Updated on 10.20.09

Ethical Frugality Week: Serving Leftovers

Trent Hamm

Throughout this week, I’m posting a series of articles on the ethics of frugality. How far can you take things without crossing an ethical line or diving into seriously socially unacceptable waters? I’ll be recounting some of my own stories – and some stories from readers – along the way.

“Jim” writes in:

A married couple I’m friends with invited me over to dinner recently. When I arrived, they were rushing around trying to throw a meal together. The main course turned out to be leftover chicken breasts. Yes, leftover. They had been grilled a day or two before and they had merely tossed on some additional spices and warmed them in the oven. I was kind of disgusted by this. I understand that this was an inexpensive route for them to go for dinner, but I was a dinner guest at their home!

When you have guests over, how far does frugality go before it crosses a tactful line? As always, there are two sides to the story…

The price is right. Someone is providing a free meal to you. It’s rude to look a gift horse in the mouth. The meal was obviously cooked and was edible, so a good guest wouldn’t question the source of it (assuming there are no allergy issues or the like). The hosts obviously have some issues going on in their lives – perhaps financial or otherwise – and the best thing you can do as a friend is support them. In fact, instead of being outraged, you might take this meal as a sign that your friends need some help.

The hosts aren’t treating their guests well. If your hosts wanted to merely see you for a while, they did not have to invite you over for a meal. Inviting a guest over for a meal means that you’ll attempt to put something appetizing and reasonably fresh on the table, not your leftovers. If you intend to merely foist leftovers on a friend, make it clear – it can be fine if it’s a close friend and there’s some advance warning (“Hey, Jim, we have a ton of leftovers from our Thanksgiving dinner. Want to come over and help us clean them up?”). Without that, though, it’s fairly rude to toss your uneaten scraps in front of a guest in your home.

My perspective is that it depends on the friendship. I would have no problem serving my closest friends some well-prepared leftovers, nor would they feel self-conscious serving me the same. Anything beyond my closest friends, however, would never get such treatment in my home.

What’s the difference? I have such a long, established relationship with my closest friends that there’s no longer any need to impress in order to further build a friendship. These people have been my friends for the majority of my life at this point (or nearly that long). They know who I am and they know I care deeply about them. They also know that they’re an intimate part of my life, intimate enough that I would feel comfortable serving them some leftovers in a pinch.

If a friendship weren’t nearly as established, I would never serve leftovers as a dish to my guests. However, I would use leftovers as an ingredient in a dish that I would serve to anyone. If I make a big pot of chicken chili, for example, quite often the chicken itself is a leftover and the liquid in the soup is chicken stock, prepared from the bones of a roasted chicken.

One of my mantras is “stop caring what other people think.” That mantra ends at my doorstep when I invite people inside. When they’re here, I do care what they think because I value them enough individually to invite them into my home and share part of my life with them. Respect your guests – and they’ll respect you in return.

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  1. Josh says:

    I would not, unless, like you said, the guest had advance warning they would be helping you finish left overs.

    Instead, I would normally be making a fresh meal, with plenty of leftovers for me to finish the rest of the week.

  2. thisisbeth says:

    I don’t see enough information here, so I’m going to offer a secondary explanation for leftoevers. “Jim” may not have been served leftovers in the tradition sense (“We ate less than we thought”), but rather when his friends grill chicken, they grill lots of it to use later. They might not see the point of using the fuel to grill two pieces of chicken every night. (If he also mentioned leftover vegetables, etc., then it was more likely traditional leftovers.)

    Unless I had reason to suspect unsanitary behaviour, I would have no problems eating leftovers at someone’s house–whether the traditional leftovers or convenience leftovers.

  3. Emily C says:

    I’ll bet there’s more to this story.

    I’ve served leftovers before when we’ve invited someone over last minute.

    Or perhaps they had a busier day than anticipated, something came up to prevent meal preparation, or they forgot about the invitation.

    I don’t think it’s a big deal. But then, I’m married to a student, we live in a community of students, and we’re all dirt poor and don’t care.

  4. Ramona says:

    It’s not about serving leftovers, it’s about presentation. When you go to the trouble of inviting someone for dinner, respect them enough to put some thought into your meal. And your house cleaning, and your wardrobe. Otherwise don’t bother.

  5. Alexandra says:

    I never serve traditional leftovers, HOWEVER my lasagna is SO much better if left in the fridge overnight and then reheated in the microwave. It “sets” it. So I just explain that and all is good. Plus it gives me the opportunity to get the kitchen clean before the guests arrive!
    ONCE I served “traditional” leftovers, but considering the friend in question was with us after a breakup and in the worst part of his depression (we were SO scared for him) it didn’t really matter. He just needed to be with someone.

  6. Molly says:

    Oh Jim, I find your opinion sad.

    Who cares? It was obviously edible and probably pretty good. Did you enjoy the dinner company? Did you have pleasant conversation? Did you bring a bottle of wine or something to share? Why are you insulted and disgusted? They invited you to dinner. They must think you close enough to feed like good friends or family. Maybe they’re not very formal people. Maybe they cook only on the weekends because that’s when they have time, and they eat from that the rest of the week (I do).

    Granted, I live with a grad student, and we regularly invite grad students over for dinner. In particular, we invite one friend over who doesn’t cook – so even if he’s getting “leftovers”, they’re more varied than his typical 3-meals-a-day of pasta. And we let him pick what he wants from the fridge! As in, “well, we’ve got bean burger, pasta bake, soup, what do you want? Help yourself.”

    Enjoy the dinner. Be gracious that somebody invited you to dinner and is feeding you.

  7. Johanna says:

    I don’t see what this has to do with frugality. Assuming that the hosts would have eaten the chicken themselves eventually anyway, they are not saving any money by serving the leftovers as opposed to something else. The chicken cost the same amount to begin with, regardless of whether it was cooked days before or hours before.

    I wonder if there is more to this story than we’re being told. Jim says that his hosts were “rushing around trying to throw a meal together.” It sounds to me like some unexpected situation came up, and they had to spend the time they would otherwise have devoted to planning and cooking the meal doing something else instead.

    In a situation like that, as a guest, I’d cut the host some slack. But as a host, I’d offer the guests an out – I’d say something like, “Something came up and I didn’t have time to cook a meal from scratch, and all I can offer you is some leftovers from the fridge. If you’d rather not eat those, we could go out to eat instead.”

  8. Nansuelee says:

    My Grandmother was fantastic at making a feast from her fridge of leftovers in her younger days, she does not cook as much now. It was not uncommon to be invited over for a meal and find a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It served two purposes I believe, cleaning out the fridge and gathering with those you love and want to spend time with. I never felt slighted I was not getting freshly made food, it was fun to have more than one choice and enjoying the company was what we were really there for.

  9. Lauren says:

    I would never invite someone over for dinner and then serve leftovers. I love to cook, so when I have people over for dinner I want to make something special and and not every-day, ordinary food.

    Other than holiday leftovers, my parents have never had me and my husband over for leftovers. We ate at their house this weekend, and I brought homemade ribs and my mom made potato salad and homemade baked beans. My dad ate dinner with me and husband on Wednesday night because my mon was away, and I made grilled pizzas. The last time I ate at a friend’s house, she made beef stroganoff and noodles. When I stayed with a friend who doesn’t cook for a weekend, she made scrambled eggs for breakfast. (Scrambled eggs is serious cooking for this friend, so I did appreciate it.)

    I think that if you are inviting someone over, you should make the effort to do something special and not throw leftovers at them. Besides, I take my leftovers to work for lunch, so I wouldn’t have anything to eat the next day myself!

  10. Jane says:

    I think “Jim” is overreacting. I don’t think day old chicken should disgust you. I personally always make things from scratch that day when we have guests (unless it is quiche or lasagna or another dish that is better the next day), but I don’t think what the hosts did was unacceptable in any way. Frankly, if I found out that a friend felt this way about a meal I made for them, they wouldn’t be invited over again. Having said that, though, I do get annoyed when I am invited over for dinner at 7, and the meal isn’t even close to being done. Obviously you should factor in time for appetizers and small talk before the meal, but I think you should have the vast majority of the meal prepared before people arrive. The only exception to this would be grilling, which often only takes place after people arrive and is almost a social thing.

  11. Bill in NC says:

    Bet “Jim” will be getting Ramen next time!

    What does everybody think about the hosts who gather your eaten watermelon slices so they can pickle the rinds?

    Yes, that happened to me.

  12. Stacey says:

    I serve leftovers all the time – to both family and guests. Unless it’s something that’s obviously leftover “scraps” from the last meal (like dishes served out of Tupperware), I don’t see a problem with it.

    If I’m inviting you over for a meal, I obviously want to spend time with you. The only way to find time to spend with you may mean cutting corners on the meal. It’s not “disgusting,” it’s real life.

    To Bill in NC: Now that’s disgusting! Why didn’t they just cut the watermelon off the rinds and serve it as fruit salad? We’ve encouraged guests to set aside scraps for composting, but this is a level of recycling that I just can’t agree with.

  13. JoeTaxpayer says:

    Depends on the relationship.
    After a holiday when friends of our had 20 family members over, we love that call “come help us eat the leftovers.” Can’t even bring desert, or flowers, all their relatives already did.
    Good friends would view this very differently than casual acquaintances.

  14. reulte says:

    Ohh, I like this one . . . so many ways to consider it.
    Jim was invited? How? Engrave invitation or simply a ‘come on over’? Was it just for dinner or was it part of other entertainment – such as gaming or watching the game or going out dancing? Why treat guests better than our friends? How did Jim know the chicken was leftovers? Did he snoop or was this infomation freely given which implies that the hosts didn’t think it was rude of them. Can Jim cut them some slack for ‘rushing’ after a possibly extremely busy day? Was chicken the only leftover or was the saled a wilted shadow of yesterday and the potatoes starting to sprout? Was the chicken not tasty and so Jim only thinks it was leftovers? If he was ‘disgusted’ as he states, did he not eat the chicken or did he manage to choke it down? Did he explain this to his hosts?

    So many considerations and, as Johanna points out, not all that concerned with frugality.

    Would I serve leftovers to my friends? Probably not, either we all sit on the couch and have the freedom of the fridge along with a brought pizza or fresh popcorn while we’re playing games or else it’s one of my culinary experiments where I have out the ‘good’ stuff and candlelight to detract from my notable lack of success in the kitchen.

    Would I serve guests leftovers? Probably not, but (1) I usually don’t invite guests over, (2)they wouldn’t have free run of my kitchen and (3) they wouldn’t notice if I did seve them leftovers. If I were a guest at someone else’s home would I be disgusted if they served me leftovers? Probably not — unless the taste was noticably off or the green fuzz was flourishing.

    Consider the alternative which once happened to me. The hosts invited us over for dinner and didn’t serve us any food! We got there a few minutes early and found them eating. They requested a few minutes to finish. And I (and the other person), in my infinite graciousness, didn’t point out that they had invited us to dinner. But from that point on, I always eat a little something beforehand and have an apple in my purse in the event that it happens again.

  15. Ann says:

    Were they REALLY leftovers, or just extra chicken breasts that they had cooked the night before on purpose to save time? He said they were rushing when he got there, so they were obviously on a tight schedule, but still wanted to share a meal with him. Men probably don’t realize this, but it is a very common cooking technique recommended by women’s magazines, etc. Heck, Trent, you’ve even suggested this. I think he didn’t realize this and was a bit overdramatic in his note. Now if they were half-gnawed rejects, then sure, that would be ‘disgusting.’. Otherwise, sheesh. :-)

  16. Tyler says:


    Just to play devil’s advocate:

    If you change your behavior and how to interact with people inside and outside your home, do you think that kind of incongruity could hamper real friendship building by wasting time convincing people that you’re something that you’re not?

    If they build their relationship with you based on the idea of you that you’ve projected, and then you change it once you feel like you’ve become “close friends,” couldn’t that leave the other feeling a bit shafted?

    Shouldn’t you always be consistent in who you are how you behave?

  17. Ann says:

    Were they REALLY leftovers, or just extra chicken breasts that they had cooked the night before on purpose to save time? He said they were rushing when he got there, so they were obviously on a tight schedule, but still wanted to share a meal with him. Men may not realize this, but it is a very common cooking technique recommended by women’s magazines, etc. Heck, Trent, you’ve even suggested this. I think he didn’t realize this and was a bit overdramatic in his note. Now if they were half-gnawed rejects, then sure, that would be ‘disgusting.’. Otherwise, sheesh. :-)

  18. Chelsea says:

    The rushing around also makes me think something else was going on. Maybe they’d made a different dinner but had burned it and had to get something else together at the last minute. I’d give them the benefit of the doubt.

  19. kristine says:

    Yes, Ann, cooking a week’s worth of meat and then preparing portions of it nightly so you can significantly vary the meal is typical these days. And smart. There is nothing really “leftover” about it- it is just a component that is prepared ahead of time.

    Tyler has an excellent point. They used it call it “putting on airs.” But there does tend to be different standard for the closest of friends. They are basically the people with whom you can be unguarded, and if you accidentally pass gas, you laugh, instead of being mortified! But maybe that’s just me.

  20. Catherine says:

    As a guest, this is a non-issue. You’re not there for the food, and it should be beneath your polite notice. (The exception might be to say, “This is delicious,” if the situation is informal and you know the host did the cooking.) What was Jim even doing in the kitchen?

    As a host, on the other hand, you should try to make your guests feel that they are not intruding in any way. The hosts here may not have been perfect in this regard, but it does sound like there may have been some confusion between Jim and his hosts about the expected level of formality. But the food itself is not the issue. If you read novels of manners, it always seems that the most coveted hosts employ the most abysmal cooks. Hosts should entertain according to their means, in the expectation that their guests would never be people shallow enough to count up the cost of the meal.

  21. mare says:

    Women are more likely to ask someone over and throw in the caveat ‘we’re having left overs” or “we’re making ___” men are more likely to just invite someone over for dinner.

    Personally, I think Jim shouldn’t have to worry about this. After all I expect his hosts picked up on his negativity and thought he had poor manners and aren’t likely to invite him back anytime soon; clearly he isn’t much of a friend nor would they likely want him to be.

  22. Lisa says:

    With so many recipes that call for – make this one day and use the leftovers to make this the next day – I think Jim is really overreacting. The point of inviting someone to dinner is the company. If you want a gourmet meal or are going to complain about the choices, recommend a restaurant next time.

  23. Marsha says:

    If I were the host, then “Jim” would be an ex-friend. Previous posters have pointed out that many people cook chicken breasts (or other foods) in big batches in advance to have on hand.

    No, I’m not going to serve a guest a leftover burger that has a big bite taken out of it; but I might well serve soup or chili that I had previously made.

  24. Carrie says:

    One time we were invited to dinner and the host served us dessert that she had made the previous day for different guests (the pan was half empty). I guess that’s not wrong but it felt weird.

  25. Ashley says:

    So many meals taste better the next day! I recently made a butternut squash soup in the slow cooker which we enjoyed for two evenings, and served it to guests three days later. Was asked for the recipe! It was “leftovers” for us, but a delicious dish for our guests.

    Now, three days in the refrigerator is the limit for this particular soup. Beyond three days, it should be stored in the freezer. But the tast of the soup “peaked” on the third day, and it was great.

  26. Catherine says:

    An addition to my previous comment:

    The solution to having friends who serve you don’t like is just to eat a sandwich before you go. Then you don’t have to eat much.

  27. Becky says:

    Wow, when I share a meal with friends, it’s about spending time with the friends. It’s not about impressing them with a production. Yes, I try to provide nice food in a comfortable setting so they feel welcome and pleased. But in my world, grilled chicken IS nice food. You’re bothered that they made it ahead of time? Should they have taken the day off work to prepare a multicourse meal for Your Highness instead?

    If you only want Martha-Stewart type people for your friends, then go ahead and be offended.

    Think about this – the more time a person has to spend ON you, probably the less time they will spend WITH you. I mean, if they genuinely love cooking and make gourmet meals for others, then treat you to sloppy joes from a can, there’s probably an issue here. But if they are just putting together something family-style, asking you to join them, and treating you like family, isn’t that rather a priviledge than not?

    I admit, I say this as someone who’s perturbed if someone seems to have spent days preparing a meal for me and getting everything Just So. I’m not the Homemaking Police, and I don’t want my friends to be either. Hospitality is not about the food!

  28. chacha1 says:

    Agree this one is not really about frugality, or rather requires more backstory to make the connection clear.

    As to caring what people think when they are guests in your house: if you don’t care what they think, then you are not their friend, even though they may be yours.

    If you want to be welcomed into a clean home with thoughtful preparation of generous dinner, you should be both sincere and gracious in appreciating that gift, and prepared to reciprocate in kind.

    As to leftovers: degree of intimacy, as others have said, makes the call. And if something comes up, let your guests know ahead of time. Most people would be happy to pitch in and pick something up on the way. And if serving something that has already been shared (e.g. dessert), serve it already plated, don’t put the half-empty pie pan on the table!

    Guests: as a relatively frequent hostess I can add, please stay out of the kitchen unless invited. If you can’t help seeing what’s going on in there because it’s an open-plan home, as if you can help, but reserve judgement and be thankful.

  29. Hope D says:

    I don’t get the problem with left overs. Are people afraid someone breathed on them. I was taught to eat what I was given. There is a difference in what I will eat as a guest and what I will serve as a hostess. I one time had a new couple over. I was preparing the food while they were there ( it was an all day thing). She then told me how she couldn’t have half of the ingredients to the casserole I was making. I omitted them. The meal wasn’t very good. It was a chicken and cheese, broccoli, rice, casserole. The couple asked us to their house for dinner. We went, and they served kohlrabi with non-dairy cheese casserole. YUCK! I ate it, but I wished they had left over pizza.

  30. Jane says:

    I agree with chacha about the dessert. It was the way in which they presented a half finished dessert at the table which was the problem, not that they used the dessert twice.

    Oftentimes we entertain in spurts, because it is just easier. We will have different people over to dinner two nights in a row. That way I can do a bunch of preparation at once (and only clean my house once!). In those cases, I most definitely only make one large dessert that can work for two nights. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, as long as it is the type of dessert that keeps for a few days.

  31. Deb says:

    FYI – I think these topics are really interesting Trent. These would make great material in a book!

  32. Kim says:

    I’m on the side of those who say this wasn’t a problem and was probably just preprepared chicken rather than true leftovers anyways.

    The “guest” has a chip on his shoulders and a bad attitude in my mind.

    Speaking of ethical questions, today is garbage day. It is the week when recycling goes out. What do you all think of people coming down the street and taking the recycling out of the recycling can to go get money for themselves. I don’t mind people who save recyclable items from normal trash cans (for instance in public places where there are no recycling cans–these people are helping the environment while earning money so I approve). However, the stuff in my blue cans are already being recycled and the city needs the money. They are stealing from our donation to the city.

    Also, some of them have been known to come up onto our private property and go around back to where we save our cans and bottles to make our own money off recycling (some categories of things I give to the city in the blue can but glass and aluminum cans I cash in on for myself). I chased a little old woman out of my back patio once because she wanted my cans.

    So–ethical or unethical to take other people’s recycling–either in the cans on the street or saved in bins by our back door.

    And if you want to go further, if a neighbor is throwing out a piece of furniture (sitting by the trash can), is it ethical to take it (it won’t be in a landfill now and we can repair and use it).

    Any thoughts on dumpster diving and freegan lifestyles (a bit too extreme for me but interesting to me at the same time).


  33. Sara says:

    What kind of a jerk complains about a free meal that someone else prepares for them? I’m reminded of my college days mantra, “all free food is good food”. If you are that picky, eat your own meals.

  34. Joanna says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Marsha. I don’t particularly want to spend time with someone pretentious enough to judge the manner in which I’ve put a perfectly decent & healthy meal on the table, for them, for free. I was raised to eat WHATEVER was put on the table in front of me in someone’s home, because it is disrespectful (and elitist quite frankly) to not do so. Perhaps they did it intentionally to suss him out.

    From the comments, it doesn’t seem that the majority have reacted as strongly as I have, so maybe I’m just having an overly sensitive day, but man, I did not like this post. Not impressed with Jim at all, nor was I impressed with the pitying tone that you used in your “pro” example here, Trent. Just because a person uses leftovers doesn’t mean they’re poor or going through a financial crisis or anything. They could be “green” or just people who are down to earth & don’t feel the need to put on airs or change who they are for anyone. I agree with the poster who supported consistentcy in behavior. It’s the honest thing to do.

  35. Jen says:


    Everywhere I’ve lived, this was the standard way to get rid of furniture or other large items–put it out by the trash bin and wait for someone to take it. It saves the trouble of waiting for the monthly “large-item removal day” or paying the waste haulers to take it away.

  36. Joanna says:

    Okay, thinking further I guess I’m offended by Jim’s comment because I believe in the golden rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” NOT “Make sure that others do unto you as you would do unto them.” Jim needs to worry about what he is & isn’t doing well/right and not so much about what his “friends” do that is out of compliance with his norms.

  37. Johanna says:

    @Jen (and anyone else who puts furniture out on the curb for people to take): Before you do this, please check the weather forecast! I live near a university, so my neighborhood has a lot of people coming and going and discarding furniture. This year, in particular, it seemed for some reason that people would always put their unwanted furniture outside immediately before a heavy rainstorm. It was quite frustrating, seeing so many things that probably would have been really nice if they hadn’t gotten soaked.

  38. Jim says:

    Frankly I think that the Jim in question (not me) is acting a bit stuck up and rude about it. Unless he has concerns about the safety of the food then I don’t see a real problem. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. If you’re getting a free meal in someone elses home then I don’t think you’ve got the right to whine about it. If he doesn’t like it then don’t eat there, problem solved. It sounds like they were in a rush so didn’t have time to make anything else. You’re the guest so be understanding and gracious about it rather than rude and unthankful.

  39. BJD says:

    I’m waiting for Henry (yesterday comment #29) to add a comment about how he ran into this situation with friends serving him leftovers and he did the old switcharoo on them.

    I’m guessing while his friends were refilling Henry’s wine glass he went into their kitchen and switched the leftover chicken to a nice steak.

  40. Jim says:

    Kim @ #32, if people haul away recycling that may not cost your city anything and in fact might SAVE the city. Many cities pay to have recycling handled but its cheaper than hauling it to a landfill. A city near here pays $83 a ton to pay a recycling company to sort and haul off glass recycling which is cheaper than the $98 a ton it would cost to send it to a landfill. So a city may like recycling since it is cheaper than trash but it doesn’t make them money necessarily. So if someone pulls the glass out of your recycling bin that might actually save the city money. The exact costs will vary but you get the idea.

    Even if the recycling does make the city some money why not look at it as a donation to the industrious people who are working hard by going door to door collecting recycling. Surely those people are not doing great financially and can use some money but are working hard to get it.

  41. Michelle says:

    in a world where we all value that plastic wrapping on new products, I’m not surprised Jim would feel strange about eating leftovers. I think it’s wrong for him to feel disgusted though. Perhaps he should have taken them out to dinner, instead, if he wanted such nice food.

    I don’t see anything wrong with serving leftovers, and my friends love it when I whip up something imaginative from leftover ingredients. They say they love it when I get creative in the kitchen, and impromptu dinner parties have happened more as a result. That said, we’re poor students and very comfortable with each other. But I do treat my friends and my guests the same most of the time, while cooking slightly more conservatively for people who aren’t used to my experiments.

  42. Sarah in Alaska says:

    I cook all my meat at the beginning of the week so it’s all ready to go when I get home from work. Would people really be disgusted by this?

    The only reason I would think twice about serving a friend leftover food is if 1) I didn’t practice good food handling when I prepared it originally or 2) I was serving it to a pregnant woman.

  43. Adam says:

    If this was an impromptu dinner, for a close friend “Hey why don’t you come home with me and grab a bite” then its fine.

    The way I was raised however, if it was a “dinner party” then I wouldn’t serve leftovers. And I would find it quite odd and off putting if I went to a dinner party and got reheated meatloaf.

    But this is the world I’m in, and I wouldn’t presume that everyone is of the same opinion. Much more situational than stealing towels from a hotel which is always wrong in my book.

  44. Carrie says:

    It’s also different if it’s the first time you’ve invited someone over or the hundredth. The first time I have someone over I’d rather them not see me running around the kitchen all frazzled trying to reheat leftovers, but if they’re a regular at our house then it’s not such a big deal. First impressions are important.

  45. partgypsy says:

    The only thing is I would say is to possibly cut Jim some slack, his reaction may have to do with the way he was raised. I was raised where if you were having someone over for dinner you would be a “host” (i.e. cook better than you would for yourself, make sure there is plenty of food). I still remember the time I was invited for dinner to a friends house (brought a bottle of wine) and all they did was boil some spagetti and then opened up a jar of spagetti sauce (nothing else!). I was shocked because I thought that was something people do not do (use canned sauce, have no sides, bread with dinner) but it was really just a values difference (it’s about the company versus it’s about the meal) than anything else.

    And no I wouldn’t turn down leftovers. Last time my Dad invited me to dinner all the hot food was leftovers from the fridge (chicken with rice, stewed vegetables) along with a fresh salad and bread, and it was incredibly delicous.

  46. Bill in Houston says:

    When I grill I put more meat on that we’re going to eat in one day. Why? Because I like the taste and it is a good way to cook “low fat.” If I know the meat will be used in the next few days it goes into the fridge, in separate containers for separate meals. If it won’t be used in five days, wrapped into the freezer.

    We’ve had friends over and served this food (usually cut up and put into something… a heart healthy stir-fry, or ethnic dish). I’ve NEVER had a complaint, and these friends and family come by again and again wondering, “Hey Bill, what did you create today?” or “So when are you going to open a restaurant?” (Never, for the restaurant… I’m a cook, not a chef, and my back couldn’t handle standing for hours at a time.)

    My folks came over for dinner the other night. They offered to bring meat they had from the previous night. I was making móle. All I had to do was cut up their chicken and simmer it in the sauce. I said, “Sure!”

    My fantasy football draft was last August, and we held it at a friend’s house. He told us, “We have leftover pizza in the fridge. Help yourself. All eight of us did.

    Never look a gift dinner in the mouth. You shouldn’t have to put on airs for friends. I wouldn’t serve last night’s hash to my boss and his tsuma-san (honored wife), but I would probably prepare the entire meal the previous night and reheat it when I got home.

  47. Scott says:

    There’s another piece of background info that’s necessary here too that I’m surprised hasn’t been asked:

    Does Jim hate leftovers in general?

    I know of people who for whatever reason just hate leftovers. Even if cooking for themselves, they would throw out anything left, because they wouldn’t dream of eating it on a second day (yet eat at the same fast food restaurant day after day).

    I know on TV and in popular culture, leftovers have been given a negative tone. I’ve heard of husbands who won’t “let” their wives serve leftovers, or greatly complain when they are.

    Even my wife often semi-apologizes for “just serving leftovers” when we have leftovers…even though I always tell her I enjoy leftovers.

  48. marta says:

    I fail to see what serving leftovers to a guest have to do with ethics.

    I love cooking so when I have guests I prefer to prepare a good meal from scratch and then enjoy the leftovers myself. But if it had been an impromptu invitation or something like that, I wouldn’t have qualms about serving leftovers.

    Also, honestly, I don’t care much for excessive formalities both as a guest and a host — people I let into my place are people I am comfortable with. In more formal situations, we would simply eat out, period. No need to put on airs to impress people.

  49. Kayla says:

    I think the key here is, don’t tell them you’re serving leftovers! Everything tastes better given a fancy name.

  50. Cookie says:

    Restaurants routinely make a lot of things ahead of time and reheat them for service. Does this count as leftovers as well?

  51. Vanessa says:

    Excellent point #50 – overwhelmingly, restaurants, especially those that are diners or family style, cook the majority of food in advance. Parboiling vegetables and pasta, then just reheating them by plunging them in boiling water for a minute. Making one large batch of chicken Parmesan and lasagna and then reheating it all week, cooking a week’s worth of bacon at a time, saving all vegetable scraps (yep, including the uneaten ones on your plate) and pureeing them into soup, etc…. I spent years waitressing my way through school, and all restaurants were the same.
    PS – the Rolo or Turtle cheesecake on the menu is always frozen, from the same company, and microwaved to reach room temperature. Sorry to bedisappointing.

  52. Pam says:

    What do you think if you are a weekend guest, and don’t eat all of your meal. It wasn’t like it was trying to wasted food. The meal was dished up and served to me, and I ate most of it.

    Is it okay for the host to wrap up your plate, put it in the fridge (without telling you ahead of time) and serve it to you at next meal?

    This happened to me once. I was SHOCKED!

  53. Sarah says:

    I think people are confusing “putting on airs” and “making an extra effort for your guest.” It’s not pretentious or false to show greater thoughtfulness and care to someone you’ve invited into your home than you would bother managing for yourself, alone. You do need to be nicer to people with whom you don’t have a history and context. Informality is a privilege, not a right. You’re raised to eat whatever your host puts on your plate; but the converse also applies, that your host should be making a great effort to please you. The responsibilities are reciprocal.

    That said, I don’t think what happened was unethical or disgusting, merely somewhat offputting. I would assume, given the other circumstances, that the original dinner plans blew up for some reason and my hosts were scrambling. So I’d write it off, but if the next time it was spaghetti out of a can, I’d tend to think my hosts weren’t very thoughtful people.

  54. Jane says:

    @Pam – I can’t believe someone did that! I find that way out of line, especially if you were handed a plate of food and had no control over portions. That is maybe something I would do with my preschooler who was refusing to eat his meal over and over again, but never to an adult! That’s really strange.

  55. Jennifer says:

    I just don’t see this as a big deal. A lot of people cook once and eat several meals from it. Many people will cook twice as much meat as they need and create 2 different meals from it. I don’t see this as a cry for help financially either. I totally think that is the wrong way to take it. if they were hurting financially why would they invite him over? If they had no money they would have served ramen, or beans and rice or something really cheap. Chicken breasts are an expensive meat. Just because they were not cooked that day does mean you should be angry.

  56. Susan says:

    As a working mother of three teenaged boys who also has a husband with a ‘healthy’ appetite, I LOVE any food or meal that I don’t have to prepare myself! If I were in Jim’s position this is what I would think: 1)

  57. Susan says:

    Sorry about not finishing #56…I had to take supper out of the oven:) (true story). 1) I don’t have to prepare this meal or probably clean up most of the mess 2) I have company and am enjoying a good time with friends 3) I did not have to buy the food, load it in a cart, shlep it through a parking lot, haul it in the house and then put it away. Never look a gift horse in the mouth!

  58. Larabara says:

    Back when I was in my twenties, my husband and I would routinely invite our friends for dinner, saying that “we’re cleaning out the fridge and we need some help in eating this food up. Wanna come over?” Even back then, we served very creative and tasty dishes with our leftovers. At first it was just a sister or two, but they would always drag their boyfriends along. Once the word got out that our “leftovers” were delicious, our twentysomething friends would eagerly come over and “help clean out the fridge.”

    It’s all about the flavor and the presentation. One last point: I admit Jim’s friends may have had a bad day for whatever reason, and may never have even intended to serve leftovers. And if Jim saw that his hosts were rushing around, he should have at least offered to help with the preparations.

  59. m- says:


    If it really is your friend…. why worry…. eat drink and be merry…. to many people want to define what a good friend is….

  60. JB says:

    Sometimes I make something really good one night and invite someone over to have it the next. If I am inviting someone out of the blue I definitely make something new. I guess there’s full disclosure involved but I wouldn’t be offended if someone served leftovers to me. I’m also a ‘leftovers’ person, and eat them often. No big deal!

  61. I am of the opinion that the fellowship with friends is much more important than the type of food that is served. Jim’s attitude doesn’t seem very merciful or gracious to me. His friends were obviously rushed for time, for whatever reason, and I think he could have been a bit more understanding about that.

  62. deRuiter says:

    Cooking an extra meat on the charcoal grill for use the next day is thrifty. It prevents sitting at the picnic table, staring at a grill full of beautifully glowing coals murmuring, “Gee, the fire’s really perfect now!” Instead, while we eat burgers, or whatever we’ve grilled, the split Italian sausages grill over those perfect coals, dripping a lot of grease off in the process, and next day we have sausage and peppers without all that fat. Sounds like Jim is a bit spoiled, shallow and self cenetered. Instead of being pleased that his friends wanted to see him and invited him to share a meal under some trying personal circumstances, he was ungrateful! Sure, mostly you want to make ALL meals a bit special, but I’d rather be invited than not. These weren’t leftovers, they were precooked to save time and energy.

  63. Lenore says:

    Jim is a jerk, and I’m sure he was too “chicken” to comment about the “leftover” meal to his hosts’ faces. Actually I HOPE he didn’t say anything to them because he’d only hurt their feelings. If I bothered to feed someone then found out he complained about it, I’d never invite him over again. Well…maybe to meet my friends Sam and Ella (Salmonella).

    I second the emotion that homemade lasagna is much better the second day and beyond. So are chili and beef stew. The whole point of crock pot cooking is to have leftovers, and that’s how I make most of my meals. As long as food is kept sanitary and served before spoiling, why should anyone care when it was prepared?

    Here’s my best frugal food tip of the day: sandwich shops like Jimmy John’s, Subway and Quizno’s often sell or give away their unused bread. We got four LONG loaves of delicious day-old bread from Jimmy John’s today for only 50 cents apiece. It was very fresh but can be microwaved to soften it up. I guess those were leftovers too, but they taste better than anything we can buy or bake. (Send Jim over and maybe I’ll make him a sub with some ham salad that’s starting to turn.)

    Martha Stewart doesn’t live here, and that’s a Good Thing.

  64. Gretchen says:

    How is chicken from a day or 2 ago “disgusting”?

    I assume it was kept in the fridge. ha.

    I think this story is missing some details.

  65. Gretchen says:

    I also cannot come up with one single reason why keeping furniture (or anything else) out of the landfill would be bad.

  66. cherie says:

    I remember reading a Martha Stewart book years ago [maybe her first?] and she talked about how she and her then husband would have dinner parties and work all week after work to get components prepared – that’s sort of ‘leftover’ in a way too.

    I agree it’s about presentation – had they made extra grilled chicken and decided that would make a lovely dinner another night – no problem – but to invite someone over and have them enter while you’re in a tizzy trying to ‘find something to feed the guest’ would make me feel unwanted and unwelcome – like a burden rather than a guest.

    So I say it’s a-ok if it’s ‘good’ leftovers – not scraps and dried out remnants – but that it should be done with style :)

  67. Lee says:

    I was brought up in a family that stressed showing the best face to guests. This extends to having fresh food on the table.

    However, I see no problem with serving leftovers if it was previously announced to the guests, or if their relationship is particularly close.

    With that being said, I also consider this a very personal, perhaps even a (micro)cultural situation–if the serving couple was brought up in a manner where it was okay to provide leftovers to guests, then those visitors should follow the wise proverb, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” If this does not sit well with the guests, they certainly do not have to sit at that table again.

  68. Kris says:

    It’s very possible that the hosts are the type of people who grill 10 chicken breasts at once and serve them over the course of the next few days. In fact, Many restaurants grill up chicken breasts and then put them in the fridge and you could be getting grilled chicken breast from the day before, yet they don’t tell you its “Leftovers”, they call it “Prepping”. This is not the same as them fixing spaghetti the night before and then serving you what they didn’t finish out of the bowl. Some things can be done in advance and still provide a great fresh meal. Would you consider pre cutting lettuce for a salad the day before to be serving leftovers? What if they used Foster Farms pre grilled chicken strips… would you still consider it unethical “leftovers”? There are many things people do to “Prep” for making meals later and pre-grilling chicken breasts is a common one. I do not see any “ethical” problem here. I think Jim (and Trent) just has pre-conceived notions about what a dinner host should do and how extravagant they should be in hosting you, but I bet that had he never seen them prepare the meal he would not have noticed the chicken had been prepped before hand and he might have had a good time instead of spending the meal judging his friends.

  69. Sue says:

    Just because the chicken was made a day or so ahead of time, doesn’t necessarily constitute it being a “leftover.” Leftover from what? Maybe these people are pressed for time, get home late from work, but still wanted to share some time with someone they consider a friend so they did some of the cooking ahead of time. If it was partially eaten food, I can see where he might be slightly taken aback, but these friends obviously wanted to spend time with Jim and that was most important to them. Shame on Jim. Obviously, they think of Jim as more of a friend then Jim thinks of them.

  70. RabdZGood says:

    Thanks Sue #69. I started to say the very same thing. When we grill we usually cook ahead for the upcoming week which saves time and fuel.

  71. Michelle says:

    The food you serve to guests should be safe, sanitary, compatible with guests’ dietary restrictions, and taste okay. Beyond that, I think the “rules” about what you can and can’t serve to guests are snobbish. Not everyone has the time to cook everything right before guests arrive without preparing anything in advance. It’s still nice of them to invite you into their home and feed you. I’ve also heard some of my friends complain about how “tacky” it is to invite someone over for dinner and not cook the entire meal from scratch. Whenever I hear this, I always think that complaining behind their host’s back is way tackier than subjecting a guest to Rice-a-Roni. Is the food safe, sanitary, compatible with your dietary restrictions, and edible? Then stop whining and enjoy the company; you’re not there for the food.

  72. Andrea says:

    I would have no trouble eating leftovers, period–I have been invited to dinner, and since someone else did the cooking, I am not complaining!

    I would not serve leftovers, save in a case similar to something I used to do: two friends and I used to have a regular Friday get-together twice a month. All of us brought whatever needed using up in our fridges, and we polished them off. I got to eat things I might not have cooked for myself, and I got to get rid of things I was sick of that might otherwise go to waste. Unfortunately, I moved away, and G. married and moved away … but I have been loking for a similarly inclined circle to pick up the practice with!

    I also, like many posters, draw a distinction between foods cooked in bulk, like chicken breasts, or soup, or anything like that, and tad-ends. And I would ALSO have no trouble serving someone a new dish in which some elemnets were re-configured leftovers. My mother was a Depression-era child, and she taught me that. If I cooked chicken soup, I might invite someone over for freshly-made chicken pasties made with the boiled chicken I used for stock.

    Finally, I really wonder–why do people dislike leftovers? Add another ingredient, and you have a new dish. I make spaghetti sauce ahead, because it is *better* after it has sat a while. Even if you don’t add new things, I can happily eat the same meal three days in a row. It isn’t as if people are eating from the storage or serving bowl, you know. The food in it is fine and uncontaminated, so long as it has been stored properly.

  73. Angela says:

    If you’ve ever eaten a proffessionally catered meal then you’ve eaten left overs by this definition. Almost everything is cooked a day or so in advance and then heated up at serving time. Our local food section actually ran a large article recently sharing several catering companies recipes for precooked chicken breasts that then need only be heated up in the oven and sauced.

  74. Bill in Houston says:

    I went to a friend’s 50th birthday party last Saturday. Her husband held it at a popular Tex-Mex restaurant and ordered a fajita and fixin’ buffet for 25. While 30 of us showed up there was a ton of leftovers. Her husband practically shoved “to go” boxes in peoples’ hands, saying, “Please don’t make me take home two weeks worth of food! Bill (to me), c’mon man, don’t contribute to the waistline of a middle aged man!”

    My goody box had about a half pound of beef and chicken, some refried beans, some spanish rice and half a dozen flour tortillas.

    Since we were full from this lunch the leftover box was enough food for dinner on Sunday (along with a salad) and my wife’s lunch today (we flipped a coin; I got a ham sandwich, apple, walnuts, and carrots).

  75. Christine says:

    I love the last paragraph of this post! It is the best explanation of why I clean, prepare special foods, and try to make guests comfortable. (I’ll share your words with my family.) It’s so important to “care” and to honor our guests. Thanks!

  76. Sally says:

    I think there’s a HUGE difference between something that was purposely cooked in advance and something that is obviously “leftover”.

  77. Danielle says:

    I would never do this. Why? Because I use my guests as guinea pigs. I find out what they like and try new cooking adventures using those items and omitting what they don’t. Sometimes things work out, and occasionally they don’t… but my friends know that they are in for an experience when they come to eat at my house. They also know that what I learn cooking for them is very valuable to me, and that if all else fails, there is always a backup plan.

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