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9 Tricks to Make Sure You Use Up Leftovers

Abby Slutsky tries to effectively use up leftovers. These are some suggestions for using them up before you can no longer use them.

Leftovers can often be transformed into a yummy soup.

Leftovers can often be transformed into a yummy soup.

Leftovers: A History

According to a Time magazine article entitled "A Brief History of Leftovers," by Kate Pickert, leftovers have been around since ancient times. As ice, freezers, and refrigeration technology became more widely available, leftovers became easier to keep fresh for longer periods of time.

Ensuring You Use Up Leftovers

Who hasn't had the experience of placing leftovers in the fridge only to have them somehow end up hidden in the back, neglected and forgotten? By the time we remember them, they are old and ready for the compost or trash. Using your leftovers can save you a lot of money on food.

1. Be Smart About Storage

No one in the house is going to eat what they can’t see. Keeping leftovers visible makes it likely that someone will eat them. That's why I recommend storing your leftovers in a see-through container or in a dish with covered clear plastic wrap.

2. Put a Reminder Out to the Family

In my house, everyone works remotely. Of course, that means I am often asked what we have for lunch. Text the family with a list of available lunch food or keep a list on the refrigerator. If you keep it on the refrigerator, encourage your family members to cross off what they eat. No sense in others rummaging in the refrigerator for food that is no longer there.

3. Keep Them Front and Center

In grocery stores, older food is supposed to be put on the front of the shelf when it is displayed. In your refrigerator, it should be the same. Your family reaches for food that is convenient to eat.

4. Give Them New Life

If you make family meals and usually eat dinner together, take the initiative to turn leftovers into a new meal. Two-day-old chicken may not be enticing, but turn it into a pot pie, chicken salad, soup, or something else, and it takes on a new life. Your family will enjoy eating it. If you are looking for ideas, Netflix has a show called Best Leftovers Ever that can spark your creative juices.

5. Clean-Out-the-Fridge Night

Everyone deserves a day when they don't have to cook, so my family has a weekly clean-out-the-fridge night. Everyone can choose what they feel like having and take advantage of what is in the refrigerator. This is also a terrific opportunity for older kids to practice their cooking skills since they may not want to spend money eating out all the time when they move out.

6. Freeze Leftovers

Although not everything can be frozen, there is a lot you can freeze for future use. For example, freeze the rotisserie carcass to make soup, or make soup out of veggies and scraps of meat. If you do not think you will eat it right away, freeze and label it for later use.

7. Make Just Enough Food

If you are constantly throwing out leftovers, maybe the answer is to cut down on the amount you prepare. Making a single serving for each person will eliminate leftovers and probably help trim down the family, There are always some family members that eat more than they should even if you still have leftovers.

Whether you are sharing leftover bread or a substantial meal, someone will appreciate your generosity, and the food will not go to waste.

Whether you are sharing leftover bread or a substantial meal, someone will appreciate your generosity, and the food will not go to waste.

8. Share With Others

Rather than waste leftovers, consider sending some leftover food to Mom and Dad. They may be thrilled not to cook, and the food won’t get wasted. Often, seniors and empty-nesters may not feel like cooking for themselves, so they appreciate an easy meal.

9. Try a Neighborhood Supper Swap Club

For two years, I participated in a monthly neighborhood supper swap club. Each person made a triple batch of an item for four people (you had to make something that was freezable). There were 15 members and we drew numbers to see what order we selected the meals we wanted. Each person left with three entrees to use at a later date. When I made meals for supper swap club, there were rarely any leftovers. It was so convenient to be able to pull a meal out of the freezer on a busy night. I saved money ordering in, had a night out with my friends and was able to offer my family a variety of meals with minimal effort.

Good Luck!

Overall, the trick to using up leftovers is to make them visible, accessible, and interesting. It only takes a little effort, and you will be amazed at the money you save.


Pickert, Kate. “A Brief History of Leftovers.” Time, 28 Nov. 2008,

© 2021 Abby Slutsky