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Never Waste Fresh Food Again (without Having to Eat Leftovers)

by Elise Museles

Picture this: You sit down to the dinner table starving. The day got away from you, and you were simply too busy to have a healthy snack to balance your blood sugar. So you pile your plate high with a big salad, a few turkey burgers, roasted sweet potatoes, and some grain-free brownies for dessert. Although it’s all healthy and delicious, you end up with too much food because your eyes were bigger than your stomach. You clean up and toss the extra down the drain.

Or you’re prepping your food for the week, chopping up colorful fruits and vegetables to cook or toss into bowls or salads. Those beets, carrots, broccoli, and other seasonal ingredients will soon become meals for the next few days. You slice it all up and toss the tops and stalks into the trash.

Or maybe it’s early in the morning, and you quickly whip up a smoothie using your DIY almond milk and finish almost the entire glass. There’s a little bit left, not enough to save for later, so you dump the remaining part into the sink.

What’s wrong with this? After all, you’re cooking your own meals, eating whole foods, and getting in lots of fruits and veggies. The problem: food waste. Most of us do it without even realizing it – and just a few small changes in what gets tossed and what you keep can make a world of difference for our environment, your health, and your budget!

Almost 40% of all food in the U.S. is wasted, and uneaten food is the largest contributor to municipal landfills (hello, methane!). In fact, the average American creates 250 pounds of food waste every year.

So how can we use every single last scrap of food?

When it comes to limiting food waste, meal planning is crucial, as is not going to the grocery store hungry. Food is so much more tempting when your tummy is rumbling!

But there’s another way to reduce your food waste, and it’s actually pretty fun. And, we’re not just talking about how to get creative with leftovers. Did you know that you’re probably tossing perfectly good parts of your food into the trash?

Whether it’s root veggie tops, broccoli stalks, or veggie scraps, a lot of what we often throw away is actually nutrient-dense. What’s more, many of these parts pack tons of flavor. Who knows: maybe your new favorite addition to your juice, smoothie, or salad has actually been making its way into your garbage instead of your mouth!

Here are some of my favorite unexpected, edible ingredients:

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Carrot tops
Ever since you first started eating this orange veggie, I’ll bet you’ve either lopped off the tops or simply chomped them down to a stub. However, there’s serious culinary magic in those green leaves! Chopped up and thrown into a saute, a pesto or even a chimichurri, these greens add an herbal, earthy note to any dish.

As an aside, the greens help keep your carrots fresh, so don’t cut off the tops too preemptively!

Beet greens
Do you cook with Swiss chard? Great – then you already know how to use beet greens! (Even if you don’t, you already know how to use beet greens!) Chop or slice the greens, then braise or saute them. You can also enjoy them finely sliced in a delicious salad. Easy!

Radish tops
I love a good, spicy radish, and their zesty greens do not disappoint. They’re similar to arugula, and fabulous in a salad, wilted in pasta, or even as a pizza topping. Who knew?

Broccoli stems and leaves
You’re going to think I’m nuts, but broccoli stalks mixed into my green juice is always a favorite of mine. First of all, they’re nutrient-dense, packing huge amounts of Vitamins A, C, and B1, plus calcium and iron. And they taste surprisingly sweet! Simply throw the stems into the hopper along with your other favorite ingredients. Admit it: you’ve never done anything but trashed or composted those broccoli stalks. Brilliant, right?

Not into juicing? No problem! The stems add a nice crunch (and flavor!) to your favorite stir fry.

Watermelon rinds
Is there anything better than ice-cold watermelon in the summer?

Of course, something that delicious must have some faults… like the fact that cutting one up takes forever, and you can’t even eat the rind – a third of the entire fruit! But you know what I’m going to say, don’t you?

Yes, you can eat the rind! In the south, it’s common to see pickled watermelon rind in salads or as a punchy condiment. Personally, I like to throw mine into the blender with the rest of the fruit and a touch of mint and lime for a super-hydrating slushy. So refreshing!

Veggies for soup stocks
Stock is easy to buy, but it’s also a cinch to make at home. Bonus: homemade tastes so much better! Most of the things that go into a rich vegetable broth would normally end up in the trash. Simply wash what you’d normally discard (leaves, peelings, ends….) and save them in a container in your fridge or freezer, depending on how quickly you plan on making and using the stock.

Scraps from onions, carrots, and celery are key. Other great additions are anything boldly flavored (like garlic, leeks, scallions, chives, and shallots); root vegetables (like potatoes and parsnips); herby goodies (like fennel, beet greens, parsley, and cilantro); and all the usual veggie suspects: peppers, mushrooms, green beans, squash, even corn cobs!

While vegetables a little past their prime will work, avoid anything that has already turned or is no longer fresh. And keep in mind that pungent veggies (like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage), might overpower your stock.

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Almond pulp
I’m a huge fan of almond milk, and it’s so easy to make it yourself. That said, this delicious dairy alternative produces A LOT of pulp. Anyone who’s purchased almonds knows that they cost a small fortune, which is all the more reason to use every last bit. The pulp can serve as a binder in veggie burgers, as well as the base for gluten-free crusts and crackers. I toss mine into muffins or pancakes, which increases the fiber content, too!

Other easy ideas
Herbs: You know all those extra herbs that you have growing in the garden or the ones you can’t quite finish from the farmer’s market? Fill an ice cube tray with olive oil and the chopped herbs. Then toss them into a dish whenever a recipe calls for those ingredients. Fresh herbs all year round!

Leftover fruit or smoothies: Turn all the extras into refreshing smoothie pops or colorful popsicles. Or simply freeze ripe bananas and berries to add to your morning blends.

Citrus peels: I tend to add zest to EVERYTHING, from quinoa to bliss balls to chia seed pudding. It adds a huge punch of flavor (not to mention a dose of vitamin C!).

When it comes to food waste, sometimes we don’t even realize that we’re being wasteful: we all do it, despite having the best intentions. Becoming aware of how much food we throw away is the first step towards becoming more conscious consumers. And once you start reusing and repurposing what you would normally toss, you’ll wonder why you ever let those nutrient-rich, full-flavored gems get away!

Now it’s your turn: what commonly discarded foods do you eat instead of tossing? Let’s encourage one another to cut down on food waste and share your best waste-eliminating ideas & suggestions in the comments!

8 Responses to Never Waste Fresh Food Again (without Having to Eat Leftovers)

  1. Sarah Von Bargen September 8, 2016 at 4:25 pm #

    Love this! I’ve made my leftover smoothies into popsicles before but I’ve never used my carrot or beet greens before – great ideas!

    • Elise Museles September 8, 2016 at 8:54 pm #

      Sarah, so glad that you got some ideas to get more out of your fresh produce. It feels good to use up every last part!

  2. Kathryn Grace September 8, 2016 at 5:20 pm #

    Thank you for all these tips. I keep trying different things with my almond milk pulp and haven’t come up with one we like a lot yet, but I’ve almost got enough dried pulp to use in place of flour in a recipe, so that’s my next project. I’m still looking for the best ways to use the pulp from my cashew milk too. Yes, I make both here, as my sweetheart likes one and I the other.

    Btw, I zest lemon and orange peels and freeze them in teaspoon-sized packets of baking parchment tucked inside re-purposed breast milk bags. I do something similar with fresh herbs. Those breast milk freezer baggies come in handy!

    • Elise Museles September 8, 2016 at 9:04 pm #

      Kathryn,
      When you figure out what to do with the cashew pulp, please do let me know! It is more challenging to work with than almond milk because it is so soft. LOVE your tip on freezing the zest! What a great idea!! Thanks so much for sharing here. xo

  3. Linda September 8, 2016 at 7:29 pm #

    Thank you for this comprehensive list Elise! I am so with you on not wasting food. The little bit I do throw out is now going into a compost pile in my back yard so at least the garden I’ll grow next year will reap the benefits of a nutrient rich soil and it comes full circle 🙂

    • Elise Museles September 8, 2016 at 8:52 pm #

      Thank you, Linda, for sharing your wisdom and insights! I love how you are bringing it all full circle! xo

  4. Roxane October 4, 2016 at 5:59 pm #

    Thank you for the great article! We usually don’t throw away a lot, but i still feel bad when we do! About veggies scraps, i heard that you can eat veggies without peeling them (carrots, potatoes, etc), but haven’t tried yet… Any insight on that matter? I even saw a demonstration of a mixer the other day where the lady left most of the veggies and fruits rind/skin on for her recipes 🙂
    I don’t have much tips to share, except that we are keeping bread that has gone stale (my husband doesn’t let that happen often, though lol!) to do french toast or use it as powder in meatloaf etc 🙂

    • Elise Museles October 4, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

      Hi Roxane! Thanks so much for sharing here. It sounds like you are very conscious of not wasting food! I use some of my veggie scraps in broths, and I do eat the skin of sweet potatoes and also carrots when I am lazy:). Great ideas for stale bread. It hardly gets to that point here, either.

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