New Meals from Old Food: Food Waste Solutions

by Mia Hanneken, Education Coordinator

Did you know an astounding forty percent of food in the U.S. goes uneaten? Not considering the vast quantities of restaurant foods that are wasted, it is estimated that even two-thirds of food in U.S. kitchens are discarded.

There are tons of reasons why so much food goes to waste in our kitchens. Limited time to cook (Let’s just grab some take out). Lack of meal planning (This purple kale is so pretty. I’ll find something to do with it). Surplus of ingredients (Dude, I only need 3 tbsp of cilantro...why does it come in such big bundles?). Or just being completely wiped out after a long workday (hello, frozen pizza).

Luckily, there are even more ways to reduce food waste--most of which are pretty easy and quick. Read on to prevent unnecessary waste and stretch your food dollars!

I have to admit that I’m not nearly diligent enough in my efforts to reduce kitchen food waste at my house. I hate seeing anything go unused, but the above examples are just too real. In one week, my spouse and I are leaving the Midwest for a long-overdue visit to Denver to see my sister, which means facing the incredible amount of perishable food I’ve accumulated. This is it. A little bit of everything. For the sake of this newsletter article and of reducing food waste, I dedicated one of my blissful days off to planning and prepping new uses for leftover food.

Below are just a few simple ideas to help you see your boring, leftover food in a new light.

1. The Old Faithful Stir Fry or Classic Curry

Is there any way to mess up stir fry? I think not. Chop up any vegetables; drizzle some soy sauce/tamari, sesame oil, maybe a little ginger; prepare rice. Stir fry is done.

You can even take it a step further and transform those mismatched veggies into a simple curry if you keep heavy cream or coconut milk as part of your kitchen staples, alongside popular spice blends (think: coriander, turmeric, cardamom, ginger, cumin). Bonus--you can garnish with a little of that extra cilantro.

Good when you need to use:

-onion, (sweet) potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers (hot or bell), greens (spinach, kale, collards)

2. Breakfast for Dinner

In my experience, there is no greater thrill than breakfast for dinner. As a kid, I had no idea this was my mom’s way of serving a quick, low cost meal while using up miscellaneous ingredients. Now that I cook on my own, I’m well versed in egg scrambles and pancakes. In this case, I made a scramble and french toast. The Oatly milk, brioche bread, and some homemade lemon curd got used up.

Good when you need to use (French toast or pancakes):

-milk, eggs, bread, bananas, fancy toppings like that lemon curd

Good when you need to use (egg scramble):

-eggs, greens, squash, onion, peppers, tomatoes


3. Homemade Vegetable Stock

Vegetable stock is so easy to make. When you spend a solid portion of your day meal prepping, it only makes sense to have a stock pot going. Simmer water and throw in your scraps. Onion and garlic skins; potato and carrot peels; celery and fresh herb scraps--perfect for flavoring the base of a soup.

It’s also good to know that you can freeze veggie stock until you’re ready to use it. Many people store it in a ziplock plastic bag, laid flat. You can also freeze in glass, but it requires a little extra work to avoid the glass breaking. First, cool broth to room temperature. Pour in the glass jar about ¾ from the top. Carefully put the jar in the freezer without the lid. Liquid expands when it freezes. By leaving room at the top without a lid, it allows the broth to expand without busting the container. Allow the broth to freeze, then you can fit the lid securely on it. The stock will keep for 3-4 months.

Good for:

-potato peelings, carrot peelings, onion skins, garlic skins, kale stems, celery stalks, fresh herbs

4. Mix & Match Sauces

It seems like two ingredients I can never use entirely are bundles of fresh herbs and yogurt. The idea of sauces for veggies (or meat in the case of my partner) can easily combine both of these to create a great addition to a bland meal.

One of my favorites combines a handful of cilantro, lime juice, and a super ripe avocado. Pulse those in your food processor, add some plain yogurt, and you have a cilantro-avocado crema to drizzle on your tacos or burrito bowls.

Another common concoction in my house is a spicy chimichurri. The primary ingredients are fresh herbs, so you can finally use up the entire bundle. Using your food processor again, combine parsley, cilantro, roasted garlic, red wine vinegar, and olive oil. The sauce is a brilliant green, commonly eaten with steak, but also tastes great with roasted potatoes and grilled veggies. This is the recipe I used.

5. Ferment

I love chioggia beets. Except I never really use them when I cook. But they’re just so pretty, so I buy them anyway (classic case of poor meal planning before grocery shopping). So sometimes, despite your best efforts, you still have food that you just don’t know what to do with. In this edition of my kitchen cleanout, I, of course, had chioggia beets and yet another zucchini from the garden. I decided to try my hand at fermenting.

I made a quick brine, usually based around water and salt, added a few more flavorful ingredients like ginger, coriander, and lemon slices (per a suggested recipe I found here), then weighed down the vegetables with a ziplock bag filled with salt water (or a coffee filter if fermenting the zucchini slices which stayed submerged on their own).

Fermentation is great food preservation process. This method of fermentation will take about 2 weeks to complete, which fits perfectly with my travel plans. There are countless recipes out there to guide you in fermenting virtually everything.

For anyone trying to base their diet on fresh fruits and vegetables, food waste is bound to be an ongoing challenge. With some dedication and creativity, finding new uses for leftover food actually isn’t so difficult. What are some of your tried-and-true practices to make the most of your perishable foods? Share them with me, and I’ll share them with the co-op community!