Don’t let leftover food go to waste; turn it into planned-overs.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist, NDSU Extension Service

“What do you think?” my husband asked as I took a taste of the piping hot casserole.

“It’s kind of bland. It needs more pepper,” I said a little too quickly.

I noticed his expression resembled that of a sad puppy. I had criticized the entree he made.

Note to self: Always compliment the cook.

“But it’s good overall,” I quickly added as I sprinkled more pepper on top of the turkey tetrazzini casserole made with our Thanksgiving leftovers.

“Yes, that’s better,” he noted after adding more pepper to his own portion.

Let’s take a step back in time. When we were married in 1993, I introduced him to the northwestern Minnesota cuisine of the Norwegian-American variety from my childhood. In those early years, he sampled tater tot hot dish, rice hot dish, scalloped potatoes and other comforting one-dish meals. Yes, they were quite “bland” in color and flavor, compared with other cuisine.

He wasn’t particularly impressed with those early meals. He wouldn’t say anything, but he would go to the fridge during dinner. He’d return with the hot pepper sauce and drip it over most casseroles.

People of German ancestry must like more spice, I thought to myself back then. I guess I have converted my husband’s palate through these almost 25 years.

As we prepared food for our growing family, we always have been careful about tossing food. Our parents grew up during lean times in the U.S. and they passed along their frugal habits, which is a good thing. We use our leftovers in a variety of ways.

Unfortunately, leftovers often have a bad reputation. They may get forgotten in the back of your refrigerator and later thrown out. Instead of letting them go to waste, you can turn extra food items into planned-overs.

For example, during the upcoming holiday season, you might have roast turkey or chicken. Shred the planned-over roasted poultry, add some mayonnaise, chopped celery and spices and use it to make sandwiches. Or add some salsa and use it for chicken tacos. Simmer it with barbecue sauce and make sandwiches. Make some chicken-vegetable soup or a pot pie.

If you make spaghetti sauce with meat, use the remaining sauce to make lasagna or homemade pizza, or freeze it for a quick dinner later.

If you cook a beef roast, use the planned-over meat to make soup, stew or stir-fry. Shred it, add some barbecue sauce and serve it on buns.

If you decide to cook large quantities, be aware that perishable food can become a food safety issue if it is not cooled promptly. Most foods, including meat, casseroles, rice, beans, baked potatoes, cooked vegetables, and cut-up fruit and vegetables, are perishable. Perishable foods should spend no more than two hours at room temperature. Use refrigerated planned-over foods within a few days.

To keep your planned-overs safe, divide large amounts of leftovers into small, shallow containers for quick cooling. Slice meat into smaller pieces. Thick foods, such as stew, should be no more than 2 inches deep in a shallow container. Freeze planned-overs in recipe-sized portions. Label the container with the date and type of food.

NDSU Prairie Fare