What To Do With Leftover Food, Even If It's Close To Going Bad

Don't throw it out!
Don't you dare toss that bread into the compost.
Don't you dare toss that bread into the compost.

Since Canada has implemented social distancing and self-isolation rules due to the COVID-19 pandemic, buying more food than we need has become the norm, which can result in more food waste. And we know that’s not good for the planet, or how we spend our precious funds.

As we’re making fewer trips to the grocery store, it’s tempting to stock up on foods, such as fruits, veggies, and meats, that don’t have a long shelf life if they’re left in the fridge. By the end of the week, we’re left with plenty of food and ingredients that we end up throwing out.

But we can reduce our food waste by turning our leftovers and unused foods that are close to going bad, as well as any extra foods we may have, into delicious snacks and meals. All it takes is a bit of planning ahead!

WATCH: Food waste piles up amidst coronavirus pandemic. Story continues below.

“I keep all the peels, leaves, stalks, offcuts, bones, and other leftovers in bags or containers, ready to turn into stocks, smoothies, and pestos,” Sarah Wilson, author and founder of I Quit Sugar, previously told HuffPost Australia.

“If I don’t have time to make something straight away, I whack the bags in the freezer.”

Below are some ideas on what to do with leftovers and extra food so you don’t have to send them to the compost (and save you a few bucks from next week’s grocery pick-up).

Friends and colleagues shared their best tips with us, and we mined the internet for others you can also add to your repertoire.

1. Chicken bones, parmesan rinds and ends, vegetable peels, and non-rotten veggies

Save these food scraps in an airtight container in the freezer, then defrost, rinse and make homemade stock when you have time.

Veggie stock and chicken stock can be used in multiple ways to add extra flavour to a recipe, such as with grains like rice and pasta, and as a braising liquid to braise chicken or veggies.

Here are sample recipes for how to make veggie stock and chicken stock, but remember, don’t buy anything new to make stock; use what you already have.

2. Ripe bananas

There are a bunch of yummy treats you can make with bananas, so if you have a few unused bananas lying around that are too ripe and you don’t want to eat them as is, you’re going to want to either put them in the freezer to save for another day, or use them, like, now.

This over-ripe banana would be an excellent addition to a banana bread.
This over-ripe banana would be an excellent addition to a banana bread.

Here are some things you can do with your ripe bananas:

Mash them up and make a banana bread

Freeze them (sliced and peeled), then put in a blender to make healthy ice cream, which you can flavour with other fruits or chocolate.

Cut them up and put in a blender, along with any other leftover or frozen fruits, such as strawberries, blueberries, mangoes, as well as spinach, yogurt, and juice, and you’ve got yourself a hell of a smoothie.

3. Fresh herbs

Did you order way too many herbs in your Instacart that you can’t possibly use them all before they go bad? Take bunches of fresh herbs and blend with olive oil (sunflower and vegetable oils also work) for flavoured, infused oils. They’d go perfectly on a homemade pizza or pasta dish!

You can also freeze and preserve fresh herbs in olive oil, which is a great way to have your herbs ready right away when you need them for cooking months down the road.

4. Citrus peels

Save orange, lemon, grapefruit, clementine, and lime peels to put in bowl of water. Boil this mixture in a microwave to release the citrus vapour to wipe down the inside of the microwave regularly. You’ll save on the surface cleaners you’ve definitely been using.

If you want to use the peels in your cooking, dry them and keep them in a jar. Dried citrus peels are great for adding flavour to your meals.

5. Bread

Use leftover bread (hello, ends!) for breadcrumbs for gratin (a la potatoes), or for day-old bread salad, or a yummy fattoush salad.

This bread end has a lot of life left in it.
This bread end has a lot of life left in it.

Here’s a simple recipe for how to make homemade bread crumbs. All you need is a few slices of bread and an oven.

6. Taco or chili leftovers

So you had taco night with the kids, and there’s a lot of leftovers, but not enough tacos to fill them with? Don’t throw the ingredients out! Instead, add foods such as cheese, beans, salsa, tomatoes, onion, and avocado (and whatever else you have) and make empanada filling.

There, now you have dinner for tonight, too.

7. Salad leaves

Iceberg lettuce going limp? Don’t let it go to waste. Stir fry those leaves with soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, and olive oil. Voilà, that’s a side-dish for your lunch or dinner.

8. Carrot tops

I never even thought about using carrot tops until I stumbled across this simple idea: chop them up and add them to rice dishes, chilis, stir-frys or salads.

9. Broccoli stems and leaves

It’s a bad habit but I usually cut off most of the broccoli (and bok choy) stems, but there’s no reason to toss them aside. Instead, slice them into thin rounds, drizzle with some olive oil. and roast them in the oven. They make great crunchy additions to pastas and salads.

10. Stale pita and tortilla wraps

Break up the pieces, lay them on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle sea salt. Grill until golden brown at the edges. They make a tasty snack on their own, or can be tossed in with salads.

11. Rice

I always have extra cooked rice that I don’t know what to do with, but the grain is very versatile and can be re-used into fried rice, casseroles, rice pudding, and wraps.

WATCH: An easy and delicious way to use up extra rice. Story continues below slideshow.

12. Milk that has just passed its expiry date

Before using, check to make sure the milk hasn’t started separating, formed lumps, or changed colour. If that’s the case, toss it. if not, it’s most likely fine to use. There are a few easy ways to use milk that’s passed its expiry date, including in baking! Sour milk is the perfect ingredient for pancakes, cakes, bread, scones, and other pastries.

Other uses for expired milk can include: a thickener for soups, an ingredient for cottage cheese, a steak tenderizer, and as part of salad dressing.

13. Stale cheese

If you can cut off the mould, it’s probably fine to eat. But if you don’t want to eat it on its own, stale cheese can be used in your homemade mac ’n cheese, cheese fondue, grilled cheese, and plain ol’ melted cheese on bread.

14. Chicken and turkey pieces

These two birds are the leftovers that keep on giving. If you have any pieces of chicken and turkey from tonight’s meal, don’t toss ’em. Instead, seal them in an airtight container, freeze them, and use them later for meals such as soup, club sandwich, taco bowls, wraps, stir fry, pot pie, and chili.

15. Pasta

My family loves pasta and there’s always a ton of leftover noodles by the end of the meal. (I still can’t figure out how to properly measure how much pasta we actually need for one meal.)

But it’s a great problem to have, as pasta can be re-used for so many dishes, including casseroles, mac ’n cheese, pasta salad, and even a little snack if you drizzle on some olive oil and sprinkle garlic on it.

Here’s a guide for how to reheat pasta without it sticking together.

And remember, before you throw away food, stop, and look up ways to re-use it, safely. There’s a recipe for everything!

With files from Valerie Howes.

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