One of the banes of refrigerator maintenance is leftovers. I work hard to avoid them, but I’m often defeated in my efforts, especially when eating out. So often restaurant servings are HUGE, and, sucker that I am, I don’t just leave the excess on my plate. I bring it home, tuck in into the refrigerator, and then likely at some too-far-in-the-future date I get an odoriferous reminder that I now have to do something with the leftovers, which are likely to be found in the back of the refrigerator. They will most likely be unidentifiable now, so they go into the garbage.
The obvious first step is to think carefully about bringing home restaurant leftovers: Will it reheat well enough that you really want to eat it? After all it probably doesn’t make much difference when it gets thrown out–then or a week later. If I decide to tote it home (and I already know that the cat won’t eat it), then I need to label it, and be sure that it doesn’t end up in the back-most corner of the fridge. I have used masking tape (which comes off easily–often too easily), Sharpies (which can be removed from some things with rubbing alcohol). I recently found a suggestion to use dry erase crayons (which I didn’t even know existed). Might be worth a try, but better yet for me would be to be much more judicious in what I put into the fridge as a “leftover”.
“Leftovers” from my own cooking aren’t as much of a problem, but I’m always looking for ways to use the bits and pieces of produce or the last part of that can of beans. I’ve got a handle on the bits and pieces of bags of frozen vegetables and even partially on the celery. But there are still bits and pieces….
The Cook’s Illustrated books on cooking for two and Joe Yunan’s book (see bibliography) is the cross-indexing of recipes that use the same ingredient so you have a suggestion for what to do with the other half of that head of cauliflower.
I’ve found several tools to help reduce waste in single-serving cooking. First from the kitchn is an article titled What to Do With…? 75 Tips for Leftovers and Ingredients. There is a long list of things from produce market, the refrigerator, and the pantry with suggestions of what to do with the extras. For a lot, the suggestions are “freeze it” which does not necessarily solve the problem–just moves it to some point in the future; however, there are some good suggestions.
The flip side of this is throwing away things that could reasonably be used. For some examples, see 10 Foods You Should Never Throw Away. I can agree with the cheese rinds and chicken bones, but here again, I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of just changing where you stash the leftovers. When you’re doing single-serving cooking you do need to consider carefully what you bring home and what you keep. Also useful might be Top 10 Ways to Use Up Overripe Fruit.
Another article that is useful 15 Foods You Should Freeze in an Ice Cube Tray. There are lots of other things to freeze as “ice” cubes, and the put into zipper-lock bags for freezing. Having these portioned out can make it easier to use them. One of the things I do with excess celery and carrots is to make mirepoix (soffrito) in a big batch, then freeze it in ice-cube trays. One or two cubes will be what you need for small-time cooking–and it cuts time from preparation, and should reduce waste!
Planning use as in having thought about possibilities for that second serving (no, not meal planning–I don’t do that), and shopping with single-serving cooking in mind should help. One way to manage what gets pushed to the back is to add a triage box to the fridge. Triage refers to the process or sorting, or assigning priority to something. In the fridge it would be an eat-me-first box where you put things that have a short shelf-life, or perishables so that they don’t get pushed to the back of the fridge.