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One tip to avoid food waste: Eat things that don’t go together

One of my readers left a comment recently saying that my menu posts had inspired her to not worry so much about making meals where everything “went together”.

A random fridge lunch

I can definitely see why she said that, because as long as my meals are checking off the basic food categories, I don’t worry about coordinating the components of the meal too much.

I mean, I’m not out here spreading grape jelly on chicken livers or anything, but I do often base my side dish choices on what food needs to be used up rather than what ideally would go with the main dish.

If you’d usually serve rice with a meal, but your potatoes are getting old, serve potatoes instead.

If you’re out of veggies at dinnertime, but you’ve got fruit, serve that instead.

A little flexibility goes a long way toward preventing food waste!

Random not-chef-approved lunches

My penchant for randomness in the name of food waste prevention is even more apparent when I’m making lunch for myself.

parsnips, peppers, and an egg, topped with leftover chimichurri sauce

Since I’m usually home at lunchtime, I do a scan of the fridge to find things that need to be used and I build my lunch around those.

veggies and eggs, cooked in a cast iron skillet, topped with leftover salsa

Sometimes, this means I have a strange combo of foods.

For instance, the other day at lunch, I ate:

  • fried egg white (egg white leftover from making alfredo sauce)
  • a serving of leftover green beans
  • some sauteed veggies (onion, carrot, and green pepper)
  • reheated pasta alfredo.

If you tried to sell a plate of that at a restaurant, Gordon Ramsay would probably come visiting.

But I got protein, produce, and starch in, and I emptied several containers of random things from my fridge.

skillet peppers and sausage, plus avocado toast and half a sweet potato

The three S’s

If you want to use up your random bits of food but you want to make them into something more cohesive, I suggest these three options:

  • soup
  • scrambled eggs
  • salads
chicken salad

leftover tortellini and chicken added to a green salad

You can use almost any random produce or meat leftovers in one of those three dishes.

Also, they’re really easy to make for just one person, which is perfect when you only have a small amount of an item.

I’m not a very creative cook. And even I can do this.

I’m a pretty diehard recipe follower; I’ve never been someone who can just magically figure out what to make for dinner after a peek in the fridge.

But salad, soup, and scrambled eggs are simple enough for even me to play around with.

And you do not have to be creative at all to eat a bunch of unrelated things; you just have to be flexible!

In summary, avoid food waste by…

  • thinking outside the box when you’re putting dinner together
  • thinking in food groups (proteins, produce, starch) vs. things that “go together”
  • tie together random foods by making soup, scrambled eggs, or a salad

Readers, if you are good at using up unrelated foods, I’d love for you to share your tips in the comments.

P.S. I often make meals of random things by cooking them in a cast-iron skillet with hot grease. Here are my best tips for random skillet meals.

P.P.S. Need some motivation to eat random stuff? Here are four reason you should care about avoiding food waste.

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Catherine Chandler

Saturday 2nd of November 2019

I love this way of cooking! Years ago, at the beginning of our frugal journey, I realized that I could also google 2-3 random ingredients and instantly would find recipes. I highly recommend trying it!


Thursday 31st of October 2019

My almost 13 year old son just went on a massive growth spurt. Leftovers, what are those?

Yesterday DH made a second batch of dinner after the kids finished the first and then they finished that too.

Diane C

Wednesday 30th of October 2019

I'm late to the party, but I hope you see this one, Kristen. I made risotto tonight with shallots, asparagus and mushrooms. I have a half gallon of half and half left over from an event to use up, so a number of creamy dishes have crossed our palates lately. I even added some to a batch of Thai Chicken Soup a few days ago. Which brings me to the subject at hand. I added the last bowlful of Thai Chicken Soup when the risotto was in the finishing stages. Sounds gross, but it turned out great! I'm so happy that I made a huge batch because leftover risotto is the bomb for a quick heat-and-eat lunch at home.

P.S. I see you modified the comment posting instructions! Thank you!


Tuesday 29th of October 2019

Leftover cooked vegetables make great pureed soups! I use a ratio of about one cup of solids to one cup of liquids (which could be milk, soup base + water, broth made from rotisserie chicken bones, leftover salted cooking water from said vegetables or from pasta, etc.). Whirl in the blender for 30 to 40 seconds, and season to taste.

My lunch today included a cold beet soup I made in the Vitamix: diced beets, beet cooking water (salted for flavor), a blob of sour cream, and some dried dill stirred in after blending. Yum. Once I made pureed soup out of leftovers from a kale and sweet potato dish with Thai peanut dressing. SO good.

Around here, store-bought pureed soups in cartons, like Pacific and Imagine brands, tend to cost about $1 per serving. Making my own from leftovers is a bargain.

kristin @ going country

Tuesday 29th of October 2019

Honestly, it never occurred to me NOT to cook and eat this way. I mean, you eat what you have, right? This whole idea of having to make these professional-quality meals, beautifully served ("You eat with your eyes first!") every night is just crazy to me. We are not professionals. We do not need to have photograph-ready food every night. We just need to EAT, and eat in a healthy way. I think the Food Network has a lot to answer for . . .

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