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Tasty Tips for Stretching Extra Food and Leftovers

Frugal Parenting (featured column)
by Rachel Keller

What do you do with extra food—throw it out because your family won't eat leftovers? Is it really worth the effort of saving that little bit of food? While it might be easier to just toss it out, many of those leftovers combined can make tasty quick and easy new meals. Try some of the following ideas to get your creative juices flowing. You'll save time and money by not buying all new food and by having some food already prepared.

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Many leftovers make great soups and stews. Start your own homemade soup or stew by keeping a container in the freezer to store leftover vegetables. You can also freeze extra soup or stew for a future meal.

Chop and use extra vegetables from relish trays in salads, soups or casseroles, or you can chop and freeze for later use.

Use the whole chicken, turkey, or whatever you were serving. Bones and scraps from the meat make excellent broth for soup, stews, and gravies. If you can't use the broth or gravy right away, freeze in ice cube trays. (Note: Leftover chicken can be stored safely up to four days in the refrigerator.)

Mix gravy, cubed turkey or chicken, and leftover vegetables into a casserole dish. Top with refrigerator or homemade biscuits, leftover pie crust, or unbaked crescent rolls. Bake the casserole at 350 degrees until the dough is cooked and golden brown.

Cube leftover ham and store in the freezer. Add to macaroni and cheese, omelets, dried beans, cabbage, green beans, soups, etc.

Leftover beef, chicken, turkey, or ham can be cubed and tossed into a green salad.

Create a chicken or turkey salad with leftover chicken or turkey. Just add some onion, mayonnaise or salad dressing, seasonings (unless your chicken is already seasoned), and grated carrots for color.

Both my grandmother and mother saved extra pie dough to make "roly-polies." Roll out small strips of extra dough and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Then roll up and bake until golden brown.

You can also roll out extra pie dough into circles and fill with meat, vegetables and leftover potatoes. Bake until golden and warm.

Instead of throwing away cookie crumbs, use them for toppings in puddings, gelatins, ice cream, yogurt, or mixed into quick breads or pancakes, etc.

Save cereal crumbs for your next batch of cookies. Either mix the crumbs in the batter or roll the cookie dough in the smashed cereal crumbs. You could also sprinkle the crumbs on top of the cookies or use them for an apple or peach crisp.

Do you have extra graham crackers, vanilla wafers, cookies, or cereal? Has it gotten stale? Don't throw it away. Instead, create a tasty pie crust. Use a blender, food processor, or a rolling pin to make crumbs. Mix the crumbs with some melted butter and press into a pie tin. Bake the shell for 5 to 10 minutes to enhance the flavors and firm the crust. Cool before adding the filling.

Chip crumbs and cereal flake crumbs make great casserole, salad, or taco toppings, either plain or mixed with melted margarine and grated cheese.

Crush chip or cereal crumbs and mix into meatloaf or meatballs.

Is your bread not so fresh? Use it for French toast, croutons, or even bread crumbs.

- Make your own croutons by dicing the bread. Spray lightly with olive oil or butter spray and season with salt, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, or seasoning of choice. Toast in oven, stirring several times. Watch carefully so you don't burn the croutons.

- Make bread crumbs by putting bread in a food processor with a little oil and salt. Spread the crumbs in a thin layer and bake in the oven or microwave for 1 minute on high. Stir and then heat for another 30 seconds until the crumbs are toasted.

Has your soda gone flat? Use it instead of water when making gelatin.

Save the juice from canned fruit. You can make flavored syrup for pancakes, French toast and waffles. Just add sugar, boil to make a syrup, and store it until needed in the refrigerator. You can also dilute the liquid or add to frozen juice concentrate for a refreshing quick pick-me-up. Add the liquid to baked goods or cooked oatmeal for another taste.

Don't toss those extra pancakes or waffles. Reheat them the next day for a quick and easy breakfast. (You can also freeze these for later use.)

Another idea is to spread peanut butter and jelly between two pancakes or melt marshmallows and chocolate in between two pancakes.

Don't throw away leftover dinner rolls, bread crust ends, etc. Instead, grind them for bread crumbs, toast and add the seasoning of your choice. Or toss them in a bag in the freezer to use for stuffing or for feeding birds.

If you use those Ramen noodle packets, cut back on the sodium by only using one packet of seasoning for two packets of noodles. Save the extra seasoning packets for seasoning vegetables, noodles, rice, etc.

Save time and energy by boiling more potatoes at one time. Make mashed potatoes as a side dish today and potato salad or home-fried potatoes the second day.

Don't know what to do with those leftover mashed potatoes?

- Combine them with chopped onion and shredded cheese for twice-baked potatoes without all the extra effort.
- Use leftover mashed potatoes to thicken soups and stews.
- Make potato pancakes by adding an egg and two tablespoons of flour to two cups mashed potatoes. Make into patties and fry in a pan with oil, butter, or margarine.

- Saute onion, green pepper, and/or garlic in a little butter. Stir in leftover mashed potatoes. Place in a casserole dish and sprinkle shredded cheese on top. Heat in oven until warmed.

Do you have leftovers from your taco meal? Leftover shredded lettuce and tomatoes make a great salad with the simple addition of carrots and green peppers. Use the leftover ground beef taco meat to make chili, or stir it into canned tomato soup along with a handful of shredded cheddar cheese for a delicious soup.

Spoon leftover taco meat, chili, or even sloppy Joe mix into the centers of a batch of homemade cornmeal muffins. When baked, the batter rises up around the meat mixture for a delicious muffin.

Add a little milk to leftover rice and sprinkle with cinnamon and brown or raw sugar. Serve hot or cold for breakfast.

Use leftovers for an easy lunch the next day. Not only do you save money by not throwing the food out, but you save money by not buying your lunch.

Next time you're tempted to throw away that extra food, save it for a delicious "new" meal. Even if your family hates leftovers, you can be creative. You might even discover a delicious way to remake an entree your family didn't particularly enjoy.

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Copyright © 2008 by Rachel Keller. All rights reserved.

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