"Waste not, want not," so the proverbial saying goes. And when it comes to food, Americans are lovers of leftovers. From last night's Chinese take-out to reheated casserole, to day-old pizza, there's very little we won't happily heat up or eat cold for breakfast, lunch, dinner and every snack in between. And that half a tomato, spare meat or half-full container of chopped veggies can also be repurposed. Leftovers can be a lifesaver, and the advent of the microwave in the 1940s made using leftovers even more convenient. But there's no need to confine yourself to simple reheating. With a bit of imagination, leftovers can become a new culinary masterpiece.
Watch the video above to learn how to make delicious meals from leftovers.
Can any food be reheated?
Technically, of course, any food can be reheated. But whether or not it should be is a roll of the dice, as there are risks. In short, some foods can be repurposed better than others. So, be careful before you toss the leftover contents of your fridge into a microwave and press "reheat." If in doubt, check out the USDA guidelines on leftovers and food safety to reduce your chances of getting food poisoning.
When did we start eating leftovers?
According to historians, the idea of eating leftovers didn't exist until the start of the 20th century when the icebox, the forerunner of the refrigerator, became common in many homes.
In an article for The Atlantic, historian Helen Zoe Veit says that America's love affair with leftovers began during World War I, sparked by news of the starving in Europe. Indeed, eating leftover food was considered so patriotic that a 1917 U.S. Food Administration poster reminded Americans to "serve just enough/use what is left."
The Great Depression of 1929 further brought the problem home. Stretching the family food budget became essential, and a 1930 Good Housekeeping magazine even coined the phrase "Leftovers Shouldn't Be Left Over."
Later, in what Helen Zoe Veit calls "The Golden Age of leftovers," the ability to make a little go a long way became almost an art form among homemakers of the 1940s and 50s.
Clearly, since then, we've come to think of eating leftovers as more of a convenience than a necessity. But in the current economic climate, who's to say that the art of preparing leftovers won't become an in-demand skill once again?
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How to make tasty meals from leftover food in your refrigerator