Generational attitudes about food certainly have changed, mostly for the better.

When I was a kid, the “clean plate club” was in full force around most dinner tables in America. Now we understand that eating until you’re stuffed is not what’s important, and we focus more on making sure our kids have healthful food options and a balanced diet.

Still, our parents came from the “waste not, want not” era, and that’s an idea I can get behind. It’s also one I hope my kids will get behind. It kills me to toss good food into the trash because I couldn’t find a way to make use of it. Studies show that the average U.S. family throws away 25 percent of the food they buy. That’s a lot of food heading to the landfill, and a lot of money going down the drain.

So I’m always on the lookout for quick and easy recipes that allow me to utilize my leftovers or offer enough flexibility to use whatever I have on hand. Panzanella fits the bill perfectly.

Panzanella is an Italian dish that uses leftover bread as the foundation for a summer salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and basil. The vegetables are tossed together with a light vinaigrette and the bread is added to soak up the delicious juices. In addition to being the perfect sponge, using day-old bread makes the salad heartier and stretches the bounty of summer even further.

The concept is one that can be used with almost any combination of vegetables. I love this salad with leftover grilled vegetables. I often add steak, chicken or even seafood to it, as well. It’s an “everything but the kitchen sink” type of recipe that lets me clean out the fridge and feed my family at the same time.

While I don’t tell my kids to “Finish your dinner. There are starving children in the world,” I hope they find that using what we have on hand, and making something mouthwatering out of it, makes good sense — and a wonderful meal.


Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.