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March 11, 2016

How I Upcycle Secondhand Food

Clothing and household goods from Goodwill aren’t my only secondhand treasures. I’m convinced I lived through The Great Depression (the real one in the 1930s, not the more recent time of shedding and cold rocks), because I can’t stand to throw away food. You might think you’re thrifty with food, but I’m serious. I’m fearless when it comes to germs, bacteria, and even the occasional parasite (that’s what cooking is for!), and the five second rule is a joke to me.

But if you ever come for dinner at my house, don’t worry. I use brand new food for guests, because their immune systems may not have been forced to develop a tolerance for questionable food. I play fast and loose with my kids’ stomachs and mine, but I follow the rules when you come over. And when you leave? I’ll be putting away every little scrap, and using it later.

These are some of my favorite ways to reuse, and transform, old food.

1. Poultry stock.


This is an easy one, and I’m certainly not the only person who saves a chicken carcass to make stock. But do you freeze the bones from wings? Or have you ever taken home a turkey carcass from a party when you saw the host was about to throw it away? Have you ever asked a restaurant if they would decapitate your fish before cooking and give you the raw head to take home for stock? Because I’ve done all of those things. And I would do them again, because I love having a freezer full of stock. You can even make it in the slow cooker. Save your vegetable scraps in the same freezer bag as the bones to add to the stock.

2. Leftover pasta.

fritWhy have the same dish when you can turn it into something else? I love taking leftover pasta and turning it into a frittata, an easy, protein-filled meal. Recently, I ramped it up and made mac and cheese frittata and served it in biscuits dotted with leftover bacon bits. Pretty good, y’all!

3. Almost rotten bananas. Do you have kids? Do they freak out about brown spots on fruit? Chop the offensive fruit and freeze it. One day, take it out of the freezer and surprise your whole family with banana muffins or bread. Or eat it all yourself to punish them for being so picky! You can do this with bananas that are so brown even you wouldn’t eat them.

4. Party leftovers. I like to party, and there are always leftovers. We recently enjoyed a delicious peanut chicken dish from the slow cooker, made with chicken thighs, Rotel tomatoes, a little bit of seasoning, and a container of leftover chicken satay sauce from a party the night before. That same party also yielded half of a fairly substantial ham ball. My friend Matt  makes a delicious ham ball, a combination of ham, mayo, cream cheese, garlic powder, and salt and pepper. It’s delicious on crackers. It’s also delicious as a sandwich spread, in an omelet, or as the base for a pasta sauce (just add frozen spinach and chicken stock to thin the sauce). Bonus: If you just hosted a party, you might not feel like cooking too much for a few days.

5. Stale bread. Drizzle it with olive oil, toast it, and turn it into bread crumbs in your blender or food processor. (Don’t have one? Check out Goodwill.) Check the price on a can of pre-made bread crumbs in the store. Wouldn’t you rather get that for free? Make it with stale bread you’ll never eat. You can also chop stale bread into cubes, toss it in olive oil and seasoning salt and bake it into croutons.

6. Dumpster diving the fridge. You think you have nothing to eat? You have food. What is it they say? It may not be the food you want, but it is the food you deserve. I love the challenge of dumpster diving my own fridge. It cuts down on waste and has resulted in some of my favorite meals.

7. Take home all the rice. I love sashimi and stir-fry, and I rarely eat the rice that comes with them, at least not right that minute. I take it home and pop it into a zip-loc freezer bag. When I’m short on time, I can always make the very versatile “Rice Dish.”

You can put all kinds of scraps into a quiche, soup, or an omelet. Want a fun way to get on track? Pledge to do no grocery shopping until the cupboard is bare (or at least the fridge and freezer). You’ll get creative, you’ll learn to improvise in the kitchen, and you might even come up with a few new dishes! How do you save on groceries and cut down on waste in the kitchen? Post your most wasted food item in the comments, and I’ll give you some ideas to use it! (Seriously, this is like a game to me. And I love to win.)


  1. My kids love when I make garlic bun bread. I always save leftover hamburger and hot dog buns in the freezer. On pasta night I pull out the buns, butter them up, add garlic, parsley and mozzerella and parmesan cheese, then put them under the broiler for a few minutes.

    • Yum!!

  2. Can you give me ideas for shredded pork tenderloin , already used some w/ sweet baby rays bbq sauce on buns….. Have lots left for many meals.

    • Hi! Sorry it took me so long to get back to this. I love pulled pork in a panade ( ), or a quesadilla. I also love to eat it mixed with rice, black beans, corn or whatever else I have lying around. You could use it to top deviled eggs, or make breakfast sandwiches (which freeze well) with the pork, eggs, and cheese.

  3. Joy, sounds like the start of a really great pasta dish! I love the big tubes (blanking on the name right now) and they make an appearance in many of my leftover meals. I love kale so I’d probably saute some up with carrots or any other veggies hanging around and throw the pork in with it. Mix it all together and chow down!

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