Reduce Waste: How to Use Restaurant Leftovers

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:

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?

  • Published on Mar 16, 2010
© Copyright 2022. All Rights Reserved - Ogden Publications, Inc.