Nutrition Corner: Make new meals with leftover foods

October 5th, 2016 1:23 pm

Every Monday, we have garbage pickup. I have noticed that since our household has gotten a bit smaller, we have less garbage or trash. Trash can include a number of items. Because we recycle heavily, our garbage is mostly food waste. How much trash not including recycled items do you have every week for pickup?

In the United States, according to the National Institute of Health, food waste is about 30 percent of the food supply. That is food waste at homes as well as at the retail level. Retail includes any business that would sell food like grocery stores and or restaurants.

Try a little experiment. Write down on the calendar the amount of trash, not recycled items, that you currently have every week. It is one 30 gallon bag, two 30 gallon bags, or maybe more or less. Include food waste at your work and school as well. Next try to reduce the amount of food that you and your family throw away each week.

There are two ways to reduce food waste. First, find uses to safely eat foods that you would normally throw out, and second, find ways to prevent further food waste. Try to incorporate some of these simple tips.

Let’s first find ways to use to safely eat food that you would normally throw out. First, leftovers need to be handled safely. Refrigerate as soon as you finish the meal. Place in small containers, no more than 2 inches deep. Label and date the item.

Here are some of my favorite uses for our leftovers.

Mashed potatoes are placed in small containers and frozen for use in soups and stews. The mashed potatoes thicken and give a creamy texture. Leftover grilled chicken, pork and beef are used in stir fries. Leftover rice is used for soups, or I add frozen vegetables and beans for a quick lunch. Leftover bread is frozen for French toast and French bread pizza. Leftover vegetables can be frozen in small quantities then added when making soups or stews.

Now let’s look at ways to prevent food waste in the future.

Learn how to store foods safely and the length of time food is safe to eat when refrigerated at 40 degrees or frozen at 0 degrees. Purchase a refrigerator thermometer and place in the refrigerator if you don’t already have one. Read and post the storage list for easy access. Call our office for a copy at 570-825-1701 or visit

Date food in the refrigerator and freezer. It takes the guessing out of the picture. Encourage all of your family members to do the same.

If the refrigerated item is getting close to the expiration date, date and freeze it.

Only buy what you need. If the packaging is larger than your need, break apart into smaller sizes when you get home and freeze.

Start using a refrigerator “use up list” and a freezer “use up list.” Once the item is used, then cross it off the list! Remember to add to the list after you grocery shop.

Brunswick Stew (using leftovers)

1 tablespoon olive or canola oil

1 onion (medium, chopped)

2 cups chicken broth, low-sodium

2 cups leftover cooked chicken

2 cups tomatoes, canned

2 cups lima beans, canned or leftover

2 cups whole kernel corn, canned or leftover

Heat oil in a large pan. Add onion and cook until tender. Add all remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer for 30 minutes at medium-low. Makes 8, 1-cup servings.

Nutrition Corner Mary R. Ehret Corner Mary R. Ehret

Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at