When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Sheltering in place and attempting to keep grocery trips to a minimum, we’re challenging ourselves to be creative about what we buy and what we cook.
Whether living alone or with an extended family, we can tap into our creativity and make satisfying, nutritious and tasty meals. I personally am focused on making the most of leftovers, which are always in abundance regardless of the times or season. Here are some of our tips:
Buy food that can be used in multiple ways
• Transform a pound of chopped chuck or sirloin into a meatloaf, sandwiches, and meatballs for Italian Wedding Soup.
• Enjoy a roast chicken today, and downcycle it tomorrow into a salad or sandwiches and eventually a tasty stock.
• Open a can of tomato sauce or make your own with a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes (available at the IGA), and use it to top spaghetti and meatballs. Extend it with broth and leftover rice as a hearty soup, and make homemade pizzas with pita or English muffins.
• Eat carrots raw, mixed into salads, cooked glazed in a pan, or roasted.
• Eat eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Start the day with an omelet or frittata stuffed with yesterday’s veggies. Make egg drop soup by whisking one into a simple broth or break one over a bowl of ramen noodles.
• Cook rice as a tasty side dish, or the basis for risotto and casseroles. Just like Chinese cooks, turn day-old rice mixed with meat strips, veggies and scallions into fried rice.
Buy ingredients that can help transform leftovers
• Just a few staples in the pantry, fridge and spice rack can help transform leftovers by adding flavor, texture and nutrition.
• Add color and flavor to any protein via sprigs of fresh tarragon, rosemary, thyme, basil and parsley.
• Make an easy soup by dropping bouillon cubes into water along with yesterday’s veggies or chicken and some noodles or rice.
• Use breadcrumbs (ideally home-made from the ends of loaves and broken crackers) to give crunch to a mac-and-cheese casserole, or to coat fish and chicken before a quick sauté.
Share your leftovers with others
Inviting neighbors over for a potluck of leftovers is off the table, but there’s still lots that we all can share from a distance to extend our food resources:
• Share your own recipes and tips for extending food with friends, family and neighbors on social media.
• Share extra food with seniors and friends who live alone.
• Bring canned goods that you are not using to a local food pantry or offer them to neighbors.
• Share your composter with neighbors whom you trust to make deposits of clean organics — no plastic or bones.
Make over restaurant leftovers
Doggy bags are popular because they can help save time and money. Good cooks know, too, that the remains of sauces, sides and even the bread basket can jumpstart exciting new meals.
• Keep local restaurants going in these tough times by ordering extra portions, and use the leftovers to create new meals. Be sure to repurpose any extra bread into tomorrow’s fancy French Toast.
Teach your children to love leftovers
Cooking your way through a pandemic is a great time to teach kids to appreciate food and enhance family togetherness. It’s an opportunity to create fond memories of making bread, pancakes, smoothies and other items with parents and grandparents. And, it’s an opportunity to instill lifelong cooking skills, too.
• Demonstrate how to warm up spaghetti and meatballs in a frying pan, and reheat pizza in the oven – not the microwave! — and just have fun.
Jacquie Ottman is a zero waste expert who is researching a book on leftovers.
Originally published in the Shelter Island Reporter, May 4 2020. Reprinted with minor edits.