Thursday, May 31, 2018

Making the Most of Leftovers

On this blog, I've harped about the value of incorporating leftovers into future meals and saving money by avoiding food waste. But there's an art to making it worthwhile.

Restaurants usually serve more than enough food, more than enough calories for the average diner to consume. Even if the portions aren't too large, it's easy to fill up on bread or chips before the meal arrives. And if you order an appetizer, it might be hard to finish the main course without stuffing yourself. Rather than be uncomfortable, why not parlay the rest into another meal?

As a long-time Weight Watchers member, I've trained myself to plan on packing up half my meal in most cases. It takes about 20 minutes after the first bite for your stomach to get the message that it's full, so to be successful at this technique, chew slowly and stop eating before you feel your waistband tightening. Sometimes I even ask for a to-go box when the server brings my food, and I set aside the parts I'll take home. If I keep eating too long, I'll reach the "point of no return" where there's not enough left on the plate to trouble with a doggy bag.

Recently, I dined out with friends, and I was one of the only people at the table to ask for a box, even though some of my companions left more food on their plates than I took home. It was painful to watch all that nourishment being thrown away.

But know yourself. If you're just going to shove the to-go box in the back of the refrigerator and then toss it out when it starts reeking and you can no longer identify its contents, why bother?

When you're on the road, taking leftovers can be challenging. It helps if you have a refrigerator in your hotel room. If you don't see one, check with the front desk. Some hotels will provide one at no charge on demand.

Even if you have a refrigerator, reheating your food can be a problem when you're away from home. But maybe you're at a hotel that provides a self-service breakfast, and there's a microwave in the dining area. Or maybe you're working at an office with access to an employee break room equipped with kitchen facilities.

When my meal arrives and I'm deciding what to consume on site and what to take away, I consider how well each item will survive recycling. Hot soup spills and leaks through the doggy bag. Salad wilts fairly quickly, although some of its ingredients can be repurposed into other dishes. (For example, one restaurant I frequent puts black olives on their salads. I don't care for black olives on my salad, but I ask for them on the side and take them home. They're great for doctoring up frozen pizzas.)

Most sandwiches have a longer lifespan, and some don't have to be heated. Get it cut in half; eat one half and the side course, take the other half to go.

Pieces of meat like steak, fish, or chicken transport well. Mine often see a new life as part of a casserole, pasta dish, or as topping for a big salad.

And of course, pizza, Chinese food, and certain Mexican foods taste fine reheated the next day. At a Mexican restaurant, I'll eat the crispy items, like tacos, on the premises and save foods like enchiladas, burritos, beans and rice for a future meal.

Fried foods don't taste as good the next day as their counterparts that are baked or broiled. But if you have access to a conventional oven, you'll be surprised how well they can come back to life. Reheating for a couple minutes in the oven can revive French fries, bread, pizza, and tortilla chips as well. (Stuff that most customers leave on the table, to be thrown away.) Just watch the time carefully so you don't burn them to a crisp.

With all the food waste in the world, why not do your part to reduce it? And at the same time, help your budget by stretching your restaurant leftovers into additional meals.

What tips do you have for repurposing leftovers? I'd love to hear your comments.


  1. My family and I practice all the savings you mention. In fact, for three of us, we will order just two entrées and share out enough from those two plates for the third person. As you indicate, with bread or chips and appetizers, most restaurant meal plates are much larger portions than one person needs.

  2. Good tips! Another one I commonly do is make my weekly meal plans planning to use leftovers from one meal as part of the next meal. If I've planned well in terms of amount of food prepared, this often saves me a lot of time with later in the week meals.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

  3. Thanks for sharing your great ideas!