Tips For Leftover & Surplus Food Items

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Here are several quick tips for stretching out and using the last little bit of a food item instead of tossing the extra bit out. This is not only less wasteful–it saves cash!

  1. Have a cup or so of rice left over from last night’s meal that you don’t know what to do with? Toss it into your lunchtime vegetable soup or even chicken broth. Bulks up the soup a bit and saves the rice from being tossed out.
  2. Make big batches of rice and freeze in meal size portions to use later when preparing quick meals. When freezing individual sized portions, add leftover veggies, meats and sauces for hassle free & cheap work lunches.
  3. Drop large spoonfuls of whipped cream on a wax paper lined cookie sheet and freeze. Once frozen individually, store them in a freezer bag. You can use these on desserts and hot beverages like hot chocolate and coffee (just let them thaw a bit first). These don’t store long though, use within two weeks.
  4. Did you make too much tea? You can freeze it in ice cube trays with a mint leaf or a curl of lemon zest–even a slice of lemon. Use the frozen cubes to chill and flavor iced tea when serving. Great for large batches or individual servings.
  5. Have eggs that need to be used up before they expire? Eggs can be frozen whole or separated in amounts usually needed. For example: If you make your own mayonnaise, freeze in containers the number of eggs yolks you normally use per batch. In another container, freeze egg whites.
  6. Once a fresh banana is too ripe to eat don’t throw it out, you can freeze it in a number of ways, see this page.
  7. If you can’t eat the grapes fast enough before they start going bad, try freezing them. First wash the grapes well, allow to dry, then lay them neatly on a cookie sheet (not touching each other). Place the tray in the freezer and once the grapes are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag or airtight container. Store in the freezer and just take out what you need when you want a cold, fruity treat (eat them as is–frozen–or add to things like yogurt, smoothies and ice cream). This also works well for berries (raspberries, blueberries, pitted cherries, etc.).
  8. When needing just the broccoli florets, save the uncooked stems, wash well and chop finely. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate. Add the stem bits to salads and cooked dishes like rice or scrambled eggs. This not only helps prevent waste, it also adds a little health boost to your dishes.
  9. A couple ideas for ham: Cut into steaks, wrap individually in plastic wrap and then store in freezer bags. Take them out for lunches or quick meals as needed. Cut ham into cubes and store in freezer bags (meal size portions). Mix in scrambled eggs, potatoes (hash browns or breakfast mash), add to pasta salads, omelets, whatever you like.
  10. Freeze wine in icecube trays, then remove and seal in freezer bags. Freeze these until you need wine for cooking, removing wine cubes from the bag as needed. First measure the wine as you fill your first cube so you know how much each cube holds. Or if you find you mainly cook with full tablespoons of wine for most sauces and dishes, you can measure 1 tablespoon amount in each cube.
  11. If you have part of a bell pepper left over from a recipe and no other immediate use for it, just slice it into strips or dice (whichever you prefer), seal in a freezer bag and freeze. You can also freeze whole bell peppers, see Freezing Bell Peppers & More.
  12. If you have apples that are no longer that fresh but still good to eat, here’s a tip to use them up fast: Cut apples into wedges, fry slowly in a bit of butter and then sprinkle with cinnamon. Your kids will eat them up lickety split! If you’re really ambitious, use them to make an apple crisp or apple pie.
  13. Store nuts like walnuts and almonds in an airtight container and keep in the freezer. This will keep them fresh and tasty. This will also prevent them from going rancid. Also if using nuts in baking, toast them in the oven for about 10 minutes first, cool, then add to batter. They won’t sink to the bottom of the batter as easily.

Things To Do With Bread:
*First published October 21, 2010 and moved to this page for better organization

Unless you consistently use that last slice of bread in every loaf before it goes stale, there are times when you’re looking for ideas that will use up bread before it goes to waste. Here are a few ideas that can easily be implemented for future use or for tonight’s dinner.

  • Croutons: Spread leftover slices of bread sparingly with butter. Cut in 1/2″ squares, oblongs or rounds. Place in a shallow baking pan and bake in a moderate oven (350°F.) 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. If desired, sprinkle with grated cheese before baking. Serve with soup or salads. Also see Homemade Croutons: How To.
  • Toasted Bread Boxes (Croustades): Cut unsliced bread in 2 1/2″ thick slices. Trim off the crusts and cut out the middle portion, to within 1/2″ of bottom, leaving square boxes open at the top. Brush sides, top and bottom with melted butter. Place on a baking sheet and bake in a moderate oven (375°F.) 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Use as you would for patty shells.
  • Make Buttered Crumbs: Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter; add 1/3 cup stale bread crumbs. Mix over low heat until butter is distributed. Use on scalloped dishes, casseroles, macaroni and cheese, etc. Or use grated breadcrumbs in your favorite meatloaf, it’s a nice way to bulk up the meat. You can also wrap stale bread well then freeze. You can grate the frozen bread easily and make your own breadcrumbs. Or place dried bread in a sturdy plastic bag (make sure it has no holes). Roll with a rolling pin or fruit jar as coarse or as fine as you like then pour into a measuring container. If you have more than you need at the time, just tie the bag and place in a pantry or freezer for later use.
  • Melba Toast: Remove crusts from very thin slices of day-old bread. Cut into desired shapes and place on a baking sheet. Bake in a moderate oven (350°F.) 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
  • Cinnamon Toast: Cream together 1/4 cup butter, 3 tablespoons sugar (brown or white) and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Spread mixture over hot toast. Place under broiler until bubbly.
  • Make French Toast: Did you know results are better when you use not-so-fresh bread for making french toast? See this page for ideas.
  • Garlic Bread: Slice loaf of French Bread (preferably 1-day old) to within 1/4″ of bottom crust. Spread Garlic Spread on one side of each slice, being careful not to break slices. Wrap in aluminum foil and heat in a hot oven (425°F.) 30 to 40 minutes. Break off slices and serve immediately. Also see Garlic Dill Butter – Bulk Recipe (includes directions for Cheesy Garlic Bread).
  • To Freshen Stale Bread Or Rolls: Sprinkle inside of paper bag with cold water. Place bread or rolls (not more than 6 rolls or 6 slices) in bag. Twist top of bag to close tightly. Heat in a moderate oven (375°F.) 15 to 20 minutes. Serve at once.
  • Make Bread Pudding: You can make both a sweet dessert version or a savory side dish, you’ll find a bunch of recipes here: 25 Ways To Make Bread Pudding.
  • Soften Brown Sugar: Toss a slice of bread into the brown sugar cannister and it will keep the sugar from getting hard. Works for keeping cookies soft too! See 10 Ways To Soften Hard Brown Sugar for more ideas.

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Published: June 24, 2008
Updated: August 10, 2012

What Readers Are Saying:
18 Comments to “Tips For Leftover & Surplus Food Items”
  1. sharon says:

    Broccoli Stalks
    When preparing vegetables, chop off and peel large broccoli stalks and give to children to eat while waiting for dinner. Delicious. They love it.

  2. TipNut says:

    Mmmm! Thanks for that tip Sharon :)

  3. Kitkat says:

    As a single person I also have to recommend vermicomposting for kitchen scraps. A cheap worm bin is very easy to make or one can be purchased online. It requires very little upkeep and can be kept in a garage or a shady area in the yard. I rarely can use all parts of the produce I cook with so I keep a large zip lock bag with scraps in my fridge. Every 2 or 3 days I throw these in my worm bin and within a couple of months I have wonderful organic compost for my plants and garden!

  4. TipNut says:

    Great suggestion Kitkat, that’s a perfect way to use up kitchen scraps!

  5. Kris says:

    You can also freeze apples to make applesauce – just simmer until soft, then mash and strain out the core/peel.

    Have only a couple spoonfuls of rice, meat and veggies left? Put them in a large plastic container in the freezer. Add to it after each meal – little of this, little of that. Make soup or a nice casserole with them when the container is full.

    Bones from a meal can be saved to use for soup stock.

    In my old cookbook (1944) there are a few ways listed for using leftovers – mix with thick white sauce or mashed potato, breaded and fry, ‘scalloped’ with bread crumbs, white sauce and baked, or creamed/pureed. Even just a half cup or so of leftover veggies can be used in this manner.

    Equal parts mashed potato and cooked chicken/fish make great patties when breaded & fried too!

  6. Michael says:

    These are some great tips! Thank you for compiling them together.

    I have a few more to add.

    When using fresh tomatoes and you don’t need the entire thing, mash up the rest (removing the skin, or leaving it, it’s your choice) and stir it into any canned tomato sauce you have. It zests it up and adds more tomatoey (?) flavor.

    Things like broths and extra sauces can be frozen into cubes and then stored in freezer bags. They make for quick soup starters.

    If you’ve got lots of leftover stuffing, spread it fairly thinly on a cookie sheet that’s been covered in aluminum foil, and bake in the oven until crisp. Break it all up, and use it as bread crumbs, to top casseroles, etc.

    If you’ve got extra milk that’s about to expire, here are some options: soak cotton balls in it and use them (cold) on your eyes for 5-10 minutes to cut down under-eye circles and sagginess; any baking recipes, substitute the water for milk for richness; use the milk to make chai tea instead of regular tea; use it to make a poaching liquid for any white fish (add some butter, salt, and you’ll have really rich fish).

  7. Dora Renee' Wilkerson says:

    Livestock feed (chickens love some of that stuff.)

    Bread a little old (but not too old)- Breadpudding.

    Bread again-fishing bait.

    Egg shells- great for your garden (keeps snails out and adds calcium.) You can also heat up the shell and feed them back to your chickens.

    Vermicomposting is GREAT idea that someone else said. Just don’t add dairy (it can sometimes start to stink.)

    Old lard can be used for goats with udder issues. It can also be used for chickens with mites on their legs.

    I could go on and on but I have to get out to milk.

    Dora Renee’ Wilkerson

  8. Dora Renee' Wilkerson says:

    Oh, one more…

    The an old egg shell can be used as a SMALL funnel. Just put hole in the bottom of egg.

    Dora Renee’ Wilkerson

  9. Dora Renee' Wilkerson says:

    Ok, last one…
    recycle your toilet paper rolls- for small animals (holds hay for rabbits or other small critters.)

    Dora Renee’ Wilkerson

  10. Shirley says:

    Rice- add leftover rice to meatloaf. I’ve also pureed leftover veggies and added them to the meatloaf – the kids never knew they were eating veggies!

  11. Karen says:

    Grate or chop broccoli stalks and make as you would any slaw. Nice alternative to cabbage.

  12. Online Advertising says:

    Wow, I never would have thought to put any of those things in the freezer. Thanks for the tips–these are really helpful.

  13. mandy says:

    pretty good, but most of it’s just about freezing stuff…

  14. Jen says:

    leftovers (salmon, ham, bacon, broccoli etc.) can easily be thrown into a quiche and turned into another meal. I mix leftovers with 3 eggs, 1/4 cup cream, 1 cup grated cheese and some salt and pepper and pour into to a pre-made frozen pie shell and bake at 350 for about an hour. Cooked quiche can be frozen (after cooled) for about 2 months.

  15. Marie Dyde says:

    Any tips for using surplus lemon rind/shells after juicing?

  16. Misty Skye says:

    I use lemon rind for lemon rice pilaf (with celery and bacon), and other dishes. Use rinds in cakes and cookies, or in tea ice cubes.

    I bake my bread heels at a low temp in the oven for breadcrumbs which are used up very quickly. I season my own italian style crumbs with herbs and parmesian and romano.

    Left over cubed ham is great in potato soup, breakfast tacos and quiche. same for bacon.

    Leftover taco meat, I store for chili or make the batch in the crockpot the same night and freeze in serving size containers.

    I flash freeze ANY thing that I make to help from sticking together. I love to flash freeze my meatballs for later meals, and often make VERY LARGE pots of red sauce to freeze as well. I use my frozen green peppers and homegrown tomatoes for this and pizza sauce. And I often freeze pork tenderloin or pork roast in the sauce. It is fall apart tender! YUM

    I like to flash freeze surplus cookie dough, pizza dough, and dinner rolls for convenience. As well as all fruits and veggies. laying food on a cookie sheet to freeze before repackaging really makes a big difference in storage.

    Great tips!

  17. Maureen says:

    My daughter in law saves ALL vegetable stalks, ends, bits and pieces,skins and freezes them or boils right away and freezes the stalk…..VERY TASTY and nutritious soups.

  18. kay says:

    I keep a container in my freezer and put any leftover veggies in it. I put those leftover spoonfuls and green onion tops, that one tomato slice, the stalk of celery and much more. When I have a panful, I add water and boil down and make veggie broth to use in soup and gravy and more.


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