On Nutrition: What to do with leftovers

I am aware that some people, for one reason or another, do not eat leftovers. That would not be our household, even before these days of high food prices.

It’s estimated that we Americans waste 30% to 40% of the food we purchase. That equates to 219 pounds of groceries that each of us tosses in the garbage every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And two-thirds of that food is a fruit, vegetable or dairy product that ends up in a landfill instead of nourishing a body with essential nutrients.

What can we do when vegetables go bad before we eat them? Eat them before they go bad … duh.

Many foods can also be frozen for future use. I really don’t like overripe bananas. So I freeze them, three to a bag, and they’re ready for my next batch of banana bread. Onions and droopy celery can also be chopped and frozen for use in soups and other dishes.

We call our clean-out-the-refrigerator meals “conglomerates.” Last week, for example, I chopped and sliced the incredible tomatoes and zucchini our gracious neighbors had left on our porch. I cooked them with a leftover half-onion and kernels shucked from the last of the sweet corn we got from our farmer friend. Oh, and that little Tupperware of leftover meat and green chile from my enchildas a few days ago? That went into the mix, too. A few seasonings to boot, and we had a meal that took me right back to my native New Mexican roots.

Some leftovers can be a challenge. I used to cringe each time I’d open a whole can of tomato paste when the recipe called for just one tablespoon. I never seemed to use the rest before it developed creepy mold.

Then I learned leftover tomato paste can be frozen in individual portions with the help of plastic wrap and a freezer-proof container. Now I just need to remember it’s in the freezer.

On a larger scale, many organizations recover fresh, edible food no longer needed by restaurants, grocers and other food establishments and distribute them to people in need.

Local food banks such as feedingamerica.org or foodbanking.org, as well as programs like Food Rescue US (foodrescue.us), use volunteers to redistribute surplus food to food-insecure people on a daily basis. That’s encouraging.

No one’s perfect, however. The other day, I found a lost gem in the back of the fridge that had obviously been hidden for way too long. In this case, the old adage still holds true: If in doubt, throw it out.

Barbara Intermill is a registered dietitian nutritionist and syndicated columnist. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating.” Email her at [email protected]