Grit Blogs > Domestic Episodes of a Rodeo Princess

Reduce Waste: How to Use Restaurant Leftovers

A photo of Shirley Rodeo VanScoyk

I am, despite conclusions you might draw from tales being told by me and about me, a fairly conventional, frugal person. I do care about the environment, reducing waste and most especially about food waste in restaurants. It is not lost on me that tough times had by me are not tough in a global sense and that I am blessed to live at a time and place where I have enough to eat, a warm place to sleep and a prospect that tomorrow is probably not going to bring changes to that. But I am also true to me, and not lunching with friends is out of the question. Here are some ways to turn restaurant leftovers into marvelous meals: 

Leftover Fries

This is truly a doggie bag solution. Leftover fries from a restaurant meal make great dog treats. I prefer to get out of the car with the bag, let the dog out in the dog play yard and have a French Fry Happy Dog Scramble. I just open the container and hurl them out. This makes me a goddess to my dog.

Many people don’t bring fries home because of the soggy-ness. If you don’t have a dog or you just really like fries, crisp them up in your George Foreman (GF) the next morning for home fries. If you have a panini maker or a GF, you can also make a nest with the fries by smooshing them together and closing the lid. A little bit of cheese, a poached egg and you have something really impressive! Just don’t look too long at the amount of grease the GF will squeeze out of them, it will only depress you.

Sweet potato fries: crisped up and served with breakfast, drizzled with maple syrup. YUM!

Mashed sweet potatoes: mix in with pancake mix. Make pancakes, serve with maple syrup with warm pecans and broiled goat cheese stuffed peaches.

Mashed Any Other Kind of Potato: mix with pancake batter and make potato pancakes – especially good if the mashed were loaded with bacon, garlic and cheese.

Disposable Garnish or Americans Order but Don’t Eat Vegetables:

Grilled leftover tomatoes, recycled steak, and toasted, day-old restaurant bread.You had the best of intentions when you ordered that steamed harvest mixture. You told yourself that was a healthy decision that would direct the course of your dining experience. That was until your dining companions ordered the MUCHAS GRANDES NACHO ULTIMATE SUPREMO that took three brawny bus-people to carry to your table. Now you are full. Well, don’t send that broccoli, carrot and zucchini mixture to the dumpster in shame. Take it home, take it out of the container and put it in what you are now going to call The Soup Mix Container in your freezer. Everyone in the nation should have one, in the spirit of our grandparents' victory gardens. Each time you get veggies on a plate in a restaurant and you don’t eat them, you will collect them here for future use as veggies for soup. Even if they get a little freezer burnt, it won’t matter in the soup, and if years go by and you don’t use them, at least they don’t smell and you can throw the whole container out without a mask. I also have a yard full of free-range chickens here at the farm that get very excited this time of the year when veggies get thrown their way, but I realize that is not an option for everyone. It should be, but it’s not.

No one ever seems to be able to finish one of those huge onion blossoms, either. Make sure you take whatever is left home – use it as topping on mac and cheese, mashed potatoes or other casseroles. Why buy expensive and puny canned fried onions when you have some of these in the freezer – use them in your green bean casserole. Very Delux!

Salad Doesn’t Keep

Of course it doesn’t if you keep it as salad! Leftover iceberg salad is perfect for grilled panini! If it’s got cherry tomatoes, cheese, egg, onion, carrot and salad dressing on it, it’s all you need to top a grilled ham or turkey sandwich. You don’t even need to add mayo. If it’s spinach, well, it’s spinach, and you can add it to your Soup Mix Container in the freezer or wilt in a fry pan and serve as a side with steak. Caesar salad is fantastic stuffed into a tuna salad sandwich and grilled.

Proteins Are Better The Day After

Order your steak a degree less well done than you usually do, eat the parts around the edges that came to the table the way you like it, and save the pinky center for later.  That way it won’t be overcooked when you recycle it as Eggs Benedict spiced up with salsa, hot sauce, slices of steak and creamy queso over English muffin.

Since most of the chicken you get in restaurants is breast meat, which tends to dry out when recooked, put that in the freezer for soup. I use a separate container.

Seafood? C’mon really? Leftover lobster, shrimp or crab meat? Here’s a challenge. Take home leftover shells from clams, oysters and other shellfish like lobster and shrimp. See if you can get everyone at the table to donate their flotsam and jetsam by promising them a great dinner at your house later. When you get home, put them right in the freezer and the next day, make a fish stock:

Shells, meat and bones from various Fish and Shellfish, breading, seasoning and all
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 large yellow onion, sliced or chopped
1 carrot, roughly sliced or chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly sliced or chopped
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 sprigs of thyme
Several sprigs parsley
1 bay leaf
10-15 whole peppercorns
2 teaspoons salt
This is best made in a crockpot plugged in on your porch or garage, because it’s gonna smell fishy, and you don’t want it to boil. Crush the larger shells with a rolling pin before putting them in. When nicely reduced, strain through a double layer of clean, old nylon stocking or cheesecloth. You now have absolutely delicious broth for bisque (which never should have lumps of anything to be a true bisque) or chowder. This time you will look like a Goddess to your friends when you invite them back.

Now that you have no shame, take the bread!

The best bread pudding I ever had was made in my grandmother’s kitchen in Brisbane, Australia. A tropical climate meant shopping for perishables every day, and all bread scraps went into pudding almost every afternoon. We had it with sweet, strong tea and good conversation, an edible memory. Of course, you can take all your old bread and make bread crumbs either in a food processor or by crushing them with your handy rolling pin – great for frying, crunchy topping, thickening cassolettes or stews. This lasts best in the freezer unless the bread was very stale. Or feed it to those chickens….


I hardly ever order dessert, so I don’t usually have it left over, but I can imagine trifles made with leftover cake and cheesecake, and fried pies and satisfying midnight forages to the old Frigidaire.

I am hoping that as this idea catches on, I see more containers brought from home pulled out right at the table. What do you do with your leftovers?

8/20/2015 9:06:00 AM

Once the food is taken off the food business premises you are responsible for its safe storage and handling to minimise the risk of food poisoning. A lack of temperature control when taking away and transporting leftover food can allow dangerous bacteria to grow, increasing the risk of food poisoning. These bacteria grow very well in the ‘temperature danger zone’ which is between 5 °C and 60 °C. Leftover food at restaurants is commonly taken away while in the danger zone. In addition, the food may be eaten several hours or even days after it was prepared, further increasing the risk of food poisoning. Greets! House Clearance Ltd. Telephone: 020 3743 8654 Street address: 15 Pymmes Close Postal code: N13 4NJ

nebraska dave
3/18/2010 6:51:41 PM

Rodeo, your blog entry makes me want to go out and order up something from the local restaurant just to have some left overs. Ah, you got me on the flotsam and jetsam. I had to go to Mr. Webster to find out what in the world those were. During my married child rearing years, Friday was Dad’s refrigerator soup day. My family never really ate left overs even in soup. Therefore I became the food disposal. Come Friday my kids would do anything to get to a friend’s house to have dinner with them. Even to this day they cringe at the mention of Dad’s refrigerator soup. It’s not that it was all that bad. Well maybe once in awhile. It was just the thought of being made from left overs. I got the reputation of Mikey from the cereal commercials. Just give to Dad. He’ll eat anything. They were kind a right. I do eat most anything. Some things I like a little better than other things. One thing I did learn about cooking, it’s all about the seasoning. I’m getting better with that but still learning. Mrs. Dash, garlic powder, onions and salsa are my friends. I rarely use salt. Left over French fries, I just nuke them in the microwave and splash a little ketchup on them. They still slide down pretty good. I know there’s sugar in ketchup, but a guy has to have a couple vises in his life. Don’t you think?

rodeo princess
3/18/2010 3:53:25 PM

Thank you, thank you all for your comments, I was away from a computer for a bit and to come back and see you all had visited is so nice! Mountain Woman, I'm not saying I have MOUNTAINS of leftovers, being a short round girl, but there is usually enough for something, if I put my mind to it. Almost Country - that potato soup sounds wonderful!!!! I will have to try that! I bet you could freeze the mashers and make the soup later, too. And Oz Girl, you are so sweet to worry about what a french fry might do to your dog. See, over here, at any given moment the dogs are either chewing on the poo of another animal or the skull of a groundhog, and after watching them do that a couple of times, I stopped being concerned.

oz girl
3/16/2010 2:39:25 PM

Rodeo, what fantastic food leftover ideas... I'll need to remember some of these. I already do bring home any fries for the dogs. There's usually only a few fries, I don't give them too many as I'm sure fries are as bad for them as they are for us! :) Hopefully we'll have a few chickens soon, and then many of our scraps will go their way.

3/16/2010 2:23:03 PM

Rodeo, great suggestions--thanks! We typically just eat the leftovers the next day (or for a midnight snack!), but I'll be paying more attention at future meals out for opportunities like taking home the garnishes, bread pieces, etc. I love your soup pot in the freezer tip. Susan Close to the Earth in Alaska

mountain woman
3/16/2010 1:25:52 PM

Oh Rodeo, What a great post and written in true Rodeo fashion which means lots of fun! I wish I had leftovers but alas everything I see, I eat but if I ever do have leftovers, I think your suggestions are fabulous.

almost country_1
3/16/2010 12:12:29 PM

Hey Rodeo, Great ideas! Another idea for mashed potato leftover: mashed potato soup. Just stir mashed potatoes into chicken stock, add some seasoning if you like (I'm fond of tarragon with taters) and viola--you've got some tasty potato soup.