American households throw away an average of $600 a year in wasted food. Leftovers are often thought of as a boring use for food left from a previous meal. That does not have to be true. With a little planning, leftover foods can be transformed into tasty new creations.

Create mealtime magic by transforming leftovers into new meals. Plan ahead how to use them in casseroles, omelets, meat pies, quiches, soups, and hot or cold pasta salads.

Cook food safely

In order to have safe leftovers, food must have been handled and cooked safely to begin with. Practice these four steps to keep yourself and your family safe from food poisoning.

• Clean:Wash hands and surfaces often.

• Cook:Cook at the right temperature.

• Separate: Separate raw meats from other foods.

• Chill:Refrigerate food promptly.

Handling and storing

The first thing you should know about leftovers is the correct way to store them.

• Refrigerate or freeze unused food within two hours after cooking.

• Wash your hands before handling leftovers.

• Place leftovers in small, shallow containers with a secure covers. This helps the food cool down quickly.

• Remove stuffing from cooked poultry before storing.

• Label and date food stored in refrigerator and freezer. Use masking tape and a permanent marker.

• Do not mix leftovers from the serving table with remaining food that is on the stove or in the refrigerator.

• Keep leftovers for no more than four days.

• If a stored leftover seems questionable, throw it out.

Ideas for Using Leftovers:

Poultry

Cooked turkey or chicken can be transformed in to any number of dishes. After cooking, remove any bones from meat. Slice or cut into pieces. Place ½- or 1-cup portions in freezer-safe containers or bags. Place smaller bags into a larger freezer bag; label and date. Here’s one idea: Cook preferred pasta or rice. Brown some onions. Heat a can of your favorite creamed soup, mix with meat, onions and soup. Pour over the rice or pasta. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Breads

Stale bread can be used to make croutons, breadcrumbs and bread pudding. Make French toast with any type of leftover bread … pumpkin, zucchini, banana and, of course, white.

Ground Beef

Ground beef is very versatile and can be added to many dishes. Try a taco salad. Season the beef with chili, garlic and onion powders. Use it on top of fresh salad greens mixed with cooked beans, corn, and peppers. Finish it with salsa, cheese and sour cream. Sprinkle with crushed corn or tortilla chips.

Vegetables

Freeze leftover vegetables to make soup later. Fresh, chopped vegetables can be sautéed and used as a filling for omelets or added to beaten eggs to create a frittata – an unfolded omelet enriched with your choice of vegetables, meats, grains, etc.

Fruit

Smoothies can be made by whirling fruit with ice, milk or yogurt and sweetener in a blender. Blend until frothy. Frozen chunks of banana can help thicken those smoothies also. Toss the chunks with a little lemon juice or anti-darkening product (before freezing) to prevent too much browning. Overripe bananas make the best banana bread.

Rice

White or brown rice (unseasoned) lends itself to many other recipes. Fried rice can be served as a main dish depending on the additions. Those additions can be numerous and include meats, fish, poultry, vegetables and even nuts and seeds. Begin the process with cold rice. Heat a small amount of oil in pan. Add minced fresh ginger and garlic for “authentic” flavor. Cook and stir them for about 30 seconds. Add chopped vegetables, cook for another 30 seconds. Add rice, meats if desired, and cook and stir until heated through. Soy sauce, thawed frozen green peas, and scrambled eggs can be added at the end. Cooked rice can also be used for desserts and salads. ?

Gayle Williford is the food safety and nutrition educator for the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service in Moncks Corner. Address comments or questions to editor@lowcountryparent.com.

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