Unplanned leftovers typically result from inefficient meal planning and myopic meal preparation strategies. As a result, an individual has more food than he can eat and therefore food is leftover. Unplanned leftovers typically result in food waste which is an immense problem to the United States; food waste costs the United States economy an estimated $144 billion.
Planned leftovers are multiple meals which are purposefully planned and cooked in advance in order to be eaten in the future. The popular name for planned leftovers is meal prepping which is currently a large and highly popular phenomenon in the United States. Meal prepping is considered to be more in line with the way that previous generations considered leftover food. Historically, no food was labeled leftover because preservation was embedded in cooking. Therefore, food was purposefully cooked to be consumed in the future.
According to a 2017 study, leftover food was the second largest type of food waste after inedible food found in dustbins in the United States. Prepared food and leftovers accounted for 23% of the food waste found in dustbins. Prepared food and leftovers were the third highest food wasted by weight (19%) within households after inedible food and edible fruit and vegetables.
68% of respondents in a US survey claimed they prioritize eating leftovers most of the time, however, this sometimes only means a delay in discarding leftover food. 75% of people feel less guilty about saving left overs compared to when they throw leftovers away. Additionally, 45% of people feel less guilty about throwing food that has been stored in the refrigerator away, therefore, it would appear that refrigerating only delays discarding leftover food. 70% of respondents sometimes save left overs even when they already know it will not be eaten since this makes them feel less guilty about discarding food.
When respondents were asked what they do with leftovers, they gave a wide range of responses. 74% of leftovers are eaten as another meal while 59% are eaten as part of another meal. According to respondents, 19% of leftovers are thrown in the garbage while 12% is composted. Additionally, 10% of leftovers are fed to pets and animals. 13% of the respondents surveyed claimed they do not like leftovers at all. Not liking leftovers is one of the two main reasons why people trash them, the second reason they trash leftovers is they perceive it has spoiled.
The two main factors that result in unplanned leftovers are inefficient meal planning and shortsighted meal preparation strategies can result in leftovers.
Meal prep is the popular name for planned leftovers which has become very popular in the United States particularly in the internet fitness culture within the United States. Google Trends reveals that meal prep has received increased interest over the past 15 years within the United States, peaking in January 2019. This peak is considered to coincide with the January resolution season when people are trying to focus on specific personal goals for the new year. There are websites, blogs, social media accounts, and even businesses entirely focused on meal prep.
Meal prepping basically involves cooking and portioning food in the refrigerator to be consumed later. Most often this is done during the weekends in preparation for the week. Meal preppers distance themselves from the term leftovers stating that it involves strategic planning that ensures portion control. On the other hand, leftovers are considered to be portions of food that no one else wants to eat.
Meal preps goals focus on improved efficiency and output. Mainly because it saves time and money since all the meal preparation is done at once as opposed to preparing each meal during the week. Secondly, meal prepping gives control over portions eaten since portion control is a large part of this strategy. Additionally, meal prepping enables people to lose weight because it features healthier home cooked meals and portions are limited.
Aside from the benefits listed above, meal prepping has also enabled Americans to escape from past misconceptions regarding leftovers. Since meals are portioned separately, people can avoid feeling that they are eating leftovers from a previous meal. Meal prep has some highly critical detractors who contend that it is simply a new name for leftovers and food tastes better when freshly cooked. Some critics also consider the benefits of meal prepping to be overrated.
Food sharing is a growing phenomenon in the United States which is part of the sharing economy where ridesharing platforms like Uber exist. Olio is a digital app that enables users to share leftover food which originated in the United Kingdom but is used globally. In January 2019, Olio was the 51st top-ranked mobile app download in the United States on the iPhone as determined by App Annie. App Annie is a leading app analytics platform, the ranking presents the top 600 apps in the United States by downloads and the January 2019 ranking represents the peak of Olio's ranking on that platform.
Food sharing apps enable users to upload pictures of leftovers and share their locations, people within their communities can then request for food that sparks their interest. Olio is specifically focused on reducing food waste while another app called Leftover Swap was focused on reducing hunger. Leftover Swap is now defunct and but Olio is widely regarded in the United States.
Composting is another way in which food scraps or unplanned leftover foods are used in the United States.
Since the 1920s leftovers were regarded as being for the poor, during that time, wealthy landowners bragged about giving leftovers to their domestic workers. Prior to refrigeration in the 1960s, the concept of leftovers did not exist since there was no way to store food. Therefore, preservation was a part of cooking with methods such as curing, pickling, and salting employed to preserve food. Additionally, these 'leftovers' then formed part of another meal that would be consumed later. During World War 1, from 1914 to 1918, people were encouraged to eat leftovers as an act of patriotism. The ensuing great depression also brought about a period of intense poverty that made leftovers even more valuable to Americans.
Regard for leftovers plummeted in the 1960s when refrigeration, electricity, and food became cheap and plentiful. Leftovers lost their appeal and throwing them away became a privilege of the American middle class. Etiquette columns in the 1960s and 1970s cautioned against serving leftovers to guests or requesting for leftovers since it could make one an object of ridicule.
Meal prepping is a hugely popular trend in the United States that has resulted in a resurgence in the consumption of planned leftovers. In addition, foods like curries that taste better after a few days have also resulted in increased interest in the consumption of planned leftovers.
With respect to unplanned leftovers, the increased awareness of the growing food waste problem in the United States has increased their consumption; according to the ReFED, 27 million tonnes of food is thrown away by American consumers each year. Food sharing apps are also recent and emerging trends that are helping to increase the consumption of leftovers by other people that need them.