There's more than just dinner in there – there are ingredients for your next marinade, potential crafts, and gardening tools, too!

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Chinese take out

If you loathe throwing away the extra packets of soy and duck sauce that line the bottom of your Chinese takeout bag, or feel guilty for trashing the ketchup and mayonnaise that accompany an already-dressed fast-food burger, you're not alone. I keep bags full of such items in my pantry.

But I don't do it only because I'm a condiment hoarder (I cheerfully confess to being one). Nor do I save them because they come in handy in emergencies, although they have saved our sushi and burgers more than once. No, I collect them to use for cooking. And I hold onto everything from sporks to chopsticks to plastic containers for other household uses.

How to Use Leftover Condiments

Unless you're in the restaurant business or shop at a warehouse discount retailer like Costco, where you can buy items like this to distribute, you might not know offhand that ketchup and relish packets contain 9 grams. Duck and hoisin sauces, along with Asian mustard, have 8 grams per packet. Soy sauce has 6. Other kinds of mustards, including yellow, honey, and Dijon, are 5 to 5.67 grams. And mayonnaise, the information for which is given in ounces, converts to just about 12 grams.

This knowledge, easily discovered via Google, is important because 5 grams equals 1 teaspoon. Once you have that conversion down, you know that one packet of mustard or soy sauce is a pretty good substitute for a teaspoon.

You can use these condiment packets to make a variety of marinades, dressings, and sauces without any extra ingredients. I rely on ratios to remember them, but they do work out in measurements as well.

For instance, for my go-to "Instant Pork Chop Marinade," I consider that the average weight of a pork chop is 6 ounces, and the average thickness about 1.25 inches. For each chop, I mix together two packets of duck sauce, two packets soy sauce, and 1 packet Asian mustard, amounting to 2.5 tablespoons. It doesn't look like a lot of liquid per chop, but you don't need to super-soak this cut. A good clingy glaze will do just fine. Coat it, let it sink in for 30-45 minutes, and you have a tenderized piece of pork filled with umami.

Likewise, I guesstimate that a person consumes about one cup, or 2.5 ounces, of salad with dinner. This requires about 2 tablespoons per person of my "Easy Thousand Island Dressing" – a no-brainer if you have two ketchup, one mayonnaise, and one relish packets on hand. Together, this combination equals 39 grams, which is about 2.6 tablespoons. If you like a little less sweetness, go light on the relish.

Making a barbecue sauce or a dip for seafood may require a little more ingenuity in your collecting. But honey, lemon juice, taco sauce, hot sauce, and horseradish sauce are all good to have in your condiment repertoire. It also helps to keep in mind that all servings of sauces are, like salad dressings, two tablespoons per person – about 4-5 packets of condiments.

How to Use Disposable Utensils and Containers

Most takeout and pickup bags come equipped with a variety of cutlery, napkins, and containers. But since we've largely been home utilizing our own sustainable resources, what should we do with such things as sporks, disposable wooden chopsticks, and plastic containers, other than recycling them or saving them for school lunches?

It's always okay to tell a restaurant not to include cutlery, napkins, and so forth in the first place. Not everyone wants to collect a bunch of mismatched forks, spoons, and knives just so that they don't have to spend money on them for the occasional birthday party. However, there are a number of craft projects you can enjoy making with them, including roses and sunflowers for your patio, "crystal" light fixtures, and plant markers for your garden. They hold spray paint and Sharpie equally well, are easily glued, and bend with applied heat.

Speaking of the garden, I use sporks to dig and disposable chopsticks to tie up my tomato plants and other vines, which I start growing from seed in recycled food cartons. You can employ chopsticks in numerous ways, from baking (everything from leveling off ingredients to cake-testing) to substituting for fondue forks. If you have a fireplace, 'tis the season to try them as kindling. Then stick some marshmallows on more chopsticks and toast them over the resulting flames.

In addition to doctoring take-out containers to become starter seed trays, you can also tear them up, if they're Styrofoam or paper, to become the lining for large metal pots, which become overheated if they don't have a barrier between the soil and the exterior. Napkins and the bags themselves can also be put to this purpose.

And, I confess, I still wash and save the harder plastic containers that bring us soups and curries and other liquid-based or saucy delicacies. It drives my husband crazy, as we mostly use vacuum-sealed glass these days, which is healthier and keeps food for longer. But the smaller ones make excellent fly traps. Simply fill a container with apple cider vinegar or white wine about halfway to the top, then cover with the lid (or plastic wrap if you prefer). Poke a few small holes in the top so that the flies can get in but not out. I survived almost two decades on a mango grove in Miami with only these homemade, all-natural fly traps in my kitchen taking care of pests.

As for the larger ones, I like having these on hand for the pickled beet recipe that's going to unintentionally color something purple. Or for a tie-dye project. Or for that need-to-get-out-of-the-house picnic where the container accidentally gets thrown out or left behind, because then I don't have to get mad.

Whether take-out is a regular go-to or an occasional treat for your household, these handy hacks will help you make the absolute most of the meal.