Cleaning Out The Fridge Without Wasting Food

by Katy on March 4, 2012 · 47 comments

I don’t know about you, but my fridge has the ability to go from nicely organized to overwhelmingly crammed faster than you can say:

“What the h#%% was this?!”

So tonight I set a goal to use up as many containers of leftovers as possible. I prepared a meal whose only redeeming quality was it had many, many different ingredients. Actually, it was kind of three different meals, as I needed to appease the various different palates of my family members. (Normally I refuse to make different meals to cater to picky eaters, but tonight it was actually helpful to have to serve a couple different mini-meals.)

The main dish was a frittata, but I also cooked up a scrambled egg/sausage/cheese dish for my older son and the last of some grilled chicken over rice for my younger egg-averse younger son.

In all, I used up:

  • 2 sausages
  • A container of vermicelli noodles leftover from last night’s spring rolls
  • A small amount of leftover salmon steak.
  • Leftover shrimp.
  • Leftover grilled chicken.
  • Eggs (We somehow had two almost-full containers)
  • Leftover rice.
  • Last of an avocado.
  • 2 red peppers that started to go soft immediately after I bought them. (I cut off the mushy bits to compost.)
I think the reason why my fridge goes from feast to famine (and back again) is that my husband and I both pick up groceries, and we’re not the best meal planning communicators. Luckily, the crammed-full fridge situation did not result in any significant food waste, although I am going to give it a thorough scrubbing tomorrow, and I do expect to unearth a mystery container or two.

It’s really important to consider what’s already in the refrigerator when planning meals. Extra bits can go into soups, salads, casseroles, and yes, even frittatas. Of course, I also try to simply eat the leftovers as lunches and snacks.

Have you been working to minimize the food waste in your home? Please share your thoughts and tips in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Maddy A March 4, 2012 at 11:20 pm

I’m lucky enough to have a great produce market near me. They sell whatever they happen to have at the moment, so the prices fluctuate quite a bit week to week. This is fantastic for the food variety, but not so helpful for planning out every meal in advance. Who could pass up 2 bundles of fresh asparagus for 79 cents? Anyway, at the end of the week, I try to turn whatever vegetables remain into a soup of some kind to eat on the weekend. Not the most original idea ever, but very cozy in the winter months, and you can get surprisingly creative with vegetable combinations


Jo March 5, 2012 at 12:32 am

I just wrote about food waste for the first time on Friday, and I’ve been finding a couple of things helpful recently, neither of which might be particularly practical for your readers, but anyway: When we recently immigrated to South Africa, we bought a bar fridge and chest freezer instead of a fridge/freezer. The reduced space is really helpful because it seems to work better for us to freeze leftovers (even just for a few days) and only have about one jar of leftovers in the fridge. The second thing that’s been useful is going grocery shopping once/week (though we do sometimes find ourselves making small trips). I try to empty out the fridge on Thursday, before we go shopping.

From week to week, our eating changes a lot depending on whether we have meat or eggs or cheese, and what kind of meat. It likely won’t work when our sons hit their teenage years! But for now, it’s great.


BrokeElizabeth March 5, 2012 at 12:59 am

It’s super easy being a single student 🙂 I just make one large meal and pick at it for several days. I’ve never had to throw away food that has gone bad, and I don’t mind eating the same thing over and over again, so it works out well for me.


Attila March 5, 2012 at 4:25 am

I used to buy what I thought and menu plan just a day or two in advance as I went along, but while my husband is off sick, we have less money coming in, so I had to be a bit more organised. Not that we threw food out, just occasionally; we eat what needs to be eaten whether we fancy it or not, just to avoid waste, but I now sit down on a Monday morning and look at the list on the freezer and plan meals around what we have. Then I check the larder and stores and write a list of what we need. I also write a list of possibles e.g. I need to buy chicken thighs for a casserole when friends come on Wednesday, but as we will then have no chicken, except bits for stir fries, I have put “whole chicken?” on the list. I will buy any reduced or special offer things that we could use and freeze them for later. Having a good stock means I only buy stuff when it’s cheap and then meal plan out of the freezer. VERY little ever gets wasted.


amber March 5, 2012 at 5:57 am

I hate to waste food. So at least once a week I make sure there is nothing in the fridge that will be tossed soon if it is not eaten. On Saturday I noticed we had a cucumber, a few tomatoes and green pepper that needed to get eaten. So I made a loaf of french bread and we all had veggie sandwiches for lunch.


Katy @ Purposely Frugal March 5, 2012 at 6:45 am

To use up leftover chili I’m serving it over baked potatoes tonight.


Michelle @ Simplify, Live, Love March 9, 2012 at 9:51 am

I do that too! Great way to use up left over chili.


Poor to Rich a Day at a Time March 5, 2012 at 6:49 am

We rarely have left overs and really do not have hardly any food waste at all. The one thing we usually have some leftover from is rice and my adult daughter just eats that the next morning with milk, cinnamon and a little sugar.


Madeline March 5, 2012 at 6:58 am

When my family was younger and larger I did all the normal “savings” stuff like stockpiling canned, frozen, etc. goods when i purchased on sale.Now, I haven’t been able to shake the habit, it’s just 2 of us, and I am always over stocked! (But then I still grocery shop on top of it!) Recently figured out I need a whole new plan!

I am making a goal of USING UP everything in my large freezer then selling the freezer! (Uses way too much electricity and stuff gets lost in there!).. buying just ONE WEEK’S worth of groceries at a time (We mostly eat fresh,anyway!)

And, using bits and pieces in stir fries, making soup stock. Every Sunday I use all the veggies left in fridge to make a pan of roasted vegs with some olive oil and garlic.


Renee CA March 5, 2012 at 7:09 am

I had the same problem when we became empty nesters. We got rid of our older, large freezer and bought a small chest freezer. It keeps things better than the frig one. If I’m not sure we can use something right away it goes in the freezer until I have time to deal with it. Since reading this and similar blogs, I’m trying to get out of the stock piling habit and concentrate on using what I have.


CC March 5, 2012 at 7:46 am

With just the two of us here I had to learn how to cook smaller amounts. When we have leftovers we eat them the next day or freeze for later. Still we will sometimes have food waste and its mostly buying too many fresh veggies. We do compost them but I still see it as money tossed out.

The biggest factor in stopping food waste was when I decided to buy what we liked instead of what was on sale. This seems anti frugal but when we but what we like we eat it all. When its something that is not a real favorite it seems to be wasted more often. So buying what we like and only buying a small amount works for us. Like apples I’ll buy 2 or 3 at a time instead of a cheaper bag full this way we don’t waste any.


Katherine@YeOldCollegeTry March 5, 2012 at 10:15 am

I am so with you on this! When grocery shopping, I have to remind myself that it is not money-saving to buy in bulk, only to throw away half of the items. Just buy what we’ll eat!

We had a leftover dinner last night and used up all of our little containers of food, too. It was great to start the week with a cleaned-out fridge!


Megyn @Minimalist Mommi March 5, 2012 at 8:13 am

I try so, so hard to reduce our food waste! But with 4 different diets, it can be tricky! A while back I made a grip of broccoli cheese rice. Well, only one person in the house will eat it and not enough to use it up before it goes bad 🙁 The Hubs, who will eat up all of the leftover mac’n’cheese I save for the boys, complains that it has too many carbs. I’m lactose intolerant, so can’t eat it. And the older kid refuses to eat rice (he’s always hated it). Thus, it went to the dog who was more than happy to take the scraps. Lesson learned: if I’m going to make an abundance of carb-loaded food, ensure it is something everyone will actually eat!


Katy March 5, 2012 at 11:06 am

That sounds frustrating!

The Japanese woman who lives with us doesn’t eat cheese, which has narrowed my meals. (Normally I’ll make pizza once a week or so.) She has said for us to eat as we normally do, but I want to prepare meals that everyone will eat.

Otherwise, we’re all pretty open eaters.



Tonya March 5, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Will she eat pizza if you leave cheese off the top of her section?


Tonya March 5, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Didn’t explain that very well- if you don’t put shredded cheese on part of the pizza, and then bake it as usual, it will still be tasty with just the toppings and sauce….make sense?


Marcelle March 6, 2012 at 4:10 am

I second this idea. We’ve been making cheese-less pizzas for a few years now and it’s still very tasty!

Trisha March 5, 2012 at 9:22 am

We tend to go grocery shopping as a family on Saturday. (Our girls are 12 and 7, so they haven’t thought to complain about it yet.) Before we go, we figure out a few meals for the week and make a list. If I make too much of something, we’ll put leftovers in the freezer to take out when we haven’t planned so well, or when what was planned doesn’t go as far as we thought it would. We clean out the fridge before the next shopping trip to use up the bits and pieces that seem to accumulate no matter how hard you try. And it still seems like there is always something to compost.

Fritattas are THE BEST! You can get rid of all manner of thing in a fritatta. That’s my summer go-to, since I tend to get carried away at the farmers’ market.


Chris March 5, 2012 at 9:24 am

We rarely thrown anything out! Leftovers (planned overs) become an easy lunch or another dinner. About once a week I clean out the fridge – most bits are vegetables – and make soup. Any leftover tomato sauce, broth, etc., gets frozen and usually lands in the soup pot! Current favorites are chicken and wild rice, or minestrone, which can handle a lot of those bits!


Cate March 5, 2012 at 11:01 am

For the past 12 years, one day every other weekend or so, my husband and/or I will make a huge pot or 2 of something: thai sauce, veggie chili, soup, ratatouille, beans, spaghetti sauce, Indian, etc and then freeze it 2 serving containers. We eat something different every night with rice, pasta or bread, replenishing on the weekends as needed. We each eat the same thing for breakfast (oatmeal/yoghurt/almond butter/banana smoothie) and lunch (green veg/fruit smoothie). This may sound insanely organized, but we LOVE the way we eat! We spend very little money and never go out to eat since we always have something yummy. And we never ever have leftovers.


Katy March 5, 2012 at 11:03 am

That’s fantastic! And it sounds delicious!



Jen @ Dear Mommy Brain March 5, 2012 at 12:39 pm

When the fridge gets really overloaded, I’ll write a list of what’s in there so we know what needs to be consumed immediately. Since we both work full-time that helps us keep track of what we have. And if it tends to be a lot of odds and ends, we will attempt to pre-package like leftovers for lunches.

There always seems to be something that gets ignored, but I am really working to get to zero waste.


CelebrantSays March 5, 2012 at 12:56 pm

My mother-in-law gave us a pie maker a couple of years ago – which is fantastic for using up leftovers. As long as I have a sheet of pastry in the freezer, I can turn anything into a pie. Leftover curry, casserole, pasta & sauce can all be transformed into a delicious lunch or snack. Served up with a salad, it’s a brand new dinner! And odd pieces of old fruit become dessert pie.


Tonya March 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Frittata is also one of my favorite ways to use up leftover bits! I’m constantly scanning the fridge for leftovers, and both hubby and myself like taking leftovers for lunch to work, so we’ve gotten better about using up food.

We make waffles and pancakes on the weekends sometimes and put the few leftover ones in the freezer in a ziplock. They pop in the toaster for a quick breakfast.

If I have a few Tbsp. of leftover veggies I throw them in a container in the freezer. I add veggies regularly when there are bits of leftovers. This gets chucked into a pot of veggie soup when the container is full.


Bauunny March 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm

This post made me laugh because I came home from work tonight and my husband was assembling the meatloaf he has been meaning to get to for the last couple of days. When I looked in to the bowl, I saw that he had an unusual assortment of add-ins! Apparently he was trying to clean out the fridge and was using anything he could find that “just a little” left in the container. It is cooking right now and smells great……but I wonder what it will taste like!
When I make chili I do the same thing with leftover veggies. My theory is if you cut it up small enough, nobody will know (and it is healthier too). My sister in law told me she used to do that too when her kids were little to get more veggies in them. Homemade fried rice is also a good way to use stuff up. We also have a few chickens so our food waste goes to them so I don’t feel too guilty. What I do have a problem with is condiments…….they tend to take over the fridge (which is why my husband was trying to use them up – so there would be room for “real” food).


Marianne March 5, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Just last night I pulled out leftover carrots, celery and cream cheese from the back of the fridge, threw it in a pot with rice, chickpeas and seasonings and made chickenless chickpea soup for myself.
My DH sometimes whines that the meals never taste the same because I’m always tweaking the recipe to fit whats in the fridge. I tell him he knows the rules. “you’ll eat it, you’ll like it, and you’ll ask for seconds!”.


Katy March 5, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Your rules are hilarious!



Tina March 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm


Last night I used up some turkey sausages I found in the freezer in chili (pretty good actually). Tonight I roasted up the brussel sprouts from the produce basekt. Not something I would buy but I didn’t want to waste them… not terrible but I still wouldn’t buy them. Also threw in the head of broccoli.


emmer March 5, 2012 at 6:15 pm

for me, if i can’t see it, it won’t get used. so, i use glass canning jars of various sizes for leftovers. i also put different kinds of foods on different shelves and in different bins in the frig or freezer. so,one shelf for starches such as the 2 quarts of brown long grain basmati i just made, a pint of leftover noodles, and a serving of mashed potatoes go on one shelf, salad veggies in their own bin, all the dairy together on a shelf, and a whole shelf for gallon and quart jars of different flours (freshly ground whole grains keep better in the frig), yeasts, and sourdough starters. the freezer has a shelf of pint jars full of cooked pinto beans, another of jams, a rack of frozen peaches in jars, etc. i do the same in my pantry so i can easily see what i have. it’s cut down on waste for us.


Chris Danner March 5, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Labelling helps. I use a bit of masking tape on leftover containers, marked with contents and date. I’m a homemaker now, so often eat leftovers for my lunch. If there’s a large amount of some leftover, I package it in individual serving sizes and freeze (labelled). I’ve been trying to keep lists inventorying contents of upright freezer and fridge freezer to remind me of what’s available. Nothing is more wonderful than being able to pull out a container of homemade soup or lasagna when I’ve been too busy to cook dinner! Add raw veggies and good bread for a simple meal. But there’s just my husband and me, so it’s easier for us than for someone with kids to feed.


Carla March 5, 2012 at 7:03 pm

I keep a supply of foil containers (like the takeout type, bought at the grocery store) that I use to freeze meals when we have large amounts of leftovers – or sometimes I plan the freezer meals too. We have 3 kids age 6, 3 and 10 months and there have been times when meals just don’t get on the table, so we just put something from the freezer into the oven and ta-da! meal. Also, if I see we have too much of something, I’ll make a big pot of a meal with that ingredient and freeze some of it (e.g. 2 cauliflower bought on sale became 4 cauliflower-millet casseroles last night, 3 for the freezer).

Lately, I’ve taken over our budget and food shopping and am doing most of the cooking, so we have very little if any waste, but when there are two of us doing a bit of all those tasks, stuff gets lost.

We always have one meal that everyone can eat (also allergies in our house), and if someone doesn’t like it, well, they can find something else that is on the table to eat or wait for the next meal – let me tell you, kids usually discover they do actually like that bok choy etc. very much! 🙂 Adults will also often eat a meal that is lingering even if it’s not our ideal meal at the moment, but hey it’s food and it needs to be eaten. I think this is important in our lands of plenty – so we don’t feel like eating lentil tagine right now? well, too bad, it’s good, nutritious and ready made, so just be happy you have yummy food to eat and down it goes. And, really it’s not so bad, we eat well, and feeling tired of a food – well, there are worse worse things in life.


dustimc March 5, 2012 at 9:32 pm

So true!


Jo March 5, 2012 at 8:20 pm

The best tip I’ve ever read is to plan for 6 days, not 7, because there is almost always something that comes up at least one day a week and you don’t use the meal plan for that day. That tip is from this blog (and the writer is named Jo, but it’s not me, and it’s not the Jo in the above comments :)):


Jo March 6, 2012 at 11:52 am

And today I see Jo from simplybeingmum has posted her link below in the comments 🙂


dustimc March 5, 2012 at 9:45 pm

I love the frittata idea! I discovered recently that my kids like enchilada casserole. So now leftover meat and/ or chicken gets layered between some corn tortillas and smothered in homemade enchilada sauce. We’be had to find alternatives to leftover soup because the my two younger kids weren’t eating it and then IT was going in the freezer. I may bring it back for the weekends, though. We also like to make “paella” with any leftover seafood. I mix some yellow rice mix with a little toasted orzo, olives, tomatoes and sweet peas if I have them, and the seafood.
Another thing I like to do, especially when I know its going to be a busy week is make up double batches of 2 or 3 casseroles and keep them in the fridge. We just. eat those until. they’re gone. this is also great fo
r reducing clean up time.


Katy March 5, 2012 at 9:51 pm

I need to be better about cooking ahead of time. I have a chest freezer in the basement, and need to utilize it better.



Barb March 5, 2012 at 10:49 pm

My husband is retired now so he does most of the cooking. It’s been hard to give up control of the shopping because we approach meals so differently. He’s a bit less frugal and fixes what sounds good to him. Lately I’ve convinced him that making a weekly menu does indeed cut down on leftovers and waste. I even talked him into two weeks of mostly pantry cooking. But he just can’t help himself. He goes to the store for one thing and returns with three bags of stuff! I’m not really complaining It is so nice to come home from work and have dinner ready most nights. It just makes me laugh to see how differently we approach meal making. We have plenty of money now so it’s not really a matter of squeezing pennies anymore. I just don’t like waste.


Jo@simplybeingmum March 5, 2012 at 11:55 pm

For well over 12 months I have had a specific routine which includes cleaning out my Fridge each Friday. I take part in The Frugal Girl’s Food Waste Friday. The crux of my routine is whatever is potential waste will be rustled up into something which I call my ‘No Waste Tastes Great’challenge. Last Friday I made a curry from aubergine (eggplant) and broccoli. Interestingly I posted the recipe on Facebook (as I tend to do with my NWTG recipes) and a reader has tried it for herself. We have minimal food waste, and I know that had I not got this routine we’d have more.


Jo@simplybeingmum March 5, 2012 at 11:59 pm

ps – I put the links in as to type it all out would have taken forever! Too long for a comment.


ArdenLynn March 6, 2012 at 4:31 am

I buy in bulk and don’t plan out a menu. There is no way I can plan for all the variables of a household of 10. We use the old Tightwad Gazette pantry principle and plan dinner for the next day as we are putting away leftovers. Work schedules, food to be used, even the weather can be taken into account and I waste very little.
I also don’t make soup or casserole out of leftovers. I am not a creative cook and don’t blend flavors very well. Just makes extra work for me and I end up tossing it anyway.


Maddie March 6, 2012 at 7:32 am

Every once in a while my parents will do kind of a buffet style meal from leftovers when we kids invite ourselves over for dinner. They will just set out what ever leftovers are in the refrigerator. Most of the food will be cold, some reheated and small portions of each. Each of us has to claim what we want pretty quickly because there isn’t enough of anything for everyone. It is actually one of my favorite meal times at my parents and it is easy,cheap and unwasteful for them.


Katy March 6, 2012 at 8:54 am

That’s awesome. They get to have you over without the stress of meal prep. I love it!



jen March 6, 2012 at 7:34 am

There are just two of us, but my husband travels a lot. So, I make really good menus, plan leftovers for my meals when the hubs is gone, AND I freeze lots of single portions; pasta with sauce or beans and rice. Freezing single serve is great for when I’m home alone and need a meal….sometimes this even eliminates one trip to the grocery store.

Glass pyrex is key too. Being able to see what you have in the fridge is the only way to stay aware of what you have.


Katy March 6, 2012 at 8:54 am

I am there with you on the Pyrex leftover containers. And Pyrex is one of my Compact exceptions, as they’re made in the U.S.A. with union labor and the packaging is 100% plastic-free!

Everything it should be!



Jo March 6, 2012 at 4:22 pm

On the advice of another forum (maybe Gardenweb?) a long time ago, I switched the condiments from the door to the produce drawers, and put all the produce in the door. I can see it, and it actually lasts longer. Most jars and dressings fit in the drawers easily, though we keep the tall bottles of fish sauce and oyster sauce in the bottom of the door.


Jennifer March 7, 2012 at 3:48 pm

It seems I frequently end up with a lot of leftover main dishes or a lot of leftover side dishes – but rarely both at the same time. Oh well, it makes for a somewhat easier night of cooking if I only have to worry about 1 part. I love it when I can clean out all the random tupperware type containers!


Dianna @ practicing frugal March 9, 2012 at 9:16 am

I plan our meals for 6 days like Jo said, with the seventh being a clean out the fridge day. If there is nothing to clean out it’s called Ramen Noodle night. Lol If we don’t eat all 6 meals, I got a bonus savings on the next weeks groceries.
You did a great job using things up Katy.


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