Sweep the kitchen: recipe ideas to reduce food waste

Pasta salad with broccoli and olives created by Beth Moncel of Budget Bytes
April 10, 2019
by Beth Moncel, Budget Bytes

One of the biggest ways to reduce food waste is to utilize our leftovers. But I’m not just talking about the leftover casserole from last night’s dinner, but also the leftover ingredients that never made it into the casserole. You know, those last few carrots, the half jar of pesto in the back of your fridge, or the little BBQ sauce left in the bottle. Those random leftover ingredients in your refrigerator tend to get forgotten, but they can simultaneously create surprisingly delicious dishes and reduce food waste. If you need the inspiration to get those creative wheels spinning, here are a few of my favorite “sweep the kitchen” meals using leftover ingredients.

Pizza: You can turn just about any food into a pizza. Use leftover sauces like pesto, alfredo, BBQ sauce, or even hummus or hoisin as the base for your pizza, then top it with leftover vegetables, just about any type of meat, and the cheese of your choice (or go cheese-free!). And you don’t even have to make pizza dough. Use leftover tortillas or pick up a loaf of French bread as the base for your pizza masterpiece.

Pizza recipe inspiration: “Quick Fix” Broccoli Pesto Pizza, French Bread Pizza, BBQ Black Bean Pizzas, Thai Chicken Pizza, Hummus & Grilled Vegetable Pizza

Stir fry: Stir fry is the ultimate customizable recipe for random leftovers. Just chop up whatever vegetables you have on hand, toss them into a hot skillet, add your favorite quick stir-fry sauce, then serve over rice or noodles (or even shredded cabbage if you want to go low carb). There are several stir fry sauces to choose from, so your Friday night “leftover stir fry” never has to be the same twice. Go spicy with a chile sauce, and use a sweet teriyaki or something creamy like a coconut or peanut-based sauce.

Stir fry recipe inspiration: Salad Bar Vegetable Lo Mein, Spicy Coconut Vegetable Stir Fry, Vegetable Stir Fry with Noodles, Hoisin Stir Fry Bowls with Spicy Peanut Sauce

Soup and Stews: What do you do when your vegetables get soft? Make soup! Those vegetables will soften as they simmer anyway, so no one will know the difference (use only slightly limp vegetables, not vegetables that have gone bad). Spice up your soup with curry powder, a handful of Italian herbs, or maybe some smoky southwest spices. Add some lentils, tortellini, or maybe some leftover rotisserie chicken, and you’ve got a hearty meal!

Soup recipe inspiration: Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup, Moroccan Lentil and Vegetable Stew, Sausage and Tortelloni Soup, All You Can Eat Cabbage Soup

Bowl Meals: All you need for a bowl meal is a base (cooked grain, mashed potato, or salad mix), some vegetables, a protein (beans, tofu, or meat), and a sauce to bring it all together (think salad dressing, hummus, sriracha, sour cream, salsa, etc.). Add a handful of this or a handful of that, whatever you might find in your fridge. Some of my favorite flavor combinations have been born out of random bowl meals that I’ve made with refrigerator leftovers.

Bowl meal recipe inspiration: Spicy Tuna Guacamole Bowls, Mediterranean Hummus Bowls, Loaded Mashed Potato Bowls, BBQ Chicken Burrito Bowls

Quesadillas: I always say everything tastes better toasted in a tortilla with melted cheese. Like pizza, just about any vegetable or meat goes great in a quesadilla. Stay away from very wet vegetables, which can make your quesadilla soggy. Use leftover sauces, like ranch, BBQ, guacamole, sour cream, or salsa, to dip your quesadillas and save even more food!

Quesadilla inspiration: Spinach Artichoke Quesadillas, Creamy White Bean and Spinach Quesadillas, Ultimate BBQ Chicken Quesadillas 

Pasta Salads: Pasta salads are similar to bowl meals, except that pasta is always the “base,” and you always stir them up until everything is combined. Any fresh vegetable goes when it comes to pasta salad, and you can change up the pasta shape and dressing type each time to make it different (vinaigrette, mayo-based, or lighter yogurt-based dressings). Go vegetarian or add any cooked meat, like rotisserie chicken, chopped deli meat, or canned tuna or salmon.

Pasta salad recipe inspiration: “Sweep the Kitchen” Pasta Salad, Kale & Salmon Caesar Salad, Creamy Lemon Dill Greek Pasta Salad, Pepperoni Pasta Salad

What are your favorite “sweep the kitchen” recipes? Share yours with us on Facebook and X to help others fight the battle against food waste.