Declutter Refrigerator Plus How To Eat Leftovers & Not Waste Them

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Today's decluttering mission is to pretty quick. It is to throw away all the leftovers that you know because of age or other reasons you aren't going to eat anymore, and then wash and put away the food containers.


Organizing Refrigerator & Freezer Challenge
In addition, also get rid of other spoiled or old food in your refrigerator. You can use this refrigerated food storage guidelines printable cheat sheet to help you know when something should get tossed.

But after you do this decluttering, the thing I'd really like you to consider even more is how to not waste those leftovers and food anymore, in the future.

Food waste costs us money, and also it isn't being a good steward of the resources we're blessed with.

So I'd like you to think seriously about why you had lots of spoiled food that was perhaps becoming a science experiment in your fridge to begin with.

That isn't meant as judgment. Trust me, I've had some science experiment types of containers I've discovered in my fridge before. I think just about everyone has.

But I don't like to find them. First, because it's gross to deal with. (Admit it -- you've thrown away a container rather than clean the yuckiness in there before! At least I know I have.)

But also for the reason I said above. I dislike that I've wasted food. It feels wrong.

So today I want you to identify what is causing the problem and implement some easy steps to try to prevent this from happening as often in the future.

Maybe for you it is realizing that you or others in your household just don't like leftovers, and you should therefore just cook less food for each meal. That will require some changes to your habits, but your wallet will thank you when you are purchasing less food, and still feeding everyone!

For others, you may need to work on creating habits that ensure you're more likely to eat those leftovers instead of letting them go to waste.

I've actually got some great suggestions below for how to make sure your family eats the leftovers you've got consistently. But here's my three best tips as well.

First, schedule a consistent time you eat leftovers. This can be consistently eating them the next day for lunch, or having a leftover night planned into the meal plan for the week regularly.

The point is to make sure you allot time to eat the food you've already prepared. This will save you money, and also time since you'll also have to cook less frequently.

5 food storage safety tips
Second, let people know, through labels on the food containers or in some other way, what leftovers are available and how old they are.

Often family members have no idea what is available, or don't know how old it is, so they're wary to eat it. Just keeping everyone informed of what is available goes a long way toward making sure the leftovers actually get eaten.

(Also make sure you're using these 5 food storage safety tips so when you and your family eat these leftovers they are safe to eat!)

And third, to the extent that some food is not eaten, make sure you're clearing it out of the fridge regularly. The two best times to do this is the day before garbage pick up day, so the food doesn't just sit in the garbage for too long getting gross. The other good day to do this is the day before you grocery shopping, so the fridge is clear and ready for new food when you bring it back to your home the next day.

So below I've got some additional tips provided by readers for how they've implemented some simple strategies to eat their leftovers, and if you have some as well please tell me in the comments.

In addition, in the comments I'd also love to hear how many food storage containers you had to empty as part of this mission.

Top photo courtesy of Kathleen Franklin

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Keep A Simple List Of Leftovers Available On The Fridge

I got this tip from a reader, Susan, recently. It is so absolutely simple, but simple tips that work are the absolute best!

She sad, "I'm finding it helps to keep a list on the fridge of what leftovers, veggies, etc. need to get used up. Leftovers aren't getting lost in the back of the fridge as much."

If you don't want to use a piece of paper like I used for the illustration above, another great idea would be to use a little magnetic wipe board that you keep on the fridge where everyone can write the leftovers available, and just mark them off, or erase those words when they've been used up.

***Update: So many people asked me for a printable to keep track of your leftovers that I finally created one for you. You can grab your copy here! ***End Update

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Label Leftover Containers So You Know What Is Available To Eat

I already shared above telling people what is available to eat as leftovers is one of the best ways to actually make sure someone in your household eats them.

One way to do this is to label what is inside the containers, along with the date it was cooked.

But sometimes labeling can be hard. There are a lot of methods for labeling, but when I received this tip from a reader, Sandy, I just knew I needed to share it. It certainly isn't the only way you can label containers, but I thought it was both a good idea and easy.

Sandy says:

I found a wonderful way to label leftovers.

I was looking at the store for some freezer tape to use but never found any, but I was over in the canning section and I saw some Ball dissolvable labels for canning jars.

I was skeptical at how dissolvable they actually were since I was going to be using them on plastic bowls and lids, but I was more than pleasantly surprised at how easy they did dissolve under running water with no effort.

So now I have leftovers in various bowls with names and dates of when I cooked them, and no longer wonder how long it has been sitting in there.

I have not tried them in the freezer yet, but I would not think it would be any different.

Are You Ready To Declutter Your Home?

declutter 365
I hope this decluttering mission has inspired you to get your refrigerator cleared out. If it has, you can check out the Organizing Refrigerator & Freezer Challenge which gives even more hints and tips for getting these appliances in your home in order.

In addition, when you begin to declutter the feeling you get is contagious, so if you're loving the results you're getting I would encourage you to keep going.

I've got a whole series of 15 minute decluttering missions (eventually 365 of them!) that you can do.

Just pick and choose the ones you want to do, that will make a big impact in your home. But if you want someone else to tell you the order you can also grab the 15 minute daily decluttering mission calendars and follow along as we all get our homes clutter free together!

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Comments for Label Leftover Containers So You Know What Is Available To Eat

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post-it notes for labels
by: Linda

We use post-it notes to put day/date on top of leftover containers. Everything gets cleaned out on Tuesday, the night before garbage day.

shelf in refrigerator dedicated to leftovers
by: Erin

Every few days I do this! I have a shelf (or portion of a shelf) dedicated to leftovers. Older towards the front, newer in the back!

label with masking tape
by: Michelle

I always label my left overs with masking tape, adding the date and the food inside.

Erasable Lables
by: Angel

I use erasable labels for my food containers (affiliate link). I put a label on each one of my food containers and Velcro the pen and the eraser inside the frig so I don't lose them. One of the best investments I ever made!

we have "Leftover Night"
by: Laura

Each week (at our house) Thursday night is "Leftover Night". I pull all of the leftovers from the week out and everyone chooses their favorite from the week. Whatever is left after my three boys have eaten probably won't get eaten so then I throw it out.

freeze them
by: Anonymous

I put them in freezer bags, label, and put them in the freezer.

portion my leftovers into single servings to take for work the next day
by: Megan

I usually cook for just myself, but sometimes my boyfriend too. I find it is easiest for me if I portion out leftovers into single servings. Then I'm not as tempted to skip packing my lunch for work because it's extra work to scoop out of the leftover container what I want for the next day. I can just grab one serving and go.

Not that it's a lot of extra work, but when it comes to going to bed at night (if I'm packing my lunch then) or leaving for work in the morning, every extra minute is precious!

I freeze leftovers immediately
by: Patty McKee

I find that leftovers do not get eaten from the fridge in my house so I've started freezing leftover items immediately after the meal. Leftover chicken or other meats get cubed and frozen for soups and casseroles. Same with vegetables. Dishes like pasta get frozen in individual containers. My husband travels for work so on those weeks that I'm on my own I will frequently pull out an already portioned container and reheat it rather than cooking something new. Everything gets labeled with a date.

About once a month we order pizza from our favorite local restaurant and we always get the largest size. It is only a couple dollars more than the medium. We each eat a piece or two, then I freeze the remaining slices individually. Very easy to grab one and throw it on the pizza stone in the oven.

I have a dedicated area in the freezer just for leftovers so they are easy to find. I find that we eat more leftovers now and really save on food waste.

Leftover plan - part of my overall meal planning
by: Linda B

I just started planning my menus a month in advance and spending a day cooking/prepping. Part of the plan is "Leftover Friday." All leftovers go on the bottom shelf of the fridge and are up for grabs for lunch or snacks, and whatever is left is dinner on Friday.

If there are no leftovers we have pizza or taco salad (or use these to supplement the leftovers). I feel good about not wasting food and not having to find anything fuzzy in the back of the fridge, and no leftovers are more than a week old, so there's no "when is this from?" anymore.

Leftover list on fridge
by: Gill Egan

I made up a small leftovers list whiteboard that sits on the front of the fridge door. As leftovers go in they're written on the whiteboard, as they're used up they're wiped off.

All of my container lids have clear sticky-tape strips on top and I use a permanent marker pen on them to write the contents and date. The marker rubs off easily and the sticky-tape lasts quite a few rounds through the dishwasher before I replace them.

We also made a rule that the kids had to eat leftovers after-school rather than instant noodles. It's not always practical, but it usually works out.

Leftovers Soup
by: Margaret Mary Myers

If I have leftover rice and veggies I make a leftovers soup. For stock, I check to see if I have any leftover spaghetti sauce. If not, I might use an 8 ounce can of tomato sauce and a cup of water, or water with bouillon, or a little gravy, whatever I have on hand. A little chopped meat or chicken is good if I have it, or even a few meatballs from the freezer if I don't have any meat leftovers. I add some basil or oregano, salt unless what I have is already salty enough, and then heat it up on the stove. Caution: I check each leftover item carefully before adding it, bringing it up from the bottom of the container with a spoon, because the bottom of the food usually spoils first. (Don't ask me how I know. :) ). My children, at all ages, used to really enjoy this soup, and I still do sometimes.

Sunday is leftover day, right before garbage day
by: Anonymous

Sunday is left over dinner day. Everyone gets to eat whatever they want from the leftovers. That way they get eaten before the garbage day the next day and we are usually busy doing family time and/or weekend projects so I don't have to cook. Some weekends depending on what we had for dinner all week I may need to cook a side or even the main dish like chicken breasts to go with the leftovers but for the most part it works out pretty well.

transforming our leftovers into something else helps me want to eat them
by: Anonymous

I'll make quesadillas with leftover meats we don't feel like eating, or throw certain meats and cooked veggie leftovers into soup. Making them into something else sometimes helps me want to eat them since it doesn't feel like the same thing twice.

Also my husband packs leftovers into a lunch portion to take to work the next day right as we're putting the food away.

Some things I'll freeze a single portion that seems too small to save for a leftover since it makes a good lunch for me or our kids when I don't have time later.

We also freeze fruit that's getting too soft for smoothies.

leftovers list is my meal plan for the week
by: Anonymous

I make a weekly list that I post on the fridge. Each day of the week I write what was cooked that day, so that finding tuna on Wednesday, the list would tell you that it was prepared on Monday, thus no confusion about how old the leftover is. Each Sunday a new list is posted. When the food is consumed, it is crossed off that weeks list. Works for us.

consider packing them up for elderly or sick members of your church
by: Cynthia Reed

Hello, I just read your page and have a possible solution. We are making freezer meals for out missionaries from out ward. I am LDS and although they eat regularly with the members sometimes they don't have an appointment or they may feel ill and can't go out or expose others. We are putting together this week to serve 2 meals in one foil container. We will make six meals to help them out. I encourage casseroles that would have 2 servings left over. Add a separate veggie and a freezable dessert and you have a meal.

Please think about all the ways members of churches could provide meals for the elderly or the sick members. I am sure they would be grateful.

food ideas for using leftovers
by: Anonymous

For years due to never having much money and having five kids to feed I never threw out any leftovers. I would chop up any meat and or vegetables and add to eggs, and scramble them up all together for either a hearty breakfast or lunch. Never any waste at all. My husband and I still do this today.

If you have lots of leftover mashed potatoes you can make potato patties or make mashed potato salad, tastes just like regular potato salad, only no potato chunks.

And you can always save leftover meat. Put it in a large freezer bag and label pork, beef, chicken, add any leftovers to it that has been cooked until you get enough to use in a casserole or in soup or stews. No waste and lowers the food bill. I throw all my leftover cooked vegetables in a freezer safe container, peas carrots, green beans, etc. and then when I get enough I make a pot of vegetable soup or vegetable beef soup.

Mix leftovers to make new meals
by: Faye

If I make a pot of Chili Beans on Monday and Mac and Cheese on Tuesday, then Wednesday I mix them to make Chili Mac. With leftover beans one can make dishes with tortillas and cheese. Potatoes too. You can have boiled potatoes for one meal and then with the leftovers make potato salad. Baked potatoes can be served with leftover broccoli, chili beans, cheese, sour cream, etc.

Another idea, invite others over to help you eat them.

Fridge helpers - simple stickers
by: Anonymous

Just myself and hubby now so I have started putting little dated stickers on things when I open them so I don't have to guess how long its been in the fridge. Like Cheese whiz and Peanut butter, Jam, Miracle whip, etc.This has helped me in this area.

Left over labeling
by: Anonymous

I put a piece of tape on the lid and with a sharpie mark the date and write what the food is. It makes it easy for others to know what it is and super easy for me to know when to throw it out. I also date all condiments by writing the date on the label when I open it.

leftover plates
by: Anonymous

When putting leftovers away I use microwave safe covered plates. I fix plates with everyone's favorites until it is gone. This way kids and husband do not have to drag everything out and dig in every bowl to find what they want. Working good so far!

labeling leftovers with dry erase marker
by: Deidre

I label leftovers with a dryer erase marker! The writing easily wipes off of a container when done.

how I use various leftovers
by: Katie

If I have made a casserole or have leftovers from a meal I may freeze them into portions and put in freezer so they can be taken in lunch box and eaten for lunch, or on a day when I don't feel like cooking.

Left over vegetables I might use to make some soup and mix it with some grains/lentils to make it stretch further.

Leftover bread which has gone stale I make into breadcrumbs to sprinkle over mac/cheese or a pie which wants a breadcrumb/cheese topping or cut into crouton sizes, bake in over with rosemary/garlic to toss in a salad.

Leftover fruit can make into a smoothie. Bananas I freeze to make banana bread.

Now all those little portions of sauces left in bottles, in the side of a fridge, condiments, hot sauce etc - that is where my fridge gets cluttered up. I guess one could transfer them to smaller Tupperware containers and mark them as they start running out - any suggestions, although you need to watch the sell by dates on those as well as dried herbs which can sit in one's larder for a while too.

"Cafeteria Night"
by: Peggy

When our kids were at home we used to love to go to the local cafeteria for dinner because everyone could pick something different. Then I implemented Cafeteria Night at home. I'd make a small amount of the entre the "boss" liked (if needed) and put out the left overs for everyone to make their own selection. What wasn't eaten that night was discarded.

Shelf labels
by: Anonymous

I could not get kids or myself to consistantly label containers so I labled the shelves. We ate leftovers on Wednesday because it was church night so no leftovers on Wed. Therefore shelves were Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. The first portion of leftovers was portioned for next day lunch and all others were placed on approiate shelf. If not eaten by Wed. then it was warmed for supper. If Sunday rolled around and there were anything on the shelf from last week, the wildlife got a treat for the week.

My Leftovers Solution...
by: Pat

1. I start by cooking less. Less food on the table means less in the way of leftovers. I divide up when I bring food in from the grocery store - one package of chicken can be divided so that it makes two separate meals and I don't end up cooking the whole package at once. By doing this I usually end up with no more than two servings of any one meal. It's taken me a long time to figure this out, but it really does work at our house.

2. I have a clear plastic box that is labeled "leftovers." It's large enough to hold several individual serving containers and it sits at eye level in the refrigerator. Leftovers are always designated as "free eats" whenever anyone is hungry. Family can pull out the leftovers box and eat whatever they want. First come, first served.

3. Once I've fixed a meal from the menu plan any unused food from opened cans or packages of things like chips or crackers goes to the "snacks" bowl on the counter. This is another "free eats" location. I try to keep this bowl current with fresh fruit and the occasional baked muffins as well.

**The pantry cabinets are strictly off limits to snack hungry monsters. Our family voted in the following rule:

IF the pantry gets raided and I discover missing meal preparation items in the process of fixing dinner, the offender gets fined and must do two things. One: replace the cost of the item into the family fun funds jar. Two: drive into town - immediately (which is a big deal since it's a 45 minute round trip to the grocery store and said trip must be done now, even if you're in your pajamas) - and purchase the missing item so Mom can finish fixing dinner. It is very VERY seldom that we've had to enforce this rule. Twice with daughter, once with husband. Maybe this explains why there are no family fun funds in the jar... **

Menu of Leftovers
by: Anonymous

About once a week we have leftover night - where my youngest daughter takes orders from each family member- while I work on warming up the appropriate items. We have a decorated card stock menu cover listing appetizer, main meal, drinks, dessert, then just post-it note in the options for the week in the correct section. She then puts the name of the person who ordered it next to each item- as our leftover night is first come first served - so order quick for best selection. Anything still remaining after leftover night gets tossed.

"Crafty" way to label leftovers in fridge
by: Theresa

I keep an extra fine tip sharpie permanent marker & a non-permanent chalk marker (that I purchased at a craft/hobbies store) on my fridge. I use the permanent marker to label broth/coconut milk (etc.) cartons with the new expiration date. I just put the 14th day after opening on the top in the best before date space e.g. EXP 02/14. I use the chalk marker to write on dishes, lids, glass containers. This washes off when the container gets cleaned! These are the kind large coffee shop chains use to draw on their menu boards and chalk board promotions.

Have fun turning your leftovers into new meals
by: jnaumann

We do schedule a time to eat our leftovers. However, I use my leftovers for pot luck dinner one or two nights a week. I will take a look at what is left over and re-purpose it into a new meal and no one ever really knows that it's leftovers.

Example: leftover #1: Chicken, rice & veggies leftover Monday...on Wednesday I will use red, yellow & green peppers and stuff them with the left over ingredients, top it off with a can of tomato sauce and bake it...Stuffed Peppers!

Leftover #2: Spaghetti & Broccoli leftover from Tuesday night...on Thursday I will saute some chicken, cabbage, carrots (and whatever else you like) scramble egg, soy sauce add my leftovers and call it LoMein!

Leftover #1 could have also been turned into Fried Rice or even Stuffed Squash. Have fun with it!

leftover night planned into the menu
by: Jodie

As a family of 10 leftovers shouldn't be a problem, yet it still is! The main reason is there is usually never enough "leftover" to feed everyone an entire meal. Therefore, I instituted a "Leftover" night on my menu (sometimes I insert an extra if It seems necessary). On this night I pull everything out and it is free choice, the kids love it. Recently I tweaked this a bit due to a very picky 6 year old. Although we still encourage him to try a few bites I then allow him to choose from the leftovers instead of battling at the dinner table (call me lazy!). I won't make him anything special, it has to be leftovers from the fridge!

putting leftovers in jars
by: Anonymous

I find that putting leftovers in jars let's family see what is available. If I have a small amount of left over vegetables I put them in a soup mix container in the freezer, to be used when I make homemade soup. Works well to conserve resources.

Limit Containers
by: Marcia

I control my leftovers by limiting my storage containers. I generally use 3 different sizes, and I buy them to easily nest together in the cabinet. When I am running low on empty containers I know that I must use up food in the refrigerator and freezer.

Leftovers conquered
by: Anonymous

I live with my husband, who has always been tidy. We threw quite a bit of spoiled leftovers away, because they were hidden.

Now, all leftovers are on the second shelf. Today the shelf is empty! I also check the produce bin and I can easily see what veggies must be eaten that day. No more spoiled veggies!

my ideas
by: Sallie

Sometimes you can mix two leftovers into one or add something to make new. As in leftover spaghettii. Add cottage cheese and motzarella and make a lasagne. Or add stew over rice or noodles.

We always cleaned out the frig on Sunday night for buffet style. What wasn't eaten was thrown away.

Freeze leftovers on coated paper plates (meat, veg. etc.) Cover, label and have your own TV dinners!

Using leftovers
by: Rhonda

With a college student who worked nights, a high school student and myself working second shift, the thing that worked best for me was a dry erase board on the fridge. It had two columns, one told what the food was and the other gave the last usable date (7 days later). When the food was gone, the entry was erased. This has worked better for me than anything else I have ever tried.

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