How to Like Leftovers


IMG_6917I once knew a guy who refused to eat leftovers. Absolutely refused.

It wasn’t as if he were a coddled blue-blood or anything. But he seemed to think it was beneath him to eat “used food” even though his car was used, his clothes were used, and many of the items in his house were used. That’s all his family could afford.

If my friend had thought about it, even for a moment, he would have realized that left-overs really aren’t “used food.” Used food is not left over.

All four gospel writers–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–record the miracle of Jesus’ feeding of five thousand men (not counting women and children) near Bethsaida, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. And all four also tell us that there were leftovers–twelve baskets full of bread and fish.

We’re not told what was done with the food which was…well, not used. Some have speculated that each of Jesus’ disciples took a basket home so he could relive the wonder of this experience and contemplate who Jesus really was. Others suggest these leftovers were given to the poor.

It’s not my purpose to reach a conclusion on that matter. In fact, this isn’t a lesson on the gospels. But there actually are some biblical precepts that apply to leftovers.

If my friend had thought about it, even for a moment, he would have realized that left-overs really aren’t ‘used food.’ Used food is not left over.

First, the same Lord who fed up to twenty thousand people with five small loaves of bread and two fish (probably dried) is the same One who taught His disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6.11) In teaching His disciples to pray, Jesus condemned repeating religious formulas, “heaping up empty phrases as the Gentiles do.” (Matthew 6.7) Instead, He instituted a pattern of prayer which, among other things, acknowledges that God is ultimately the One who provides every bite we put into our mouths–even the leftovers.

Second, the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians (wealthy, sophisticated people–the very kind who might be inclined to eschew leftovers) that “it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” (1 Corinthians 42) While this is a passing comment in a longer discussion about his stewardship of the good news about Jesus Christ, it has far broader application. If God provides my food, and I am required to be faithful as a steward of all that He provides, then maybe I should even re-examine this leftover thing!

Waste is not good stewardship. Years ago I calculated the amount of money our family would have thrown away if each of the five members had wasted only fifty cents’ worth of food each day for twenty-two years. At that time it was enough to put one of the kids through college! I’ve seen lots and lots of good food–unused food–go into the garbage because somebody’s child didn’t like it or because a greedy diner didn’t finish it. I read one time that 20% of the food produced in North America is never eaten. By anyone. That’s sickening, especially when we consider that many of us eat more in a day than lots of people eat in a week.

I’ll be the first to admit I enjoy good food–enjoy preparing it and sharing it with people I love–and I may be accused by some of enjoying it too much. While I don’t live to eat, neither do I eat to live. I believe I’m grateful to God for His bountiful provision, and I marvel at the infinite variety of delicious foods there are in the world. I’ve had the opportunity to travel extensively and to meet people from many places and cultures, and I have come to consider  their cuisine to be one of life’s great pleasures. Even the leftovers.

When we have dinner guests in our home, which we frequently do, my wife will often send a container of leftovers home with our friends. (She saves yogurt containers for this purpose.) Every Thanksgiving and Christmas feast is purposely too large for us to eat in one sitting, and we look forward to enjoying the leftovers for days afterward (unless my wife sends them home with our guests…) We bought a meat slicer so when we buy a good roast on sale, we eat half of it with our friends and then slice and freeze the rest for sandwiches–really good sandwiches. We always make more smashed potatoes than we need so we can have potato cakes with our eggs the next day.IMG_6910This morning I ate some leftover steel cut oats for breakfast, but I had fun with them. I had refrigerated the oatmeal overnight in a vegetable tin, so it was like a short, fat log when I removed it.IMG_6912 I cut a couple of thick slices off with a serrated knife, dipped them in a mixture of egg and buttermilk, and fried them in a little coconut oil until they were brown and crisp on the outside. (I also scrambled the egg mixture that was left and served it on the side.) When it was all done, I topped it with a dollop of plain yogurt, a handful of crunchy cereal and some warm Quebec maple syrup. Accompanied by some freshly roasted Panamanian coffee, leftovers never tasted batter. Better.IMG_6913

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2 thoughts on “How to Like Leftovers”

  1. I’m always looking for new ways to use leftovers 🙂 With food prices escalating as they are here, it’s become necessary to be as frugal as possible — and as creative too. I approach it as if it’s a game, and the prize is a delicious meal! Sometimes my combinations fail, but more often they turn out to be quite edible. Makes me glad we’re not living in the time of the exodus, when it was forbidden to keep and use leftovers 🙂

    1. That’s for sure, Kim–and I can think of quite a few other reasons why I’m glad I didn’t live at the time of the exodus! I’ve often thought it would be a great idea to write a cookbook on using leftovers, but how would one do it? It would also make a great reality cooking show. Using leftovers to make delicious dishes would be a true test of culinary ingenuity!

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