So… I don’t meal plan. I actually did when we were in lockdown briefly and it was great, less food waste and time wasted every week. Sometimes when we’re super busy I don’t cook at all for weeks at a time. In the winter I cook at least 2 meals a day at home but in the summer not so much. I really don’t like throwing away food because it’s dollars in the trash, it makes the house smell funny and you know some people would be happy to have it. It’s kind of an entitled thing to do if you think about it. Here are some go to meal ideas to clean out your fridge and use up ingredients that you might not want too munch on but can still be used. In that circumstance I find cooking things that are past their prime really does make them more palatable. I’ve actually had this post on the schedule for a while thinking that over time I would take artsy photos of my meals and post those but I’ve decided that probably won’t happen. So enjoy these artsy stock photos instead! So here are some ideas for meals to use up all your food and what you can toss in there.
These are not recipes!
If you look for leftover recipes online the internet thinks you have an excess of watercress and prawns laying around. That’s not how real people (and me) roll. I have green onions from last week or was it the week before? Recipes are also too hemmed in for using up a multitude of things that otherwise have to be thrown out. So this is that. Basically a rough framework for a meal to which you can add almost anything you want. If you have some experience in the kitchen (or not) feel free to find a recipe online for inspiration and cooking times. If you don’t have something specific you’re probably fine! There are a few things to always keep on hand that go a long way to making any of these dishes possible. These things don’t go bad fast, are pretty cheap and you use them for a lot of dishes. Here are some staples that make these dishes possible:
- Onions and garlic
- Soy sauce
- Oil or some fat
- Pasta or rice
- Some spices even if it’s just blends
- Some salad dressings you like
- Quick rise yeast
Sometimes you have a lot more stuff to use up than you can eat today and tomorrow and sometimes what you try won’t work out quite perfectly. If you have to make more than you need then just freeze it right away. Someday in the future you’ll come home famished, late and with even fewer options than you have now. Then you’ll be happy you have it! If you make something terrible well it’s one meal you’ll live and if you fail completely at least you tried!
Garbage pasta (or stir fry)
One great way to get rid of almost anything is to toss it in a pasta supper. We used to do this in restaurants all the time but we called it an aglio e olio. Fancy right? It stands in for asiago, garlic and olive oil at least that’s what the chef told me to sell it to the customers. At home that could be margarine, cheddar and well in my opinion you need to have the garlic! You can use any pasta shape, rice noodles or even just rice and call it a stir fry. I like to sauté or caramelize some onions, add garlic, Italian seasoning and whatever veggies are about to go off at the end in liberal amount of oil. You could throw meat in at the end too if you have it. Then here’s the secret. Reserve about a cup of the pasta water when you drain it and throw that in with your veggies to deglaze the pan. Toss in you pasta and finish with some sort of cheese and it’s a yummy healthy dinner. If you want you can use pre-made sauce or even salad dressing and omit the oil for a different version. For a stir fry I usually do the same thing and add a bunch of soy sauce and some ginger. Throw that on your rice and you’re done!
- A bit of meat
- A stump of cheese
- One random sausage
Quiche is a great way to fancy up what you were going to throw out anyway and nothing could be easier. All you need is a pre-made pie shell or I guess if you’re extra you could make one. Depending on what you’re throwing in it could be as simple as mixing all your ingredients together and plopping it in the oven. If you have somethings like onion, mushrooms, bacon or potatoes that could benefit from some cooking before baking for about 25 minutes then toss them in some oil in a sauté pan for a bit before mixing in your eggs. Quiche is amazing on it’s own but also great served with salad or even some frozen veggies. The sky is the limit here for what you can cook up and what meal your quiche will be best suited too.
- The sky is the limit!
Pizza is like my favorite food in the whole world and even if it’s bad it’s still good! Nothing says that you have to have pepperoni, mozzarella cheese or even pizza sauce on it in a pinch. If you’ve got a little bit of a lot of stuff pizza is a great thing to make. We’ve realized that homemade pizza is great with cheddar and amazing with smoked turkey and brie this way. If you’ve got pizza sauce that’s great but if not spaghetti sauce is a pretty close substitute and I’ve even found recipes for turning ketchup into pizza sauce in a pinch. No one says you have to go tomato based though a hint of salad dressing could be interesting but a brushing of oil instead of sauce is fine too. This recipe is great for tiny bits of scraps and keeping the kids happy since you can do the halfs (or even quarters) if you want. If you have yeast and flour you’re good to go. Just make your dough first, roll it out and let it sit while you cut up toppings.
For the best traditional pizza turn you oven up to the highest setting (up to 500f) and watch it closely. You can also improvise your crust and make it on tortillas, pita bread, English muffins, bagels or even bread. My sister and I used to do that for late night snacks not amazing but it works. If you don’t have cheese just call it a flatbread!
- Hot dogs
- Fresh herbs
- Leftovers (Taco toppings in particular)
I’m a fruit junkie so it doesn’t often go off at our house but on the occasion it does or there is just a bit of a bunch of different frozen fruit in each bag, throw it all in the blender and drink it up. Over ripe fruit is actually the sweetest and here’s a secret fruit smoothies are delicious no matter their composition. Add some yogurt, milk or juice of some kind and it will be yummy. A bit of water is fine as a fluid too. If you have a bunch of leafy dark greens like spinach or kale you can go the green smoothie route. Toss in some other veggies or fruit in the manner above and let the blender rip! A note though you might want to add some sweetness after you taste it and you can do that with fruit, honey, sugar of any sort or sweeter. Then all there is left to do is enjoy your glass of health smugly and post it on the gram!
– Fruit or veg frozen or fresh
Guess what not all buyers are beef! They can also be chicken, pork, turkey, salmon, scallops or even chickpeas, lentils or even mushrooms. Form whatever it is into a patty, season it to taste and fry it. If you add an egg and some flour it will hold together better when cooking. Serve it on a bun of any shape or size and call it a burger. I’ve even eaten ‘burgers’ with sliced bread buns and you know what it worked fine. If you just have dinner rolls make sliders!
- Protein of some sort
- Leftover buns
Garbage soup or ramen
Soup can be a great option to clean out the fridge. I see this one working particularly well when you’ve decided to stock up on ‘healthy stuff’ but failed to follow through. Really all you need for soup is some stock, veggies and some seasoning. Italian usually works well if you’re feeling uninspired. Just taste and add, taste again as you go along. You can add in any meat that you have or whatever you like. Personally I like to immersion blend my soups but you don’t have to. A soup can be a great option after a big celebration when you have a lot of turkey or ham left over. You don’t even have to clean the carcass just boil it for a few hours! If you want to go another way a you can transform the same ingredients into ramen. Just keep some packs of cheap noodles on hand. Just scroll through a few images of ramen for inspiration with what to dump in.
- Squash, carrots and ‘dense’ veggies
- Chicken or turkey carcasses
- Tough cuts of beef
- Leftover ham
- Lentils or peas
Garbage add and egg to anything
When you’re really stuck with what to do with leftovers for a lot, a lot of things you can simply add an egg to it mix it and change its form into something new. You can add an egg to leftover spaghetti press it into a pie plate, bake it and you have spaghetti pie. Add an egg to mashed potatoes and fry it in patties for a wicked potato treat. Leftover breakfast bits in general from a brunch add an egg the next day and stick it in the oven. Get creative there’s a lot than be solved with an egg or two!