8 Leftover Foods We Often Waste — and How to Use Them Instead

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Woman cooking at home
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Waste not, want not: It’s an axiom meaning if you’re a careful steward of your resources, you won’t find yourself in need. Good advice for any time, but even more relevant during the coronavirus era.

We all now have an even better understanding of how important it is to use up the food you already have and not let it go to waste.

But it can be frustrating to find yourself staring down the remainder of a can of tomato paste, or the heel of a loaf of bread, and not know what to do with the leftovers.

Here are some tips that will help you use up the last bit of common kitchen ingredients.

1. Bread

Forget those pre-packaged salad croutons sold in stores. If you have leftover — even stale — bread, you’re minutes away from the tastiest salad toppers you can imagine.

Just chop or tear your bread into bite-sized cubes, toss with olive oil, and bake in an oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes, tossing occasionally. You can add garlic or other seasonings, too.

For a smart way to save money on your next loaf, check out “How I Buy Bread for $1 or Less.”

2. Rotisserie chicken

Few dinners make for better leftovers than a delicious deli chicken.

My favorite uses for chicken leftovers are chicken Caesar wraps — shred the leftover meat and toss it with Caesar dressing, Parmesan cheese, romaine lettuce and croutons, and wrap in a tortilla for a tasty twist on a chicken sandwich.

But you can also use your chicken leftovers in pot pies, salad, quesadillas, pizza and more.

For more ways to use rotisserie chicken, check out my article “10 Foods That Should Always Be in Your Pantry or Fridge.”

3. Rice

When I make a dish requiring rice, I almost always make extra, because my mouth starts watering at the mere thought of rice pudding. Store your cooked rice in the fridge for a day, and then choose from any number of online rice-pudding recipes.

You can dress it up with chocolate, raisins, coconut flakes, toffee bits or your own favorite addition. Epicurious points out that any kind of rice — brown, white, short-grain, long-grain — and any type of milk will work well.

4. Tomato paste

So many recipes that call for tomato paste only require a tiny amount. What to do with the rest of the red stuff?

First, freeze it in an ice cube tray and then pop the frozen cubes into a plastic bag for the next use. Then, the next time you make burgers, work a small amount into your ground beef as you’re shaping the patties — think of it as ketchup on the inside. Or just pop it into your next soup or stew to deepen the flavor.

5. Coconut milk

I love to use coconut milk, often in Asian dishes, but my recipes rarely require a full can. The simplest way to use it up is to think of how you’d use extra dairy products — pour a splash in your coffee, or on your oatmeal.

I’ve also made this six-ingredient vegan chocolate coconut mousse with my leftover coconut milk. It’s satisfying, yet not overly sweet.

6. Celery

My family loves to snack on crisp celery, but it’s tough to buy a small amount. If you find yourself, er, “stalking” up, know that celery freezes well, though I like to chop it first. Pop a bag in the freezer, and now you’re already partway to making your next batch of homemade soup or stock.

7. Heavy cream

I often need only a glug or so of heavy cream for a recipe, and then the carton is shoved to the back of the fridge to be forgotten.

It’s actually one of the most versatile leftovers around. Add a splash to scrambled eggs, soup or pasta sauce to instantly raise your cooking game. Or simply whip it to make whipped cream, and you now have a decadent topping for pies or ice cream.

8. Apples

An apple a day makes for a great snack, but if your apples are starting to wrinkle and dry up, there are other ways to use the tasty fruit.

Homemade applesauce is one of those dishes that’s so easy you’ll wonder why you ever purchased the pre-made stuff — and you can whip it up in your Instant Pot or slow cooker. And don’t forget apple pie, candy apples, apple butter and the simple yet charming baked apples, a delicious throwback to grandma’s baking days.

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