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22 January 2010

Simple Living Series - Food waste and cooking leftovers

I am often asked what areas people should simplify first.  That question really has a lot of answers, depending on the person asking.  The general answer is that if you focus first on the things that help you stay alive - like food and shelter, you can't go far wrong.  So today we'll continue with the food theme and discuss food waste and using your leftovers.

I don't want to look up the food waste statistics.  Last time I did that I was shocked they were so high. It seemed like such a bleak and dark story of our lack of care. I do know, because I read it in a newspaper article, that currently 15 percent of food in American households is wasted every week.  That means that if your food budget is $100 per week, you'd be wasting, on average, $15 a week.  That's throwing $15 every week, or $780 every year, in the rubbish bin.  I would expect the figures in Australia, Canada and Europe to be similar to those in America.  We shame ourselves with statistics like that.  There should be no, or very little, food waste in your bin at the end of the week.  This is something we can all work on - I know I am guilty of leaving food too long in the fridge.

Of course the best way is to plan well so there is no wastage.  Planning needs to be done at the buying stage, assisted by meal plans, freezer and stockpile lists.  Often the food doesn't even get to the cooking or left over stage.  It sits neglected in the fridge for weeks and is then thrown in the bin.  (Insert my shamed face here.)

Meal plans are a bit like budgets.  They help you look at your resources in a way that helps cut down or eliminate waste and use what you have to get the best value for your dollar/pound.  If you haven't tried meal planning yet, give it a go. It may well save you lots of time, effort and money.  Don't forget to include snacks, fruit and baked goods in your plans and stick the plan on the fridge so everyone knows well in advance what's for dinner and how to help you prepare it.

Australian recipe collections
Meal plans with recipes
Frugal menu ideas
Downloadable Food Plans Recipe Book (USA) with meal plans
Ten tips for successful meal planning (Canada)

Once the meal is finished, how often do you have leftovers?  If it's quite often, maybe you need to cook less.  I do know many cooks make too much on purpose so they have leftovers for lunch the following day.  I tend to make leftovers into the main meal the following night  Here is a recipe I made up last week from the leftovers of roast pork.  You could make the same thing with beef, lamb, goat, venison or chicken.  Just make sure you make too much gravy on the first night so that you have about a cup of gravy left over.

Coarsely mince up the leftover meat.  I used my food processor to do that.  It will only take 30 seconds or so to do.  I remember though, doing this task for my mum when I was young and using a meat grinder - one of those metal ones that you attach to the kitchen table and grind with the handle.  So, of course, the old-fashioned way is also suitable, or you could just cut it up with your sharp knife.  Make sure you don't over process it - you want to retain the texture of the meat, not have it like paste.

My mother used to call this dish - Hash, so here is my recipe for using leftover roast post - Pork Hash.

Peel four potatoes and boil them in a saucepan.

Add a small amount of olive oil to a frying pan, heat it and add one chopped onion, two chopped up sticks of celery and one carrot.  When the vegetables are soft and golden brown, add the chopped up meat, and stir.

If you have any leftover vegetables, add them too.  Stir it all together and add the gravy.

Stir until the gravy has coated the meat and everything is hot.   Then transfer the meat to an oven proof dish.

When the potatoes are cooked, mash them, adding a little butter, hot milk, salt and pepper.  Top the meat with the potatoes.

Cook in a hot oven for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are golden brown.
I served ours with corn and beans from the garden and it was delicious.

On Monday I'll write about using food waste to feed the animals and how to make homemade dog food and treats.   Tomorrow we'll continue with our kitchen sink photos.

I have enough kitchen photos to show for the next few weeks.  When I'm coming to the end of them, I'll let you know when and where to send them.  So if you're interested in having your photos featured, get your photos ready in the next three weeks.  Tomorrow there is a kitchen from China and Sunday we have one from France.  That's you Caitlin and Shandora!  Caitlin, please send me a link to your blog if you have one.

Thank you for your visits this week.  It's been a very busy one for me, mostly doing things behind the scenes that might one day make it into the blog.  I hope you have a restful weekend. 


  1. This is extremely relevant to me, and is indeed my "worst area" when it comes to household organisation. :-( Thanks for the pork hash recipe - I actually have leftover roast pork sitting in the fridge (and had been considering make sweet and sour pork), but think I will try something different.
    Thanks for the links - will be sure to investigate them.
    Tracy (Brisbane)

  2. Thank you so much! This is one of the biggest (and as you said, shameful) wastes in our home. I am so guilty of thinking of a hundred wonderful things to cook, buying ingredients, and forgetting to use or cook them in time. Ugh. By the way, I just happen to have some leftover pork tenderloin in my fridge that needs to be eaten- how timely!

  3. Yesterday, I made oatmeal bread for the first time..or any bread for that matter and it was awesome. The family loved it!

    Thank you for your has been very educational! Keep up the good work!

  4. I have been very guilty of food waste. We have gotten a lot better by always knowing what is in the fridge. Out of sight , out of mind. We try use leftovers at lunch time next day, but sometimes we still forget about the food only to find it days later and then be annoyed that you now have to get rid of the food out of the fridge. I think we need to be constantly on top of it or it too easily becomes something forgotten in the fridge, again.

  5. I have a book out from the library at the moment called "The thrifty cookbook - 476 ways to eat well with leftovers" It is by Kate Colquhoun. I have a glut of tomatoes at the moment. I must get to today and make salsa and tomato sauce for pasta with them. Sometimes I forget that I can just put the leftover cream, or even the tomatoes, in the freezer until I get to make something with them if I am running out of time.
    I'm looking forward to your post next Monday on dog food and treats Rhonda. We have a new puppy and even though the pet shop insist she stays on their (very expensive) puppy mix for a while I'd like to move her on to "real" food as soon as I can!



  6. Oh my, that hash looks so good. We had bubble n squeak to use up leftovers when we were kids. I hated it then, but love it now.
    I read stats on food waste that were much higher than 15% but I won't share - it's too depressing. But it's certainly the number one way to cut your grocery bill!

  7. This is a great post. I was often guilty of food waste when I was working and too busy to properly carry out meal planning and preparations for dinner. I had a lot of good intentions but absolutely no energy. I am now retired and no longer have food waste, yeah! The pork hash looks delicious. I love the mashed potatoes on top. I'll try it like that sometime.

  8. I also have to hide my face - I really don't like leftovers and have a tendency to put them to the back of the refrigerator. I try to make enough for my husband's lunch the next day and if it's soup or something that tastes better the next day I will also have it for lunch - but I don't like leftover meat. I am going to try the recipe you posted, it sounds delicious.

    I like having a meal plan, and it is sometimes hard with just two people - I still try. Thank you for the links, I will check them out soon. On the news this morning there was a woman who made a meal plan for the entire year, by doing just what you suggested! Great post, I will certainly try harder.

  9. Hi Rhonda, great post, grew up eating leftovers so am good at dealing with them but your hash recipe is one to try! A nursing home I worked at had a fantastic cook who was very thrifty, and every week at the end of the week she made the most fantastic 'meatloaf' where along with fresh minced meat she would put all the leftovers. I talked to her about what goes in it once because it was so tasty (yes staff were fed too-gone are the old days sadly), and that week she had leftover baked beans, roast dinner and tuna amongst other things, and they all went in. I will never forget her and her famous meatloaf. delish!!! Jen

  10. Yum!!! I must confess there's something very special about left overs and this is no exception, I'll save this and use it .
    ta Rhonda!

  11. Great post. Here on our farm we don't waste much food as it either goes to the animals or into the compost (scraps the animals don't eat). Our chickens survive almost exclusively on scraps with just a small amount of grain & of course they free range all day. Interested in hearing your homemade animal food. Thanks for the informative posts
    Renata (NSW)

  12. That recipe sounds remarkably like shepherds pie (if you had used lamb). I too remember mincing my Nan's leftover Sunday joint on a Monday with the table mincer - I loved that job. Thanks for the memory and the recipe. PS: I am also being re-gifted a breadmaker (note - recycling) as you are slowly but surely converting me to a simpler thriftier life. Well done.

  13. That dish looks delicious! We call it "shepherd's pie."
    One easy way to reduce food waste is to keep a list on the fridge of current leftovers. This way you can easily remember to use items quickly, instead of letting them sit forgotten in the back of the fridge.
    I send our leftovers to work with my husband. If I have cooked too much food, I will package several lunches into freezable containers and store them in the freezer for him. Then he has a delicious lunch on days when I do not have any new leftovers to send with him.
    Another thought:
    If I put leftovers into the fridge without a plan, they will go to waste every time. But, if I make a plan for my leftovers BEFORE I put them into the fridge/freezer, they will not go to waste.

  14. Good morning Rhonda. I'm often puzzled by this whole concept of leftovers and wonder if I've missed something along the way. Mum always cooked what we needed at a meal and no more so I've done the same all my life. Granted, at times like Christmas there are leftovers and there certainly are "planned overs" when I deliberately cook double or extra of something for another meal, or plan dinner to also be lunch the next day. Other than a couple of mouthfuls of salad or vegetable, I just don't have leftovers. I hope that doesn't make me a mean cook! :-o

    I will admit the exception to this is when we have people over for a meal.

  15. I just gathered up 7 apples that were showing their age and made applesauce.Made 2 pints. Since so little I just froze them instead of canned them. They could have been used in a cobbler or such too of course. I try to look around first when planning meals and see what is needing used. What meat do I have already cooked that can be reinvented? What veggies that can be combined etc. If we are not going to use it quickly I package it up good and lable and date it and in the freezer it goes. I keep a list of those bits and where they are in the freezer. They are good to have on those days I don't have time to think much before having to have a meal on the table. That already cooked meat and those mashed potatoes from another meal etc come together now for a much needed nice meal. I also have some little containers big enough to hold a serving of meat a starch and a veggie. They are microwavable. Hubby gets these in his work lunch. Since only one serving of each is needed these can be filled as I have something to fill them. Even put in the freezer till that other ingredient shows up to finish filling it. Also these can be brought out and heated as a complete meal too for hurry up meals. Or add a salad. Don't just plop things in the fridge...think and repackage them then and now. Think of it as a game to save your family $. You would pick up $15 if you dropped it...why waste $15? Thank youi Rhonda...I am enjoying this series! Sunny

  16. Hello Rhonda,
    I am also a little shamefaced when it comes to waste but now we are trying to be self sustaining I really try not to waste anything.
    2 hints- left over cake after visitors have gone. Slice and freeze single slices. Great for those drop in guests.- don't waste stale bread. Put it through the wiz and then freeze for later use. Two very simple hints that work well for me.
    Blessings Gail

  17. This pork hash is a great recipe; I never know what to do with cold roast port except fried rice. Whenever I make anything involving potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, celeriac, swede, squash or carrots, (usually mashed together) I like to make too much and use leftover mash to make "potato cakes" - just add enough flour so that the mash will form a soft dough, shape into cakes and fry. We sometimes have them with eggs and bacon or sausage for brunch. I use wheat free flour, but wheat is fine.

  18. The hash looks delicious! My partner and I have made a conscious effort to cut our food waste this year and so far it's gone really well. We shop according to a weekly menu, and have dedicated the top shelf of the fridge to food that needs to be eaten first (leftovers etc). We are not perfect and still occasionally have to throw out some things that have gone limp in the fridge but we're getting better, and it's all about small steps of improvement, right?!
    Chris (Brisbane)

  19. Rose, I doubt you have a mean bone in your body. Thank you for the donation at the forum. I've been so busy I haven't had a chance to thank anyone yet.

    Great work, Sunny. It really is a matter of being aware of the food we have on hand. You're doing well with yours.

  20. I have to admit the biggest food waster in our family is the smallest member. So much of her food ends up on the floor!! :D

    I went to a Family Learning event at our local library, which covered food waste.

    They introduced us to a fantastic website

    It has ideas for better food storage and recipe ideas for whatever food you need to use up.

  21. I have just discovered your blog and I think I need about 10 days to read it all and discover all your great hints etc. I am a kiwi who is now living in Japan trying to raise kids, chickens, grow a big garden and teach on the side. It is fun trying to bring a bit of kiwiness into Japan while also maintaining the Japanese culture. I'm really looking forward to reading more of your entries and making more progress with respect to simplifying.... Thank you for sharing all your wonderful thoughts.

  22. I am pretty bad about procrastinating when it comes to eating leftovers or using ingredients I have purchased. And when you're cooking for one, you get a LOT of leftovers. I've been making a conscious effort to work on this, and your post is another push in the right direction!

  23. Hi Rhonda
    I wanted to tell you that I have read and admired you for @ 1 year, since I found blogger. I live in East Texas, USA and read your blog last night, about the kitchen sink. The lady lives not far from me and I wrote and intro'd myself. We also had a nasty tornado that came through here and she wrote back, a second time today, and checked on my welfare. I just wanted to tell you I met a neighbor who cares and it happened via Australia! Wow, you have to love the internet! Big hugs, Elaine

  24. Hi Rhonda Jean,
    Great Minds must think a like. LOL I posted about this today too.I shared pictures of things I made today using leftover foods.
    I have cut our waste to about 5%.

  25. I don't really have a problem eating leftovers - I just don't plan anything for dinner, unless I eat the leftovers for lunch.

    My problem is usually with bags of potatoes and onions. I love both but 5 lbs. of potatoes goes a long, long, long way for 1 person. Before the potatoes go soft or non-eatable, I cut them in 1 inch or so cubes and cook them. Let them cool, spread on a cookie sheet and freeze them. Then I just bag them and I can grab a handful or two as needed. Onions are the same way - cook&freeze. That way neither goes to waste and I can have potatoes and/or onions anytime.


  26. We have gotten quite good about not wasting food but I am always looking for new ways to use leftovers. I am definitely going to try the hash recipe! I put whatever I can in the composter and make many "make-ahead" meals to keep the freezer stocked. Now that it is just the two of us we often have leftovers, since I never did learn to cook for anything less than a crowd! Thank you for your wonderful blog! Great ideas, great recipes and great inspiration!

  27. I often cook too much on purpose just so I can have leftovers - they are the from-scratch cook's convenience food! I make a pastry and line a pie dish and then pop it into the freezer unbaked. Then the next time we have a roast dinner or casserole I'll use all the leftover meat, vegetables and gravy - just wait till they are cold and then chop up into bitesize pieces and dump them in the pie. Shut the freezer. The next time you want a quick dinner get the pie out in the morning, defrost and top with more pastry (puff pastry sheets are super easy for this and look impressive) or use leftover mashed potato. Or grab some breadcrumbs (I freeze all the loaf ends so I never run out) mix with onion, herbs and melted butter and throw it on the top. My kids call this 'Thing Pie' and we love it.

  28. I am right there with you on using leftovers up creatively but my biggest downfall is letting vegetables get too old in the crisper! Cue veggie soups and stir fries! Thanks for the timely reminder and inspiration.

  29. I'm pretty good with leftovers actually. It helps so much that my husband likes leftover lunches.

    I'm thinking that I'd like a tutorial on properly removing corn from the cob. That corn looks fabulous. Mine is always a bit...squished. Yummy, but not perfectly formed like yours. Any tips?

  30. Here in the UK, Rhonda, food waste is about 30% - horrendous!

  31. I must be one of the few people who have hardly any food waste then, so I'm sitting here feeling rather proud of myself! I think it was the way I was brought up, and I also had a period when my children were small when pennies really counted. So I still freeze leftover mashed potato, unless I want it the next day, all the bits of leftover pastry are put into a freezer bag until I have enough for a pie or tart, and cooked meat is either used the next day or sliced or chunked and frozen. If I leave things in the fridge I'm always rather dubious if they're still ok to eat, so I freeze them straight away!

  32. According to the news in the past few years, households here in the UK waste a staggering 33% of their food, most of which was due to an ignorance of sell by/use by dates, over-buying and throwing away left-overs. Oh my giddy aunt!

    Very little goes to waste in our house. If there are left-overs, what my husband doesn't eat for his 'dinner' when he comes in from his night shift, my son takes to school for lunch, I eat for my lunch, it gets warmed up as is for the next night's dinner or re-invented. Too many nice ways to use it up to let them go to waste.

    Small, simple, gradual changes in lifestyle snowball into a great way to live.

  33. Wow! That dish looks incredible. I'm going to save that recipe for similar situations. Thanks, Rhonda!

  34. That sounds positively tasty and a great way to eliminate leftover meat!


  35. Thanks for your blog, Rhonda! I have been following for about a year now. A couple years ago, our family started eating less and less meat, and now that we are completely vegetarian, we haven't had the problems with food waste we had in the past. Maybe it's because non-meat based dishes don't go bad as fast. Also, we get all our produce from a CSA and try not to spend any $ at the market supplementing, so whatever roots and veggies we get are precious!

  36. I've recently started cooking less because we had so many leftovers going into the garbage. It also helps a little on the portion control/waistline watch in our house, since the more food I prepare, the more we seem to eat.

    Thanks so much for your wonderful and inspirational blog!!

  37. This is something I have been trying to work on as well. I just started to meal plan a couple of weeks ago and I have already noticed a big difference in the amount of food we end up tossing into the compost bin. I plan around leftovers, use some for lunches and use some to build my freezer's stockpile. As a family we have all been working hard at sticking to our list and only buying what we planned for. Plus I am far less stressed out worrying about the age old question "what's for dinner?". I sit down every Saturday night and plan for the week ahead and there is no more stress.

    I have a good template on my blog that I found online and works wonderfully. I will also say that your blog has inspired me to make a lot of changes in my family's life. I too am blogging about those changes as we attempt them. Kind of like a diary as we go along. Thank you so much for your wisdom and advice, it IS much appreciated! Your blog is inspiring to so many, keep up the fantastic work!

    Stacy in Canada

  38. Whenever my leftovers are too much.... I simply package them up into meal sized portions and stuff them in the freezer. I then bring them out when I don't have time to cook.

    I have one week's worth of meals(lunch and dinner) in the freezer right now so I can go out on Saturday to a hook-in and I don't need to rush around on Sunday doing my cooking for the week. There is almost no food waste in our house. An occasional tomato, celery stalk or parsley bunch hits the garbage can but usually all my food goes right into whatever I had planned to make for the week.

  39. Hi Rhonda, Thanks for the recipe! When I worked from home and money was tighter I always kept a weekly menu on the refrig. I shopped sales and that's what we ate that week. When I went back to work and also went through a divorce I got away from it. I've remarried, still work and just this past week went back to making a menu and putting it on the refrig. Nice to not eat out any night this week! I've changed up the menu twice but it's still working.

  40. We always liked leftovers.....Soup is a good way to recycle them, and "casseroles". Stir fry is a good way to use vegetables that need to be cooked...When I was cooking for 5 three times a day, I shopped looking for meat on sale, and vegetables on sale. Or just at a good price. And I had the starchy part of the meals in my pantry. I always had onions, celery and carrots and a good selection of herbs (often from the garden). I had meals that were "inspired by" techniques and seasonings of China, India, Mexico, France, the US, Germany and Hungary. I liked to read cookbooks for these sorts of "inspiring" ideas more than for specific recipes. I rarely use recipes.

    But it is interesting, that of my three children, two are like me and don't use recipes, and the middle daughter wants to have a recipe in front of her. I almost wonder if it's sort of genetic.

    I think my cooking has always been a combination of wanting to be practical, but really enjoying good food and cooking.

    Now I only cook for one, or two most of the time. And I'm more vegetarian. And I belong to a CSA farm so I get large amounts of food every other week a good part of the year. My son bought a dehydrator and we use this technique to preserve food for winter that we couldn't use up in the summer. And I freeze some things. Thanks for the pork hash idea, Rhonda.

  41. I agree completely with this post.
    I menu plan for the entire month at the end of the previous month- and always cook more so that I can use the leftovers for something such as a stir fry or as your recipe given. It never tastes like left overs!
    DH is a big stickler on wasting food, even more so than I. We compost veggies that don't get eaten, fruit that goes bad in the fridge, etc. There really is a use for everything! I'm going to try your recipe- I've only ever used it with chicken and beef. Pork was on sale this month, so it'll be a nice change! Thanks!
    The Girl in the Pink Dress

  42. That dish looks so yummy - I make Shepherds Pie that looks very similar.

  43. I love your blog and have learned so much!

    I am also astounded by food wastage. I have family that tosses out leftovers-pounds and pounds of perfectly good food-because they refuse to eat leftovers. When we are with them, we always rescue the leftovers to take home ourselves. In my family of 6, we eat every drop unless something is seriously wrong with it.

    I will have to try your recipe out. It looks delicious!

  44. love, love, love this recipe! thank you so much!

  45. Hi Rhonda

    Thanks - I've saved your bread recipe to try later - I want to try it in my solar oven which arrives at the end of this month.

    Also wanted to share with you what I do with our leftovers - by leftovers I mean what's left after we've had our second meal from it - I try and cook "two meals" at once, roast chicken left overs become chicken a la king or chicken soup, etc - but what's then leftover I freeze and every week I boil up a 10lt pot with rice, lentils, peas and barley, pop it in my "hot box" and when it's ready I add all the frozen food and some extra frozen veggies - this I feed, in a soup form, to the homeless who gather at our local shopping centre.

    That way I can be sure that nothing is going to landfill (and creating methane) and someone else is benefiting from what is still perfectly good food.


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