6 Hacks to Reduce Your Kitchen Waste

The US is known for low food costs paired with ridiculously high levels of food waste. Before you toss that "trash," check out these simple edible solutions.

Peels, crusts and bones, expired food and food that was forgotten and allowed to rot—all of our fridges, trashcans and garbage disposals are filled with these items day after day. Some of us have compost piles, but many of us don’t, adding to the massive quantities of food that are thrown away every day. Cut down on waste (and save money!) with the following delicious hacks to reduce kitchen waste.

#1 Make Vegetable Stock Out of Leftover Produce

As you’re preparing your salads and stir fries, soups and stews, roasts and slow-cooked meals throughout the week, save all of those stems and skins and peels that you normally would have tossed. Set aside a big bowl covered with plastic wrap or a large resealable bag for this purpose, keep your scraps in the fridge, and make a batch of stock whenever it fills up.

Keep in mind—the quantity of stock that you’re able to produce will probably depend on the amount of produce that’s typically consumed in your household—waiting to make a batch until the giant mixing bowl is filled with veggie scraps and allowing them to rot or grow mold in the process kind of defeats the purpose. If you’re not able to fill a giant stockpot, a smaller one will do.

Be sure to remove any twist ties, stickers or rubber bands before tossing them into your stockpot. Even though the broth will be strained before you store it, it won’t really benefit from the addition of boiled rubber or plastic.

Produce should be clean, but skins, roots and stems are all ok. Never include anything that you wouldn’t eat because it is actually inedible (i.e. poisonous) like rhubarb leaves. All other portions of the plant are great- toss them in! Don’t include anything overpoweringly flavorful like fennel or mint, or colorful like beet scraps, unless that’s what you’re going for. Strongly flavored or hued items will dominate the broth.

Add enough water to fill the stockpot at least enough to cover the veggie scraps, plus a few additional pints or quarts. Too much water will result in a weak stock. No need to season—flavors will become stronger as the stock reduces, so you don’t want to risk over-salting. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally and continue to cook for 2-4 hours, until a flavorful stock develops. This can also be done in a slow cooker. I like to start on the high setting for 30 minutes to an hour, then turn it down to low and simmer for a few more hours.

Place a strainer over another stockpot if you have one, or a large bowl. A metal colander with handles on the sides, or a fine metal cone-shaped strainer with a long handle, will work best. If you really want to avoid spillage, especially if you’re straining your stock while it’s still hot, recruit a friend or loved one to help.

Ladle the liquid and veggie scrap mixture into the strainer until the stockpot becomes light enough to handle, and then pour the rest through. You may need to switch out your large bowl halfway through this process, if you really made a lot. Press the vegetable scraps firmly with a ladle or other utensil to get out any last drops of stock, and then discard the remaining pulp.

Homemade vegetable stock contains tons of nutrients and can be used as a base for soups or sauces. You can even drink it on its own— It’s that good! Use it to replace water when preparing rice or other grains. Stock stores well in the freezer for several months— just remember to leave a little space before putting the lid on your storage containers as the stock will expand slightly as it cools.

#2 Make Broth with Leftover Bones

Empty steak dish after food on the table

Similar to vegetable stock, bone broth is nutritious and delicious, and serves as a great way to get every last bit of goodness out of those leftover parts of animal-based proteins. Add fish bones and heads to a large stockpot with enough water to cover, bring to a boil and then simmer for several hours, just as you would if you were making vegetable stock. Strain carefully, using a bit of cheesecloth if you have it— the last thing you want is a broth that still contains any of those slender, translucent, and very pointy fish bones!

After the guests have left your big annual Thanksgiving dinner (which is obviously at your house again this year— nobody loves preparing that huge meal quite as much as you do!) save the turkey carcass. After all of the meat has been sliced away and saved for sandwiches or other uses, break down what remains into several pieces and proceed in the same manner as above, covering with water and simmering for a few hours.

Leftover chicken bones will work, too. I like to toss in a few handfuls of whatever herbs I have leftover from when I was making the chicken or turkey. Herbs like sage, thyme, rosemary and parsley make a delicious broth— just be sure to strain the leaves and stems out of the broth along with the bones. Bones add gelatin to the mix, providing additional nutritional benefits and a thicker texture.

Beef bones also make a delicious broth, especially the marrowbones. This can be a little more complicated than producing a broth from leftover fish or poultry bones, as the larger bones typically need to be broken before simmering in water, granting the liquid access to the flavorful, nutritious good stuff. Marrowbones generally benefit from a quick roasting in the oven before simmering, as well of the addition of some vinegar to the broth, so it’s a more complicated cooking process.

Whenever you prepare a bone broth, keep an eye on the mixture and be sure to skim off the scum that rises to the top as the broth is cooking. Don’t wait to do this until the end or you’ll allow it to fall back to the bottom of the pot.

#3 Preserve Your Herbs

If you’re like me, you’ve always had big dreams for a lush herb garden filled with everything from mint and cilantro to basil and dill. But you find, over and over again, that your living space just won’t accommodate it. The back patio is too cramped or shady and the plants that have managed to survive on the kitchen windowsill are leggy and far from robust-looking (not to mention the ones that succumbed to powdery mold or those that didn’t make it past the seedling stage). So, you buy your herbs from the grocery store in big batches that far exceed what’s called for in your recipes, whether it be for a cocktail or an entire meal.

The herbs languish in the fridge in a forgotten corner, sitting in water or wrapped in a damp paper towel, turning to rotten sludge. You toss them in the trash weeks later, reminding yourself that this has once again been a huge waste of money. This is such a shame, since herbs offer many nutrients and antioxidants, as well as rich bursts of flavor that can replace added salt and fat in many dishes. Despair no more— just freeze them!

For something like thyme, which has twig-like stems, I like to thoroughly wash it and toss all of the sprigs into a resealable sandwich bag while they’re still wet. Rather than freezing into a solid block of ice, the droplets of water form something more like snow. I can peel off whatever I need to cook with and strip the leaves from the stems while they’re still frozen. So easy!

You can also remove herbs with larger leaves, like parsley and basil, from their stems and then place them in ice cube trays, filling up each individual space about halfway with herbs. Instead of using water, cover the herbs with olive oil and then freeze. Not only does this help to preserve the herbs, it makes quick and easy “meal starters” that you can toss into the pan as a base for sautéed chicken, vegetables, or tomato sauce. More delicate herbs like dill can be blanched quickly and then frozen under oil. This will help to preserve their fresh green color.

#4 Use Every Part of the Vegetable

Pile of composting natural waste

Nose-to-tail dining has been all the rage for a few years now, but have you heard of the root-to-leaf trend? No? That’s partly because I made it up, at least in name. Believe it or not, many well-known chefs have been applying this concept to produce as well as meat products, creating new and inventive uses for the less-favored portions of common fruits and vegetables. These include radish, beet and carrot greens, apple cores and peels, and corn silk and husks, just to name a few.

Many of the parts of vegetables that we commonly discard are in fact edible, as I hinted at earlier. What I didn’t say is that many of these less-popular parts of the vegetable have unique textures and flavors that can actually be featured in creative spins on common dishes.

I like to add beet and radish greens to stir fries for a boost of color and flavor. Carrot tops can be used to make a texture-rich pesto, combined with nutrient-dense pepitas. Cornhusks and corn silk can be used to make a broth base for corn risotto. Fruit peels and cores, and sometimes even the seeds or pits, can be saved and cooked down to make fruit butters and cobblers. Leek greens make a great addition to omelets, after a quick sauté.

Take a second look at those rejected portions of your produce— you can easily toss them together to make a broth, or you can focus on the special qualities of individual items and feature them in your cooking instead.

#5 Save Your Stale Bread

Though I wasn’t one to request that my crusts be cut off as a kid, I’m not a big fan of tough crusts or end pieces today. This was the kind of thing that we used to save to feed the ducks and geese at the park, something that I don’t find myself doing much these days (not many ducks out here in LA, and it doesn’t seem like the birds are really lacking carbs in their diets). Now I save unwanted and forgotten ends of stale bread in a gallon-sized reusable bag in the freezer.

Whenever I’m making a recipe that calls for breadcrumbs, I pull out a few pieces of frozen bread and pulse them in the food processor until crumbs form. The quick cheat way of doing this is to give them a spin while they’re still frozen. The better way is to toast the bread first, drying it out and creating a crispier crumb.

Larger pieces of bread make the perfect base for a delicious homemade bread pudding, especially challah or sourdough. Cut pieces of bread into chunks and combine with eggs, milk, cream, sugar and vanilla as if you were making a sweeter version of French toast. Let the liquid soak into the bread for about half an hour, then pour the whole thing into a greased baking dish and bake at 350°F until the surface is crisp and the center is firm. I like to flavor mine with some additional cinnamon or chocolate chips.

If you find yourself with extra bagels as opposed to actual bread (a rare occurrence in my bagel-mad household) there’s a simple solution for that, too. Slice stale bagels as thinly as possible and place on a cookie sheet with a drizzle of olive oil. Toast until they become brown (not burnt!) bagel chips, and sprinkle with a touch of sea salt. Serve with whipped cream cheese. Yum!

#6 Rescue Overripe Bananas

Rotten bananas on a banana leaf

In some ways, bananas are the perfect food: soft and sweet, jam-packed with potassium and other nutrients. You don’t need to scrub or slice them (unless you want to) and they’re so easy to peel and eat, even a toddler is able to master the skill with ease.

Finding the perfect banana, on the other hand, is a more complicated feat. Under-ripe bananas, still slightly green around the edges, tend to be more starchy than sweet. Overripe bananas are sweet, but they lose their textural integrity quickly and go from speckled to an unappealing (ha!) muddy brown in the blink of an eye. Finding a banana at the peak of flavor and texture takes skill, and it’s an imperfect science.

Rather than throwing away those past-their-peak bananas, save them in another one of those giant freezer bags. Three ripe bananas is all it takes to make a delicious banana bread. I like to keep walnuts and chocolate chips on hand at all times in the freezer, so I’m ready to make a batch whenever I collect enough bananas. Just let them defrost in a bowl on the counter until they begin to soften and the peels will be easy (though a bit slimy) to remove. Looks gross, tastes amazing. Trust me on this one.

Now that you’ve absorbed all of my clever food-saving tips, it’s time to get out there and start cooking! And eating! And reducing food waste! I didn’t invent any of these ideas, but I’m happy to be able to carry on some of waste-reducing practices that home cooks have been utilizing for generations.

About the author

Allison M. Sidhu

With a master’s degree in gastronomy, this girl’s got food on the brain! Allison’s a Philly native and recent transplant to LA. When she’s not exploring the local food scene, she loves snacking on homemade goodies in front of the TV with her husband.


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  • Too bad I read this as I got to the office… I really want to be home cooking right now!! Thanks for all those tips!

    • Something to look forward to this weekend, Sylvie! I’m glad you enjoyed the article!