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?

More ideas to help Reduce food waste

reduce food wasteReasons to reduce food waste

Regular readers will know that I am always looking for ways to reduce food waste. Wasting perfectly good food is like tipping your wages in the bin! It saves money when you reduce food waste. It also seems immoral to chuck perfectly edible items away when so many people don’t have enough to eat.

In addition, there are the environmental consequences. Much food waste ends up in landfill and produces methane gas. It is a crazy waste of our resources to throw away food when you think of the energy expended growing, packaging and transporting it.

Here are some of the steps we take to reduce food waste at Shoestring Cottage.


If you don’t eat much bread, keep it in the freezer and defrost slices as you need them. We only get through a sliced loaf a week so this works for us.

Make croutons and breadcrumbs out of stale bread and crusts. Toast bread that’s a bit stale. Revive day old baguettes in the oven. Make French toast by dipping in beaten egg and frying (this is a good way to use up eggs too!)

Make bread pudding! My favourite recipe for this can be found in this post.


Store your veg correctly. Keep spuds in a cool dark place. However you feel about plastic, I feel that vegetables store best in plastic wrap. If you buy items loose, you could put them into plastic storage boxes with lids so they keep their crunch longer. However, mushrooms are best kept in a paper bag to avoid them going slimy.

Add chopped spring onion tops to mashed potatoes or mix with cheese to fill a jacket spud.

Save your cauliflower, broccoli, carrot and cabbage trimmings to add to soups or make stock.

If you are on your own or have a small family, buying frozen rather than fresh can be a good option. We have started buying frozen peppers, for example.

Freeze leftover veg to thicken soups and stews. Mashed potato is great for this.

I also throw leftover salad items into my soups. No one notices a bit of limp lettuce when it is whizzed up!

Fresh herbs – if you can’t use them in time, try finely chopping them and freezing them with a little water in ice cube trays. You can pop a couple into your recipes as required.


If you don’t use a whole lemon or lime in one go, freeze it in segments to pop straight into your G&T (or sparkling water if you are better behaved). You could also freeze the juice in ice cube trays for when you need it in a recipe.

Dry citrus peels for baking. Chop them up and spread them onto a baking sheet, then put them in a really low oven – about 80 degrees centigrade for around 2 hours. Allow them to cool completely before storing them in a glass container.

Chop up bananas and freeze to use in cakes and smoothies. We always seem to have the odd black banana. I wait until I have 3 or 4 then make banana loaf.

You can freeze chopped bananas for a couple of hours and then put through a food processor for an easy vegan ‘ice cream’.

Cook up wrinkly apples with a little sugar for compotes. These also freeze well. The can be used for crumbles or pies. I also enjoy them with custard or yogurt.

Keep fruit in fridge, especially in the summer. It lasts much longer.

If you have a glut of fruit, make some jam or jelly. There are lots of recipes online. I swear by my ancient copy of the Home Preservation of Fruit and Vegetables. I am amazed to find this is still available on Amazon new, but you might be able to pick up a second hand copy. As well as jams, it gives clear instructions on pickling and freezing and is a bit of a gem, in my view (this is my affiliate link).


You can refreeze meat if it has been frozen then cooked. However, make sure it is defrosted thoroughly before use and reheat thoroughly. The leftovers from your Sunday roasts are ideal for this.

You can use it in curries, pasta dishes, soups and casseroles.

Everything else

Leftover rice and pasta are great to thicken soups and stews.

Put day old doughnuts in the microwave for 20 seconds to revive them.

Omelettes and quiches are good for using up all kinds of cooked veg, ham, bacon and hard cheeses too.

Risottos are also perfect for using things up. You can chuck in cooked meat, vegetables and herbs.

So many things can be frozen. For example, you can freeze leftover wine for cooking. Hard cheeses can also be frozen. It’s a good idea to grate them first for ease of use.

There is some very good advice on how to safely store food on the NHS website. You might also like to read my post How to Prevent Food Waste – and save money too, about getting organised to reduce food waste.

How do you use up all the odds and ends?


How to prevent food waste – and save money too

prevent food waste

I recently signed up to the bloggers #nowastewithin campaign, to encourage anyone who blogs about food to avoid and prevent food waste when making their creations. I am not a food blogger, but I do post the odd recipe, so I am happy to support this.

Waste of any sort is something that generally irritates me. If I have paid for something I want to get full use of it. I get quite annoyed with myself if I find spoiled and forgotten food lurking at the back of the fridge. We try to be organised enough in our eating habits that we prevent food waste generally. Mr S is quite good at hoovering up leftovers!

We can all prevent food waste

Although the #nowastewithin campaign is aimed at actual food bloggers – who perhaps prepare plates of fabulous food that is lovingly photographed but never eaten – we can all heed the message. There are plenty of actions we can take to try to prevent food waste in our own lives. Doing so can save you money too, so it makes sense to prevent food waste.

Here are some things we do to prevent food waste at Shoestring Cottage.

Do a regular stock take

Go through your cupboards, fridge and freezer regularly to remind yourself of what you have. Then you can make sure you use up the items with the shortest dates on them first.

Plan your meals

Once you know what you already have, you can plan some of these ingredients into your meals. There are a couple of websites that can help you with this, notably You can type in an ingredient and get a list of recipes to use that item.

Write a shopping list

There are so many benefits to writing a shopping list. You prevent food waste by only buying items that you need. You also save money and time!

Consider buying loose or frozen fruit and veg

It has taken me ages to realise that I no longer need a family pack of value peppers. The girls are no longer at home! Now I either buy single peppers or, more frequently, a pack of frozen peppers. I can then use just what I need in a particular dish.

Buying loose apples, carrots or whatever is a good idea for a smaller household.

Use your freezer

I wouldn’t be without my freezer. It is so useful for storing leftover food. I keep the following in mine:

Bread ends, either whole for bread pudding or whizzed into breadcrumbs;
Whole loaves of bread – we take out individual slices as we need them to prevent food waste;
Bits of left over mashed potato and cooked vegetables that I chuck into soup or casseroles;
Leftover dinners that make handy ready meals when we are late back from work;
Gluts of fruit and veg we have grown or found in bulk at reduced prices;
Yellow sticker bargains that we can’t use quickly.

Use all of it

When you trim vegetables, use as much as you can. For example, if you don’t like broccoli stalks as a vegetable then save them and the leaves to use in a casserole or in soup. You can also make vegetable stock with all your trimmings and peelings, as explained by Chammy here.

If you are a meat eater, when you roast a chicken save the carcass to make chicken stock. It’s a lovely base for all sorts of dishes.

Only serve what you are going to eat

One of my daughters has a very small appetite. She rarely finishes what is on her plate. When she comes for dinner I often end up throwing her leftovers away, because I serve her too much! Now I let her take what she wants and only what she will eat.

It makes sense to only cook and serve what you know will be eaten.

Find ways to use your leftovers

There are many ways to use up leftovers. With a bit of creativity you can make all kinds of delicious dishes. I have a couple of ideas here and here. The Love Food Hate Waste website has a ton of inspiration too.

Store food correctly

I save glass jars, margarine and ice cream containers to store food, but have also invested in a lot of decent air tight containers. These store leftovers in the fridge or freezer, dry goods in the cupboard, etc.

I make sure loose vegetables are kept in containers to stop them going limp in the fridge. Once opened items such as cheese will also go in a container. Left over bakes beans or tinned tomatoes – in one of my little glass jars in the fridge. This approach will ensure the food lasts a few days at least and is more hygienic too.

Be wary of best before and use by dates

What an absolute load of nonsense most best before dates are! Are you one of those people who chuck perfectly good food in the bin because it has gone past its best before date? Hopefully not, as you are reading this.

Best before dates are just for guidance. They are more for the retailer than the customer, ensuring that older goods are moved to the front of the shelves and sold first. Use your eyes, nose and common sense.

I frequently deliberately buy items that are near or past their best before dates at Approved Food* at huge discounts.

Admittedly, you do need to be more cautious with use by dates. However, a yogurt doesn’t obediently go out of date the minute it reaches midnight on its use by. You can often eat this type of food a couple of days later with no ill effects.

Ilona over at Mean Queen practically lives off yellow sticker items. She buys them on their use by date and is still eating them a few days later! She lives to tell the tale.

Take home leftovers

If you are eating out and can’t manage to eat all the food you have ordered, ask for a doggy bag and take home the leftovers. It might even be worth taking some containers out if you anticipate this might happen. After all you have paid for the food and if you don’t eat it, where is it going to end up? In the bin!

Make compost

If you have a garden, it is quite easy to make compost from uncooked fruit and vegetable trimmings. Many councils also now collect waste cooked food. This can also be composted but not in your average garden heap. Check out your local facilities and, if your council doesn’t collect food waste, contact them to request that they do. People power!

A useful Facebook group

Zoe over at Eco Thrifty Living has a Facebook group called Reduce Your Food Waste UK. If you are looking for inspiration and ideas, go and join. If you are a blogger who writes about food, check out Zoe’s post for more information.

How do you try to prevent food waste? Share your tips in the comments below.

*Disclaimer: this is my referral code and I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. Thank you if you do!

My Zero Waste Kitchen: reduce food waste

I am always happy to encourage people to reduce food waste. I have said before in this blog how much I dislike the pervading waste culture. We are a throw away society. It appears we no longer seem to value our possessions or how much they cost in financial and environmental terms. Easy come, easy go!

This also applies to food. I remember learning about wartime rationing at school. Food was scarce but nobody starved in the UK because nothing was wasted. Now we are guided more by use by and best before dates than common sense and a lot of perfectly edible food is thrown away with barely a thought.

I am generally careful to avoid waste like this, but I am not perfect and could definitely try harder, so I was delighted to receive a copy of My Zero Waste Kitchen from Dorling Kindersley. If it helps people reduce food waste then all well and good.

It is a prettily designed, small hardback book and good value at £6.99 I think. The advice given is clear and simple, although probably aimed more for those who have just begun to think about reducing food waste rather than the seasoned waste free cook.

Lots of tips to reduce food waste

I like it though – there are a lot of useful tips that I hadn’t come across before, such as the page on eggs. Did you know you could use crushed eggshells as a stain remover or as a calcium supplement? Or that you could revive stale cake by putting it overnight in an airtight container with a slice of bread?

Why not put apple cores and kiwi skins in your smoothie? I am sure they would taste just as nice and add nutrition. I was less convinced about adding banana skins, however, as I think they would be too bitter.

If you want to get maximum value from your lettuce, you can cut off the end and root it in water to start a whole new plant. I have never tried this and I am sceptical, but might give it a go.

Recipes to reduced food waste

The recipes in the book look interesting. I like how a base recipe is presented such as hummus or flapjacks alongside ideas for foods you could add to save wasting them. I will definitely be trying the Waste-not want-not savoury muffins, as they look yummy.

If you want some fresh ideas on how to begin to reduce your family’s food waste, or you want to teach your children more about the subject, then this book will be a great place to begin.

If you decide to buy this book using the link below, I will receive a small commission from Amazon.