Kids dinners: Last night’s leftovers

Don’t throw your child’s leftover food in the bin!

April 05 2023

Don’t throw it

Living with a family in Japan as a uni student, one thing that struck me was how every stray lettuce leaf or spare spoonful of rice was kept on tiny plates after each meal, to be used in the preparation of the next. Although their society, like ours, had embraced ‘disposable’, this family seemed to have ‘frugal’ stamped into their genetic make-up! It was inspiring.

You can let these food-saving ways inspire you, too, by investing in some smaller-sized food storage containers and keeping food from one meal to create or add to another. Instead of feeling as though a mum’s job is to finish everything left on the table (or giving Dad the nickname of Garbage Guts!), save that last bit of grated cheese, that spoonful of pasta sauce, that handful of grains, and turn it into the beginnings of tomorrow’s meal.

Time savers

I love using leftovers so much that I often create them on purpose! This has the welcome result of saving quite a bit of time. Cooking dried legumes is especially time-consuming, so when I cook beans in the pressure cooker I always double the amount I need. I refrigerate or freeze the rest, depending on when I intend to use the beans. 

You can pop extra beans into a soup or stew to add some protein at the last minute, or transform any type of bean into a yummy dip or spread by mashing or blending with olive oil, raw garlic, salt, lemon juice and your favourite herbs and spices. Also try putting beans with tomato salsa, cheese and avocado into tortillas and wrap up into burritos.

Old food, new look

Grains are easy to reuse. Have some leftover rice? Sauté it with some finely- chopped carrot, onion, peas and egg, toss through a bit of tamari soy sauce or a pinch of sea salt and you have fried rice. You can also sauté quinoa, millet or barley with vegies and egg or tofu for a pilaf. Top with cheese or savoury yeast flakes for taste and nutrition. 

Cold pasta reheats well on the stove if you heat it up with a tiny bit of milk, rather than water, or coat it with a small amount of last night’s sauce. And any wholegrain that you serve up for dinner can reappear the next morning as a sweet or savoury porridge. Simply simmer with added water, stock or milk. If you want salty, flavour with tamari or umeboshi plums. 

If your kids like their porridge sweet, simply cook your leftover rice, oats or other grain with a few raisins or some fresh banana or pear. Drizzle with a bit of maple syrup or raw honey if there’s a real sweet tooth at the table.

What’s cooking?

Has your child become full before she could finish her rolled-oat breakfast or her rice at dinner? Just pop the leftovers into your baking. Substitute cooked grains for approximately equal amounts of flour and slightly reduce the amount of liquid. The addition of leftover brown rice makes biscuits nice and crunchy on the outside and super-chewy on the inside. Leftover oat porridge lends a great chewy texture to Anzac biscuits, when added along with the dry rolled oats.

Leftover vegies can also magically reappear, and in a form that your toddler won’t recognise. If she didn’t eat her spinach for dinner, mince it up in cheesy scrambled eggs the next morning, or make vegie pikelets for morning tea: just add the spinach, zucchini or other vegetables, minced fine, to a basic pikelet mix of egg, flour and milk. Add a grated apple as well for sweetness.

Feeling toasty

Does your child sometimes leave almost entire pieces of toast uneaten? To make some crunchy rusks for snacking, slice into triangles or fingers and spread with some tahini and miso, or butter and Vegemite. Bake at 150°C until hard (about half an hour, depending on the hardness of the toast). 

Or, pop leftover bread or toast into a bag in the freezer and keep adding to it until you have enough to process into breadcrumbs. Use equal amounts of breadcrumbs and crumbled tofu, add an egg and some nutmeg, and mould the mixture into tofu burger patties. Bake or fry and serve with a dash of tamari for a yummy toddler dinner over rice or wrapped in pita with tomato and avocado. The possibilities for reinvention are endless!