Become a Use-It-Up Cook

by Lois Carlson Willand


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Isn't it a shame to throw this out? How many times have you said this to yourself as you threw away spoiling food? We want to use our food while it is fresh and nutritious, but many of us continue to accumulate containers of again food in our refrigerators, which eventually are no longer edible.

Why do we throw food away when we want to make use of it? Usually the reasons are simple. We were too busy to figure out how to use the leftovers. We lacked a satisfactory way to prepare it. And, maybe, we didn't care enough to make the necessary effort.

People have probably wasted food since Adam and Eve, but it's likely that our ancestors were not as wasteful of food as we are today. In many primitive societies, people used every part of a slain animal for food, clothing, tools and dishes, and they tried to preserve the food they gathered. Such old-fashioned phrases as "using all of the pig but its squeal" and "scraping the bottom of the barrel" remind us of more thrift-conscious times. Those who lived during the Great Depression were by necessity more efficient food-users than many of us today, preserving the food they grew and carefully using up whatever they were able to buy.

In today's high-tech society, many of us have lost a sense of respect for such easily obtain items as food. Consequently we have not practiced efficient food use or taught its value to our children.

There's good reason to reduce the amount of food we waste. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, 20% of the food produced in the U.S. is lost between harvest and table. A study of household food waste conducted by Dr. William Rathje at the University of Arizona showed that consumers in Tucson, Arizona households waste at least 10% of the food they buy, and the percentage of waste increases with the income level of the household. How much does your household spend on food annually? Can you afford to throw 10% or more of that amount into the garbage? It makes sense to think of food as money and to manage your food use as carefully as you manage your financial investments.

You can learn the basic skills of minimizing food waste and maximizing food use. The main requirement is investing some time daily in working with the food in your refrigerator. Start by checking the refrigerator daily to see what's there. This may mean you change your basic meal-planning process from asking, "What would we like to eat today?" to "What do we have on hand to eat today?"

When you know what food you have, incorporate it into the day's menu. Add cooked meats and vegetables to soups, casseroles, quiches or omelets. Use raw vegetables or fruits in salads. If you cannot use up the food immediately, you can freeze such items as cooked meat or vegetables or broth in a large freezer container and use it later. Remember, daily attention is the key. Get into the habit of making a regular check of your refrigerator to get those leftovers used up today!

Every time you find a way to use up an item in your refrigerator, give yourself a pat on the back. You're starting to reap benefits for your household and your food budget. Think of yourself as a food investment executive, a director of food resource management, or a miracle-maker that can look into cupboards, refrigerators and freezers and see possibilities for creative food combinations that you might not have seen before.

Equally important to minimizing food waste is preventing leftovers. Many times leftovers occur because you prepared too much food. Try preparing less per meal, serving smaller portions, or allowing individuals to choose the size of their portion. Another way to prevent leftovers is to buy fewer varieties of fresh food per shopping trip and make an effort to use up existing supplies of perishable foods before buying additional ones.

Using leftovers need not be a dull or grim activity, but one that offers rewards for both cook and household members. As you grow in Use-It-Up skills, you'll increase your satisfaction in the results of your efforts. You'll be proud to have pulled together a meal from what had appeared to be a meaningless jumble of leftovers. You'll enjoy the victory of having eked out another meal when food supplies and budget were nearly gone. You'll identify with prudent cooks who give their households a "free meal" through their wise choices. And you'll join the ranks of cooks who down through the years have stretched their feed to feed more meals to more people by their careful planning, ingenuity, and Use-It-Up Cooking.

updated February 2013


The The Use-It-Up Cookbook: A Guide for Minimizing Food Waste helps you save money in the kitchen by wasting less of your food and using up more of it. Use-It-Up gives you more than 200 recipes and 900 ideas for using up breads, dairy products, fruits, meats and vegetables. Get help quickly from Use-It-Up's complete index and cross-references. Maximize your food dollars and minimize food waste with the Use-It-Up Cookbook! $14.95 postpaid. Order from Practical Cookbooks, 145 Malcolm Avenue S.E., Minneapolis, MN. 55414. Make check or money order to Practical Cookbooks for $14.95. Canadian residents add $3.00. Use-It-Up is also available at amazon.com.

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