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Zero Waste Cooking: How to Use Up Your Leftovers

Zero Waste Cooking: How to Use Up Your Leftovers

We talked to an expert from Soul Fire Farm to get her tips for ways to reduce food waste and great recipe ideas for using up your food scraps.

7 min read

Sometimes your eyes are bigger than your stomach, and your once-beautiful fresh produce starts to rot. Sure you can compost it instead of throwing it out, but the end result is still wasteful. It’s bad for your budget, worse for the environment, and could have been used by someone in need.

So try embarking on a new challenge: zero waste cooking. It’s all about learning how to make the most out of every herb, green and squash you buy, so you won’t have to toss them later.

We already covered how to store leftovers, fruits and vegetables, and pantry staples properly; so we’ve scoured the internet (and our favorite cookbooks) for zero waste recipe ideas and tips for how to use up the leftover bits of your vegetable and herbs. We also spoke with Azuré Keahi, Business Manager of our 1% for the Planet partner Soul Fire Farm(Opens in a new window) to get some excellent tips, too. (Have kids that only seem to eat carbs? Keahi also shared great ideas for getting them to eat — and love — vegetables.)

Ways to Reduce Food Waste

Planning makes perfect: Meal planning will save your family from take out when you’re feeling crunched for time.

Keep a list: While you’re still shopping for the season, take stock of what’s already in the house before heading out, so as not to get seduced by new-to-you-goods when you already have something perfectly fine at home.

Store veggies right away:

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Store veggies right away: This can include cutting up carrots for your kids, prepping other vegetables to add to weekday salads, and putting everything else in a GreenSaver or on your kitchen counter.

Maximize your freezer: Don’t dump that leftover wine. Pour it into Glass Baby Blocks or ice cube trays and pop one out at a later date to give new life to a sauce or saute.

Fresh herbs can have a short life and are also a great thing to store in the freezer to reduce food waste. “One of my favorite things to do is to harvest a ton of parsley and roll it into a super tight log in a bag,” says Keahi. “I wrap each end with rubber bands and put it all into the freezer. You can then cut off parsley very easily for cooking later.”

If you find yourself with a surplus of fresh fruit, don’t just throw it in freezer bags to pry apart later. Instead cut it up, lay it out on metal sheet pans and freeze before storing in stackable containers.

Save the date:  Use POP labels to add dates to items you prep in advance, like big batches of beans or grains. That way, you always know what to use when.

Give wilted produce a second life: Root vegetables that have started to shrivel can sometimes be revived by a soak in a bowl of water, suggests Keahi. Add wilted greens or herbs into a curry, stew or soup where their texture will change anyway.

Or, Compost:

Butternut Squash

Or, compost: Depending on where you live, you might compost in your backyard or have curbside pickup. If you live in an apartment with no backyard or pickup, you may be able to compost at your local greenmarket.

Food Scrap Recipe Inspiration

Carrot Top Chim

Unconventional Pesto: Save carrot tops, cilantro and hardy green stems to use for alternative pestos. The recipe is the same as basil pesto: green + garlic + oil + nut + cheese = yum.


Quick Pickles: Got a spare container and an hour to kill? You too can make quick pickles . The hands on cooking time is under 5 minutes, and the results last up to 2 weeks. Better yet? You can reuse the brine for new veggies or to marinate chicken before roasting.

Veggie or Bone Broth: We’ve extolled the virtues of a pressure cooker before, and quick bone broth is a perfect example of its utility. You barely need a recipe for this: take veggie scraps including carrot peels, onion ends and skins, beet and carrot tops, elderly garlic, corn cobs and add them to about four cups of water and chicken bones (if you like). “I am a nerd about saving flavorful scraps in the freezer for vegetable stock,” says Keahi. “Once I've filled a gallon bag, I know it's time to fill my pot with water, salt and veggie scraps!”

If you want to add even more flavor, Michelle Tam from Nom Nom Paleo(Opens in a new window) adds about three tablespoons of fish sauce to her broth.

All-Purpose Green Sauce: This genius (and delicious) Green Sauce(Opens in a new window) recipe helps you use up any wilted greens or herbs languishing in your crisper. Plus, get more great ideas for using up greens.

Kimchi and Relish: Instead of tossing kale or collard stems after de-ribbing the leaves, “they’re great for fermenting (kale stem kimchi!) or pickling,” suggests Keahi. Blend pickled stems in the food processor to turn them into a tangy sauce or—with less pulsing—a relish.

Squash Bread: After roasting winter squash, save the skins to add to bread, muffins or cake, such as this Squash Challah Bread(Opens in a new window) by artist and baker Ellie Markovitch. “Similar to banana bread, squash skins add incredible texture and moistness to baked goods,” says Keahi. Blend roasted peels in the food processor to make them easier to mix in.

Roasted Beet Spread: Roast shriveled beets, then add them to a food processor along with some chili pepper, yogurt, cumin and garlic to make an amazing—and beautifully bright pink—spread, recommends Keahi. Top with olive oil and zaatar. “It’s one of my favorite things on earth.”

What’s your most creative way of using up leftovers? Plus, check out these easy recipes for using up leftover coffee.


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