11 Ways to Reduce Food Waste When You're Cooking

Waste not, want not!

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How To Combat Food Waste in Your Kitchen

According to a 2018 study from the University of Vermont, folks in the U.S. wasted nearly 150,000 tons of food per day between 2007 and 2014. That's approximately one pound per person and about 30% of the average daily calories per every American. Although the stats are astonishing, there are things you can do in your kitchen to help minimize food waste. Here are 11 simple steps you can follow.

Use the Stems of Fresh Herbs to Flavor Grain Dishes

Oftentimes the leaves on fresh herb leaves are the only thing used, leaving stems to be wasted. But those stems still can provide a lot of flavor and nutrition. Place the stems of parsley, cilantro or mint in the cooking water of grains you’re making like couscous, rice or quinoa. It will impart both a delicious flavor and add a few extra vitamins and minerals.

Eat the Skin

Many folks peel the skin and toss in the garbage — like when making mashed potatoes. Instead, you can make mashed potatoes using the potato skins like in this recipe for Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes. The same goes with many dishes with apples, pears and zucchini. Leave the skin on to minimize food waste and get a healthy dose of fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Create Smoothie Bags

"I often have fruit and veggies (like half of a pear or cucumber) left over from developing recipes. I create smoothie bags out of these odds and ends," says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition and wellness expert and author of Eating in Color. Largeman-Roth will throw all types of fruit and veggies (except for onions and garlic), as well as herbs, and put them in a freezer bag for when she wants to blend up a smoothie. "When it’s time to blend, I just add some milk and sometimes protein powder!"

Purchase Smaller Quantities of Food

Instead of purchasing large quantities of food from warehouse clubs (like Sam’s Club or Costco), Angel Planells, MS, RDN Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends shopping for what you are going to prepare for the next meal or two. Planells also says to "consider using canned or frozen produce so you are not under a time-crunch to prepare some dishes."

Use All the Parts of the Vegetable that You Can — Stems, Peels, and Leaves!

"So much of what we typically toss is not only edible — it's absolutely delicious," says Ellie Krieger RD, James Beard award-winning cookbook author and TV personality. Krieger says "celery tops are delicious leaves that are often thrown out but are perfect in salads and soups. Peels can be kept on foods like potatoes and cucumbers for rustic texture and nutrition, and onion skins give stock flavor and color. Broccoli stems make a delicious slaw."

Stash Leftover Scraps in the Freezer

Abbie Gellman, MS, RD, CDN, a New York-based chef, dietitian, and owner of Culinary Nutrition Cuisine takes scraps and/or leftover produce and puts it in a large freezer-safe gallon resealable bag that she keeps in the freezer. "Once it's full, I add it to a slow cooker with some water and any other things I may need or want like garlic, peppercorns, extra onion, and make some veggie stock. I also often put leftover produce directly into a slow cooker or pressure cooker with some broth, spices and beans. Once it's cooked, I puree it and keep smaller portions/batches in the refrigerator and freezer for a tasty, healthy vegetable soup that I can grab any time."

Creatively Reuse Leftovers

Saving leftovers is a no-brainer, but many people end up tossing them. Instead, find creative ways to eat your leftovers. For example, leftover chili can be used as a nacho topping, made into quesadillas or fajitas.

Keep a Veggie Scrap Container in the Fridge

Culinary nutritionist and advisor for Lunch Unpacked, Jackie Newgent, RDN doesn’t freeze her veggie scraps, rather she likes to keep them in the fridge. "When preparing non-starchy vegetables, I save every edible part that doesn’t ideally go into a dish that I’m currently creating, like skins, seeds, or odd-shaped or off-textured pieces, as well as lesser-used produce parts, like carrot tops and broccoli stalks. They’re still full of nutrients and can add intrigue to cuisine," says Newgent who will check her stash of produce scraps every few days and find a delicious use for them, such as a simple stir-fry in a plant-based Asian entrée, sautéed for a pasta primavera or grain bowl, or roasted then whirled into a hummus or stuffed into a vegetarian burrito.

Peel Your Fruits and Vegetables As Infrequently As Possible

In general, the peels of fruits and vegetables are higher in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals than the flesh. "Fruits and vegetables that are not peeled may contain up to 33% more fiber than those that are peeled, and fiber offers many health benefits," says Malina Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN, media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and creator of the Wholitarian Lifestyle. Malkani says some of those benefits include helping you feel fuller longer, contributing to overall digestive health, feeding the healthy bacteria that support gut health, helping to optimize cholesterol levels and stabilizing blood sugar levels and supporting weight management. "Since most peels are edible, a good way to increase your fiber and micronutrient intake while reducing food waste is to eat fruits and vegetables unpeeled whenever possible."

Use the “Use By” Date As a Guideline

Food manufacturer’s put on a "use by" date as a guideline for consumers to tell them when the food will be its highest quality. If a food passes its "use by" that doesn't mean it's spoiled. You can still eat it after the "use by" date given that it was stored according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Learn the Art of Preserving

Hold on to the flavors of seasonal foods by taking advantage of all the ways you can preserve them. "Pickling, freezing and cooking down into soups and sauces can preserve foods that would otherwise spoil and have to be thrown away" says Dana Angelo White MS RD ATC, Healthy Eats contributor and cookbook author. "Have too many cucumbers? Pickle them! Have a bunch of whole tomatoes — you can freeze them whole (wash and dry first) or roast and blend into a sauce or soup that can then be frozen for months. Freezer jam, chutney and compotes are other ways to get more mileage out of fresh foods."

Get more tips on the best ways to freeze your favorite foods.

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