Sustainable America Blog

What to Do with Lonely Leftovers

hand holding a tiny carrot between thumb and pointer finger

Photo: Fotoyu via Flickr

Today’s guest post is from Brette Sember, the author of Leftover Love: 52 Creative Recipes for Using Your Leftovers, an e-cookbook that offers up great ways to turn common “lonely” leftovers — like one leftover chicken breast, a single pork chop, a lone hamburger, a piece of steak, mashed potatoes, rice, cooked veggies, seafood, and more — into something new.

One of the biggest challenges of dealing with leftovers is figuring out what to do with small bits food. It seems like a waste to throw away a quarter cup of carrots or to toss that one piece of bread, but you can’t actually serve them as is. Here are my tips for rescuing even the smallest bits of food, plus a recipe for incorporating leftovers into a completely new meal.

Bag your veggies. Keep a bag in your freezer and add scraps of leftover vegetables to it each night. Add the saved-up components to your next soup or stew.

Stuff it. Keep another freezer bag for lone pieces of bread to use for stuffing.

Oatrageous. Don’t dump bits of leftover oatmeal. Freeze and add it to your next batch of cookie dough.

Gravy Train. Instead of throwing out leftover gravy, freeze it. The next time you want to make gravy, use this as a starter and just add broth and some flour. You won’t need pan scrapings to get gravy going ever again.

Dippy. Leftover party dip might seem useless, but you can heat it up and use it as a sauce for chicken and fish another night.

Juicy. Freeze those remaining tablespoons of juice in an ice cube tray and add them to iced tea.

You’ll be surprised by the new things you can make when you go shopping amongst your leftovers. If you’ve got leftover meatloaf and potatoes, try this recipe:

Meatloaf and Potato Soup
Serves 4
Leftover ingredients: meatloaf, potatoes

This warm and wonderful soup uses up leftover potatoes and meatloaf. If you don’t happen to have leftover potatoes, cook 2 large baking potatoes in the microwave and use those. It comes together quickly and makes a hearty complete meal, when served with a salad.

4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
4 cups skim milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups cooked, peeled, diced potato
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons light sour cream
1 1/4 cup chopped meatloaf

  1. Melt butter in a large saucepan or small soup pot.
  2. Stir in flour and cook for about 30 seconds.
  3. Whisk in the milk and stir in salt and pepper.
  4. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it thickens.
  5. Stir in potato, cheese, scallion, yogurt and sour cream.
  6. Cook until it begins to bubble.
  7. Stir in the meatloaf and cook for about 3 minutes until heated through.

Brette Sember is the author of Leftover Love: 52 Creative Recipes for Using Your Leftovers, The Original Muffin Tin Cookbook and Cookie: A Love Story: Fun Facts, Delicious Stories, Fascinating History, Tasty Recipes, and More About Our Most Beloved Treat. Learn more at, or follow her on Twitter, Pinterest or Facebook.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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