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The best ways to use up your leftovers

Jo Romero
Jo Romero
7 September 2012

In 2009 WRAP published a report on the foods we were most commonly throwing away. In 2011, they published another report, which found that although we're wasting less, we're still binning around one fifth of the food we buy. Do your bit for the environment and save money with these ideas for common leftovers.


In their 2009 report, WRAP found that we were unnecessarily throwing away £150m worth of rice (64,000 tonnes) every year. And although it's predictable, one of the best uses for cold, leftover rice is in a stir-fry; the grains are less starchy and don't overcook. Fry it with egg, cashew nuts, garlic and vegetables, finishing with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil.

For leftover risotto, roll into balls, dip in egg and breadcrumbs and deep-fry for delicious arancini.

Always remember to store rice correctly: refrigerate within one hour of cooking and eat within 24 hours. Always make sure rice is thoroughly reheated, and only reheat once.


In the same report, WRAP also discovered we were binning 5.1 million whole potatoes every single day in the UK, much of it because people just weren't using them in time. Buy potatoes as you need them, as they can sprout after a while and then they're no good for eating.

If you have spuds to use up, whip up a batch of mash or home-made potato wedges. Fry cold roast potatoes with onions and greens to make bubble and squeak, and use leftover mash to make fishcakes.

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Cooked pasta is a difficult one. Once reheated, it can turn rubbery or mushy, which might be one of the reasons we threw away £85m worth of it (42,000 tonnes) in one year.

Toss cold leftover pasta into salads — or pack some in the kids' lunchbox sprinkled with cheese.

One of the tastiest ways to use up leftover spaghetti is in an omelette. Just add the cold, leftover pasta to beaten eggs and Parmesan cheese and fry as you would a regular omelette, finishing it off under the grill.

We've been throwing away a lot of bread. In their 2009 report, WRAP found that we were binning seven million slices of bread every day. But while stale bread can be put to good use in a bread and butter pudding, cheap, mass-produced bread often turns mouldy long before it goes stale. In warm weather, freeze a sliced loaf, taking out slices as you need them.

Whizz stale bread (including garlic bread) into breadcrumbs and freeze for coating chicken, prawns or fish - or sprinkle them over a vegetable or pasta bake. And don't forget croissants and brioche — they make fantastic baked puddings.

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Cakes and desserts

Hard to believe, but WRAP also found that we threw away a massive £510m of cakes and desserts in just one year. Remember that un-iced cakes can be frozen, so if you've made a big cake, cut it in half and freeze the other half. Any cakes nearing the end of their shelf life can be crumbled and rolled into truffles, or sliced in trifles — just add fruit, cream and custard.

Fruit and vegetables

In the 2009 report, fruit, vegetables and salad made up 36 per cent of all the food we threw away, with apples, carrots, cabbage and leek among some of the worst offenders. If you have veggies going wrinkly in your fridge drawer blend them into soups, chop into curries or grate them and make fritters.

To reduce waste, buy fruit and vegetables as you need them rather than stocking up once a week, and store in the fridge (not bananas though) to lengthen their shelf life. Use up any lingering fruits in muffins, crumbles, pies — or make a batch of jam.

Fish and meat

With current concerns over fish stocks and meat prices rising, this is an important one. 290,000 tonnes of meat and fish (worth £1.6bn) were unnecessarily thrown away by UK households in the 2009 WRAP report.

A cooked meat-based dish will keep for around two to three days in the fridge — if you think it's unlikely you'll eat it by then, freeze for up to a month.

And don't throw out leftover fish — stir into a kedgeree or make fishcakes the next day. Cooked smoked mackerel, trout and salmon also make great patés: try adding horseradish sauce, lemon juice, fresh parsley or dill.

For more information on reducing food waste at home, visit Love Food Hate Waste.

What are your favourite recipes for using up leftovers?

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