Making convenience food without the waste

Filed in Blog by on February 9, 2010 24 Comments
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Making zero waste convenience food

Making zero waste convenience food

Inspired by the lovely Alea, over at Premeditated Leftovers, who shared a post called “Teriyaki chicken; three ways”, I was reminded of some of the things I do here at Chez Green to make zero waste cooking quick and convenient.

One of our secrets to minimising food waste is to view our leftovers as ingredients. I also take the line that if the oven is on, it’s best to maximise the energy.

On a Sunday I do the following, which means we can eat ‘fast food’ during the week without any plastic packaging!

When the oven is on for a roast dinner I cook extra chicken portions. I usually cook 4 in all – 2 for Sunday lunch and dinner and a couple for meals throughout the week.

I’ve also recently discovered that you can ‘fry’ onions in the oven – duh! So instead of putting  a frying pan on the hob and using more energy, I cut up the onions, put them in an oven proof dish with oil and butter and put them in the bottom of the oven while it is warming up. Twenty minutes later I have all the onions I will need for the coming week’s meals. They can be safely stored in the fridge (sealed container please, otherwise your house smells like a take away shop!) for up to a week.

Sunday night I spend no more than 10-15 minutes putting together the following meals:

Chicken Curry

Mix cooked onions, cooked chopped chicken and a jar of curry sauce – usually makes 3 portions.


Mix all the leftover veggies from lunch, some of the chicken and leftover gravy (I deliberately make too much) ready to be made into ‘Sunday lunch soup’. Makes three to four portions when served with bread. I tend to make soup which is more like puréed baby food, it’s more warming and satisfying.


Mix a bit of diced chicken, some of the onions, left over diced, roast potatoes and carrots with some gravy or stock. Add herbs and whatever seasoning and flavourings you like (tomato ketchup is fab!) and that makes a chicken casserole. Makes two portions if not three.


If there are any small bits of chicken left over, I mix it with curry spices and mayonnaise to make Coronation chicken which can be used as a quick sandwich filler.

Any of these main meals can be frozen in portions until you are ready to eat them.

None of this is rocket science, and I’m sure many of you do these kinds of things already. But it’s helpful to share ideas so we can all learn and be inspired. What do you do to enjoy convenient food without the waste?

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (24)

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  1. I love to make pizzas and freeze them so I just have to pop them in the oven for 15-20 minutes. I made 5 pizza crusts today and will top them tomorrow.

  2. Sooz says:

    We make a ‘monday bake’ (layered potato, sweet potato, leek, lentils and garlic with stock) in the oven on sunday with our sunday dinner…any left over veggies from sunday dinner become soup and theres usually some left over monday bake for mum to have for lunch on tuesday. We usually make a cake or pudding or cookies wile the ovens on too. Apart from that we make big batches of stuff to freeze in portions too, veggie chilli, pizza dough, curry, pasta sauce, soup, veggie mash, veggie burgers, potato cakes, cookie dough, pasties (I make ace pasties with any bits of left over chilli and a bit of potato – yum!)

  3. Eunice says:

    I make a huge pot of bolognaise sauce and freeze it in portions to mix with pasta or turn into lasagne. I Also roast two chickens at a time, one does a roast then stripped for curry and fajitas. The other I strip and freeze in suitable portion sizes for various speedy meals, I then boil all the bones for a fantastic stock. While they’re in the oven I put a rice pudding on the bottom shelf and some small potatoes to bake, they do for quick lunches.

  4. I always cook more than needed so that extra portions can be plated up for either easy dinners for one who doesn’t like spicy or for a “hot” packed lunch for hubby.

    Basic bolognese sauce is doubled so there is some ready made in the freezer to be able to use if in a hurry.

    I too try to utilise my oven to its best, so that cakes are cooked whilst the bread is baking.

  5. thegreengal says:

    Reading this shows me I have much room for improvement! We always make more dinner than we need and I usually have it for lunch at work the next day so it doesn’t often get the chance to go in the freezer. However, if there’s two people’s worth it goes in the freezer for a future dinner. You’ve reminded me that I froze some crumble topping that I had spare after I made an apple crumble, think I’d better get that out and use it!

  6. A few years ago, when I lived on my own for the first & only time in my life, I was super efficient with food – I was too skint and busy to have that much choice in the matter!

    On my only free night of the week, I’d make veggie stir-fry to eat fresh, veggie pasta bake or veggie bean chilli for the next two nights, then bung whatever veg was left over into a misc veg soup (which with a little bread and cheese would last me the next two/three nights), and the peelings and whatnot went into a stock pan for the next week’s soup. It didn’t take that long to make everything in one go and on subsequent nights, everything could be ready to eat in a matter of minutes. To be honest, it was a pretty boring diet but as I said, I didn’t have that many options – although I did change the veg around so it wasn’t ALWAYS the same. It’s so much easier to have a boring diet when there is only one of you to think about. I think the more people in the household, the easier it is to waste food – we buy more just-in-case food or stuff one person fancies but the other isn’t that keen on (and if the other one is cooking that night, that thing isn’t going to get cooked).

    Nowadays, we’ve got a lot of rectangular pyrex dishes with plastic lids which can go in the freezer, microwave and oven – makes batch-made ready-meals a lot easier and waste free. They stack in the freezer drawers really well too. Another thing that has improved things for me is getting a slow cooker – it sounds like the opposite of convenience but actually it makes things easier – don’t even have to pay as much attention to things as you would in the oven or on the hob.

  7. Alea says:

    I love that you “view [y]our leftovers as ingredients”. It is such a good atittude, one of creativity rather than deprivation!

    Thanks for the tip on cooking onion in the oven. I am going to give it a try this evening.

  8. I have recently discovered the very best way to cook a turkey breast. The crock-pot. Put the thawed turkey breast in the pot with a stick of butter, season to taste and cook until done. I have a large crock-pot but sometimes the lid doesn’t quite fit at first so I cover with foil (which I wash and reuse), set the lid on top and then cover with a towel until it cooks down enough for the lid to fit securely. This method makes the absolutely most delicious and juicy turkey you will ever taste. And the leftovers are still moist. I package up the leftovers and freeze for future casseroles or turkey sandwiches. The stick of butter means there are adequate drippings to make gravy, something often lacking when cooking a breast.

    Our church has a couple of those big electric roasters and I’m thinking they could accomplish the same thing but would allow me to cook a few at a time. The next time I see a good price on turkeys, I’m going to buy 3 or 4, borrow a roaster and give this a try.

  9. Naomi S says:

    I recently went to a health and fitness seminar and one of the sessions was someone explaining how to really plan your meals (because if you don’t plan, you fail and wind up eating crap). Her system was great except for the plastic. She planned menus 3 days at a time and created a list, then did all her food prep in a relaxed way when she got home. She got many things going at once and planned the meals with lots of overlap (so maybe chicken would show up in salads and for dinner and she ony had to prepare the one chicken dish and meanwhile, the oven could be doing a few other things). Anyway, she used a lot of tupperware but as I am mainly at home, I use bowls with plates over them and stainless steel containers or saved glass jars for to go convenience. I am really liking this batch cooking. I don’t have it down to a science like she did but it really does help and saves work, cleanup and waste.

  10. Jane says:

    The slow cooker is brilliant for less attention cooking. The stripped down chicken carcase and the meat-which-desperately-needs-cooking-so-it-will-have-to-be-done-overnight-or-while-I’m-at-work can be left without as much time being spent on it or worrying about it. Plans for the week often change so meals have to be changed. I’m still playing with casseroles in it – trying to find the ones we like best. With these you can vary the vegetables (number, amount and kind) on different days and don’t forget dumplings!

  11. Angie says:

    Going off tread a little but I am excited as about to take delivery of wood burning cooker…how cool is that. Here in Italy electricity and gas are bought in by country, no natural coal resourses, consequently the only affordable form of heating is wood. Gas central heating costs mega bucks to run…we have calor gas (as out in the sticks) and rediators but cant afford to run. Geothermic and Photovoltaic forms of heating are in their infancy and are ultra expersive to install and not, as yet, very efficient….
    Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is surely my new wood-burning cooker ‘kills two birds’, provides heat, hot water (kettle hot for washing up), a temperature controlled oven to cook in and something to help dry damp washing and warm up your undies on…Of course I will be planning meals and using all left-overs as ingredients for new culinary delights….In the summer use BBQ

  12. Sandie says:

    The meals made using the ‘left-overs’ always taste the best!

    However, I have seen people scrape left-overs into the bin and couldn’t believe my eyes.

    Yes, stews, soups, bakes, fry-ups – you name it, with left-overs you can make some amazingly tasty meals!

  13. Sandie says:

    @ Angie

    When we had a woodburner in the UK we had a ‘Sheila Maid’ attached above, for drying the washing.

    Also, as you plan to do, we always had a kettle on the boil for washing-up and to fill our hot water bottles.

    We cooked food on the top too.

    Hope you enjoy your new woodburning stove. You really can’t beat real flame…..

  14. Angie says:

    @Sandie: Where are you now Sandie….Yep, have plans to make sheil-mail type thing…did have Rayburn in kitchen uk and mastered the art of ‘ironing’ my ‘mutts’ OH shirt on it just by folding and stroking if you get my drift….Sure cat will enjoy nest (hollow bit above base) too so all the family will benifit……

  15. Mrs Green says:

    @Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green: Brilliant idea. That’s something I’ve never done. DD loves pizza but I hate buying then because of the packaging. Must follow your example/

    @Sooz: Your Monday bake and pasties sound delicious Sooz. I love hearing people’s recipe ideas.

    @Eunice: brilliant Eunice. I’ve got some mince today and will make some bolognase sauce. LMG has been asking me to make my own for a long time so this week her wish will come true! I’m going to make half the mince into shepherds pie and freeze them.

    @maisie dalziel: Well I knew I could count on you Maisie. You’re always in my mind when I write posts like this!

    @thegreengal: Oh yum; enjoy the crumble. Actually, YOU’VE reminded me I have some stewed fruit in the freezer – we should get together LOL!

    @Louisa @ RecycleThis: I LOVE our slow cooker and I think your student day meals sound lovely. I think everyone gets into a routine with meals; I know we do. Where do you get pyrex containers with lids? They sound like just the thing I need for the freezer.

    @Alea: Did the onions cook ok in the oven? They seem to cook really quickly…

    @Deanna Piercy: Brilliant! I have heard about using a crock pot, but never actually done it myself. It must be way cheaper than using the oven too. You’ve inspired me to have a go!

    @Naomi S: I agree Naomi. I’m on the look out for stainless steel containers; I can’t find them here the right size or without plastic lids. Although I’m sure one of our readers gave me a link once. Glad you are enjoying your meal planning!

    @Jane: Oh yes, a casserole has to have dumplings! our current casseroles are sausage, vegetable and chicken – I haven’t ventured beyond those three yet,

    @Angie: Hi ANgie, I hope you get on well with your wood oven. we use a wood burner to heat the house (although it is definitely NOT the cheap option, alas). but I do use the top of it to cook food and heat water for drinks or hot water bottles and would love a proper wood oven / Aga one day. It’s on my vision board 😉

    @Sandie: Sounds like you have great memories of your wood stove too! I agree, meals from leftovers are the best!

  16. Sandie says:

    @Angie We’re now in Perth, Western Australia. We still have a wood-burner, but only use it on winter evenings.

    When we lived in England we had a ‘Villager stove’, with a flew out of the back (leaving space for cooking on the top).

    Smoothing out washing is the way to go! I never iron. Just fold and smooth as it comes off of the line.

    Enjoy experimenting with your new wood-burner.

  17. Jane says:

    I make a double amount of tomato, onion, garlic and sweet pepper base and tomato puree base (+ half a teaspoon of sugar.

    I’ll add mushrooms, herbs and bayleaves to one half of it and serve it with spaghetti and plenty of grated cheddar.

    The other half I add a can or beans to (Borlotti being the favourite) plus some chilli, cinnamon and dark chocolate and serve with rice and a dollop of guacamole on top. (Easy guacamole – mashed avocado + garlic lemon juice black pepper and chopped tasty tomatoes.)

    I have also tried the Oxfam Green Granny’s vegetarian cottage pie and that has a similar basic tomato and onion base with the addition of carrots and celery.

    I’ll add courgettes and aubergines to the basic tomato and onion sauce to make a ratatouille.

    Sometimes I’ll make twice the amount of sauce and have half with spaghetti and the other half with lasagne using a white sauce with nutmeg in between the sauce layers and then cheese on top.

    I haven’t got a working freezer at the moment so don’t freeze anything but this sauce base is one that I would freeze in its basic state.

    I love Mrs Green’s idea of cooking all the onions ahead of time in the bottom of the oven. Maybe I’ll try it in my mum’s Rayburn.

  18. condoblues says:

    My husband is the KING of cooking with leftovers. Wasting food is his big harang. I must say that my freezer has helped me in the quick food and reducing food waste department. I made too many dried beans for Black Beans and Rice. And too much Black Beans and Rice for that matter. I broke both items into smaller portions and put them in the freezer. Instant Quick meal or ingredients when we need it. I don’t have an extra freezer. Just the one that’s part of my refrigerator.

  19. Karen says:

    Morrisons sell pyrex dishes with plastic lids. I put an extra portion in one to take to my son who lives alone.
    My husband takes small leftovers to work where he can heat it up for lunch. However he avoids strong smelling food in the office. I often make ” Wait and See ” meals out of leftovers. Trouble is when they turn out so well you can’t make them again. My recipe box is full of notes of the meals I have made. Left over mash is good to thicken soup. I rarely chuck out any food. There is always a way to use up even if it means unusual combinations.

  20. @Mrs Green: But this time you have shown me a new idea with the onions.
    I normally coo as needed.

    I shall be doing that next time I have the oven on.

  21. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: Hi Jane, great ideas with all that tomato-based sauce. I tend to do a similar thing and add various ingredients to change the flavour – chick peas and spices into one batch, plain served with grated cheese for another and some tuna and sweetcorn in another batch. It’s so easy isn’t it?

    @Karen: Hi Karen, thanks for telling us about the pyrex dishes. I know what you mean about the fab meals that you can’t re-create, that is one of my husbands big bears 🙂 I agree with you; you can combine all sorts of things to get great meals.

    @maisie dalziel: 😀 thanks Maisie – it’s Sunday, so the onions will be in the bottom of the oven this morning 😉 It’s good to stir them a couple of times or cover them to stop them going black on the top.

  22. JD says:

    My husband is the (self-taught) chef in our house. He roasts a chicken and the rest of the meat is used to make a risotto, a curry, a pie, a stir-fry or similar. He usually gets three, sometimes four meals for four from a large chicken and always makes stock from the bones (these go into our Green Johanna). If we want meals that aren’t to be made from pre-cooked chicken he has taught himself to bone a chicken (you need a boning knife for this – ours was the ‘funny looking’ knife in our knife block). This is because the organic, free range chicken portions are very expensive, so we get better value from making portions from a whole organic, free range chicken. I’m trying to find a good vegetarian cook book at the moment because meat is the most expensive part of our diet – any suggestions gratefully received!

  23. @Mrs Green:

    hi Mrs G, did my onions this morning , once they were cooked enough I used a portion to make a quiche, again whilst the oven was on. the remians have gone into a tub in the fridge for using late in the week as needed.

    I had found a pastry case in the freezer yesterday along with some grated cheese, so all made and sorted for cheese and onion quiche, which will do for lunches for the next couple of days as dh is on hols from work.

  24. Mrs Green says:

    @JD: Hi JD, it’s great you have learned to bone your own chickens. Some of my favourite veggie books are the Quick After Work vegetarian cookbook (can’t remember any authors, I’m currently in the library so can’t check on my bookshelf), Rose Elliots vegetairian seasons and there is another one – I need to check when I get home; will let you know :)_

    Maisie showed me how to make meat go further – by adding oats, lentils or barley for example to things like minced beef; this works really well for us. I made 1/2 lb of mince serve three portions the other day by adding vegetables, lentils and rice.

    @maisie dalziel: Great stuff maisie – glad the onions inthe oven worked for you!

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