Tips to Reduce Food Waste

Being a better cook is more
than mastering recipes. It’s
also getting the most from
your food, wasting little and
repurposing leftovers in
creative, even ingenious
ways. Below, Food reporters
and editors share their ideas
for improving kitchen
storage and using up odds
and ends. Have a suggestion?
Post it in the comments
Give vegetables some space.
A crowded vegetable crisper
is soon a rotten one. Allow air
to circulate. Most vegetables
are best left in plastic bags
that are open and punched
with holes. (Onions and
potatoes are outliers. Leave
them in a cabinet or pantry,
alone in the dark, away from
the other vegetables and
each other.)
Wrap lettuce and cucumbers
well in paper towels and
refrigerated in plastic bags.
For best results, wrap
cucumbers individually.
Rinse herbs lightly, roll them
in paper towels and
refrigerate in a plastic bag
with the top left open. Or, if
you have shelf space in your
refrigerator, trim the ends
off a bunch, put it in a glass of
water like a bouquet, and
cover with a plastic bag.
Sauté lettuce that has begun
to wilt in olive oil and season
with garlic or shallot.
Blanch and then purée carrot
tops into chimichurri or
pesto. For chimichurri, blend
with red wine vinegar, olive
oil, herbs and garlic or
shallots. For pesto, blend with
olive oil, pine nuts and a hard
cheese like Parmesan. Use it
to top fish, season soup or
sauce pasta. (Taste the tops
first; if they’re very bitter,
blanch more than once.)
Radish tops and roasted
asparagus bottoms are good
for pesto, too.
Eat carrot tops in a seaweed-
like salad: blanch once or
twice, then toss in sesame oil
and soy sauce.
Garnish foods with fennel
fronds, celery leaves and
carrot tops (used sparingly).
Chop and sauté radish tops or
turnip tops. Add a poached or
fried egg. Call it breakfast.
Stop peeling so many of your
vegetables. Carrots, parsnips,
cucumbers and many others
are just fine to eat with a
good scrub.
Make chocolate mousse with
overripe avocados: purée
with melted chocolate chips,
almond or cow’s milk, cocoa
powder, a little sweetener
and vanilla. Or mash them
with a little lime juice and
freeze for an instant
guacamole base. Or blend
with spinach or basil, olive oil
and herbs to make a sauce
for pasta. Or add to salad
dressing and purée for a
thicker emulsion.
Boil carrots and blend with a
neutral oil, a little garlic and
a hard-boiled egg for a fluffy
alternative to mayonnaise.
Save vegetables (or use up
kale stems and cucumber
butts) with a quick pickle.
Pour a boiling mixture of
white vinegar, sugar, salt and
water and some herbs or
peppers or garlic.
Refrigerate. Make a steak
salad and add some sliced
pickled vegetables.
Keep the stems from cilantro
or parsley, along with celery
leaves, onion peels,
mushroom stems and the like
in a bag or bowl in the
refrigerator or freezer.
When you have enough,
simmer into a stock for
risotto or soup.
Toss those last few berries,
half an apple, peeled brown
bananas (cut into chunks for
easy puréeing) or other fruit
in a bag in the freezer. Soon
you’ll have enough for a
smoothie, which is also a good
way to use up the last bit of
sour cream, yogurt or ice
cream at the bottom of the
Save orange rinds, especially
those from juiced oranges.
Dry them and use as fire
kindling, where they release
a delightful aroma against
the wood smoke.
Keep lemons in the fridge.
Wrap zested lemons in
plastic, and keep extra lemon
halves cut side down in a
bowl or on a plate to be used
for salad dressings. They can
also be preserved or cooked
down to a quick marmalade,
or used for cleaning: rub the
cut side on aluminum pots to
shine them, or on cutting
boards to clean them. Or put
them down the garbage
disposal to make the house
smell good.
Throw woody stems (like
rosemary and thyme) into a
roasting pan with meat or
root vegetables.
Chop tender, thinner parsley
and cilantro stems and use
them as you would the
leaves. Thicker stems can be
chopped and sautéed with
the onion in any recipe that
calls for the herbs as a
garnish. Any stem can be
used in stock.
Steep mint for tea. Stir in
honey after steeping.
Purée herbs and olive oil and
freeze in plastic bags or ice
cube trays. Use as the base
for pesto or other herb
Resprout scallions by using
the green parts, then taking
the white bulbs and putting
them in a jar of water.
Replenish the water
Hang sturdy herbs upside
down to dry. Use as you
would any store-bought dried
Meat and Seafood
Make stock. In the
refrigerator or freezer, save
poultry, beef and ham bones
and scraps; shrimp, lobster
and crab shells; and fish
heads and bones (from white-
fleshed fish) until you have
enough for a big pot of
whatever kind of stock you
want to make. Or make a
small batch of stock
immediately. The carcass and
pan drippings from a roast
chicken can go right into a
pot with whatever bits of
vegetables you have. Add a
carrot, half an onion and a
bay leaf or other herbs.
Cover with water, bring to a
boil and then turn heat down
to a slow simmer for a couple
of hours. Don’t forget to
check for seasoning and skim
for fat or impurities. Use for
soup the next day or to cook a
pot of rice.
Reduce stock and freeze for a
fast broth. When you’ve
made stock, strain it and then
simmer it again, reducing by
perhaps 10 times. Freeze it in
ice cube trays or small
containers. Reconstitute with
Reserve any excess skin or fat
from the chicken you are
about to cook. Freeze it until
you have enough to render
into schmaltz.
Save even small amounts of
bacon grease and rendered
pork fat from roasts. Use to
roast potatoes and root
vegetables, or with greens.
Bacon grease can be
especially good in baked
goods .
Freeze the chicken liver if
you get one with a whole
chicken. Accumulate enough
and sauté with butter, a little
shallot and a shot of wine to
blend into paté. Or just sauté
it as a cook’s treat.
Save pickle brine for brining
Give meat — and not just
fruit — a second life in a pie.
A few balls of savory dough
wrapped in plastic or foil and
then put in a plastic bag will
last up to three months in the
freezer. Or use leftover meat
for soup, quesadillas,
enchiladas, tacos or salads.
Use sour milk to make
pancakes or other baked
goods that call for
Save Parmesan and pecorino
rinds in the freezer to make
stock, or slip them directly
into a pot of soup to enhance
the flavor.
Mash blue cheese with olive
oil and keep it in the
refrigerator for salad
dressing or to use on
Combine small mixed scraps
of cheese to make fromage
fort, fondue or mixed-cheese
macaroni and cheese. Or
grate or crumble them on
salad or on top of sliced fruit.
Bread and Nuts
Whirl stale bread into bread
crumbs and freeze. Toast as a
topping for pasta or gratins,
as a coating for pan-fried
cutlets or as a thickener for
blended soups or gazpacho.
Mix into ground meat for
meatballs or meatloaf.
Use stale bread for French
toast, bread pudding or
strata. Or turn it into
croutons, use it in panzanella
or ribollita, or as bed for
roast chicken. A loaf of aging
bread is a good excuse to
make a fondue or a pot of
French onion soup. And you
don’t need to make bread
crumbs to use old bread in
meatballs; if the bread has
personality, you can increase
the ratio of bread to meat.
Freeze bread by wrapping it
well, then reviving it by
bringing it back to room
temperature, unwrapping it,
spritzing it with water a few
times and popping it into a
350-degree oven for 8 to 12
minutes. (Stale loaves that
aren’t frozen can be brought
back to life this way, too.
Spritz them with a little
water first.) You could slice
the bread first, which affects
the quality but makes it
easier to take a piece directly
from the freezer to the
Slice up a leftover baguette,
let the pieces dry out, then
bag them to repurpose as
croutons or crackers.
Cut leftover bread slices or
crusts into sticks, butter and
bake for “soldiers” to serve
with eggs or soup.
Crush leftover party nuts and
sprinkle them on top of a
salad or cooked brussels
General Storage
The dates on your packages
have nothing to do with food
safety, nor are they federally
regulated. They are the
manufacturer’s suggestion
for when the products are at
their peak quality. Properly
stored food that looks good
and smells good is probably
Freezer bags are wonderful,
but food is better if it’s
wrapped tightly before it
goes into the freezer bag.
Pour cool stock in a freezer
bag, carefully get the air out
and put it in the freezer flat.
Label and date everything.
Painter’s tape and a Sharpie
work well.
Readers’ Tips
When I buy corn on the cob, I
cut the kernels off and serve
that day (or freeze them for
instant corn niblets) and save
the cobs for later. I make
corn broth out of the cobs the
next time I make a vegetable
soup. I cut 4 to 6 cobs in half
and boil them for about 45
minutes in 9 cups of lightly
salted water. Strain after
boiling; this results in about 6
cups of corn broth. If you skip
the salt, you can chill it and it
makes a nice, light drink. I
can’t believe I used to just
throw the cobs out before!
Courtney Shannon
Once a day I review the
fridge contents and put all
items that need to be
consumed in the next 72
hours in a certain spot. That
way, when we go to cook, we
always look there first to
determine what we should be
using. Mike McCarthy
Candied orange peels. Varsha
Making soup on Saturday
morning (before heading to
the grocery store) lets me
inventory what veggies are
limp and need to be thrown
into the pot, as well as which
ones are still good for the
following week’s recipes.
Jurate Kutkus Burns
Quinoa or brown rice, Braggs
(a healthy alternative for soy
sauce) and most any leftover
can be mixed together for a
hot, tasty meal. Gary Schutze
Peel citrus with potato
peeler, freeze it and use as
needed for zest. Vickie Lynn
We’ve started a new
“leftover” tradition of taking
what’s left, maybe adding
little extras like cheese, then
wrapping in pizza dough for
individual potpies. Larissa
Every now and then I’ll have
a couple of tablespoonsfull of
a dish leftover. I’ll pulse it
and add it to a sauce or soup
for some extra depth and
flavor. Catherine Wynne
We turn leftover dry bread
into a very simple delicious
recipe. With olive oil heated,
add small square chopped
onion and 4 gloves of garlic.
Then add 2 cups of water for
each loaf, and let it boil. Add
1 teaspoon of paprika or
dried red chile pepper, and a
similar amount of rich dried
peppermint (you can use
fresh green peppermint) and
2 spoons of tomato paste. Stir
well, then add the chunks of
bread and leave it for 5
minutes on calm heat. Ehsan
Al Rifai
Stop building a pantry for
every cuisine on earth. Focus
on what is in season or
accessible locally. Build out a
pantry based on the tastes
you love most. Simplify
always. Sarah Edell