Here it is! Our most controversial article of all time! It has inspired more offended, angry comments than any other.
Yes, we get it: no one likes to be shamed for their life choices. I thought that my comedic use of hyperbole would make it clear that this is nuanced advice, meant to persuade, not condemn. But apparently not!
So if in extolling the frugal, environmentalist, and time-saving virtues of using all the food you prepare instead of throwing it away I’ve offended you, by all means, channel that righteous anger into a comment.
But I do hope you think twice before discarding perfectly good food. Children are STARVING in Wichita, Timmy!
To combat this slothful and uncreative attitude, I’m going to extoll the virtue of leftovers in all their glory. Because I think leftovers are the cat’s pajamas and you should too.
What do you take me for?
Eating leftovers saves time!
Most recipes we use (and most published recipes in general) make four servings, and my husband and I are a household of about two (not counting the dog and That Friend Who Comes over Unannounced Approximately Two Nights a Week and If He Doesn’t We Get Worried and Go Look for Him at the Brewery).
So we just eat half of the meal for dinner and save the other half for lunch the next day. The leftovers get scooped into two Tupperware containers* when we’re washing the dishes, and that’s that. No extra food preparation required. We cook one dish and it feeds us both for two meals.
Considering I wake up early to make it to work by 7:00 or 7:30, my morning minutes are precious and few. So time wasted on making a fresh lunch from scratch in the morning means extra time spent in traffic, or less time to walk the dog. And time wasted making lunch at night after I’ve already cooked dinner means less time to assassinate pixelated bad guys in whatever video game I happen to be playing before bed.
So you see the importance of this time-saving technique.
*(We don’t actually use Tupperware. We use recycled yogurt containers because I got tired of replacing Tupperware after lending it to friends and never getting it back. Sure, it looks like we’re hoarding fat free vanilla yogurt by the quart if you open our fridge, and it’s definitely fun to open four containers at a time to find what I’m looking for, but think of THE FRUGALITY!!!!)
Eating leftovers saves money!
Thirteen out of eleven personal finance experts agree that eating out is more expensive than brown bagging your lunch. That’s just science.
When I was trying to cut back on my expenses to massacre my accursed student loans, one of the first things I did was cut back on eating out.
I never thought of myself as someone who wasted money on food. Yet a sandwich at my favorite lunch spot near my office costs $8.45. I was eating two or three of these babies a week. So I was spending, conservatively, over $67 a month on deli meat and cheese between some toasted bread.
That’s ludicrous. And completely avoidable.
I realized I could eliminate that expense entirely if I eat leftovers at work every day of the week. No need to allocate extra toward my grocery budget for sandwich fixings. Just eat the extra food I already have made.
Money saved, tummy full.
Eating leftovers prevents you from overeating!
If I’m planning to eat leftovers for lunch, it means the amount I eat at dinner directly affects how much I have left over for lunch the next day.
This keeps me from gorging myself on the delicious meats, cheeses, and orphan blood my soul requires for sustenance. For if I overeat, my body might be too bloated and sluggish to catch said tender orphans!
And while I try to stay healthy by working out and running as much as possible, exercise is only half the battle. Diet is the other half.
Eating leftovers prevents food waste!
Americans waste about sixty million tons of food a year. (Your mom’s voice: “Meanwhile, children are starving in Africa, so for Pete’s sake eat your broccoli, Jimmy!”)
No but srsly: that is a disgusting and unnecessary amount of waste. How much of that do you think is just Monday’s leftovers that don’t look quite as appetizing as Wednesday’s brand new takeout from that new barbecue place?
Eating your leftovers is one way to reduce the total amount of food waste, at least in your own life. Just, like… eat all the food.
Why don’t you want to eat leftovers?
A strange thing happened when I first published this article: leftover haters came out of the woodwork to tell me why I’m wrong and bad and mean.
Which is just fascinating to me. Because we’ve written about super controversial topics like abortion and raising the minimum wage and labor unions. Yet none of those articles elicited even a tenth of the outrage.
Let’s unpack that, shall we?
The trauma of gross leftovers
I know there are those out there traumatized by leftovers. I’m sorry grandma’s three-day-old Husband’s Delight Casserole hurt you that way. I myself sometimes take leftover grazing to an extreme, much to my husband’s annoyance.
We just got back from a weeklong rafting trip, after which we divided the leftover provisions with our friends. We ended up with a bag of bagels, a bag of carrots, some almonds, and a jar of capers. On the drive home I just started… eating the carrots because why the hell not? I offered my husband a sandwich of stale blueberry bagels, whole carrots, and capers with a garnish of almonds and for some reason he insisted on stopping for “real lunch” instead. Why? Dunno. Between you and me, I just don’t think he’s as invested in this whole financial independence thing as I am.
But you need to learn to forgive. Let go of that time your mom thought stale cornbread with a side of… cold egg noodles and ketchup?… was an acceptable dinner. You’re an adult now.You can control your leftover destiny. The trauma of reheated pork chops is behind you.
Leftovers are a symbol of poverty
For a lot of people, leftovers symbolize poverty. You don’t have enough money to create a brand new meal every time you sit down to eat, so you have to rely on leftovers instead. And that kind of blow to a person’s pride can really sting.
I get it! It’s hard to view something you were forced to do out of financial necessity as a great thing to do when you’re no longer impoverished. I honestly don’t judge. Switching from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset is hard.
The difference, I think, is being intentional about leftovers. When you’re not being forced to eat leftovers out of desperation, you can plan to make meals that will result in leftovers you enjoy. And then you can savor the smugness that comes with all that saved time, money, and effort.
Some food does not lend itself to leftovers
I have tasted the utter disappointment of leftover salad that was placed in the refrigerator fully dressed. Tossing those wilted, clumped, slimy vegetables soaked in vinaigrette is a pain I won’t soon forget.
Some food just isn’t meant to be eaten as leftovers. You’ve got to eat it in one sitting, or not at all.
Don’t like the taste of your leftovers on principle? Can’t help you there, other than to suggest you try making better food the first time around.
Leftovers are a hassle
This anti-leftover excuse gets a massive side-eye from me.
Don’t have a microwave at work? That’s cool. You should be eating more salads for dinner anyway, and those don’t need heating up. Plus, you’d be astonished by how many once-hot meals taste pretty damn good at room temp.
Don’t have a fridge at work? You know you always wanted one of those cute mini lunchbox coolers stuffed with a couple of ice packs! They’re adorable!
Share a fridge with a sticky-fingered coworker? This is more opportunity than problem, since petty revenge is one of life’s truest delights. Pull an Orange is the New Black on your lunch containers a few times and they’ll never rob you of your leftovers again. (Or just season and salt the everloving hell out of your food. White people hate that.)
Easily bored by eating the same food multiple meals in a row? Solution: cook great food and love eating it.
So find yourself a goddamn straw and suck it up.
Eating leftovers won’t hurt you. It’ll save money, time (which is money), health (which is also money), and the planet (way more important than pretty much everything including money). So you really have no excuse not to eat leftovers.
The point is, nothing tastes quite as good as frugal smugness feels.