I realize that some people don’t eat leftovers for one reason or another. That wouldn’t be our household, even before these days of high food prices.
It’s estimated that Americans waste 30% to 40% of the food we buy. That’s the equivalent of 219 pounds of food that each of us throws in the trash every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And two-thirds of those foods are fruits, vegetables, or dairy that end up in landfill rather than provide a body with essential nutrients.
What can we do if vegetables go bad before we eat them? Eat them before they go bad…duh.
Many foods can also be frozen for later use. I don’t like overripe bananas at all. So I freeze them, three in a bag, and they’re ready for my next batch of banana bread. Onions and celery stalks can also be chopped and frozen for use in soups and other dishes.
We call our clean-out-of-the-fridge meals “conglomerates.” Last week, for example, I chopped and sliced the incredible tomatoes and zucchini that our lovely neighbors left on our porch. I cooked them with a leftover half onion and husked kernels from the last candy corn we got from our farmer friend. Oh, and that little tupperware of leftover meat and green chili from my enchildas a few days ago? That went into the mix too. A few more spices and we had a meal that took me right back to my New Mexico roots.
Some leftovers can be challenging. I winced every time I opened an entire can of tomato paste when the recipe only called for a tablespoon. I never seemed to use the rest before it developed creepy mold.
Then I learned that leftover tomato paste can be frozen in individual portions using cling film and a freezer-safe container. Now I just have to remind myself that it’s in the freezer.
On a larger scale, many organizations collect fresh, edible food that is no longer needed by restaurants, grocers, and other food operations and distribute it to those in need.
Local food banks like Feedamerica.org or Foodbanking.org and programs like Food Rescue US (foodrescue.us) use volunteers to distribute surplus food to people with food insecurity on a daily basis. That’s encouraging.
However, nobody is perfect. The other day I found a lost gem in the back of the fridge that had obviously been hidden for far too long. Again, the old adage applies: when in doubt, throw it away.
Barbara Intermill is a Registered Dietitian and Columnist. She is the author of Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating. Email her at [email protected]