Courtesy of Mareya Ibrahim
The numbers around food waste in America are staggering. The USDA estimates that 30% to 40% of the food supply is wasted somewhere between the farm and the kitchen table. That’s a lot of food. Some of this waste, like spoilage on the vine, can’t be helped, but tossing perfectly good produce that just sat in your fridge for too long or went unused because your chili recipe only called for half of an onion happens all too often. If one of your home cooking goals in the new year is to reduce your food waste — whether for the benefit of your wallet or the environment — there are a ton of easy things you can do. These are just a few ways to turn so-called food scraps into delicious meals and ingredients.
If you’ve made a roast chicken or slow-cooker chicken thighs, think twice before tossing those bones. Chicken bones (and turkey bones or beef bones) can — and should — be saved to make homemade stock. Supplement your carcasses with any vegetable scraps (all of which can be frozen until you’re ready). When in doubt, simmer in water for four to eight hours and call it a broth. Bones, onion tops, mushroom stems, peels from root vegetables, carrot tops, herb stems, ginger peels, garlic skins and plenty of other scraps make flavorful stocks.
Looking to make the best-ever soup? Add in the rind of a hard cheese, like Parmesan, Pecorino Romano or Grana Padano. Simmering your soups with this addition adds an earthy, cheesy element that can take anything from French onion soup to creamy potato leek soup to the next level. This extra ingredient plays especially well with soups that already use cheese as an ingredient, and can also add depth to homemade tomato sauce.
One of the biggest problems with Chinese takeout is that they give you, like, four pints of white rice. It feels like a waste to toss it, so what can you do? Turn it into homemade fried rice. This dish is incredibly easy to make at home and is one of the best ways to use leftovers of any kind. You can really toss anything in there — the final egg from a carton, a quarter head of finely sliced cabbage, a handful of mushrooms, a cup of peas — just whatever you have on hand. A little soy sauce and ginger will make those leftovers taste brand new.
If you open up your fridge and find languishing scallions, a couple broccoli florets, leftover corn and some baby carrots that may only have a day or two left in them, don’t just toss them. Turn them into a healthy and delicious stir fry. Though this recipe calls for mushrooms, onions, jalapeños, bell peppers and water chestnuts, you can really use whatever you have on hand.
If you sliced way too many red onions for your cucumber salad or chopped a few too many mushrooms for your quiche, don’t toss them, turn them into pizza toppings. Pizza is a fun and delicious thing to make at home, and you can top your sauced and cheesed pie with just about anything: leftover ham, wilting veggies — get creative.
Coffee grounds may seem like total and complete trash, but they have some surprisingly useful uses. First of all, they can be used to neutralize odors in your kitchen or as a healthy compost ingredient in your garden. Coffee grounds’ bold flavor also makes an excellent ingredient in rubs for steaks, pork roasts, and turkey.
Pickles and olives are an ideal side dish for a massive cheeseburger, but what should you do with all of that leftover brine? Use it to make another great sandwich. A pickle or olive brine is the secret to many great restaurant fried chicken sandwiches, and the technique is easy to replicate at home.
If you peeled an orange for a snack or used a lemon for some dessert, put those peels to good use. Lemon zest is a fantastic addition to natural cleaners for your home, or you can freeze it to use later (there isn’t much a little citrus zest can’t perk up). And if you have full peels, you can use them to make candied fruit peels. The process is a lengthy one, but the end result is so worth it.
Have carrot tops, radish tops, cilantro, basil or parsley stems? Those greens can be a flavorful and super healthy addition to a pesto. Just blend your greens up with olive oil, garlic, nuts and Parmesan cheese (or nutritional yeast for a vegan alternative) and toss it with pasta for a robust meal.
Cucumber peels don’t roast the same way other veggie peels do, but don’t think you need to throw them away. Simply add them to a pitcher of water and keep it in your fridge for some refreshing spa-ready water. Not a cucumber fan? Add strawberry tops, citrus peels, mint, watermelon rinds or a pineapple core to your H2O.
Are your berries getting a little mushy? Instead of passing on them because their texture is less-than-desirable, turn them into a multipurpose mixed berry jam. If you want to wait until you have the 4 cups of required berries for this recipe, simply keep your fruit in a zip-top baggie in the freezer.
If there’s a bruised mango in your fridge or a pear with a brown spot, you can still make good use of that produce by cutting away any brown bits and blending the rest with some coconut milk and ice for a smoothie. Smoothies are a great catchall for all sorts of food scraps, from fruit pulp after juicing to stems from spinach, kale or other greens. You can store fruit scraps in your freezer until you’re smoothie-ready.
Committing to finishing off an entire bunch of bananas can be a hard task. So, what do you do at the end of the week when two or three of your yellow guys are on the verge of turning to bad? Make banana bread, of course. This sweet treat was a top trending recipe of 2020 thanks to its thriftiness and comforting flavors.
Sliced tomatoes and onions are integral ingredients for next-level sandwiches, and that half a tomato that you didn’t put on your BLT can be used for a delicious fresh homemade salsa. This is generally a great way to use small bits of onion, herbs, herb stems, a random garlic clove and even bits of fresh fruit, like pineapple, mango or strawberry.
There are a ton of ways to use that last bit of bread, from savory breakfast casseroles to French toast. We find one of the most useful ways to makeover stale bread is to turn it into croutons. The process is simple. Cut bread into 1-inch cubes, and spread the cubes out on a large baking sheet. Add some olive oil and garlic powder, and toss to coat. Bake in a 400-degree oven, stirring often, until croutons are nicely golden on all sides, 12 to 15 minutes. Homemade croutons are a surefire way to level up your next Caesar salad.
Speaking of bread, do you have picky kiddos who refuse to eat their sandwich crusts? Save them and turn those ends (and the butt of your sandwich bread) into breadcrumbs. Just pulse the stale pieces in a food processor for about 15 or 20 seconds and bake in a 300-degree oven for 5-10 minutes. Use these breadcrumbs for eggplant parmesan, meatballs or other family-friendly recipes. Using old bread crusts like this is definitely one of our favorite ways to make your food last longer.
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