Gary Lyons solve the problem of what to do with our leftovers to help us reduce how much we waste.
Food waste is a big problem. Studies have found that one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year gets lost or wasted (fao.org). That number is expected to get even worse by 2030, unless urgent action is taken (bcg.com).
Fruit and vegetables have among the highest wastage rates of any food. This is frustrating because they’re so versatile and can be used in so many different recipes. By storing, reheating, and reusing our leftovers, we can help reduce the amount we throw away. Plus, it’ll decrease the impact our cooking habits have on the planet.
How should I store my leftovers?
It’s best to refrigerate leftovers within two hours of cooking, as bacteria can grow if the food is not sealed or chilled. Wait until it’s cool first and avoid cling film, as the plastic wrap is difficult to recycle and can take hundreds of years to degrade once sent to landfill. It may also leak dangerous chemicals into the earth as it rots, so opt for reusable containers made from recycled materials instead.
Opened packets of meat substitute usually keep for around four days if you put them in an airtight container and pop them in the fridge. Uncooked tofu should be covered with water first and then sealed and refrigerated. It will keep for about a week.
Alternatively, you can easily freeze almost anything for around month or so using freezer-friendly containers. Foods to avoid freezing are fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and salads, which can go very slimy. Plus, potatoes, rice, and pasta, which can become mushy and flavourless when frozen.
If you want to freeze vegan cheese, you might find it easier to grate it first. This is better for texture and it will make it easier to use it in your cooking.
How do I reheat my leftovers?
If you choose to defrost any frozen foods quickly in the microwave, look for containers that are BPA-free and microwave safe. You should also cook your food immediately after defrosting it to reduce the risk of harmful bacteria developing.
If you’re simply reheating chilled leftovers, you can do so by baking, frying, microwaving, or on the stovetop. You must make sure that your food is piping hot before serving, though. To be on the safe side, you might want to buy a cooking thermometer and make sure it’s heated to at least 75°C.
Dishes containing tofu and other meat substitutes can be reheated using these methods too. However, it’s recommended that you do so over the stove or in the oven. The microwave can cause the complicated proteins to have a rubbery texture.
How can I reuse my leftovers?
It’s easy to blend spare raw vegetables into soups, stocks, and sauces. Not only will they add an extra depth of flavour but will also make meals super nutritious.
For leftover fried, grilled, baked, or boiled veggies that have already been seasoned, you can store them in a lidded container with some extra sauce on them to prevent them from drying out. For example, leftover veg fried in Mexican spices can be left to marinate in enchilada sauce. Teriyaki-marinated veg can be tossed into a stir-fry or fried rice dish.
Fresh fruit can be eaten as-is or blended into smoothies. But, if they’re past their best it’s better to bake them into a pie, cook them into a jam. Alternatively, dry and store them in an airtight container to be used as toppings.
Gary Lyons is Managing Director of Plastic Box Shop, so he knows all the best options when it comes to food storage.