Reduce food waste: Ten ideas to use your leftovers

reduce food waste

I have been thinking really carefully about how to reduce food waste recently. Generally, I tend to think we don’t waste much that is edible, but the recent Zero Waste Week made me hyper aware when we did. For a start, our food waste bin isn’t empty! Occasionally, we simply cook too much.

Sometimes we forget about stuff at the back of the fridge, or are too tired or uninspired to use ingredients before they go a bit manky. Some non-perishables are perfectly usable, but have been sitting in the cupboard for months or even years. They haven’t ended up in the food waste so far and we need to use them up before they do.

Over the past few weeks, I have started whittling away at our stockpiles. That half bag of couscous, the custard powder, various baking ingredients and two carrier bags (yes, two!) of hazel nuts from a neighbour’s tree last year need to be eaten.  I am not bothered about best before dates here; they are more for the retailer’s benefit that ours.

I am quite good at using up leftovers, however. They either get eaten at work for lunch or we have them two days in a row. Alternatively, I anticipate leftovers from one meal and incorporate them into another. I also use my freezer to conserve even the smallest amounts of leftover food. The challenge is then to remember what is frozen and work it into my meal planning to ensure it is used up.

Here are some ideas for using foods that are commonly left over to reduce food waste and save yourself some money!

Reduce food waste and use it up

Bread ends

Unless you have a large family and eat lots of bread, it pays to keep a sliced loaf in the freezer and remove slices as you plan to use them. However, even if you do this, what to do with the bread ends?

Bread crumbs – whizz them up in a food processor or grate them by hand. I then refreeze these and believe it is perfectly safe to do so.

Bread pudding, apple brown betty, bread and butter pudding, croutons and bread sauce can all be made using the crusts of bread.


Keep them in the fridge in the summer so that you don’t end up with lots of soft, sprouting spuds. Even if you do, they are safe to eat. Just cut out the eyes and any brown bits and use as usual.

Leftover mashed potatoes are easy to use up in lots of dishes. Indeed, in this week’s meal plan I deliberately made too much so that I could add it to soup as a thickener! They can be made into fish cakes, added to a meat or nut loaf, chucked into soups and stews, or mixed with grated vegetables for your own home made veggie burger. Then there is the classic bubble and squeak, which will use up your uneaten green veggies as well.

Whole potatoes are a treat sliced, fried and served with a couple of eggs and some baked beans for brunch or supper.

Roast potatoes can also go into soup, but I fancy this leftover Sunday lunch hash.

Cooked vegetables

You can chop up your uneaten vegetables and throw them into an omelette or frittata or use them in soups and stews. I actually keep a bag in the fridge and put all unwanted cooked vegetables in it for my regular soup making sessions. Many will be nice in a pasta sauce too, although I probably wouldn’t use sprouts or cabbage in this way (I know some people would!).

Fresh herbs

Have you ever bought a load of parsley or coriander for a recipe and left the rest of it to go soggy in your fridge? Yes, me too. However, there is nothing lovelier than a cheese and chopped herb omelette. You can cut them up and stick them in a salad too. If you have a lot of a particular herb you can chop finely and freeze. You can even dry them yourself.


I don’t eat meat now, but proper gravy made with the juices from the roast was always a treat. Certainly too good to chuck in the bin. Gravy will keep a couple of days in the fridge so you could make a point of using it at another meal. It will also add lots of flavour to a casserole or soup and you can freeze it to use when you are ready.

Leftover gravy adds depth to a shepherd’s pie or you could use it as a kind of cook-in sauce with meatballs. How about adding it to leftover meat or vegetables as a pie filling?


I know you have to be careful with rice. Once it is cooked, it needs to be kept cool and eaten quickly. Don’t leave it lying around! It is another leftover ingredient that I freeze to add to soup, but it can be fried up with an egg and some veg for a DIY egg fried rice, made into a kind of risotto with lots of vegetables and some tomatoes or transformed into some delicious cheesy rice balls. If you have a lot, you could make this Mediterranean rice salad.


Banana loaf or muffins are so delicious you almost wait for your bananas to turn black so that you can bake some! You can also freeze them in slices to add to smoothies or you could make them into an easy vegan chocolate ice cream.


We seem to have gone off apples in our household. The last few times I have bought them they have turned wrinkly in the fruit bowl. Fortunately, we are all happy to eat them stewed with custard. They also freeze well peeled and sliced or you can dry them in the oven.

My favourite to use up apples is in a crumble or in spiced apple cake.

If you have other fruit to use up quickly, there are some amazing ice lolly ideas here.

Make stock

If, like me, you love to make soup, then making your own stock first is a great way to save your vegetable scraps from the bin. There are some good instructions here.

You can also use meat bones to make fabulous stock. I often make save chicken carcasses in the freezer for this very purpose. It seems a crying shame to throw meat bones out when you can reduce food waste in this way.

Wilting salad

These days I try to buy small amounts of salad at a tim. I then make sure it is built into our meal plan so that we use it. However, wilting salad leaves do get thrown into our soups and stir fries and no one is ever the wiser. There are some excellent ideas for using up tired lettuce here.

In the end, smarter planning and shopping will stop you having so many leftovers in the first place. Keeping track of what you have already and storing it correctly will also help. Nevertheless, none of us is perfect. Even with good planning we end up with more than we can eat before it spoils. With a bit of determination and creativity, we can all reduce food waste.

Take the challenge to reduce food waste and use up your leftovers. What are your favourite ideas and recipes to stop food going in the bin?

2 thoughts on “Reduce food waste: Ten ideas to use your leftovers

  1. My sister, her daughter and her daughter-in-law have a leftover night once a week. They save all leftovers even if it is only a spoonful. Then Saturday night is left over night. The kids love it as they get a bit of whatever their favourite was that week. The daughter in law has six kids and they grew up with that system. Now the kids have kids of their own and the tradition carries on. Mind you I think our refrigeration is different than in other parts of the world. The peelings from the vegetables go into the compost pile, or if some pieces are bigger, they do as you do by having a bag in the freezer to collect till it is full for making vegetable broth or soup. Thanks for all your ideas.

  2. I live alone and pre-packed fruit is generally too much. I also forage for fruit in the late summer/autumn. I freeze chunks of a fresh pineapple, also chunks of banana and grapes – they are delicious eaten frozen. This year I froze blackberries and, when I had time, used it from frozen to make blackberry jam/jelly. Plums (all types including damsons and greengages) got frozen after halving and de-stoning and I plan to use them for crumble, simply cooked or in baking. Windfall apples have been used in chutneys and jellies e.g. rosehip and apple jelly and the inevitable Hedgerow jelly. I have a gallon of elderberry wine brewing right now too. I don’t want to waste what’s in my kitchen, nor do I want to waste free foraged fruit.

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