leftover food in glass containers

The Unsung Hero of Sustainability: Leftovers

Leftovers get a bad rep. They save time, money, cleanup, and most importantly, food waste. According to the USDA, the average U.S. family loses $1500 each year due to food waste and spoilage. If we stopped wasting food, about 6-8% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced. Wow! Here’s why you should be celebrating, not bemoaning your leftover dinner. 

One of the biggest pros of leftovers is their convenience. Do you come home from work starving and too tired to cook? Leftovers will be your best friend. This can also help you make healthier food choices- if you have a delicious meal already cooked, you will be less likely to order fast food. Leftovers are a way to enjoy whole, real foods multiple days in a row without having to cook or spend money. 

Leftovers allow you to get creative! Do you ever plan a specific meal and end up with a bunch of random ingredients left over? Instead of throwing these away, use the different ingredients to make a whole new meal! If planned correctly, one leftover meal can become up to three new leftover meals. Here are a couple ideas to get you started. 

  • Add leftover spinach or kale to a tofu scramble 
  • Use leftover quinoa/grains as the base of a veggie burger  
  • Turn leftover pasta into vegan pasta salad 
  • Use leftover roasted vegetables in veggie tacos or veggie grain bowls
  • Mash leftover chickpeas with spices, chopped veggies, and onion to make mashed chickpea wraps or sandwiches
  • Combine roasted cauliflower with vegetable broth and coconut milk and then puree to create creamy cauliflower soup
  • Throw leftover roasted tofu into pho or spring rolls 
  • Leftover roasted sweet potato into sweet potato fritters
  • Sauté leftover rice with soy sauce, sesame oil, carrots, and peas to make vegan fried rice 

Leftovers actually taste better the next day. It’s true! Just think about it. The longer a meal sits, the more time the flavors have to develop. This is especially true for curries and soups. Desserts too! Fresh pie is delicious, but sometimes that apple pie you had for thanksgiving is even better the next day for breakfast. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a delicious meal twice?

Unless your food is spoiled, there’s no reason to throw away all your leftovers. When you waste food, not only do you waste the nutrients it could have provided someone, but you waste the land, water, and energy it took to create that food. The production of wasted food in the U.S. alone accounts for 32.6 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions. There is more to leftovers than convenience…they are the under-acknowledged champions of food sustainability. It’s time we start appreciating leftovers for the small miracle they are.

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