When preparing a meal at home, many of us simply throw out the bones, peels and scraps that aren't going to be used in the dish. And after the meal, we scrape all the leftovers on our plate into the trash or down the garbage disposal. While this may seem like the easiest way to clean up, most of the food you're tossing out is edible or reusable, resulting in huge amounts of food waste -- and wasted money.
Nearly 40% of all food in the US is wasted, adding up to 108 billion pounds of food every year, according to Feeding America. That's 130 billion meals and $408 billion being thrown away each year.
While much of that waste does occur during the production and distribution stages before the food ever makes it to the grocery store, about 39% of food waste occurs in our own kitchens. With grocery prices still inflated, finding ways to save money just makes sense. Eliminating food waste in your kitchen is one great method to save. Here's what to do with those food scraps. (For more kitchen tips, check out these expert-approved cooking hacks that actually work and how to store groceries so they last longer.)
What counts as food scraps?
There's a difference between food loss and food waste.
The USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) defines food loss as "the edible amount of food, postharvest, that is available for human consumption but is not consumed for any reason." Food loss is specifically about what is edible, while food waste is often expanded to include foods not edible to humans like banana peels, bones and egg shells.
For the purposes of this article, I'm going to define food scraps as anything edible or nonedible that is being thrown away. I am using this more expansive term because many scraps like bones and peels can still be recycled for cooking or other purposes. As I'll explain down below, so many of the items you put in the trash can be reused, recycled or at least composted. Here are some of the main things you can do with the food you might otherwise throw away.
Read more: Save Money Using a Slow Cooker or Instant Pot Instead of the Oven
What can you do instead of throwing food out?
There are several ways to reduce food waste and save money. For starters, it's best to:
- Shop realistically and with a plan. I always recommend planning out your meals in advance and only buying what you have on your grocery list.
- Try to coupon and join grocery stores' rewards plans.
- Buy produce that's in season (it's cheaper).
- Cook in reasonable portions. Cooking the whole box of pasta seems easier, but you're more likely to throw some out rather than eating pasta for four straight days.
- Eat your leftovers. Plan to eat your dinner leftovers for lunch the next day to ensure the food is eaten.
- Avoid a cluttered fridge and pantry (we have tips for organizing your fridge here).
- Preserve the shelf life of the food in your fridge, including your fruits and veggies.
- Know that sell-by/expiration dates are flexible.
- Be better about freezing your food in time.
But once you already have the food, what should you do with it? I have some recommendations. Not every part of a fruit or vegetable can be saved; sometimes you will just have to throw food out. But if you're going through your fridge or pantry with the intent of throwing stuff out, try these tricks instead.
- Bananas a little too ripe? Make banana bread or simply freeze the banana to later use in a smoothie.
- Use apricot peels, and apple cores and peels to make jams.
- Save fruit scraps (peels, tops or cores) and boil in a pot of water on the stove to make your home smell fresh.
- Use orange peels to clean your kitchen and defunk your garbage disposal.
- Put lemon and lime peels down the garbage disposal to remove the stink.
- Use onion peels, tips of carrots, broccoli and celery trunks, and scallion and garlic bits to make a vegetable stock. You can simply place the scraps (frozen or not) in a pot with water. Add seasonings to taste and boil for about 10 minutes.
- Use leftover bits of your tomato (the peels, ends and juice) to use for a tomato sauce.
- Mince and freeze leftover herbs in oil or water. You can even grow your own to save extra money.
- Use veggie stalks for soups. There's so many delicious recipes for broccoli stalk soup.
- Bake or air-fry veggie scraps into crispy veggie chips.
- Use leftover seeds, pits and cuttings of your veggies and plant them in your garden to regrow more.
Other food scraps
- Use your dried out bread to make homemade croutons and breadcrumbs from soups and salads.
- Reuse coffee grinds for DIY exfoliants and scrubs.
- Use old wine for cooking and simmering dishes.
- Make chicken and beef broths from leftover bones.
The bottom line
There are many creative, unexpected ways to use those leftover food scraps. Not only will you feel like a pro in the kitchen, but you'll save money by stretching out your grocery store trips and the food you purchase. And that's not to mention the environmental benefits of reducing the food that heads to the landfill. Reducing food waste will in turn reduce methane emissions and your carbon footprint.
Plus, if you can't reuse your scraps in the kitchen or around the house, you can always use grounds, rinds, peels, cores, clippings and legumes to start a compost pile.
More money-saving kitchen hacks
- Buying Groceries Online vs. In-Store: We Find Out Which Is Cheaper
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- Whole Foods Is No Longer Whole Paycheck: How Shopping There May Actually Save You Money
- Are Meal Kits Worth the Money? I Did Some Math to Find Out
- Cooking With an Air Fryer Really Can Save You Money
- Here's How Much Energy a Microwave Uses Compared With an Oven