Waste-Less Wednesday: 5 Easy Waste-Less Tips

Sauteed Tokyo turnips with fresh parsley

Reducing food waste at home is easier than you might think, and doesn’t have to involve projects like preserving foods or making soups. (Although these are definitely fun ways to reduce food waste and discover new recipes at the same time!) There are some simple things that you can do every day that will help you use up more of the food that lingers in your refrigerator — and keep it out of the trash. Check these 5 Easy Waste-Less Tips!

Zest Citrus First
Before you peel an orange for snacking or squeeze a lime for that margarita, zest the fruit first. Even if you don’t have an immediate use for the zest, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Create a parchment packet for storing citrus zest until you need it
Create a parchment packet for storing citrus zest for future use.
Orange sorbet, anyone?

Create a zest “packet” using a small piece of parchment paper, approximately 4″ x 4″. Fold the paper in thirds horizontally, then vertically. Unfold the paper, then place the zest in the center “square” of the paper. Refold the parchment paper, nestling the zest inside. You can add a piece of tape to keep things closed, if you need to. Place the packet in a plastic bag and press all of the air out before sealing the bag. Store in a crisper drawer.

Keep Skins and Scraps for Stock or Broth
Before you peel root vegetables, take an extra minute to give them a good scrub and dry them off. After peeling and cutting off any end bits, put the peels and bits in a sturdy plastic bag and store it in your freezer for adding to soup stocks and broths in the future.

My collection of sweet potato peels from the past two weeks
My collection of sweet potato peels from the past two weeks, ready for the next
batch of Spring Vegetable Broth

(Note: If you’re eating sustainably and source your food from local, organic or pesticide-free farms, you shouldn’t need to give your vegetables an intense washing. A quick scrub should clean things up. However, if you’re purchasing conventionally grown vegetables, or don’t know whether pesticides were used on your food, you might want to skip this tip.)

Make Herb Salt
It’s tough to estimate exactly how many leaves of a fresh herb you’ll need to chop to end up with just the right amount for a recipe. I don’t know about you, but I often overdo, ending up with an extra teaspoon or two. Rather than tossing out that extra little bit, scoop it into a small bowl and add some salt (to your taste, but start with an equal amount of salt to herb). The herbs will dry out in a day or so, but you’ll have a quick herb salt ready to season the next dish you make. Sprinkle it on pasta, salad, or a baked protein.

Chopped too much parsley? Make a quick herb salt to use later.
Chopped too much parsley? Make a quick herb salt to use later.

When Life Gives You Bread Bits, Make Breadcrumbs
I’ve been crushing on this tasty spelt sourdough loaf lately. It’s dense and nutty and makes a sturdy toast that pairs nicely with homemade Blood Orange-Rosemary Marmalade. It’s a small loaf, however, which means that sometimes the end bits are just that — bits. You know, not substantial enough to be a real piece of bread, but you don’t want to throw it away?

Collect the heels and bits from your favorite loaf of bread in a resealable plastic bag, and when the time comes, you can use them to make breadcrumbs. (You can also freeze the bread bits until you’re ready to make breadcrumbs. Make sure you thaw the bits before toasting or processing for crumbs.)

Drying out the end bits from a loaf of bread
Drying out the end bits from a loaf of bread

Making breadcrumbs is as simple as toasting the bread bits on a foil-lined sheet pan in a 250° F oven for 25 minutes, then pulverizing them into crumbs in a food processor. You can toast the bits first, then process them, or vice versa. Recommendation: if using a dense bread (such as spelt) make the crumbs first, then toast.

Sauté Radishes and Tokyo Turnips
You can only make so many salads before you start craving another way to enjoy radishes and Tokyo turnips. If you’re looking for another way to prepare these intriguing root vegetables, try sautéing them. Cooking them over medium-high heat until browned changes their texture from crisp to tender, amplifies the sweetness, and highlights their earthy aroma. (Yes, sautéing is my go-to solution for “old” vegetables. Why? Because it works so well!)

Sauteed Tokyo turnips with fresh parsley
Sautéed Tokyo turnips with fresh parsley

Quick technique: Wash, dry, and trim the radishes or Tokyo turnips. Cut larger turnips or radishes (1½” in diameter) into quarters. Cut smaller vegetables in half. Heat 1½ teaspoon of olive oil in a non-stick saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables and sauté for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add another teaspoon of olive oil to the pan and stir again. Reduce heat to medium and cover the pan with a lid. Continue cooking for 8-10 minutes, until radishes or turnips are browned, fragrant, and fork-tender. Season with salt, pepper, and fresh parsley.

Know What You Throw Out
In addition to the tips above, here’s a suggestion to help you get a handle on the food waste from your kitchen. If you have a countertop compost bin, take a look inside before you unload it into your green bin. What are you throwing out every day, every few days, or every week? Can you reduce that further by using some of these plan-head tips or adopting a leaf-to-root approach to eating?

If you don’t have a countertop compost bin, try this experiment: Put a medium-size on bowl on your counter. Use it as a countertop compost bin — a place where you toss any food or food bits that you would usually throw in the trash.

Several days' worth of food waste headed to the compost bin: soggy lettuce, a moldy lemon, and a few overly roasted carrot tops
Several days’ worth of food waste headed to the compost bin: soggy lettuce, a moldy lemon, and a few overly roasted carrot tops

If things start to get a little gross or stinky, cover it with a lid or some plastic wrap until full. How does it look after one day? After two days? How long before the bowl is full? What can you repurpose, freeze, preserve, or cook differently to reduce food waste?

Are you using any of these waste-less tips? What tips can you share for reducing food waste at home?

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