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Leftovers Pooling: The Most Fun Way Yet to Cut Down on Food Waste

Throw a Leftovers Pooling Party to reduce food waste and have fun.

Throw a Leftovers Pooling Party to reduce food waste, save money and build community in the process. (Image: ReviewTrackers)

I’ve been toying with the idea for a while now: throw a Leftovers Pooling Party.  (Picture a pot luck supper with a food waste twist.) I even came up with a little definition (see below).  For my birthday last week, I decided I’d give it a try.

My NYC #susty gal pals took to the idea of a Leftovers Pooling Party right away:  What a great way to clear out the fridge, bring friends together, and try out a new way to cut down on the food waste. Asking them to bring a regift to swap added to the fun.

Leftovers Pooling Party definition

Jacquie Ottman’s definition of ‘Leftovers Pooling Party’

Makeover the Leftovers at a Leftovers Pooling Party

What I quickly discovered is that my mostly (working) guests-to-be were not, understandably, in a position to drag the loose drumstick or stray tacos from home during the middle of the work week. (This suggests the idea may be better suited for  friends and family down the hall or down the block, for convenience sake.)

But what my guests did find fun was eating food like Irish Gur cake and two different forms of fried rice, which like French Toast are dishes designed to repurpose (‘makeover’) the leftovers. Did you know that French Toast is a perfect way to use up stale bread? So are bread crumbs and croutons and stuffing for turkey or chicken. (Two recipes HERE.) ‎

Fried Rice is a Perfect Way to Make Over Leftovers

For the Chinese, fried rice represents the perfect vehicle to repurpose leftover rice — it’s less sticky than fresh, and you can literally throw into the wok or large fry pan whatever extra ingredients you have on hand to make a sumptuous meal.

Here are downloadable copies of the recipes that I serendipitously found in the Wall Street Journal a few days before the Big Day.

Be forewarned: The Gur cake (see recipe above), despite adding some brandy, wasn’t the biggest hit, but the vegetable whole grain fried rice and the paella fried rice definitely were. Try them at your own Leftovers Pooling Party.

Chef Jason Neroni's paella fried rice - the perfect dish for a Leftovers Pooling Party.

Sarah DiGregorio’s adaptation of Chef Jason Neroni’s paella fried rice was a perfect addition to a Leftovers Pooling party.  (Image: Jesse Webster for The Wall Street Journal)

Four Creative Ways to Make Over the Leftovers

1. Find (and share with others) recipes for creative ways to makeover the leftovers. Two recipe books that we have featured on WeHateToWaste.com include:

The Leftovers Handbook: An A-Z Of Every Conceivable Ingredient In Your Kitchen With Inspirational Ideas And Recipes For Using Them by Suzy Bowler

And The Refrigerator Files by Jocelyn Deprez


The Top 5 Recipes on WeHateToWaste For Making Over the Leftovers

Veggie Soup From Whatever’s Around: LINK HERE

3 Recipes for Tastiest Lettuce Soup : LINK HERE

Lobster Bisque: LINK HERE


2. Shine a spotlight on familiar foods that are based on leftovers. Start with French Toast and what I discovered this week:  fried rice, which is actually better with leftover rice because it’s less sticky.  (#WhoKnew?) Start with simple foods like bread, bread crumbs, croutons and even Gur Cake, made from bread crumbs.

3. Request a doggie bag to take home uneaten food from restaurants; better yet, bring your own doggie bags. I try to bring two ziploc bags in my purse for that extra half a sandwich without the waste associated with most other types of doggie bags.  Zip bags also come in handy for packing up leftovers at the many sustainability and other types of events I regularly go to here in NYC. Fredrica Rudell adds, ‘Organizers of campus and community events where food is served — especially ‘groaning board’ buffets — should routinely have baggies or take-home containers on hand for that purpose.’  Until that practice becomes more commonplace, let’s all pack a few bags or containers for our friends and neighbors to rescue those extra half sandwiches and stranded cheese cubes, too.

4. Throw your own Leftovers Pooling party. Try it out, and help spread the word. Perhaps we could all start a new American Sunday nite tradition. Fridges would be cleaned out, friends, family and neighbors would bond over stories of recipes tried, new restaurants visited. I suspect it’s a swell way to get people together to clean out the fridge and just have an informal time recounting the week through the stories surrounding their food (the recipes, the new take out place discovered, and of course, what they may have done to ‘spruce up’ what they brought to the party.)

A Good Time Was Had By All at My Leftovers Pooling Birthday Party

Jacquie Ottman about to blow out the candles on her Gur birthday cake made for her Leftovers Pooling Birthday Party.

Jacquie Ottman posing with the Gur cake she made for her Leftovers Pooling Birthday Party.

Needless to say, a good time was had by all  (helped by regift swap (“Everyone takes home a party favor”) at my inaugural Leftovers Pooling party. And the excitement of the evening surrounding impending Hillary acceptance speech at the DNC only added to the fun. Had all my #susty gal pals not rushed home at 9 pm to watch the speech, we’d still be sipping the Limoncello one guest thoughtfully brought. Next time, I might just try making my own with some leftover lemons.

What do you do with your leftovers? (check all that apply)

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Feel free to let everyone else know your favorite ways to repurpose leftovers by adding a comment below!

Posting Guidelines:  – This and other stories published on WeHateToWaste.com are intended to prompt productive conversation about practical solutions for preventing waste. Opinions expressed are solely those of the contributors and WeHateToWaste implies no endorsement of the products or organizations mentioned.

About the Author
A waste watcher since age four, Jacquie Ottman has spent the last 25 years showing Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. government how to develop and market products that can meet consumer needs sustainably. An expert on green marketing and a certified creative problem-solving facilitator, she's the author of 5 award-winning books. Read more about Jacquie HERE, and check out her other posts.
  1. Emily Ludwigsen Reply

    This is great! I have been trying to cut down on my food waste and generally overlook leftovers. This seems like a fun way to see friends and get more room in the fridge while having an environmental focus!

  2. Michael Graham Reply

    Hi Jacquie,
    The leftover voting…Also….
    I tend cook ahead to make large batches of food for the freezer. And eating leftovers is usual for us.
    But if we haven’t used everything up quickly, I will divide foods into single serve portions and freeze them, such as Turkey With Trimmings. beans and rice, etc. Leftover vegetables, rice get frozen for future meals or to add to soups.

  3. Dan Miner Reply

    Hi Jackie,

    Enjoyed this post. I don’t know how many other folks have leftover pooling parties, but I think it’s a fine idea. I am quite obsessive of taking care of any leftovers from restaurants or my own previous cooking, and do the compost/organic waste drop-off for everything else. Thanks for continuing with your work. Also thanks for introducing me to Rogier earlier this year – we’re still collaborating.

  4. Kimberly Cionca Reply

    As a senior at college I find myself continually complaining about having too many ingredients/food for one individual. While my mom sometimes visits with small portions of ingredients/food and I do have several meal swipes for days when I do not have the time or energy to create a decently portioned meal– one I could eat out a few days, but not a whole week– I am often discouraged from cooking because I worry about how much leftover I produce with each cooking adventure– for someone who is just starting to cook it sure is an adventure. Yet, here is a great way to become less intimidated about cooking a meal: a leftover party! I might also make an extra effort to try to organize with roommates this year so that we could share our meals frequently.

  5. Talia Thomson Reply

    Fun idea! I find that my ‘leftovers’ are the leafy greens atop of vegetables that always seem like such a waste to throw away. I’ve now been making salads with the tops of beets or radishes. Carrot tops can be used too. They’re a little more bitter, so rather than put them in a salad they can be used to make a pesto – although typically I just use them to flavor a stock. Now whenever I buy these vegetables at the grocery store, I always feel like I’m getting a two-for-one deal!

  6. Aria Negahban Reply

    This article shines a positive light on an issue that is often shrouded in ‘doom and gloom’. What better way to reduce food waste than to do so with friends?! It is an especially novel concept, considering how the notion of leftovers, especially bringing leftovers to another person’s party, was once seen as taboo. As many people don’t want to eat their leftovers because they have grown tired of eating the same food all week, throwing a “Leftovers Pooling Party” is the greatest way to sample different cuisines from the neighborhood.

  7. Beatrice Teston Reply

    These are great ways to cut down food waste! To think how much useable food gets pointlessly thrown away makes me cringe. Such a simple and convenient way to put leftovers to good use– while having a little fun too! Thanks for the idea!

  8. Grace Thompson Reply

    I love this idea! My friends and I have done clothing exchanges in the past, but I hadn’t thought to do something similar with food, until now! Will have to give it a try soon. I’m also really excited about these recipes; I’ve been trying to figure out ways to repurpose my leftovers into a new meal, and fried rice sounds like a great way to go.

  9. Crystal Reply

    This is such a great idea! My fiancé and I almost always make too much food because most recipes make more than 2 servings. I will definitely try this out some time. Thanks for the tips!

  10. Rohan Reply

    Useful information for daily living and maintenance. Thes tips prevent waste and allow one to get the most out of the produce throughout the week. Eco-friendly, fun and delicious!

  11. Shane Deitch Reply

    At school, I learned how easy it is to make Korean-style fried rice from old rice in the rice cooker. Apparently, it’s actually better to use older (cold) rice because the grains are less sticky and will ‘fluff up’ on a wok. Try it with oyster sauce, spam, a little bit of Kim (seaweed) and Kimchi.

  12. Katerina Liakos Reply

    I love this idea! I feel like sometimes dinner parties can feel so formal, but this gives a potluck a new casual flair. I honestly believe food tastes better the next day anyway.

  13. Tori Reply

    This is such a fun idea to truly make sure all of those left overs are being eaten! I think it’s something that can become tradition for people and where friends can exchange leftover recipes. If this idea was to be promoted on social media and become a common “after thanksgiving get together”, I believe it could bring reducing food waste around the holidays to the next level.

  14. Ilana Reply

    What a great idea! I will definitely do this with friends and family. Especially now given that Thanksgiving just happened and there are still so many leftovers remaining!

  15. Scarlet Fletcher Reply

    Wonderful ideas! Wasting food isn’t an option for me, so I always look for options to turn them into something surprising and delicious.

  16. Charles Reply

    Like most of the commenters here, I agree that throwing a “Leftovers Pooling Party” is a great, and fun, idea. Reading this post reminded me of something similar my senior year college roommates and I used to do. Since our dinner schedules rarely lined up during the crazy last year of college, we usually cooked, or bought, our own personal meals throughout the week. By the time the weekend rolled around, our fridge was filled with leftovers. One Sunday night when we were all around, we had the idea of pooling our leftovers into one big meal and eating together. Thus, our “Sunday Family Dinners” were born. These Family Dinners were always a great way to end the week, and I am glad we were able to avoid wasting food unnecessarily.

    • Jacquie Ottman Reply

      Love this idea of ‘Sunday Family Dinners’ Charles. I’d really like to see the notion of leftovers pooling parties catch hold in our society. Sunday makes sense and ‘family dinners’ alot more aspirational than my own descriptive “leftovers pooling’. Would be interesting to see how many of your roommates kept the tradition going once they graduated, and in what form.

  17. Emma Shumway Reply

    Having just moved into a London flat for the semester, my fellow American flatmates and I are beginning to panic about providing food for ourselves for the first time in our lives, in an expensive and foreign city. Thankfully this blog post has come to the rescue! A Leftovers Pooling Party takes away both the stress of trying to prepare the perfect serving size and also avoids wasting left-over take-out that is typically forgotten in the excitement of new restaurants and recipes. It’s also the perfect excuse to invite new friends to our flat, which is valuable in a study abroad setting where social connections are few and far between. Not only is a Leftovers Pooling Party both practical and fun, but the eco-friendly nature of the celebration makes it a must-do for environmental studies majors such as myself. Thanks so much for the great idea!

    • Ashley Wolitzer Reply

      I also just moved, recently starting a lease on my first apartment since I graduated from college. This year, my New Year’s resolution was to cook or eat leftovers in the apartment as much as I could. I reused the take-out containers to bring food to work the next day, washed them out, and used them until they wore out. But I knew I could do better. Though I’ve stuck to my goal, my cooking skills leave a bit to be desired. To avoid disaster, I often stick to a few simple recipes, cooking chicken, for example, mixing it into a salad one night, eating it with broccoli and a bit of teriyaki sauce another night etc. As much as I love some of these recipes, it can become a bit monotonous. A Leftovers Pooling Party is a great way to stick to my goal, spend some time with my friends without going out, and get ideas about new ways to “spice things up.” I’m looking forward to trying it out, and, who knows, maybe my cooking skills will even improve!

  18. Sara Tajik Reply

    I will definitely be trying some of these ideas! As a college student used to cooking for one, I always find myself with excess leftovers for days. I absolutely love the idea of repurposing my food and making the whole process fun and exciting by creating a “Leftovers Pooling Party”! Other students would be thrilled to join in on this idea too- it saves money, food, and effort. One less dinner plan to worry about, but still something to have some fun with!

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