Food Waste Hacks to Save Money and the Environment

by Mariana Rufin

Around 133 billion pounds of food is discarded in the United States per year. Though some food waste is inevitable, about 31% of it ends up in landfills, producing a large amount of methane – a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. 

Consumers are responsible for a significant amount of food waste. People buy more than they need, discard leftovers, and don’t know how to make the most of their scraps. But taking inventory of your fridge each week can help you save money and make your eating habits more environmentally friendly. 

Here are some of the best ways to avoid producing waste with your weekly grocery shopping:

Make stock from scraps

Making stock from scratch is easy, saves a trip to the store, and will be more flavorful than manufactured stock. Keep any leftover vegetable peels, skins, and stalks in the freezer until you need them, then roast the scraps in the oven at 380 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately one hour, or until the scraps are nicely browned and fragrant. Then, place them in a large pot of simmering water for three to four hours. You can use the stock immediately or freeze it for up to two months.

Chicken noodle soup made from chicken skin, bones, carrots, celery, and fresh herbs

Most vegetables can make stock, including leftover pumpkin guts during the fall, and they can be kept in the freezer for months at a time. You can also use meat products such as leftover bones, carcass, skin, or seafood shells. Stock is perfect for chicken soup or a rich and savory risotto.

Use your stale bread

Pappa al Pomodoro, a Tuscan tomato soup, only requires stale bread, an onion, vegetable or beef stock, canned tomatoes, and a savory ingredient like anchovies, parmesan rinds, miso paste, or nutritional yeast. Start by sauteing an onion and garlic in olive oil or butter until it is soft and translucent. Next, add a can of stewed tomatoes, season to taste, and let it simmer for about half an hour. The bread should be very firm; if it is not, then toast it in the oven until crispy but not burnt. Break the bread up into smaller pieces, add it into the stew along with some stock, and let it soak long enough to soften yet still retain some structure. Finally, add a savory element of your liking and enjoy. 

You can also use stale bread for bread pudding. First, soak the bread in milk for at least two to three hours, or until it has softened enough to break apart easily. After the bread has softened, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and evenly coat a medium sized baking dish with melted butter. Pour the bread mixture into the pan. In a separate bowl, combine four eggs, two cups of milk, three-fourths of a cup of sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and a combination of warm spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, or allspice. Pour this mixture over the bread and combine the pan’s contents thoroughly. Bake the pudding for 45 minutes, or until the center comes out clean, and serve it with jam or caramel.

Reserve your bacon fat

Bacon fat can last for months in the refrigerator, and adds depth and flavor to recipes in seconds. You can use reserved bacon fat to fry potatoes, add a perfect crispy texture to fried rice, roast various vegetables or make a tasty vinaigrette. For a vinaigrette, start by adding equal parts of bacon fat and apple cider vinegar to a jar and sweeten to taste with maple syrup, honey, or brown sugar. Grate in a few cloves of garlic and some lemon zest, add a minced shallot, and add any desired seasonings.

Make chickpea “aquafaba”

Liquid from a can of chickpeas, or aquafaba, makes a perfect vegan substitute for egg whites and is used to make vegan meringue, mousse or pavlova. Mouthwatering Vegan posted a recipe for chocolate mousse that only includes four ingredients: one can of aquafaba, dark chocolate, confectioner’s sugar, and salt. 

Start by melting a bar of dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl over boiling water and letting it cool slightly. Next, whisk the aquafaba until it contains stiff peaks. Be prepared to whisk for a long time, or use an electric mixer if possible. If you’re whisking by hand, place the bowl in the freezer for 30 minutes before whisking, or put the bowl over an ice bath to speed up the process. Then sift in as much confectioner’s sugar as you’d like, add a pinch of salt, and fold the dry ingredients into the aquafaba meringue. Ensure that the melted chocolate is cool enough before gently folding in the whipped aquafaba. Leave the mixture in the refrigerator for a few hours before enjoying with fresh fruit or whipped cream.

Repurposing and Recycling Jars

Next time you take a look through your fridge or the aisle of the grocery store, count how many items come in jars or glass containers. Things like pickles, condiments, sauces, and spreads, almost always come packaged in jars, and while glass jars are easily recyclable – and recycling is always a good option to have – they can also be easily reused and repurposed. The most obvious use for these jars is to store food items, and for good reason. Buying new glass jars can be expensive, and considering that glass has an extremely long lifespan, reusing the ones that you technically already paid for seems more economical, logical, and sustainable. Bigger glass jars are great for storing snacks or dry goods like flour and sugar. Smaller glass jars can be used for taking food on the go for class or traveling, like overnight oats or chia pudding. Some glass jars can even be used as drinking glasses, vases, or as containers to hold writing utensils or brushes.

Use the tops of root vegetables

We’ve already discussed how to use the scraps and inedible portions of vegetables to make stock, but did you know that most root vegetables have delicious greens and stalks? Next time you buy carrots, beets, radishes, rhubarb, or turnips, consider this before you dispose of these parts. The leaves attached to root vegetables often have more minerals and vitamins than the actual vegetable itself, and some taste similar to certain fresh herbs. Carrot tops have a similar taste to parsley, and beets, radishes, rhubarb, and turnips have greens which taste very similar to chard. Saving the greens on root vegetables is a money saving tactic as well as an environmentally conscious decision, and these leaves can be used for salads, stews, or incorporated into sauces. One of our favorite ways to use hearty, leafy greens is to braise them alongside red meat, fish, sausage, lentils, or white beans like cannellini and lima beans.

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