Food waste is a serious issue. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 30–40% of the food supply in the United States is wasted each year (1).
Food waste not only depletes many of our natural resources but also increases greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to climate change.
Fortunately, you can take several steps to decrease food waste, including planning your meals in advance, only buying what you need, and practicing proper food storage.
Using food scraps instead of throwing them out is another simple way to reduce waste, minimize your environmental impact, and save money.
Here are 14 creative ideas to help you use up your food scraps.
Watermelon is a popular summertime treat, but the rinds are often discarded in favor of the fruit’s sweet flesh.
However, you can save watermelon rinds and pickle them for a crunchy, satisfying snack.
Like pickling other fruits and vegetables, you simmer the rinds in a mixture of vinegar, water, sugar, and salt until they soften, then store them in the fridge until you’re ready to enjoy them.
If you’re feeling creative, you can add other spices and seasonings to the mix, such as ginger, cinnamon, peppercorn, or cloves.
Instead of purchasing pricey bone broth supplements or powdered mixes, you can make your own bone broth at home by saving leftover bones from meat.
Simply add roasted bones to a large pot and fill it with water until the bones are fully submerged. Bring it to a simmer and cover it, letting it cook for 24–48 hours. Next, strain the broth using a mesh sieve, transfer it to jars, and store it in the fridge.
Bone broth is not only a warm, soothing alternative to coffee or tea but also makes a great addition to soup, stew, stuffing, and gravy.
If you have a loaf of bread that’s gone stale, there’s no need to toss it. Instead, use it to whip up a batch of delicious homemade croutons.
To get started, cut the loaf into cubes and toss them with olive oil and your choice of seasonings, such as garlic powder, rosemary, black pepper, or onion powder.
Then, arrange the cubes on a sheet pan and bake them for 10–15 minutes at 400°F (205°C), or until crispy and golden.
Homemade croutons add extra flavor and crunch to salads, soups, and casseroles.
Leafy greens like kale and collards have fibrous stems that can be difficult to eat.
However, instead of tossing them out, you can save the stems, chop them into small pieces, and sauté them with a bit of olive oil and your favorite seasonings.
In addition to helping cut back on food waste, leafy greens’ stems make a delicious side dish packed with nutrients.
Many types of vegetables can be regrown by putting their stalks in water, helping you save money on groceries while reducing waste.
Cabbage, celery, green onions, and leeks work especially well, but you can grow a variety of other veggies, too.
Simply cut the bottom of the stalk and place it in a shallow bowl with enough water to cover the roots. Although it may take time to see significant growth, you’ll start to notice progress within a few days.
Most people discard the leafy greens that sprout from root vegetables like beets, carrots, and radishes.
These greens are not only edible and nutritious but also incredibly versatile. You can swap them for other greens in a wide range of recipes.
Try sautéing the leaves for an easy side dish or add them to salad, soup, pesto, or hummus.
One of the best ways to use up vegetable trimmings is to make your own veggie stock.
It’s easy to do. Just add vegetable scraps to a large pot, cover them with water, add herbs and seasonings like garlic or peppercorns, bring it to a boil, and simmer it for 20–30 minutes. Next, filter the broth using a fine-mesh sieve, transfer it to a container, and freeze or refrigerate it.
You can use your homemade vegetable stock to cook pasta or grains, or add it to soups and stews to ramp up the flavor.
Coffee grounds make an excellent natural fertilizer for plants and add organic material to the soil to increase growth. They also help attract earthworms while improving water retention and drainage in your garden.
To use coffee grounds as fertilizer, sprinkle them directly around your plants or rake them into the top few inches of soil. Be sure not to go overboard or add too much, as the grounds may clump together and prevent water from reaching the soil.
The next time you have fresh herbs on hand that you don’t need, freeze them to use them later instead of throwing them away.
Start by washing the herbs thoroughly, removing the stems, and chopping them up. Next, add them to an ice cube tray, cover them with water, and freeze them for several hours. Once frozen, remove the cubes and store them in a plastic bag in the freezer.
When you’re ready to use the herbs, transfer the cubes to a small bowl, wait until the water melts, then drain and pat the herbs dry.
Instead of tossing the peels of fruits like apples or oranges, you can easily save them to make a tasty fruit peel jam.
Simply cook the peels in water for 25–30 minutes, strain the peels, and boil the liquid on high heat with sugar and lemon juice before pouring it into sterilized jars or cans.
Fruit peel jam makes a tasty topping for chia pudding, yogurt bowls, and other healthy desserts.
Citrus peels make an excellent addition to homemade air fresheners because they absorb odors.
One DIY option is to scoop out the flesh from fruits like grapefruit, limes, or oranges and fill the rind with a mixture of sea salt, herbs, and essential oils.
You can also simmer citrus peels with water and spices, such as cinnamon or cloves, to instantly freshen up your kitchen.
Suet is a type of animal fat that’s often used in bird feeders to help birds stay warm during the winter.
Although you can purchase suet cakes for your bird feeder, you can also make your own at home by recycling leftover meat drippings from bacon or pork.
Simply strain the leftover drippings using a fine-mesh sieve to remove any contaminants. If you choose, you can add ingredients like peanut butter, unsalted nuts, or dried fruit to attract a wider array of birds.
Recipes often call for very small quantities of tomato paste, so there’s usually quite a bit left in the can.
Instead of tossing it out, you can freeze your leftover tomato paste to extend its shelf life.
To get started, use a small spoon to scoop tomato paste onto a lined baking sheet and freeze it until it solidifies. After a few hours, transfer the scoops into a plastic bag and freeze them for up to 3 months until you’re ready to use them.
Composting is a great way to use food scraps without creating waste.
It involves collecting leftover organic materials from your kitchen or yard, such as fruit and vegetable trimmings, eggshells, coffee grounds, flowers, and leaves. As this matter rots, it creates nutrient-dense compost that enriches soil and promotes plant growth.
You can compost in your backyard or indoor using a kitchen composting appliance. Many cities also offer composting programs or local bins where you can drop off your scraps.
Food waste is a serious issue around the globe.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to use your food scraps to help cut back on food waste and become a more eco-conscious consumer.
Try experimenting with a few of the options listed above to save time and money while also practicing sustainability.
Just one thing
In addition to reducing waste, finding creative new ways to use food scraps may help diversify your diet. Don’t be afraid to experiment with unfamiliar ingredients or cook with parts of plants, such as stems or rinds, that you normally wouldn’t. You might find some new favorites!