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Leftovers

Show Those Leftovers Some Love

by Samantha Kennedy, UF/IFAS Extension Wakulla County

March is National Nutrition Month and this year’s theme is “Go Further with Food.” This has many meanings, but one of the most obvious is making food last longer.

Last month I wrote about strategies for reducing food waste by keeping an eye on use by dates and composting or donating leftover food products. This month, I would like to focus on leftovers, more specifically, using leftovers responsibly.

Many times, leftovers are saved with the best intentions. We really do plan to eat last night’s lasagna for dinner tonight, but then something better comes along and suddenly that lasagna gets pushed to the back of the refrigerator where it gets forgotten until the fridge is cleaned out two months later.

That dried out, fuzzy lump covered in foil? Well, it used to be lasagna.  Now it is inedible, unsafe, and a waste of food and money.

I say, stop the madness! Show those leftovers a little love. If properly stored and handled, those boring leftovers can once again dazzle your palate.

Step One

First of all, proper storage is key. Whether being put in the refrigerator or freezer, wrap or store leftovers in an air-tight container.  This will not only prevent cross-contamination by microorganisms, but will also help maintain flavor and quality.

The only exception to this is whole, fresh fruits and veggies, which need to be stored in the crisper drawer or on the counter top to allow air flow. Cut fruits and veggies should always be refrigerated.

The best materials for food storage are air-tight plastic or glass containers and paper or zipper bags made for freezer use. When using paper, be sure to wrap the food tightly and completely.

Aluminum foil, wax paper, and plastic wrap do not make effective wrappers for the freezer since they do not form a tight enough seal to prevent freezer burn.

Leftovers

Storing foods in aluminum foil is a not a good food safety practice since it does not form a tight enough seal to keep out air, moisture, or microorganisms. Use air-tight containers or zipper plastic bags to store leftovers safely.
Photo by Samantha Kennedy

Step Two

Always label all leftovers, especially when freezing them, with the name of the food and the date it was stored. To ensure safety, discard refrigerated leftovers after five days and frozen leftovers after six months. Foods frozen longer will suffer significant quality loss.

Leftover foods like soups, stews, and casseroles make terrific quick meals for lunch or dinner.  Simply divide the leftovers into single portions and freeze, or refrigerate if all portions will be eaten within five days.

Foods like leftover roasted chicken or breakfast bacon can be added to a salad or made into a sandwich.  Today’s leftover pancakes can be tomorrow’s pancake parfait or breakfast sandwich bread.

Leftover scrambled eggs can be added to tonight’s fried rice. Last night’s chili can be made into today’s baked potato topping.

The possibilities are endless.

Conclusion

“Leftovers” does not have to be a dirty word. With a little planning, knowledge, and ingenuity, leftovers can easily become a family favorite.  And the best part, saving leftovers means saving money, too.

For more information about food safety, food storage, or was to use leftovers effectively, call Samantha Kennedy, Family and Consumer Sciences agent, at 850-926-3931.

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