My Leftover Challenge

If you follow me on Instagram you’ll be aware that last week I set myself a bit of a challenge. Normally I’m the one that travels for work, but this time The Boyfriend was away, so finding myself rattling around at home on my own I decided to set myself a foodie challenge. When he left on the Monday we still had loads of food left in the fridge from the previous week’s shopping and a freezer full of bits and bobs we’d bought in bulk or when they were on offer. Having had a root around the kitchen I thought it was a bit silly for me to go and do a food shop just for little old me when there was all this stuff to hand that needed using up. It was time to break the habit of ‘the weekly shop’ and see how long I could last with needing to do a food shop. I was being less wasteful and saving money all in one go. 

This was a bit of a spur of the moment idea so didn’t exactly set myself any rules for this challenge. Anything I already had in the kitchen was up for grabs, including anything from the freezer and store cupboard essentials. 

Day one:

I started off by getting a chicken breast and fillet of mackerel out of the freezer, taking note of everything I had in the fridge and having a good old think about it while I was at work. Monday was easy, the veg drawer was pretty full and I had my defrosted bits from the freezer to factor in as well. I decided to make a spaghetti dish and resisted the urge to go and buy pesto. I ended up with a delightful bowl of spaghetti with chicken, chorizo, fresh chery tomatoes, red pepper, a few basil leaves, chilli, spring onions and a sprinkle of parmesan. 

This dish was a big success but I was aware that perhaps I’d thrown in slightly too many ingredients considering it was day one and I was trying to drag this out for as long as possible. What I liked about this dish is that usually when I’m cooking pasta I feel the need to make some sort of sauce or throw in some pesto, but this really didn’t need it and I think it actually refreshed the way I think about pasta dishes. It felt summery and light and left me feeling pretty smug about how well my challenge was going.

Day two: 

Riding on my wave of success I arrived home on day two and grabbed mostly the same ingredients as the day before. ‘How can I make this different?’ I thought, ‘Let’s use rice instead of pasta.’. I also had the mackerel fillet I’d defrosted the day before to use up. So with a lot of the same base ingredients I made a risotto with chorizo, red pepper, cherry tomatoes, basil, spring onions and mackerel. I sprinkled a few pomegranate seeds over the top in another attempt to make it different from the day before.

Whilst this was a successful and accomplished dish I was a little disappointed with how similar the first two days’ dishes were. I went to the fridge and decided a little more forward planning was the way to go for the rest of the week to avoid reinventing the same dish over and over again all week. This isn’t an easy task when you’re limited to a small selection of ingredients, however I’d already decided what the next dish was going to be.

Day three:

This was the hottest day of the year and therefore a massive write off in terms of the challenge. The office air con was broken, and after a sweaty train journey home, slaving over a hot stove was not top of my to do list. It was too hot to think about cooking, I had some toast and some ice cream. However, I didn’t go food shopping so whilst this may have been a break from the challenge I hadn’t caved yet! 

Day four:

I was back on track and I’d already planned this dinner on day two. After a few days of rice and pasta I really wanted to avoid going down that route again and turned to a recipe from my repertoire that I actually make quite regularly and really enjoy. A simple vegetable soup recipe that takes 15 minutes to make and is really tasty went down a treat for quick and light weeknight dinner. This recipe really is a favourite of mine so I’ll pop it up on the blog soon.

I was back to feeling smug about how well my challenge was going after this dinner. Also it was nearly Friday and I still had stuff I could use. Whilst there was plenty of things I could dish out of the freezer and lots of staples in the cupboards, the fridge was starting to look a little devoid of fresh veg, and being a huge vegetable lover, this was making me a little concerned about Friday.

Day five:

It’s Friday! I still had chorizo to use up and a few fresh tomatoes and I was desperately trying to think of what to make that wouldn’t be a repeat of Monday and Tuesday. I did cave and go for pasta (but it was penne not spaghetti so that’s totally different right?!) however I realised I had quite a substantial block of cheddar that was still looking pretty good and that I’d been ignoring all week. I had just enough milk left to make a cheese sauce and so Friday night was loaded mac’n’cheese (although if I’m using penne does that make it pen’n’cheese?) With all of the leftover veggies thrown in that made it slightly less of a guilty dinner. I also managed to get two portions out of it, so enough for lunch and dinner the next day.

My overall thoughts on the week:

Overall I’m really pleased with how the week went. My only disappointment is that I wouldn’t ordinarily have so many carb heavy dinners. I try to limit the amount of pasta and rice I eat and ordinarily I certainly wouldn’t have two pasta based dinners in one week. I like to try and keep things more varied than that, however I was stuck to a limited selection of fresh vegetables I couldn’t bulk out my dinners with these as much as I would usually. 

I’m actually pretty impressed that I got four good dinners out of things I already had in my kitchen. The vegetable soup and the mac’n’cheese dinners actually produced enough for two so I got two lunches out of this as well. In a society where we’re fortunate enough to be spoilt for choice it’s very easy to get used to cooking what we fancy and not making the most of every last scrap of food we’ve bought. It’s definitely made me think a little more carefully about food that ends up in the bin and think a little differently about meal planning and how our usual habits can make us waste a lot of what we buy. I think going forward when I’m planning dinners for the week and making my shopping list I’ll factor in at least one empty day where I can make a dinner based on what’s leftover and needs using up. I particularly enjoyed that it forced me to be a little more creative in the recipes I came up with rather than sticking to the same old repertoire. 


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