Culinary Odds & Ends: How Eating Leftovers Saves Me $1400 Annually

In 2013 my family spent $13,788 on groceries. If you were to press me on the matter, my teenage son, Matthew, probably ate about $9000 worth of them.

Anyone who thinks I’m kidding hasn’t seen our kitchen after a visit from my son. I mean, whenever Matthew finds a freshly-stocked pantry, it isn’t long before it ends up looking like an Egyptian sorghum field that’s been assaulted by a swarm of locusts.

My neighbors often walk away empty handed after asking if they can borrow a cup of expensive milk from our refrigerator. It’s not because we’re cheap or stingy; we buy four or five gallons a week. The thing is, Matthew drinks so much moo juice that, more often than not, it’s practically gone before we get it in the refrigerator.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating just a little. Besides, it ain’t all bad; Matthew saves us a lot of money because, unlike most folks, he’s not afraid of leftovers. In fact, my whole family loves them.

A few years ago, I did a painfully detailed study of my grocery expenses and discovered that the price of our home-cooked meals came to roughly $2.09 per person per meal. And while I noted that the real cost was probably even less than that because my grocery costs included things that weren’t part of breakfast, lunch and dinner — you know, really good stuff like snacks and desserts — what I failed to mention was that the cost per meal would have been much more if my family had tossed the leftovers in the trash instead of eating them.

So how much money do we save each year by eating leftovers? I’m not sure, but each week we typically get at least one extra family meal from them. And Matthew also usually gets five or six weekly lunches and breakfasts on top of that too. (Thankfully, Matthew is more than happy eating stuff like leftover chili and beef stew to start his mornings.)

With that in mind, considering our grocery bill has since increased by 33 percent — bringing the price per person per meal to $2.78 — and assuming our culinary scraps provide 10 extra meals per person per week, my family saved roughly $1400 last year by consuming our leftovers. Not bad, huh?

Too bad eating peas doesn’t deliver similar dividends.

Photo Credit: Muffet

Comments

  1. 1

    Stephen says

    It is just my wife and I. We spent $4372.87 August 2010-August 2011 which works out to $2.05 per person pe r day. We eat a lot of leftovers as well.

    • 2

      Len Penzo says

      It’s definitely cheaper than eating out. By the way, although I didn’t mention it in the article, that same study I did a few years ago also found that we paid five times more per person, on average, when we ate at restaurants that year. And I suspect that is even more now because my son can’t eat off the kids menu anymore. LOL

  2. 3

    says

    We love leftovers too. For instance, tonight I will be making a big crockpot of chili. The leftovers will become school lunch for the 3 kids on Thursday and Friday. Gives them variety for lunch, and they have never scoffed at leftovers. I intentionally make large batches of things because I know it will save me time and money by heating it up the next day or two.

    I always laugh at the people on tv that act like it is a sin to be served ‘leftovers’. Maybe it is the name, the term ‘leftover’ isn’t very appealing…

    • 4

      Len Penzo says

      One of my favorite comedians of all time, the late George Carlin, had a fun little skit where he made fun of leftovers — like you, Kris, he thought the word actually sounded rather pathetic, and surmised that’s why “nobody” liked them. He also made this observation:

      How would you like to be … a leftover? Well, it wouldn’t be bad if they were taking people out to be shot. I might even volunteer!

      In the skit, he also noted:

      Leftovers make you feel good twice. First, when you put them away, you feel thrifty and intelligent: “I’m saving food!” Then a month later when blue hair is growing out of the ham, and you throw it away, you feel REALLY intelligent: “I’m saving my life!”

      We usually make one meal per week that we can stretch into a second meal for the whole family later on. Usually, it’s pasta — but sometimes it’s stuff like chili, or tacos or fajitas (from leftover carne asada grilled on the BBQ).

      • 5

        says

        Served up those leftovers today in thermoses for the kiddos today.

        I love George Carlin but I had never heard the leftover bit. I actually never thought about the word leftover until I read your post yesterday. You inspired me!

  3. 6

    foodslut says

    What’s with the negative connotation with leftovers? If you liked it the first time, it should be OK another time or two. Also, if you cycle large batches of food, you’ll always have a serving or two left over to freeze so that after 3-4 large batches, you have a range of selection in the freezer. Like a “best of….” freezer buffet :)

    • 7

      Len Penzo says

      I don’t understand the negative connotation either, FS. Perhaps Kris and George Carlin have it right: “leftovers” just sound unappealing.

  4. 8

    JS says

    We also intentionally make extra quantities of food so we have leftovers. It’s so much easier to just grab a container on the way out than to make a lunch every day. I think one of the reasons this works so well for us is that we have figured out which meals still taste good the next day and focus our efforts on those. Today I have leftovers of a recipe my husband came up with that actually tastes better the next day :)

    • 9

      Len Penzo says

      Good point, JS. Some foods do taste better than others the second time around — I think some soups and most tomato-based leftovers like spaghetti and chilis are arguably better the second time around. I do like my wife’s Spanish rice better the second time around too. Stew tends to be hit and miss. I think pot pie is good reheated too. On the other hand, I think some meats, like ribs, are not as good when leftover — though they’re still fine for a meal — simply because they tend to toughen up or get dried out if you heat them.

  5. 10

    says

    I wouldn’t say I LOVE left over, but that’s what I’m having for lunch today. I like it much better than the cafeteria food at work that’s for sure. Cheaper, more healthy, and better taste. How can you beat left over?

    • 11

      Len Penzo says

      We have a pretty good cafeteria at my work. And, as an added bonus, Dorothy cuts me some slack at the cash register whenever I forget my wallet. ;-)

  6. 12

    tracee says

    My parents refuse to eat leftovers. Which works out well for me. I live about 5 miles from them and every four days or so I get sent home with at least 3 meals worth of leftovers!!! It’s awesome =)

    • 13

      Len Penzo says

      They don’t know what they’re missing, do they, tracee?! LOL Oh well, that’s their loss! With the money you save, you can even treat yourself to a nice meal out once per month if you want to. :-)

  7. 16

    Eeek! says

    In addition to saving me the money it would cost to buy lunch at the cafeteria, leftovers have helped me lose weight. When I make a meal, instead of having “seconds” immediately, I make a point of reserving one or two servings for a future lunch. I can pack up a reasonable portion (rounding out a serving with a few more veggies or adding a piece of fruit) and feel ready for the next day. I’m not overeating at dinner, nor am I overeating at lunch. What’s not to love about that?

    • 17

      Len Penzo says

      Portion control … I like it!

      Now, even though I just had dinner, you know what, Ms. Eeek? You’re making me hungry! I just might have to go back downstairs and eat some leftovers. (They might even still be warm!)

  8. 18

    says

    Like JS, I also intentionally make too much food at dinnertime, so that the leftovers can be eaten as lunch the next day. It requires WAY less time than cooking or preparing two separate meals, washing the dishes twice, cleaning the kitchen twice, etc. I primarily do it as a time-saver — the fact that it’s ALSO a money-saver is a nice bonus.

    • 19

      Len Penzo says

      You’re right, Paula, about saving time. Pulling a pre-packed tupperware container out of the fridge in the morning is quicker than making a brown bag lunch too!

  9. 20

    LES says

    I make two dinners a week and plan for leftovers for the rest of the week from these two meals. All I care about, is that we have nutritious, tasty food on the table. I don’t mind eating it three days in a row if its good.

    Being vegetarian, we spend an average of a dollar per serving, sometimes less and sometimes more depending on what I make (for example, rice and beans with a side salad is a very cheap meal, but quinoa and veggies is a bit more expensive.)

    I agree with what others said- some leftovers taste better the next day- my favorite- cold homemade pizza. :) I don’t even heat it up- I think it tastes better cold!

    • 21

      Len Penzo says

      I don’t know why, but I dislike cold pizza. I can handle it room temp, but not straight out of the refrigerator. I do really like cold chicken, however. Especially on a hot summer day. Mmmm.

  10. 22

    Shaun says

    We have restaurant night at least one night each week… when I pull all the leftover out, and each person can choose a different entree for their dinner. Sounds much better than leftover night!

    • 23

      Len Penzo says

      We do that sometimes too, Shaun. In fact, one of these days I’m going to do a true “pot luck” where everybody draws leftover entrees out of a hat!

  11. 24

    Maggie says

    For years, especially when my kids were little, we have had Smorgasboard’s on Friday nights. We just took every leftover in the fridge (from the week’s meals) and put it on the counter. Each person made his/her special dinner from whatever was there. If it was a lean week (not much left over), there was always fresh veggies and fruits and cold cuts to make sandwiches or serve with different dressings to make veggies and dips. My husband still asks for this quicky meal even though the leftovers are fewer since there is only the two of us at home and I try to cook just enough for us. Although some meals do lend themselves to larger portions (spaghetti sauce, chili, soups). Love your website and the great comments from others.

  12. 25

    Maggie says

    Forgot to include one point about the Friday night dinners. The kids thought this was very special. It was like having a restaurant meal buffet because they could select their own dinner. This was also great on the nights with a school activity because they could eat whenever they were ready and head out for their event.

    • 26

      Len Penzo says

      First off, I’m glad you enjoy the blog, Maggie!

      You know, my kids also enjoy nights where we have multiple leftovers. I don’t know why, but our leftover nights typically tend to be on Saturdays though.

  13. 27

    says

    My kids eat like that now and they’re 2 and 6. I can only imagine what’s in store for us when they hit their teen years. I swear to god my 2 year old would eat non stop if I let him. He’s not a fat kid either..just a bottomless pit.

    I need them to get a taste for more stews and stuff that I can make in bigger batches, but so far, it hasn’t been their favorite. I just have to keep trying I guess.

  14. 29

    Obino says

    Leftovers are really nice when you pack them for lunch. Food sometimes really taste nice a day after, helps me save more than $30 a week (African scenario)

  15. 32

    SteveH says

    I absolutely love leftovers. IMO, many dishes actually taste better the next day. You won’t get any argument from me.

  16. 34

    Dpatterson says

    I count heavily on leftovers because I hate fast food. I actually go to sleep at night knowing that I have a great lunch the next day….so I wake up ready to go and it really improves my mood. My daughter has changed the entire meaning of breakfast, her choice is left over spaghetti, baked chicken with rice or Stuffed Accorn Squash and I would cringe at first but then I realized it was healthier than sugar coated cereal or pop tart and it gives her the carbs she needs to get through the day so someone needs to blow away the stereo typical breakfast and start focusing on leftovers, it’s a true lifesaver.

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