We all want to reduce our food waste and lower our weekly grocery bill.
In my recent article, Avoid Wasting Precious Food — Use It or Store It Properly we learned ways to use our produce efficiently and to properly store it to prolong its shelf life. When we use it before it has to be tossed, the foods in our kitchen will not only nourish us, but help us manage our shrinking food dollars.
We can go one step further this month as we Go Further with Food as part of National Nutrition Month!
Let’s begin repurposing the fruits and vegetables we have on hand so that they don’t go to waste.
Excess Produce in Our Kitchen
Sometimes we stick to our shopping list and buy only what we will eat each week according to the carefully crafted week’s meal plan we have made. That is one of the best ways to avoid food waste in the first place — having a menu plan, shopping for it, and sticking to it!
When something gets in the way of our best laid plans, we may have fresh produce that sits in the refrigerator a bit longer than we anticipated.
At other times, our eyes get bigger than our food preparation time or the amount of time spent at home allows us to use our purchases when we see some colorful, sweet smelling fresh produce in the grocery store.
We have probably all purchased a whole watermelon because it was cheaper than buying a quarter slice. Then we bring our beauty home and it won’t fit in our refrigerator! We want to use every chunk, so we cut it up and put it into plastic containers but can’t seem to finish it before it gets soggy. Or the kids just don’t want to eat watermelon everyday.
What will we do with it before we have to toss it?
Tips for Repurposing Produce
You can go beyond ensuring that the oldest produce is in the front of the drawer in the refrigerator to be used first (although this is another trick to reduce food waste!) with these tips.
- If you find wilted produce in the fridge, especially lettuce, greens, and fresh herbs, you can bring it back to life as long as it isn’t spoiled by mold or slime. Cut off any dried out edges and then rejuvenate it using cold water. Since produce is largely composed of water, you can add back the moisture it lost during storage by putting the leaves in a bowl of ice water and soaking for 15-20 minutes. Simply dry it off before using and it will spring back.
- If you have fruits that have gone soft or kids refuse an overabundance, such as in the watermelon example, you can take chopped fruit and store it in the freezer for adding to smoothies at a later time. Don’t forget to label and date. You can also puree the fruit and make popsicles for the kids using paper cups and leftover sticks or even a straw to slurp a melting ‘cupsickle’. Use the fruit today in a smoothie, add chunks to a tossed salad or top off the morning oatmeal. Fruit can be very versatile and not just for snacking!
- If you have vegetables that are on their way out and no dinners scheduled in the next few days, pack up parboiled or steamed servings into plastic freezer bags for soup, casserole, stir fry and stew ingredients at a later date. Having this ready to go in the freezer will help you prepare a quick weekday dinner in the future and reduce your food waste so you can stretch your budget.
- Have you ever used the cuttings of your produce, such as carrot tops, potato peels, outside cabbage leaves, beet greens, mushroom stems or celery leaves, to prepare a vegetable broth to use in one of your favorite recipes? Bring the vegetable cast-offs to a boil in a stockpot of water, simmer for about 45 minutes, then strain the bits. This will help you save a nutritious broth in the freezer for another meal while adding taste and letting you use every bit of your food purchase.
- Use stale bread or the end pieces of the loaf to make breadcrumbs or salad croutons. You can keep them plain or add your family’s favorite seasoning. The finished product can be stored in the freezer and used as needed helping you to reduce your kitchen food waste.
- Have you ever added shredded vegetables to your muffins, quick bread, or even to meatloaf or casseroles? This is a healthy extender and way to use any bruised or ‘ugly’ produce in your refrigerator.
- Use your juicing leftovers – don’t throw that out! You can add the remnants from your juicer into pancakes, muffins, use it to make vegetable broth, or make a veggie burger for the grill.
- There are other ways to use food scraps in other parts of the home that will reduce the amount of food waste sent to the landfill including composting, putting egg shells in the garden, your beauty regimen (banana peel mask on your face, cucumber on your eyes, tea bags under the eyes, coffee grounds to exfoliate), citrus peels to freshen the disposal, and more.
- Here’s an activity for the kids! Let them regrow some kitchen scraps into plants. They can regrow potatoes, celery ends, and pineaWWpple tops, to name a few.
Another good use of excess produce is to share what you don’t need or can’t use in time with others so it won’t go to waste.
We can get creative with the wilting, bruised, worn out, or scraps of produce that we seem to throw away without a thought making our purchases pay off for our family with just a little extra effort.
As my young granddaughter (who is quite precocious) would say, “easy peasy lizard squeezy”! Yep, that’s right!