Fending for dinner: Readers from around the world share their tips

July 21, 2022 at 8:00 a.m. EDT (Illustrations by Katty Huertas/The Washington Post) Comment on this story Comment A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the concept of fending for dinner, which can range from as low-effort as tipping the end of a bag of chips into your mouth […]

(Illustrations by Katty Huertas/The Washington Post)
(Illustrations by Katty Huertas/The Washington Post)

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the concept of fending for dinner, which can range from as low-effort as tipping the end of a bag of chips into your mouth to as elaborate as an abundant, from-the-fridge charcuterie board. There are no real rules to a meal of snacks, except that it can and often does incorporate leftovers — waste not, want not — and is usually quite satisfying. Maybe it’s a spread of banchan and bowl of rice, maybe it’s antipasti, maybe it’s leftover dal, a crunchy cucumber salad and a few tortillas. Whatever it is, a lot of us make it.

After I wrote about fending, I asked readers what they call it and how they do it. Hundreds wrote in.

Fending for dinner is practical snacking for our times

Turns out, a lot of us, myself included, call it snacking, and there are a fair number of grazers and fenders. You fend for scraps, you scrounge and you schlop. There are leftover fiestas and fiesta leftovers, party boards and sloppy bowls.

According to one reader, it’s called tira in the Philippines, though others use the general term for snack, merienda. Some Spanish-speaking readers call it pica pica; some call it tapas. Other names for the practice include nibbling, pick-up meal, alchemy, kitchen sink, deja vu and the fun portmanteau, plannedovers.

Many of you are foragers, but I liked that Jeannine DeWald of Benson, Md., calls her practice “suboptimal foraging,” a nod to her background in wildlife biology.

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Some called it a smorgasbord, and at least one of you refers to the spread as a “borgasmord,” which seems to acknowledge the mixed up nature of the practice. Paula McNaughton of Mississauga, Ontario, turned it into a verb, smorgasbording: “It’s usually lunches on Friday and Saturday when the week’s groceries are dwindling but before the next grocery run takes place. … This might include any weekday leftovers, the last egg in the carton, the one carrot in the crisper, the jar of beets at the back of the fridge, etc.

“Smorgasbording is a great way to prevent food waste, make more room in the fridge and spend less mental energy on meal preparation. Another extra benefit is that for some reason it always makes us more grateful for the abundance that we have in our lives. Inevitably, somebody always makes the comment about how lucky we are to eat so well,” she wrote.

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Indeed, we are lucky to have enough that there is extra for scrounging on the days when we can’t be bothered to cook. Another thread that ran through your comments? How freeing this practice can feel. It’s a great way to break out of the dinner-as-chore mentality.

Here are a few more of your terms and tips for fending for dinner. (Responses are edited for length and clarity.)

Pot luck leftovers: Most of the serious cooking in our house is for Shabbat dinner (Friday night) and lunch (Saturday noon). During the week we repurpose what’s left. Friday’s appetizer becomes Sunday’s main course, on Monday that cold rice from Saturday gets fried up with the lone remaining grilled chicken breast and some frozen peas and corn. In a good week, we are not truly stumped until Wednesday. — Barbara Silverman, Beit Shemesh, Israel

Every man for himself: But when I was a child my Dad used to cook one dinner a week from odds and ends, with ketchup and Worcestershire sauce added, and called it Slumgullion! We loved it, different every time. — Janet Badger, Houston

Junk food and crazy night: On a Friday night (always Friday) after parents have worked all week, everyone gathered in the kitchen for junk food for dinner. The Crazy part evolved, from dancing to oldies, to starting with dessert or simply eating in front of the TV. Whatever rocks your boat. We are now on the second generation of this concept, and in-laws have gotten into the act. It is freedom, and the kids and grownups love it! — Linda Rose, Baltimore

German picnic: From the evening in our Munich hotel when we were too tired to go out to eat; we went to Lidl and got what we could for a bed-top picnic in our room. — Jeffrey Shaumeyer, Bowie, Md

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Expending all ammo: Everything that needs finishing up comes out of the fridge and gets heated, plated, tucked into a taco, whatever. Add the appropriate condiments, maybe a handful of nuts or a little cheese, and it is a meal. And a good one. — Jane Conner, Corinth, Vt.

A little dab will do ya: My mom used to call it that, and that’s what we still call it. — Becky Chapman, Orlando.

Smorgasbord (with a formula): About once a week, I take all the disparate leftovers out of the fridge and arrange them into three categories: protein, veggies, carbs. Kids can take 1 carb, 1-2 protein, and as much veggies as they want. My kids love having agency over their meal, and it’s one dinner I don’t have to think about while also emptying the fridge. — Nayela Keen, Alamo, Calif.

This and that: We called it “this and that” when my kids were young, as in the obvious “a little bit of this and a little bit of that.” Everyone loved it, until the baby grew old enough to express her opinion. It wasn’t fun, she insisted, it was just leftovers! So she got a brand new PB&J while the rest of us enjoyed our ’90s charcuterie. — Jill Lewis, Norfolk.

Fend for yourself: It was the solution after a busy day that didn’t go as planned and therefore no dinner ready — or when I thought the pantry and fridge were getting overly full. I did it just the other night with my kids, who are now adults and were visiting. A wonderful family tradition! — Nancy Dennis, Dallas

Tapas or aperitivos: My husband and I live in Spain, so theoretically we could call our fending: having tapas, vamos de tapas. Actually, we prefer to use the village term for a weekly cultural routine: aperitivos! This refers to the institution of going to the bar after the Sunday Mass. Aperitivos has naturally spread to Saturdays when, in the summer months, the whole village is out having tapas in the afternoon. — Barb Young y Angel Felipe, Villarejo del Valle, Ávila, Spain.

DYOFT: On nights when we pull from the freezer inventory, those are “freezer amnesty” nights. On nights when our leftovers have gotten out of hand and everyone wants something different, we call that “DYOFT” night, which means “do your own funky thing” and involves grouping the leftovers into whatever regional cuisine makes sense (such as Mexican, Chinese, American, etc). Or not. — Lisa Consani, Sonoma County, Calif.

Pig bucket: I live in a rural community in New Zealand. There are often domestic animals such as pigs and hens to feed from the leftover vegetable and food scraps. In our house, the scraps go into a bucket called the pig bucket. Every rural person knows what this is. So, when we are having leftovers involving whatever is in the fridge and pantry, we call it either “Every Man for Himself Night” or “Pig Bucket.” — Jill Burton, Taumarunui, New Zealand.

Snack dinner: Cooking for my daughters (4 and 2 years old), became exhausting because a) toddlers and b) pandemic, until I introduced Snack Dinner. My oldest daughter cheers when she sees Snack Dinner and requests it once a week. I take a cookie sheet or two, line it with parchment paper (fewer dishes!) and fill it with all manner of bits and bobs from the fridge and pantry. It’s the best way to use up random things, and to present 50 percent produce to my children! Random nubs of cheese or salami, cornichon, olives, whatever bottom of the bag crackers need to be cleared out, lots of crudites and berries, leftover steamed asparagus, whatever. Then we all sit around the table and just pick what we want. The girls always end up eating more veggies in this format, and it’s so casual and fun! — Alison Clarke-Pentz, Columbia, Md.

Pupus: Aloha! Calling them “pupus” always elicits a raised eyebrow or two with our visitors, but that’s what it is, and basically constitutes a full meal. Mahalo for giving us permission to eat this way (which I do most of the time). — Lucy L. Jones, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Bonus meal, or Gracious living: I am from North Carolina and since I was a child we called it “bonus meals” and they were enjoyed for the variety. My husband is from England where the same concept is referred to as “gracious living,” [or] “let’s have gracious tonight.” — Debra Swinley, Vancouver Island

Pica pica: Our family used the Spanish term for it – pica pica! A variety of breads/crackers, cheese, meats, and random leftover fridge items (salads, pastas, meat, whatever) — kind of like a dressed down and more eccentric interpretation of charcuterie. — Silvia Foster-Frau, Washington, D.C.

Eating the fridge: In our house we call it “Eating the Fridge!” It’s more of a progressive dinner where we put out 3 or 4 things on small plates typically accompanied by crackers or toasted day-old bread. When we finish that, we ask each other if we are still hungry. If so, we go back to the fridge and dig out something else! — Lisamarie Eldredge, Petaluma, Calif.

Buffet: My mom did this when my brother and I were kids, and it was sort of like a buffet. Everything came out of the fridge and onto the table, even (or especially) a food that not everyone liked, or something not plentiful enough to give a full portion to each person. We’d make an initial round with our plates and then top them up to see how many of the food items we could eat up completely. Leopold, the family dog, was often pressed into service for the last bites. — Jennifer Applegate, Santa Rosa, Calif.

Dab social: You eat “A dab of this and a dab” of that! Sounds much better than ‘We have to eat up all the leftovers.’ — Dana Bookey, Zurich.

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Mixture maxture: I have been doing this as long as I can remember. Growing up with Scottish parents, we called it mixture maxture. Most likely it was because my mom didn’t want to cook. I loved it and still do it almost weekly. — Valerie Finlayson, Los Angeles.

Deconstructed dinner: We do this on most Friday nights. It started out as a happy hour cheese tray, but over the past couple of years morphed into something maybe slightly more healthy and became a full meal. We throw on some olives, pickles, tomatoes, a few leftover pieces of protein from another meal, a dip of some sort. Whatever is around and is easy to eat without a fork. Perfect with a glass of wine, relaxing on the patio after the week is done. — Laurie Kline, Richardson, Texas

Hotchee potchee: When my children were small, I used to make them a meal of a mixture of leftovers which we called hotchee potchee. — Joan Hollander, New York City

Son of leftovers, Leftover buffet or Leftovers redux: As cash strapped college students (in the days before microwave ovens), we couldn’t afford to throw anything out! Sometimes there was just a dab, sometimes there was enough for a side serving for two. I assembled a baking sheet full of Pyrex custard cups of associated leftovers and popped it in the oven while scrounging the cold leftovers (and sometimes combining them into some pretty strange salads). — Andrea Frankel, Nevada City, Calif.

The ratly feast: If you’ve ever watched the old kids’ movie “Charlotte’s Web,” there is a rat character named Templeton who goes absolutely crazy at the fair and the smorgasbord of scraps. — Gloria Brokaw, Springfield, Va.

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