How to Use Up Leftovers and Reduce Food Waste

When was the last time you tossed a mouldy tub of yogurt, or found a wilted head of lettuce in the back of your fridge? Like it or not, most of us throw away more groceries than we realize every week.

Unfortunately, it’s a bad habit a lot of Canadian families share. According to research by the National Zero Waste Council, the average Canadian household tosses 140 kilograms of food a year (that’s a grocery bill of over $1,300!).

“We all tend to buy a lot more than we need,” says Cook More, Waste Less author, Christine Tizzard, who is also the founder of Zero Waste Kitchen, and an ambassador with Love Food, Hate Waste. “But, there are so many ways to cut back on waste and overspending,” she explains.

Indeed, whether it’s wrong size portions, failing to store foods the right way, or simply overdoing it in the grocery aisle, we’ve all been there. That’s why we’ve rounded up some expert tips to help address the issue with 10 of the most frequently thrown-out food items in Canadian households.

Plus, we have savvy storage solutions to keep your food fresh longer, as well as easy meal ideas and food planning tips to help make reducing waste even easier.

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1What to do with leftover chicken

From theHUB from Walmart.ca

What to do with chicken

A lot of poultry goes to waste because we don’t properly store chicken wings and turkey thighs, or get around to cooking them in time.

  • Keep it fresh: Store raw poultry in its original packaging on the bottom shelf or in the meat drawer of your fridge, where its coldest. (Double-check that your fridge is set to a temperature range of 0 to 5°C.) Fresh chicken is usually good for two to three days in the fridge.
  • Use it today: Easy Air Fryer Chicken Wings
  • Save it for later: Gobble up protein-rich turkey leftovers with clever kid-friendly recipes and put extra chicken to work in sandwiches and salads. In the freezer, chicken pieces, like breasts and wings, can be stored for around six months, while a whole chicken can last up to a year in your deep freeze.“You can also freeze cooked proteins, without harming the flavour, as long as they are in a sauce, soup or stock,” says Tizzard. Put your leftover roast chicken or turkey in gravy, for example, before you freeze it.And always label everything with the date it goes into the freezer. When it’s time to defrost, do so in your fridge, microwave, or a pot of cold water to prevent bacteria growth.

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2What to do with tomatoes

From theHUB from Walmart.ca

What to do with tomatoes

If you like fresh tomatoes in your sandwich or salad, they need to be at room temperature for the best texture and flavour. If you are going to use them in a recipe, on the other hand, you’ve got plenty of options and more flexibility (you can even use them when they’re almost off).

  • Keep it fresh: Place tomatoes in a shallow, breathable bin, stem scar facing down, and let them get perfectly ripe on the counter. (They should be good there for two or three days). If needed for a few more days, you can move ripe tomatoes to the fridge.
  • Use it today: Grilled Tomato Salsa
  • Save it for later: “My favourite go-to is a simple marinara sauce,” says Tizzard. “If you have three or four beautifully overripe tomatoes, in 15 minutes you have a simple sauce. All you need is olive oil, salt, garlic and the tomatoes, simmer and voila!”  Best of all, you can freeze zany leftover sauce for another meal!

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3What to do with bread

From theHUB from Walmart.ca

What to do with leftover bread

It’s estimated that Canadians toss some 750,000 loaves—a day. “The biggest problem is that we tend to overbuy bread,” says Tizzard. If this is a problem at your house, opt for demi-baguettes, or bagels and buns sold in bulk, so you’re taking home only what you need.

  • Keep it fresh: Bakers swear by storing bread in paper or cloth bags, instead of plastic, at room temperature in a bread box, away from heat and moisture. (Don’t put your bread box above the dishwasher or toss a bag of buns on top of the fridge, for example.) If you’re not going to finish a fresh loaf within a few days, pop it in the freezer.
  • Use it today: Italian Bread Salad
  • Save it for later: A sliced loaf that’s frozen right away will be good for several months in the deep freeze. Defrost a whole loaf in the fridge overnight (unwrapped, to keep it from going soggy), or remove a slice at a time as required, and toast from frozen. You can give life to a stale loaf by making croutons, then storing them in a sealed jar in your pantry or fridge. They should keep this way for at least another week.
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Did You Know
Most Best Before dates have to do with food quality (think freshness, best texture, flavour and nutritional value)—not safety. If you’re unsure about a food that’s past its date, compost it, but keep in mind that many foods can still be safely consumed. Eggs, for example, are usually good for three weeks past their date stamp, while cream cheese can typically still be eaten for another two weeks. Only a few foods, like infant formula and liquid meal replacements, are marked with expiry dates.[1]
what to do with leftover avocado

Avocados only start to ripen after they are cut from the tree. That’s why they’re often still firm when they hit the grocery aisle. But, as every avo toast lover knows, they will soften quickly on your counter, so avoid buying these tricky little guys in bulk.

  • Keep it fresh: Store avocados in a fruit bowl on the counter until they are perfectly ripe, then move them into the fridge to maintain that soft-but-not-too-soft texture for up to three more days. If you only use half of an avocado, leave the stone in the other side, drizzle all over with lemon juice and cover with plastic wrap (or a reusable beeswax food wrap) to prevent blackening. This should keep it fresh for another day in the fridge.
  • Use it today: Salmon with Avocado Dressing
  • Save it for later: “The key to longevity with produce is learning to love your freezer,” says Tizzard. “If done properly, you can freeze almost everything.” And that includes avocados! For best results, peel, cube and freeze chunks for smoothies or a blended guacamole. (The avocado will become watery when thawed, so it suits a puree style dip better than chunky.)

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Quick Tip
Food often gets forgotten in the fridge because it’s stuck at the back or blocked by other items. Adding a Lazy Susan turntable to one of your shelves will help you see everything at glance.

5What to do with bananas

From theHUB from Walmart.ca

what to do with leftover bananas

Everybody loves bananas, but using them up before they become overripe can be a challenge. Tizzard recommends only buying a few at a time—don’t feel compelled to take the whole bunch. “It really comes down to planning and buying what you need,” she says.

  • Keep it fresh: This neat trick has made the rounds on social media (because it works!): If you accidentally overbuy bananas, wrap a piece of tinfoil over the step of your bunch of bananas to slow ripening. This can add another week of longevity to the fruit.
  • Use it today: Banana Bread Oatmeal
  • Save it for later: Overripe bananas are perfect for baking, but you don’t always have to make the same old banana bread. Mashed or puréed banana not only works well in many muffin recipes, from zucchini to morning glory, but you can also use it in cookies, pancakes, or even sundaes! (Do keep in mind that it will account for a portion of the wet ingredients, but is sweet enough to allow you to cut back on some of the sugar, too. Bonus!)

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6What to do with leafy greens

From theHUB from Walmart.ca

What to do with leftover lettuce

All leafy vegetables, from microgreens to bib lettuce to fresh herbs, are highly perishable. “When I buy greens, I plan on making a salad that night, or a certain recipe the next day,” suggests Tizzard. If you want to buy lettuce, but won’t be using it for a few days, consider picking up a “living lettuce” (the kind that comes with the roots attached) because you can add water to the bottom and keep it fresh for longer. Or, consider hardy lettuce substitutes, like baby kale and watercress.

  • Keep it fresh: Before you store your lettuce, remove any wilting leaves, and shake off any dirt. Lettuce will last longer unwashed, but if you prefer to rinse and chop your leaves so they are quicker to grab-and-go later, be sure to remove as much water as possible, and wrap them in a clean towel or paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Then place in a reusable silicone pouche or zip-top plastic bag. (Opt for bags that are perforated, or leave the top open, for air flow.) Fresh herbs will hold up longer if you place them in a jar of water in the fridge.
  • Use it today: Tuscan Soup with Kale
  • Save it for later: Add new life to old greens by adding them to soups (which you can then freeze!) or smoothies.

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7What to do with fruit

From theHUB from Walmart.ca

What to do with ripened fruit

Selecting the freshest fruits is the first step to scoring longer storage life in your kitchen. When shopping, look for rich colours, avoiding limp leaves and blemishes, which indicate that produce is past its prime. And it’s helpful to have at least a loose plan for your fruits, to ensure they get eaten up. Decide what’s for the kids’ lunchboxes, what can be used in a weekend brunch recipe, or in a mid-week dessert.

  • Keep it fresh: Citrus fruits keep best in a mesh bag on the counter, berries on the other hand should remain dry and unwashed until you’re ready to eat them (to avoid mould) and be kept in the crisper drawer of your fridge.Note that some fruits, like apples, naturally release ethylene gas, which certain other types of produce, like lettuce and broccoli, are sensitive to, so it’s important to store them separately in the fridge.
  • Use it today: Strawberry-Raspberry Sundaes
  • Save it for later: Most varieties of overripe fruit, from strawberries to pears, work well cooked down into a homemade jam (which can be jarred and stored for months!). You can also throw them into a simple cobbler recipe, or just toss them in the freezer to be used in breakfast smoothies.

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8What to do with root vegetables

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what to do with root vegetables

Sure, when it comes to carrots, potatoes and turnips, there’s rarely a rush to use them up. It’s when they do finally start to go bad that we’re often stumped,  looking for ways to work them into mains and side dishes. Here are some delicious meal ideas and storage solutions that might help.

  • Keep it fresh: If the greens are still attached on your parsnips or beets, remove the tops before you store them (they pull moisture from the vegetable, since they are still trying to grow). Root vegetables will stay fresh for as long as a month in the pantry, or the fridge.
  • Use it today: Bacon & Kale Mashed Potatoes
  • Save it for later: Did you know that you can freeze potatoes to use them later? All you have to do is partially cook them first. It’s a great solutions for hash browns, pre-prepped roasted potatoes or even sweet potato casserole. Or try DIY French fries: Just wash, slice, and blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes, before plunging in a quick ice bath to stop the cooking. Then drain, season and bag up for the freezer so they’re ready to go when you need them.

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Quick Tip
Never store onions near your other root veggies because they release ethylene, a gas that will cause the potatoes and carrots to go bad more quickly.

9What to do with leftover pasta

From theHUB from Walmart.ca

what to do with leftover pasta

It makes sense to buy dried spaghetti, rotini, or penne in bulk to have on hand, since this family favourite is versatile and quick to prepare. It’s when we cook too much pasta at one time that we get into trouble.  But there are plenty of ways to repurpose leftover noodles, says Tizzard. “Add them to a salad, or a soup—there are so many options.”

  • Keep it fresh: Dried pasta is good for ages—up to two years in a sealed container, or up to one year in an opened box or bag. Fresh, store-bought pasta is typically good for two to three days in the fridge; homemade noodles should be used within a day.
  • Use it today: Creamy Whole Wheat Pasta Salad
  • Save it for later: You can freeze fresh pasta for up to eight months. “You can also freeze any type of cooked pasta, as long as it’s in a liquid like a tomato sauce,” says Tizzard. Or, if you have leftover plain macaroni that the kids couldn’t finish at dinner, stash it in a container with a splash of chicken stock and you have the base for chicken noodle soup. The options are indeed almost endless.

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10What to do with yogurt

From theHUB from Walmart.ca

Yogurt

Whether you enjoy it for breakfast, use it in recipes, like a curry sauce, a Greek marinade or even yogurt popsicles, yogurt is a versatile staple to have in your fridge.

  • Keep it fresh: Yogurt can stay fresh for many weeks in the fridge. Use a clean spoon when scooping it out, to avoid cross-contamination which can speed up spoilage, and keep it sealed to protect it from other food odours. When buying, be sure to consult the Best Before date, but keep in mind that a container with today’s date stamp is often still considered good (and safe!) to eat for up to another seven days.
  • Use it today: Classic Spinach Dip with Greek Yogurt
  • Save it for later: Yogurt is one food that doesn’t freeze very well (unless it is a popsicle). Another easy way you can use up an about-to-spoil container in a muffin recipe, for example, and freeze those!

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This article is intended as general information. Always be sure to read and follow the label(s)/instruction(s) that accompany your product(s). Walmart will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused by this activity.

Article Sources

  1. Government of Canada. Date Labelling on Pre-packaged Foods.
  2. Love Food Hate Waste Canada. Food Waste in the Home.
  3. Love Food Hate Waste Canada. 10 Easy Tips.
  4. Nature Fresh Farms. How to Properly Organize Your Fridge.
  5. UnlockFood. How to Store Vegetables to Keep Them Fresh.
  6. Bob Villa. This is the Right Way to Store Tomatoes.
  7. Food & Wine. 5 Secrets to Storing Bread (and Making it Last Longer).
  8. Love Food Hate Waste Canada. Shelf Life.
  9. David Suzuki Foundation. Don’t confuse “best before” with “expired.”
  10. Chicken Farmers of Canada. Chicken and Food Safety.
  11. Masterclass. How to Store Fresh Pasta.