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5 ways to transform 'little leftovers' into creative, money-saving meals

Brooke Frizzell
Nectarine cake made from leftovers.
Photo by Brooke Frizzell

I am passionate about not wasting food, for both environmental and cost-saving reasons. But even if you work hard to not let vegetables rot in your refrigerator, you may still throw out a fair amount of food just a little at a time. It's easy to end a meal and think your small amount of leftovers are not worth saving, but even 'little leftovers' can often be repurposed into something delicious.

Here are a few of my favorites.

Leftover coffee becomes gourmet iced coffee

"What's leftover coffee?" is the refrain I often hear when I suggest this. I don't generally end the day with half a pot of coffee left, but there is usually a half-cup or so remaining after my family has had our fill.

Instead of pouring coffee down the drain, we collect it in a pitcher and refrigerate it. Coffee keeps well in the refrigerator. (The conclusion of my seventh grade science project was that caffeine inhibits mold growth, although I have never attempted to replicate these results.) We end up having enough coffee to make fancy weekend iced coffees a few times each month.

We love to mix the coffee with maple syrup, vanilla extract, and half & half in a cocktail shaker, but a flavored store-bought creamer also works great. I avoid spending $5 or more on a single drink, and an added bonus is that I don't have to get dressed or leave my house to enjoy this iced coffee.

Photo by Brooke Frizzell

Sour cream, yogurt, or kefir replaces buttermilk

You have probably seen recipes tell you that you can add lemon juice to milk as a buttermilk substitute. But Serious Eats has a good explanation on why this creates subpar baked goods. Plain yogurt got a B+ in their test kitchen, and kefir received an A+. They did not test sour cream, but I almost always have either yogurt or sour cream on hand and have personally found them both to work well for making pancakes, biscuits, cakes, and other baked treats.

Turn just about anything into breakfast

Someone once told me to never eat brunch at a fancy restaurant because that's how the kitchen uses up all their leftovers from the week, but that sounds great to me.

I rarely go out for brunch these days because I prefer to eat breakfast in my pajamas, but as long as your food has been stored safely and has not gone rotten, throwing it into eggs is a great way to avoid wasting it. Leftover bread or potatoes can be the starch in a breakfast casserole. It does not take much cooked pasta to make a great frittata. And you can throw everything from a spoonful of mashed potatoes to bits of veggies and diced meat into an omelet.

Carrot and zucchini waffles.
Photo by Brooke Frizzell

Pizza party

Like breakfast, pizza is a great way to use up bits and bobs of things. I've been known to chop up a leftover meatball or two as a topping, toss on a handful of leftover roasted veggies, or make a four-cheese pizza with whatever is lurking in the back of my fridge's deli drawer.

Pizza made with one serving of meat sauce.
Photo by Brooke Frizzell

Baked bits

Baked goods are a great way to use up fruit that is not quite rotten but is past its peak for snacking. Apple cake, blueberry muffins, strawberry sauce for pancakes, and cranberry orange scones are just a few of the items in my baking rotation. You can also use up vegetables and cheeses in baked goods by making carrot cake, zucchini bread, and savory scones.

Brooke Frizzell is a Milwaukee-based lawyer who writes about food and parenting. Follow her on Instagram for repurposed leftovers (and cat pictures) @brookeintheheights.

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