23 Smart Ways to Use Food Scraps

Don't Toss Them!

Asparagus trimmings.
​The Spruce / Katarina Zunic

Do you find yourself throwing away perfectly good scraps of food? You might be surprised to find that you can utilize nearly every scrap and peel. Most vegetable trimmings and peels can be frozen and used to flavor broths, soups, and stews. Bones make nutrient-rich homemade stock. Just keep a container in the freezer and add to it whenever you have some trimmings. Even inedible items like coffee grounds and eggshells can be repurposed and added to the compost bin or directly to the soil.

Currently in the U.S., we discard roughly 40 percent of the food produced. Even if you aren't particularly budget-conscious, you'll feel good about your efforts to reduce waste and utilize everything possible. Here are some of the creative things you can do with your scraps.

Asparagus

Use asparagus trimmings to make an extra-flavorful broth for asparagus soup. Cover the stems with water and boil them for 30 to 40 minutes. Use the broth right away or freeze it.

Beets

Use red beet peels and trimmings to make a natural red/purple dye for fabrics.

Bones

Save and freeze bones to make stock for soups, stews, and braises.

Bread

Make croutons with stale bread. Cut the bread into cubes and spread them out on a rimmed baking sheet. For each cup of bread cubes, drizzle with about two tablespoons of olive oil or melted butter. Season the cubes lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper, along with herbs, if desired. Bake in a 300 F oven for about 25 minutes, turning after about 15 minutes. Cool and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Use the food processor to make fine or coarse breadcrumbs; freeze the crumbs for breading, stuffing, and casserole toppings.  

Use stale bread in bread pudding, French toast, apple Betty dessert, or Panzanella salad.

Broccoli

Cut off the florets and peel the stalks. Slice the stems to use in stir-fry dishes, salads, or casserole.

Grate the peeled stalks on a box grater and add the shreds to your cauliflower rice or make broccoli slaw.

Carrot Tops

Carrot tops are high in vitamin C, and they are similar to parsley in flavor. Add them to soups and sauces. Older carrot tops may be slightly bitter, so taste them before using the fresh tops as a garnish.

Celery

Fresh or frozen celery leaves offer intense flavor, and they are lovely additions to soups, stews, and salads. Or chop the leaves and use them as a garnish instead of parsley or cilantro.

Freeze limp celery ribs to use in soups or stews, or slice and dry them in the oven or dehydrator.

Chickpeas

Save the brine when draining canned chickpeas. The chickpea liquid, also known as aquafaba, can be used as an egg white replacement in some dishes, such as meringues and vegan whipped cream. Whip it with some sugar, vanilla, and cream of tartar to make a dairy- and egg-free meringue.

Citrus Peels

Add a piece of citrus peel to your brown sugar to keep it soft.

Dry citrus peels to make a mulling mix for cider or a simmering potpourri to freshen the kitchen.

Coffee

You can reuse both coffee and the grounds. Leftover coffee—cooled, without cream, sugar, or any other additions—can be used to water houseplants. It may be too acidic for some plants, so watch them carefully.

Coffee grounds are an excellent addition to garden soil. The grounds aerate the soil and add nitrogen and acidity. And they are said to attract beneficial earthworms. Add coffee ground directly to the soil or toss it into the compost bin.

Corn Cobs

After you've scraped the kernels from the cob, make corn stock. Put the cobs in a large pot and cover them with water. Add a bay leaf or two along with some herbs and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes. Use the stock for an extra flavorful corn chowder or use it as the cooking liquid for grains, such as rice, quinoa, or polenta.

Eggs

Ice cream recipes, custards, and many sauces call for the yolks only, leaving you looking for a way to use the leftover whites. The good news is, you don't have to use them right away because they freeze beautifully. Freeze the individual egg whites in ice cube trays. When you're ready to use them, let them thaw overnight in the freezer. Use them immediately or, for beaten egg whites, bring them to room temperature.

Egg yolks may be frozen, but they need special treatment. To freeze egg yolks, add about 1/2 teaspoon of sugar to each 1/4 cup of egg yolk. To use the egg yolks, thaw them in the refrigerator overnight. One tablespoon of egg yolk equals one egg.

Don't discard those eggshells. They can be added to the compost bin or crushed and added to the garden soil. The crushed eggshells can fend off cutworms and slugs that might be trying to get to the plants, and they eventually break down and add calcium to the soil. 

Fats

Use rendered meat fat or lard to make a suet block for birds. You can strain and reuse frying oil for up to four times, or until it looks cloudy or has an off odor. To dispose of cooking oil, check to see if your community has a collection program for recycling cooking oil. If not, pour cooled leftover oil into a non-recyclable container; cover and discard in the trash.

Fennel

If you are buying fennel for the bulb and throwing away the stalks and fronds, you are tossing some great flavor. Slice or chop large stalks and use them to add flavor to vegetable broth or raises.

Use fennel fronds to flavor potato salad, or use them to garnish deviled eggs. They have loads of potential, so don't toss them!

Herbs

Save those tender herb stems—they're just as flavorful as the leaves and can be used in broths, soups, and stews. Sturdier woody herb stems from rosemary and thyme may be used as skewers for grilled vegetables. Mince and freeze or dry herb leaves before they go bad.

Leeks

Leeks are another vegetable with a lot of waste. Most recipes call for the white and light green parts only, but there are ways to use the dark green parts. Store the tops in the freezer and use them for stocks and braises. If you are making sautéed leeks or a stir-fry, consider using more of the dark green in the dish.

Olive Juice

Save it for fabulous dirty martinis! If you want the flavor without the alcohol, use your olive juice to make a bubbly paleo faux martini.

Pickle Brine

Use pickle brine to add zest to a sandwich spread or tartar sauce, or use it to make quick pickled onions, cucumbers, or mixed vegetables. Or use it to make pickleback shots or pickle juice ice cubes—they're great in a bloody Mary!

Potatoes

Potato water is an excellent addition to homemade breads—it adds moistness and flavor and improves texture. Starchy potato water also acts as a thickener in sauces, soups, and gravies. Use potato water as a replacement for all or part of the milk in your mashed potatoes.

Vanilla Bean Pods

After scraping out the vanilla pods, don't discard them. To make homemade vanilla extract for baking, combine 8 vanilla pods in a jar with 1 cup of vodka. Place it in a cool, dark place for about 6 weeks, shaking the jar occasionally.

To make vanilla-infused brandy, add 4 pods to 2 cups of brandy and let it steep for about 2 weeks in a cool, dark place.

Tea Leaves

Acid-loving plants like roses and tomatoes love tea leaves. Sprinkle them on the soil or add them to your compost bin.

Tomato Paste

You might only need one or two tablespoons of tomato paste from a can. Freeze the remaining tomato paste in 1 tablespoon portions. When the portions are frozen solid, add them to a small container or freezer bag; label and freeze for up to 4 months.

Watermelons

Use the rinds from watermelon to make watermelon rind pickles. Or slice the white part of the rinds into matchsticks and add them to a stir-fry. Always wash the outer rinds thoroughly as they can harbor bacteria.