Beyond the Compost Pile: Using Food Wisely
Compost bins are an excellent way to get rid of food waste without tossing it into the regular garbage bin, but another way to be eco-friendly is to use the food wisely. From buying only what you need to storing properly and using food scraps for other purposes, you can save money and live greener.
Buy Only What You Need
Many have expressed how much time and money they save when they plan out their meals and make grocery lists. Sticking to a budget and knowing what you need each week can create a lot less food waste.
If you're not one to plan meals ahead, try keeping tabs of what foods you have leftover later in the week or month that are going to go bad if you don't use it. For about three months, keep a list of foods you are getting rid of. It may help you see a pattern to modify what you buy and ultimately end up with less waste.
Store Food Properly
According to Vegetarian Times you should store produce in the following ways.
Leafy greens: wrap in individual bundles with slightly damp paper towel to hold in moisture in the fridge
Melons, orchard fruits, citrus and cucumbers: store in refrigerator
Mushrooms: store in a crisper drawer in a well-ventilated container
Potatoes, onions, and garlic: in a basket away from sunlight, heat, and moisture; do not store in the refrigerator
Softer root vegetables (such as beets and turnips): can be refrigerated
Thick-skinned squash (such as butternut): stack next to the root veggies
Thin-skinned squash (such as zucchini): place in the produce bin of your refrigerator
Tomatoes: store on counter but do not stack; softer tomatoes can be refrigerated for longevity
Use Those Scraps!
If you have food that needs to be used quickly before going bad, consider things you can make with them.
Do you have herbs sitting around that you are scared will get moldy? How about leafy greens? Make pesto! Pulse them with some nutritional yeast, lemon juice, seasonings like garlic, salt, pepper, and even Dijon mustard, and nuts and/or seeds to make a delicious pesto sauce. Some places you can use veggie pesto are on roasted veggies, rice, pasta, or sandwiches.
Photo by Eva Elijas from Pexels
When prepping vegetables, don't discard carrot and potato peels. Save those kale stems and onion ends. Don't trash those celery leaves, broccoli stems, and bell pepper butts. Get the idea? Save all your food scraps. Store the veggie scraps in a container in the freezer. When you get enough, place all the scraps in a large pot with water, extra onion, salt, and a bay leaf or two. A good rule of thumb is to boil until the liquid reduces by about half. You can then strain it or puree in a blender after it cools. If you like to follow recipes for everything, check out this veggie broth recipe from Little Broken.
Store some in ice cube trays in the freezer if you cook using vegetable broth and will only need a few teaspoons at a time. You can also store some in the refrigerator and some in the freezer in mason jars or other sustainable containers. It will stay good in the refrigerator for a week or two and several months in the freezer.
Do you use a juicer? Don't you hate not being able to use all that pulp that gets extracted? Guess what? There are many ways to use that pulp, after all!
Blend the pulp into smoothies or put some into breads and muffins, pancakes, baked goods, and similar. Add a little juice and freeze into popsicles. Add to pasta sauces. Add some to that veggie broth we just discussed. Use to make your own sugar and salt scrubs, soaps, and other skincare items. Use the pulp to make homemade dog treats or even stir some in with their normal food (as long as no onions or other unsafe produce have been used). Plenty of recipes and other ideas can be found online with a simple search.
If you have sweet potatoes, fresh broccoli, or other produce that is sitting around not being used, blanch it and freeze it for later use. They will still retain most of their nutrients.
Did your cauliflower or head of broccoli come with a large stem you really don't want to use? Rice that stalk! Pulse in your food processor for a homemade veggie rice.
Regrow stalks in water. Try growing your own produce for an even more sustainable method to use leftover foods. Green onions, celery, and many other veggies are so easy to spawn by placing the stalk in water. Place the stalk in a shallow bowl or cup and fill with enough filtered water to cover the roots. Just search for whatever vegetable you want to try and find specific tips for easily growing your own at home with your scraps.
Make fruit peel jam out of apple peels, orange rinds, lemon peels, and similar fruits. Add one or more peels to a pan with water and a dash of sugar. Simmer for about a half hour, strain, then pour into jars or cans. Top on granola or non-dairy yogurt, or add onto a nut butter sandwich for a tasty treat.
Citrus peels can also be used as potpourri by simmering on the stove with a little water and even spices such as cloves and cinnamon.
Getting Creative to be as Green as Possible
As you learn what you use a lot of and what you tend to waste, you will know how to shop better to save money and waste less. Trying to buy only what you know you will use is a huge first step. Storing properly and rotating produce to use the oldest produce items first is another key to reducing waste.
There are so many things you can do with produce scraps, so find useful ways to incorporate them into your cooking or make a broth out of things you'd normally discard. Searching online may uncover many other uses you never imagined. When all else fails, composting is still fantastic and much better than throwing in the trash, but using as much as possible in the first place while reducing all waste is always the best option.
What are your favorite uses for fruit and veggie scraps? Let us know your personal food waste reduction and sustainability tips in the comments below!