dinner to lunch conversion is of course anything roasted – chicken, lamb, beef – in sandwiches.
4. Freeze leftovers in single portions
Investing in smaller sized containers is well worth it, as there is nothing worse than freezing a great big serve of Bolognese sauce, only to release you’ve thrown out half of it a day later when you couldn’t eat it all. Freeze smaller portions so you can control how much you want to use, and keep the rest for a lazy, I mean rainy, day.
5. Rework leftovers into totally new masterpieces
Now this is where you can really get creative. Tuna mornay served with rice one night can be poured over a baked potato the next. A Mexican chicken dish can be served as a stew, and then reappear as burrito. Even a stir-fry can be rearranged into an omelette or savoury pancake the next night. Impress the kids without, you know, being that impressive.
Rework leftovers - chicken stew can become the filling for pie the following night. Image: iStock.
6. Don’t plan for complicated meals mid-week
This is a golden rule in my household. Mid-week meals are fuss free. No matter what image of yourself you dream up on a Sunday afternoon that will not be you by Wednesday, after a traffic jam, toddler tantrum and a work deadline. You want simple, easy and fuss-free. Save the complexity for your next dinner party.
What tips do you have for reducing food waste?
Every year in Victoria we throw away enough food to fill the Eureka Tower. The Love Food Hate Waste campaign – by Sustainability Victoria – shares practical tips, advice and recipes to help Victorian families reduce the amount of food they throw away. Victorian households throw away an estimated $2200 a year in wasted food. Making the most of your food will save you money and help the environment by not wasting the resources, water and energy that went into producing that food. Brought to you by The Victorian Government.