High on my list of food crimes is letting food go to waste. This is an especially common issue when people begin transitioning from eating less packaged and preserved foods to eating more fresh produce. However, some people continue this bad habit forever! In my mind, there is no reason why a half tomato should stay in the fridge uneaten until it dies. Half a tomato can be incorporated, cooked or fresh, into virtually any meal: sliced on toast, wedged into a salad, chopped into a soup or sauce, or just sprinkled with salt an eaten in a moment of pure zaniness and spontaneity.
Why does this violation continue to occur?
Below are my top 10 tips for using leftovers and putting an end to the needless crime of food wastage:
1. Plan a rough weekly menu plan.
One of the top reasons for food wastage is just not having a clear idea of what your household consumes in a week. Most people tend to overshop and thus end up with an unrealistic amount of food to consume. Before grocery shopping, take a look at your week ahead: Do you have dinner plans at a restaurant? Will you be packing lunch for work or eating out? Will your partner be missing any meals at home? Are you wanting to try out a new recipe this week because your nutritionist has recommended you try kale this week (wink wink)? If you regularly throw out food, pay attention to how much you toss and reduce your purchases at your next shopping trip accordingly.
2. Store it properly.
There are some tricks to extending the shelf life of your perishables. For example, a common issue with greens is that they tend to wilt. The solution is to treat them like a bouquet of flowers: cut off the last inch or so of the stalks, and stick the bottom of the bunch into a jar of water, and place in the fridge. This works for all leafy greens like kale, collards, and chard, romaine lettuce, asparagus, broccoli, and celery. For more delicate fresh herbs, the same practice may be used while also covering the leafy bits with a bag to protect them from frost. Store cooked leftovers in well-sealed containers, and If you keep some produce in a bowl outside of the fridge (for example, many people keep their fruit, tomatoes, or avocados at room temperature), move them into the fridge if they are ripening too quickly.
3. Maintain a Martha Stewart fridge situation.
Keep your fridge organized and clean so you can see everything you have. This prevents situations like that half cucumber turning into a white furry shriveled finger as it hides behind your mustard collection. Try to keep a general account of what you have in stock and perform regular fridge clean-outs. You can even create a printable Excel spreadsheet with a colour-coded weekly cleaning schedule mounted on birch bark and hung with silk ribbon.
No. Too Martha.
4. Freeze it.
If all else fails, freeze it! Most leftover soups, cooked vegetables, berries, fruit purees, cooked legumes/grains, sauces, dressings, and baked goods freeze well. Invest in some quality stainless steel or Pyrex containers for the job. If you find yourself throwing out whole fresh ginger root then freeze it because as well as preserving it, freezing it renders it so much easier to mince! Another little tip I learned from Martha is to freeze single serving size portions of dressing, pesto, tomato paste, or other condiments/sauces into ice cube trays. Pop one or two cubes out at a time as needed so you don’t have to keep thawing and refreezing a larger container.
5. Throw it in a stir-fry or soup.
Do away with your fancy recipes and just throw everything into a skillet or pot, add some delicious sauce or broth, and cook it. Leftover quinoa, sliced onion, coconut milk, and whatever veggies you have on hand make a great soup. Veggies are all friends so you can combine any of them and with the right seasoning, make it delicious.
6. Blend it into a dressing.
Leftover vegetables, cooked or raw, make wonderful additions to pureed salad dressings. Check out the way I incorporate red pepper, carrots, onions, and fresh herbs into a variety of dressings. It’s hard to go wrong with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, garlic, sea salt and whatever leftover veg you have blended up into a fresh dressing. Look at what I made with leftover tomato paste down below!
7. Hide it in your smoothie.
I am famous around these parts (ie. my kitchen) for hiding things in my smoothies. Nary has leftover avocado, spinach, or raw zucchini gone to waste in my house. Beets combine well with raspberries, and you’ll never know there’s cabbage in your pineapple smoothie. Be adventurous! Many sweeter/milder tasting veggies are lovely in smoothies and add nutrition to boot.
8. Google “What to do with leftover __________”.
Google is the smartest friend you have. There is no excuse to waste even the most obscure ingredient because Google can tell you what to do with it.
If you truly have too much food, organize an impromptu dinner party or communal cooking party with your friends. If you are friends with those infamous starving children in Africa, all the better.
10. Buy less, more often.
If you just can’t get the hang of a sensible weekly grocery shop, just buy less and go more often. Pretend you’re European and stop by the marché on your promenade from work every day, choosing only the freshest produce for you and your amour. It’s easier to go back to the grocery store for another ingredient than it is to try to return your green three month old piece of fromage.
And now for that recipe that uses up a commonly neglected leftover: the last third of a can of tomato paste.
French Dressing Using Leftover Tomato Paste
3 Tbsp of tomato paste (unsalted)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp raw honey
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp sea salt
-Throw all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. If you don’t have a blender, just put all ingredients into a jar and whisk vigorously with a fork until your forearm gives out.
Join the revolution! Reduce food waste and save money!