As my family is FINALLY embarking on some much needed renovations to our home giving us a needed extra bedroom, I’m feeling stressed about money. When I stress I go into hyper save mode. I’ve gone from ok couponer to moderately extreme (more in a later post) and I’ve resolved to stop feeding my trash can in order to save on our grocery bill.

Is That Garbage Juice I Smell?

Since I’ve canceled our trash pick up due to more than a month’s worth of issues, we’ve decided to take the trash to the dump ourselves. We are avid recyclers and composters in the spring and summer months, so I bet you can guess what makes up a large portion of a person’s garbage. You guessed it – food. So here are some methods I’m using to make sure more food goes in our tummies instead of the trash. Beyond being wasteful, it creates that lovely smelling garbage juice that nobody wants to smell or have leak on them.

Turn leftover taco meat and rice into taco soup by adding it to a can of tomato soup. Top with cheddar cheese and corn chips or crushed up taco shells. The family won't even care they're eating up leftovers.

Turn leftover taco meat and rice into taco soup by adding it to a can of tomato soup. Top with cheddar cheese and corn chips or crushed up taco shells. The family won’t even care they’re eating up leftovers.

1. Serve Less – Kids are notorious food wasters so my best strategy is to serve them less. Though it’s a pain, I’d rather get up several times to give them more than see half their plate go in the garbage. So far I’ve noticed a great reduction in food waste at meal times. Over time you start to get a feel for how much your family eats so you can cook less to avoid excessive leftovers.

2. Free Lunch– Let’s face it nobody gets super excited for leftovers all the time so it takes some real creativity to get them used up. I eat leftovers for lunch and pack them for my husband’s lunch, but the rub about leftovers is that in their current state you have maybe two meals before everyone gets sick of them.

3. Reinvent Leftovers – The best way I’ve found to use leftovers is to make them into something new. Bonus points if you can get the family to finish the second meal without leaving leftovers. I’ve found I can be really creative if I want to be.

Leftover chicken (no matter the parts) goes into chicken soup or chicken and rice casserole which my kids love. I’ve made meatloaf into meat sauce for spaghetti.

I’ve turned ordinary tomato soup into “taco soup” with the help of some leftover taco meat and rice. Top it with cheddar cheese and some corn chips or crushed taco shells and my kids scarf it down. Last night I turned sausage and peppers into one lunch for my husband and pizza pasta bake (baked ziti with sausage and topped with mozzarella cheese and peperoni).

4. You Pick Two – Restaurants often employ this on menus so I decided to use it too. I might serve my kids a smaller portion of a leftover meal and pair it with something new so that my leftovers get eaten up while still satisfying that desire for something new. This seemed to work especially well for lunches.

5. Stop The Dessert Mentality – I NEVER thought I’d be the mom who let her kids have dessert every night. To be fair, most days it’s really just a light snack and could be fruit, yogurt or cookies. Still there is a fundamental problem with a family taking on a dessert mentality. Kids and adults alike tend to eat less at dinner, essentially saving room for some snack later. Even I’ve noticed myself doing this. In my house I have a no dinner, no dessert rule, but now that I’ve changed my dessert mentality I fill up more on dinner and I hardly ever snack after dinner anymore. My scale has thanked me too.

My husband may not have liked it when I banned him from using our hamburger meat to make himself a burger and made him eat leftovers instead. I know my daughter didn’t like it when I told her she couldn’t take a new snack moments after she threw out the apple she’d only taken two bites of. My family may not always like my methods, but when you have clear financial goals it takes a family all rowing the boat in the same direction to get there.

Share your creative leftover strategies and recipes.