If you spend a lot of time meal prepping or cooking at home, you may have noticed a pile of food scraps accumulating in your kitchen. Before you throw them in the compost bin, there are so many ways to repurpose odds and ends to add more nutrition to your meals, cut down on food waste, and have more food available to you (and therefore, save some cash).
Here are some of my favorite ways to repurpose your food scraps while cooking (though you can find something to do with nearly any veggie or fruit scrap!).
Related Reading on CNET: What to Do with All That Weird Food You Bought
1. Turn Your Apple Scraps into Apple Cider Vinegar
If you eat a lot of apples, make apple sauce, or bake with apples, you may end up with a lot of apple cores, and perhaps apple peels. Why not turn those trimmings into apple cider vinegar? Store up all the peels and cores in a jar, which you can leave in the freezer if it will take you some time to fill, add some water and sugar, and let it ferment for a couple of weeks. Going Zero Waste shares her recipe for making apple cider vinegar from scraps.
Ball 64-Ounce Glass Mason Jar, $4.19 from Target
This freezer-safe jar is great for storing scraps.
2. Boil a Big Pot of Vegetable Stock
As you’re chopping up vegetables, save all the odds and ends in a container in your freezer—the ends of sweet potatoes, tops of zucchini, spinach stems, and whatever you have on hand you’re not using. You can throw wilted vegetables in there as well. When your container gets full, add it to your favorite vegetable stock recipe for added flavor and nutrients. I make a big batch and freeze it in individual jars for quick use (just leave about an inch of space at the top of the jar unfilled so it can expand).
Stasher Silicone Storage Bags, $9.99-$19.99 from The Container Store
These reusable air-tight bags are great for freezer storage.
3. Cook Up Your Broccoli Stems
You may be used to only eating the crown or florets of broccoli, but you’re missing out if you skip the stems. Slice the stem into quarter-inch disks and throw them in a stir fry, roast them with your broccoli, or steam them—however you are preparing your broccoli, you can also use the stem! They are crunchy and delicious and add additional volume and texture to your dish.
4. Candy Your Orange Peels
If you eat or cook with oranges and end up with orange peels (hopefully of the organic variety), you can candy them! All you need is sugar and water to boil the peels in. Downshiftology offers up a chocolate-dipped orange peels recipe. Try the same with lemon or grapefruit peels.
5. Turn Lemon Peels into Simple Syrup
Oleo saccharum is a bartender’s secret weapon, but it’s great in all kinds of other drinks, from mocktails to basic iced tea, and delicious drizzled over pancakes or fruit salad too. You simply muddle and steep your lemon peel with sugar until the oils are extracted and the sugar dissolves into a syrup. You can try this with orange, lime, and grapefruit peel too.
6. Make Use of the Greens From Your Carrot and Beet Tops
Many greens from the tops of your veggies are edible (others, like the ones on rhubarb, are not—just do a quick Google search if you are unsure!) and can be used in a variety of ways. I like to make carrot tops into a pesto, and use beet tops as part of my salads. You can also toss them into smoothies, soups, stews, or whatever other use you can think of for the greens. Just be sure to cut them off your vegetables when you get home from the store or farmer’s market, otherwise, the vegetable will go bad sooner. Try these Roasted Carrots with Carrot Top Pesto.
7. Include Your Herb Stems in Your Dips and Sauces
Most people take the leaves off the herbs and toss out the stems— but that’s not necessary! Use your softer stems from herbs like basil, parsley, and cilantro in whatever sauce or dip you are making. I add the whole stalk of basil to my pesto, for example, or blend in a whole stalk of cilantro into your salsa. It adds extra nutrients and allows you to utilize the whole plant! Woody stems like rosemary and thyme can be added in small quantities to soups, beans, and sauces to infuse them while they cook, then removed before serving.
Related Reading: More Ways to Use Cilantro Stems
8. Don’t Toss the Chickpea Water
Did you know that the liquid in your chickpea can is so useful in cooking that it even has its own name? It’s called aquafaba, and it’s often used as a vegan substitute for egg whites. You can whip it up using a handheld or stand mixer and it will form soft peaks just like egg whites! It’s pretty versatile, and it doesn’t taste like chickpeas. You can try it out in Jessie May Snyder’s Lemon, Honey, and Quinoa Cake recipe the next time you drain a can of chickpeas for a recipe.
Related Reading: The Best Chickpea Recipes Besides Hummus
9. Add Eggshells and Coffee Grounds to Your Garden to Enrich the Soil
Eggshells and coffee grounds are great additions to your garden as they serve as fertilizer for the soil. Eggshells add calcium to the soil, while coffee grounds add nitrogen to the soil. Learn more about how to add them to your garden.
10. Use Watermelon Scraps All Summer
Watermelon rinds are good for more than just pickles (though that’s still a delicious thing to do with them too). You can just remove the darkest green outer layer for the compost and use the rest of the rind in lots of ways, from stir-fry to candy.
11. Regrow Scallions
In case you missed it while you were busy baking sourdough earlier in the pandemic, regrowing scallions is an easy bit of kitchen magic, so don’t toss those root ends. Stand them upright in a drinking glass or jar with an inch or two of water, and watch them sprout again. You can pot them eventually, or just keep regrowing them inside.
Produce scraps aren’t the only things we tend to toss, of course—so see tips on how to use food before it goes bad, delicious ways to use stale bread, and even how to use the pulp from homemade oat milk.
Header image courtesy of Tarik Kizilkaya / Getty Images