In the US, we throw away roughly 40 percent of our food supply every year, squandering natural resources and damaging the environment in the process. The average American family of four throws away the equivalent of up to $2,275 annually in food (about $115 billion on a national scale). Food waste occurs across the supply chain: on farms, in restaurants, at supermarkets and in the home – but solutions exist at all levels. The good news is there are things everyone can do to reduce food waste! Here are some things you can do at home:
- Smart composting – don’t throw those food scraps into the trash can! Turn them into compost to fertilize your garden. And this is a great time to start, since Spring planting season is here!
- Be smart with your groceries – use the “first in, first out” system and make sure you’re using the oldest items first before they spoil. And avoid waste by using leftovers in a smart way. You’ll safe not only food but money as well!
Here are more suggestions on ways you can help to eliminate food waste!
Make your own stock
To make tasty vegetable stock, keep a clear freezer bag (or other freezer safe container) in your kitchen freezer. Use this to save your stems when preparing fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme, rosemary, etc. as well as any clean veggie scraps (tough parts of asparagus or leeks, base plate or stem end of onions and carrots, broccoli stems, other clean “off-cuts” of vegetables) – just put them all into this bag as you go along. Once you have a full bag, add to a pot of water with some whole peppercorns, salt to taste, and bring to a slow boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 30-45 minutes and then strain through a sieve or colander, chill, portion and freeze it. Now you have tasty vegetable stock (without salt if you wish). Much better than any box or can!
Make stock from fish bones or shrimp shells. Place bones or shells in a saucepan and fill with just enough water to cover them + about an extra inch. Toss is a handful of black peppercorns, one whole onion cut into quarter, some parsley stems and one whole clove of garlic. Bring up to a boil, and then simmer for about 45 minutes. Anytime you make stock, you always want to use a slotted spoon to skim off any “foam” that rises to the top. Cool and then refrigerate (or freeze if not using within a couple of days).
Stale bread? Make breadcrumbs or croutons
Run your stale bread scraps through your food processor and freeze them. Voila! Instant breadcrumbs! They are handy for topping off casseroles, coating fish or chicken, making meatballs or meatloaf, etc. You can even flavor them with chili flakes, herbs, garlic, zest of lemon or grated cheese.
Another great way to use a stale loaf of bread is to make croutons! Cut up into small cubes, toss in some oil and sprinkle on your seasoning of choice, then toast in the oven! Any leftovers can be frozen and taken out as needed.
Use up small amounts of leftovers!
Make an omelet or frittata
All you need is about 2 eggs per person and a little imagination! It is an easy, quick and delicious way to use up those small amounts of meat, cheese and produce lurking in your refrigerator. Onions, cooked potato, herbs, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, asparagus, and broccoli (just about anything will work), then add that last bit of ham, bacon, prosciutto or sausage. Soften the harder ingredients in a small amount of butter or oil in a large ovenproof frying pan, and then add the softer ingredients. In a bowl, beat the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Pour this over the other ingredients. Cook on a medium -high heat for a few minutes until it begins to “set” on the top. Remove from the heat and pop under a preheated broiler for just a minute or two in order to lightly brown the top.
Risotto is a brilliant way to use up all kinds of leftover vegetables, meats and seafood. No matter what you throw in, as long as you add some white wine, and include some aromatics (either garlic, shallots, leeks or onion), and finish with a little dusting of grated cheese, it will taste great. Make sure to use Arborio or short grain rice for risotto – you need lots of starch to yield that characteristic creamy texture.
Make a pot of “fridge sweep” soup
If your veggie bin overfloweth, make soup! This works well with fresh vegetables as well as those that may be slightly past their prime. If you have any that are a bit “droopy”, just
trim off any offending parts, give them a scrub or peel and they can find new life as part ofa delicious, wholesome soup. Dice an onion, mince some garlic, dice any celery if you have some, and soften these in a little oil or butter. Add some herbs or spices at this point – whatever flavor profile you are going for is fine (oregano and basil are great for a little Italian flair, cumin and red pepper flakes take things in a SW direction, sumac and ground coriander provide North African or Mediterranean flavors – you get the idea!). Then peel and chop your root vegetables – things such as potatoes, carrots, turnips, etc.. Pour in water or stock to cover, bring to the boil, simmer for 15-20 minutes, and then add any green or leafy vegetables. Quick cooking vegetables such as summer squash, eggplant, tomatoes, corn, or peas can be added towards the end of cook time. Feel free to add what sounds good and whatever you have on hands – some extra pasta or beans, a little leftover chicken or roast beef, crumbled bacon or ground meat, etc. Remove the lid and simmer until tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Grab your wok and serve up some fried rice
Another fun “catch all” dish is fried rice. Make extra rice when you are cooking and keep it on hand (cooked rice can even be frozen). Then add whatever you have on hand – diced chicken or leftover shrimp, mushrooms, carrots, onion, peas, garlic, fresh ginger, etc.. Stir fry it with a bit of low sodium soy sauce and add a beaten egg right at the end.
Other great ways to use leftover “bits” include:
- a homemade pizza: any bread can serve as a base – pita, sandwich bread, a baguette sliced in half lengthwise; then add pesto or tomato sauce, your favorite toppings and some cheese.
- Pasta – cook some pasta, and add in whatever you have on hand.
- Salad- hard boiled egg, extra deli meat, canned chick peas or beans,
Pickle or “Put up” your excess produce
Preserve the seasonal bounty by making jellies and jams with your favorite fruits, or pickling some of your favorite produce. Canning is great way to eat locally year round and truly eat down the cupboard. Life just too hectic to commit to a canning session? Freeze your fruit by spreading it in a single layer on a baking sheet until frozen, then place in a freezer safe container. And don’t forget freezer or refrigerator jams, which don’t require water-bath processing.
Pickle some of your excess produce! Cucumbers are the “go-to” pickle, but you can also pickle other items such as asparagus, onions, beets, peppers or garlic. Again, if you don’t have time for full-on canning, you can make refrigerator pickles that will keep in the fridge for a couple of months (if they last that long!). Place the produce in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to boil. Cook for no more than 30-45 seconds, drain and cool immediately under ice cold water, and pack your veggies into jars. Meanwhile, add to a saucepan some white wine vinegar, sugar, sliced onion, peppercorns and some herbs/spices (coriander seeds or dill are popular choices), bring to a boil and simmer for a couple minutes to incorporate the sugar. Strain through a sieve and pour directly over the produce in the jars. Fill to the top, completely covering your vegetables, and seal with lid. Enjoy!
Freeze any leftover pesto, tomato puree, stock, etc.
Freeze any leftover sauces, such as tomato or pesto, in ice cubes trays. Now they are ready to add to pasta or soups for a quick meal. This also works great for leftover stock, wine, etc.
You can freeze bananas!
Bananas can turn brown rather quickly. If you see them starting to get brown spots and you know you won’t be enjoying them soon, simply peel them, put into a freezer safe storage container and keep them in the freezer. You can use frozen bananas in smoothies, banana loaf or bake them in the oven with a little drizzle of honey on top for a quick dessert.
Use that vacuum sealing machine
Save money by buying in bulk and portioning your lot to extend its shelf life. Rice, nuts, flour, You can also vacuum seal leftovers to keep them fresh – no more half-eaten brown avocados!
Sign up for a meal kit subscription
Reduce waste by buying only what you need to make a specific meal or recipe when you order from a meal subscription service. Think you’ll spend too much? Check out this post from our friends at The Kitchn – Meal Kits vs. Groceries: A Dollar-to-Dollar Investigation before you decide if it’s right for your household. While there are many great options out there, our two favorites are PeachDish and Garnish & Gather. These two Atlanta-based companies use lots of local meats, dairy, produce and other goods and help to support and promote our community partners and neighbors. PeachDish ships nationally while Garnish and Gather has many convenient pick up locations throughout metro Atlanta (including all locations of The Cook’s Warehouse).
Challenge yourself to find ways to reduce waste. Your wallet – and the planet – will appreciate your efforts!