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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Many cooks in the house lead to leftover-waste

With several cooks in the house these days we seem to have more leftovers that go unused.  A cup of rice here, some soup there -- foods get put into containers with good intentions, then the original cook never eats them.

There was a time when I prepared every food that went into my family members' mouths. If I made rice and had leftovers, I made a mental note to use that leftover rice in the next day or two. Now, I'm not the only one making rice, or soup, or pancakes. Someone else's mental note does not get added to my mental list. What's the "head" cook to do?

I started with cleaning out the kitchen fridge. One of our issues was the large one-gallon jugs of condiments for refilling smaller containers were being left in the kitchen fridge. My usual place for these containers is the garage fridge. These large jugs can block the view of other foods. I'll just have to remind others to return the large jars to the garage fridge after refilling small containers. Another issue was opaque shopping bags used as wrapping for leftovers. While this is very thrifty to use a shopping bag, the opaqueness was contributing to overlooked leftovers. I found 2 and 1/2 pancakes wrapped in a tan shopping bag. I also found the brand new, but open, package of bologna in another, similar bag. I put both of these leftover items into see-through containers, and I labeled the lunch meat for use or freeze by date. My plan is to keep sticky notes and a Sharpie by the fridge, so that other family members can label their items, and either the opening date or a use by date.

It wasn't a lot of waste, but it was enough to be a wake-up call for me to encourage all family members to be responsible for the foods that they cook, and either consume them or freeze in a timely manner. I was able to use enough of the leftovers, along with frozen leftovers, to make a tasty casserole for Tuesday's dinner, which in the end was a time-saver for me. Nonetheless, I need to find some solutions to this "new" issue, now that there are so many cooks in the house. For breakfasts and lunches, we all seem to want something different, creating a lot of leftovers for the fridge.

Any suggestions?


  1. I have found over the years, that no one is as concerned about using up everything in the fridge as I am, so the clean out has to be officially scheduled a couple of times a week. Also, as you've started, using clear containers helps. Good luck.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I could add one day per week as a leftover-based meal. One problem though is that I don't know if someone plans on using something in their lunches, and everyone else is typically not home when I cook dinner. Maybe I could look over the fridge contents the night before, when family is home. I think the clear containers will be an improvement.

    2. As far as food is concerned, my mother always said that if it isn't labeled it's fair game. Maybe if someone wants something specific for their lunch, they could label it, otherwise it's there to be used.

  2. I never have had that problem yet. I'm guessing it's because each of my kids have lived in apartments and had to buy their own food. Their budgets were so tight that everything they bought (the fresh stuff anyway) was used in a timely manner and they didn't let anything ever go bad. Well, my youngest did but not her fault. The apartment refrigerator wasn't keeping food cold but the school never fixed it after many requests. My son is the only one home for the moment and since he isn't buying food, he gladly eats anything that I make and packs the rest for work lunch the next day.

    The only think I ever have go bad is stuff I get after working at the food pantry. That stuff is already right on the edge so many fresh items have to be used immediately. Since I use greens in my smoothies, it takes longer to use a bag of greens and they go bad very quickly.


    1. Hi Alice,
      I think if family members were the ones to actually buy the food, then they would be more aware of cost/value, as your kids having lived on their own. That's a shame about your daughter's university fridge never being repaired. How frustrating for her.

      With the greens that you get, you can wash and freeze them on a sheet, then use in smoothies as you need them. It's a little extra up-front work, but at least they get all washed at once and that would save time in the moment when making smoothies.

  3. What about a magnetic notepad on the front of the fridge? (from Dollar Tree) If something is left, the cook can write that on the list to be used.

    1. Hi Cat,
      I like that idea of a notepad, and I do happen to have a few of the magnetized ones, already at home. At least the cooks who are making their lunch stuff, like batches of soup, or hummus, can list items of theirs that are either not to be used, or free to be used. And they would have those reminders of what they've prepared and need to eat.

  4. I am close to entering your stage of life with multiple cooks in the kitchen. Right now I sometimes struggle with my husband and me both cooking, but we seem to be able to handle two cook's leftovers ... but the more users, the greater room for error. I'll just listen to what everyone else suggests and learn from you all! :)

    1. Hi Kris,
      With your husband cooking some of the time, I can imagine that you, too, have this situation of leftovers from one dinner not in the mind of the other cook. I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from cooking, for the family or for themselves, so it's tricky. I don't want to sound like a nag or make anyone feel badly if they (or I) have to toss out some cooked rice.

    2. He tends to take leftovers for lunch, so that helps. Something he recently came up with that works for us is to put out plates/syrup the night before, and if we have leftover pancakes, that cues us in to using them for breakfast.

  5. I like the idea of labeling. I need to start doing that. I had to clean out someone's leftovers on Saturday after them not doing it. I worked all week and they are home all week, so there is no excuse. Ugh.

    1. Hi Belinda,
      I'm hoping that labeling will help some, especially with foods like opened packages of lunchmeat or hot dogs. Those are expensive items with short lifespans, once opened. I can imagine that was frustrating for you, having a full week of work subbing, and then having to clean up someone else's leftovers on the weekend.
      I think it is a lot like live and learn pointed out, the leftover waste just is more of a priority to us, the moms, than it is to the rest of the family. Good luck in your efforts with this!

  6. Hi Lili,
    We have a bit of the same problem. With just the two of us it makes it easier. I started buying disposables(gasp):)You can get 1000 hot dog boats for under $20 dollars if you buy four of the 250 packs at a time. I also buy fold over baggies 150 at 99 cents now. I can write directly on the hot dog boats with a pen and seal and freeze.I freeze things like casserols and baked chicken in these.I still use the clear containers for stew and beans and soup. The hot dog boats fit nicely in a clear plastic shoe box. This way the freezer is organized. I only have the one above the Frig. If Kristi had planned this for lunch for the next day she just grabs it out of the freezer and takes it frozen. I also have a grease pencil or china marker that you can write on containers and it washes off with a scrubbie. I also have a sharpie that I write on grocery bags and then just toss. We mostly use reusable as Ca. no longer has free grocery bags, 10 to 50 cents adds up. Then we do have a sharpie and sticky notes. We also have clear plastic shoe boxes in the frig that say lunch,snack,etc. This helps but we still sometimes have food waste, not too often.


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