How to Cook: What to Do with Holiday Leftovers

5 min read

During the holiday season, the amount of food wasted increases by 25%, according to the USDA. That translates into a lot of money that ends up in landfills, contributing to climate issues. The good news is that you can do something about that percentage by knowing how to minimize waste. Learn how to use leftovers from your holiday dishes and ingredients in new, creative, and tasty ways.

The holidays are a time to celebrate. And, if you’re anything like my (Italian) family, you have way too much food in the house — especially if you’re the one hosting! Whether it’s prepared leftovers or a handful of ingredients from making recipes (I’m looking at you, cranberries), having leftovers on hand may create an extra level of holiday stress.

Eating leftovers day after day can also get old. And having one or two ingredients left after preparing a dish feels like a waste as it creates extra work in figuring out what to do with those scraps. So, what are some tasty and easy-to-implement ways to use up those holiday leftovers to prevent food waste?

First Off, Wasting Food Is, Well… A Waste!

Sustainable lifestyle and zero waste concept. Domestic compost bin being used for fermentation of organic waste Kravchenko

Food waste is a big issue in the US and other industrialized countries. According to the USDA, food waste is estimated to be 30–40% of the food supply in the United States, increasing by 25% during the holidays. And in China, household waste is 10% of all food purchased, with the largest category being fruits and vegetables.

That being said, there they are, those leftover food scraps staring you right in the face on your plate, or in your fridge. Maybe you took more food than you could eat at once. Or you didn’t end up using an entire fruit or vegetable for a recipe. So what do you do with those food scraps before they go bad? Don’t throw them away! You can save those scraps in a bin or airtight container in your refrigerator. Or check out our article How to Use Food Scraps for all the know-how on making the most of those bits and pieces.

Another tip to avoid food waste is to not leave perishable food out for longer than two hours. If you’re planning on having a buffet-style meal with people coming and going throughout the day, consider placing cold, perishable food over ice or hot food over warming plates to keep everything at the proper temperature.

Or, if your party is more of a sit-down dinner, consider taking perishable food out of the refrigerator just before your guests arrive and putting it away immediately after they leave. If friends or family members still have food on their plate, or you have a significant amount of leftovers, consider providing eco-friendly to-go containers.

Store Leftovers Efficiently

Properly storing food and consuming it within a safe time period is key when it comes to perishable foods. The USDA recommends consuming refrigerated leftovers within four days. And storage containers should be airtight. You’ll want to practice first in, first out for prepared food — use up what you have on hand first before opening something new.

Another option is to freeze vegetables or whole meals. Portioning them into individual serving containers makes it easier to grab and go as needed.

Leftover dry goods and pantry staples can continue to be stored in a cool dark place (like a cabinet or pantry) in airtight containers. Things like whole grains, legumes, and flour do have expiration dates. Therefore, make sure to store them properly, use them before they expire, or consider freezing them to extend shelf life.

Visit our blog posts Healthy Plant-Based Pantry Food Essentials for tips on setting up a plant-based pantry and 10 Easy Pantry Meals to Make Using Minimal Ingredients for ideas on how to use those staples.

Get Creative and Think Outside the Box

Sauted mixed vegetables food photography recipe idea

When it comes to reusing leftovers, allow your creativity to shine. Think beyond what they were intended for. For example, “dinner food” doesn’t only have to be eaten at dinner. A savory breakfast can be delicious, or you can split meals up into snacks.

For an additional bit of flavor and nutrition, add a plant-based sauce to veggie dishes. Cauliflower Squash Cheese Sauce is a house fave, or try one of these homemade sauces.

Have ingredients left over that you tend to only use during the holiday? Try googling (or Ecosia-ing if you like to plant trees while you search) the name of your leftover ingredients along with the word “recipe” and see what pops up. You just might find yourself a new favorite dish, like Green Bean Casserole or a twist on mashed potatoes!

Ideas for Using Up Holiday Leftovers

Watch the video below for more creative ways to use up leftovers and create new recipes.

Leftovers Recipes

Need fresh ideas on how to use up your holiday leftovers? Even if you don’t have leftover food scraps from the holidays, you can still give new life to batch-cooked items from your weekly meal prep. These highly adaptable and delicious plant-based leftovers recipes will spark new life with whatever you have on hand!

1. Harvest Grain Breakfast Bowl

Harvest Grain Breakfast Bowl

If you love the idea of leftovers for breakfast, this is the recipe for you! Harvest Grain Breakfast Bowl is a wonderful way to use up leftover veggies you may have been holding on to as well as batch-cooked grains you may have on hand. Those leftover ingredients will come straight to life once you give them a try with this recipe’s creamy orange tahini dressing, crunchy pumpkin seeds, and sweet dried cranberries. The fall flavors add a pop of freshness and zing that makes even the simplest leftover ingredients into a winning recipe.

2. Energizing White Bean and Kale Soup

Energizing White Bean and Kale Soup

This soup has it all — lots of colors, tons of flavor, and the ability for customization based on whatever you have on hand. Perhaps you have some leftover collard greens from your family’s latest gathering. Or maybe you have leftover homemade vegetable broth from the food scraps you saved up during the week. Taking full advantage of any unused ingredients is a wonderful way to explore kitchen creativity, prevent food waste, and create a tasty meal, all at the same time. We think you’ll love this nourishing beans-and-greens leftover soup!

3. Green Bean Casserole

Green Bean Casserole

Casseroles are one of the easiest ways to use up any leftovers, especially if you have a leftover condiment or two. Just throw all the ingredients in a casserole dish and bake it in the oven. This Green Bean Casserole is seemingly indulgent but loaded with nutrition, and makes using up leftover mushroom gravy and cashew sour cream a breeze. Plus, the crispy (baked) onions on top take this recipe from good to great!

Eat Your Leftovers!

Don’t let leftover conundrums add to any holiday stress. With some proper planning and storage, a bit of curiosity, and a little creativity, you’ll be able to give those leftovers a second and third (tasty) life.

For starters, give some of the ideas in the video a try, or make one of the recipes provided. Let us know what you think. Or, if you have your own favorite way to use leftover dishes and ingredients, please share!

Tell us in the comments:

  • What’s your favorite way to use up leftovers?
  • What’s currently in your veggie scrap bin, and how will you use those veggies?
  • What’s the first tip you’ll try to reduce food waste this holiday season?

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