I love having a meal with lots of yummy veggies. A crisp salad or steamed broccoli with butter leaves me feeling so healthy after eating. And most of you are probably unaware of the fact that kale is one of my love languages. For real. It’s up there with chocolate. I swoon when my hubby brings home a bouquet or two of those curly, leafy greens.
But enough about kale. When cooking for our growing family, I sometimes have vegetables left over, and the last thing I’d want to see is them getting old and icky after too much time in the fridge. When food goes in the trash in our home, I see money going into the trash, and my frugal heart skips a beat.
Sometimes just reheating the veggies on their own leaves them less appealing, but I won’t let that hold me back. By finding creative ways to use leftover vegetables, I can reduce food waste, make the most of our grocery budget, and enjoy healthy foods while I’m at it! Care to join me?
Food Waste in America
First, a word on food waste in America, because the facts are quite disheartening. According to the EPA, food waste makes up the largest percentage of garbage going to landfills and incinerators. Depending on the source, statistics point to anywhere from about a third up to almost half of the food bought in the US will be thrown away.
Food thrown in the trash is not just food wasted. It’s money wasted. It’s time wasted.
10 Creative Ways to Use Leftover Vegetables
I hate to see food go bad or thrown away, so whenever I can, I try to find ways to use up the leftovers we have in our fridge, including veggies! Here are some of my favorite ways to use up those leftover vegetables.
This one is so ultra-sneaky, and you may want to consider implementing it when no one is looking. But I assure you, it works!
All sorts of veggies are great in smoothies, and so long as they aren’t already seasoned with savory fixings, they can blend right in. Raw salad greens or avocado and cooked vegetables like carrots, kale (ah, kale), winter squash, beets, and more can be added with no one the wiser. Be sure to add enough sweet fruit like strawberries, blueberries, and bananas so that it doesn’t end up tasting like a veggie smoothie, because that could be weird.
Don’t be afraid to think outside of the farmer’s omelette box, too. I’ve had very tasty egg dishes with carrot in it! Vegetables for eggs are definitely not just limited to onions, peppers, and tomatoes.
3. Sauces & Spreads
Try putting some leftover cooked vegetables into a blender to make a paste, and then use that paste in sauces or spreads for sandwiches! Think of red pepper hummus. Someone got thinking one day and added leftover red peppers to their chickpea puree and voila. A new spread was born!
I add all sorts of cooked veggies to tomato sauce, and you might be shocked to learn how yummy winter squash puree can be in a cream sauce.
I really never use a recipe for soup, and more often than not base our soup meals off of what is hanging around in the fridge needing to be used. With some broth, sautéed garlic and onion, a little protein from meat or beans, and some seasonings to finish it off, you can make a limitless number of tasty soups from any assortment of leftover veggies.
5. Fried Rice & Stir Fries
Fried rice and stir fries are another option that’s great when you need to use up leftover vegetables because there are really no rules. Get your leftover vegetables, some rice (or noodles if you’re making a stir fry and prefer that), soy sauce, garlic, oil, and maybe a little ginger, and have at it. Throw them in a pan, get them all heated nicely, and enjoy! If your veggies are already cooked, you can add them towards the end of the cooking time so they don’t get overdone.
6. Baked Items
Have you ever enjoyed sliced olives, grated carrot, minced peppers, or dried tomatoes in breads, biscuits, rolls, or muffins? You probably have! The vegetables add unique flavor, texture, color, and nutrition to baked item
Leftover vegetables can be easily hidden in baked items if they are first pureed and then added with the liquid part of a recipe. You can also leave the vegetables in small pieces so that they are clearly visible in the food.
Using leftover vegetables in casseroles is a lot like using them in stir fries. There really aren’t any rules that you need to follow!
Let’s say you are making a creamy chicken and rice casserole and you typically add a couple of cups of broccoli. Though you may have broccoli in the fridge or freezer, you can totally mix up the flavors and create a new, unique dish by substituting new veggies that need used.
I use pasta dishes like I do soups when I have leftover veggies to use: no rules and no recipes. My children aren’t particularly picky, so I generally just throw the veggies into a tomato sauce without really trying to hide them. If you have little ones that are harder to convince, you can blend the veggies into the sauce like the suggestion above. Or, make a pasta primavera type of dish with large veggie piece in a garlicky olive oil!
9. Mixed Roasted Veggies
If you have an assortment of vegetables that need used up, put them all into a shallow baking pan, drizzle them with some oil or melted butter, sprinkle them with salt, and roast in the oven until they are browned. Vegetables take on such a deep flavor when roasted, and even if the combination seems like an odd one to you, you may be surprised at how the flavors blend after they’ve roasted!
10. Fish Cakes
When I make fish cakes, I often use my recipe as a general guide and then make whatever variation I come up with for that night based on the vegetables I have in my refrigerator. They always turn out yummy and are one of our favorite ways to eat fish frugally.
Want More Ideas on Using up Leftovers and Keeping Your Grocery Bill Down?
Be sure to grab The Frugal Secrets of Real Foodies, an ebook I co-wrote with four fellow bloggers who love real food and hate high prices. If you get your copy by July 15, you can snag two free printable sets to go with the book and coupons to related resources.
Are there other clever ways you use up leftover vegetables in your home?