How To Utilize Scraps from the Kitchen To Make Your Meals More Delicious

Photo: Getty Images/Anchiy; Art: W+G Creative
What if, this January, you ignored all the voices telling you what you “should be” and instead focused on finding the healthful habits that feel right for *you*? With ReNew Year, the only thing we’re detoxing from is a restrictive mindset. Pick a goal—movement, food, self care, or all three—and hit refresh. Get the Program

By now, you’re starting to get the hang of how to grocery shop only for what you’ll truly eat and you know some handy tips that’ll help prolong the life of your foods. But even still, some of the food you’re making is still ending up in the garbage disposal, right? That ends this week.

Over the course of the next seven days, I’ll teach you how to cook with food scraps, using would-be food waste in creative, delicious ways. There are also a lot of brands that are utilizing food scraps and upcycled ingredients that you can look out for on your weekly trip to the grocery store. We vote with our dollars and supporting brands that are bettering the planet encourages other brands to do the same. This week, we'll focus on how to recognize those brands, and how to be smarter about the foods we put in our carts altogether.

cooking with scraps
Art: W+G Creative

Day 15: Research brands that use upcycled ingredients

You’re already well aware of the environmental benefits of buying seasonal, local produce and other perishables (when and where you can, of course). Today, we'll again use our time together to educate ourselves on other ways to shop smartly for the planet when you hit the grocery store tomorrow. This time, we'll focus our attention on "upcycled foods." Brands that make products by sustainably repurposing ingredients that would otherwise go to waste, called upcycling, are popping up in virtually every aisle at the grocery store. Typically, this is something the brand is (and should be!) proud of, so they’ll share it somewhere on the packaging.

Spend a few minutes today researching brands that help cut down on waste in this way. For example, if you love fruit snacks, Barnana that uses “imperfect” bananas, it’s a sustainability no-brainer. And that’s just one example. There are upcycled drinks (like Agua Bonita), baking flours (like Renewal Mill), and chocolatey snacks (like Candid). Check out the Upcycled Food Association to learn about more brands.

Day 16: Buy foods you can use in more than one way

I never buy anything from the grocery store unless I can think of at least three ways to use it. (However, if it’s for something super specific, like a birthday cake, I let it slide.) Otherwise, even the foods that I bought with the best intentions often aren’t fully used. So when you're shopping, think of several meals you can make using a specific ingredient. If you're shopping for chickpeas, can you use them to make a chickpea “tuna” salad for lunch one day, toss them on a salad the next, and in a curry for dinner another night? The same goes for your produce. Sure, you can throw those mushrooms you’re eying into a salad. But can you also sautee them with garlic and put on top of toast, plus add them to a pasta dish, as well? If there’s something you’re considering buying but you can only think of one meal it would work in, put it back on the shelf. What can you switch it out for that’s a bit more versatile? That way, you can make sure what you buy will be fully used.

Later this week, I’ll show you how to make an herby sweet potato and lentil soup. Sweet potatoes and lentils are two foods that are super versatile, so besides this recipe, think of a couple other ways you want to cook with them this week. (For me, baked sweet potato fries are definitely one.) Here’s the full ingredients list for the soup, so you can plan your grocery list accordingly:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 leek, white part, chopped
  • 3 scallions, white and green, chopped
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup green lentils, soaked in cold water
  • 2 cups sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 cups frozen spinach, defrosted
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 5 cups vegetable broth (or water with vegetable bouillon)
  • 1 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup dill, chopped
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced

Day 17: Save your veggie scraps to reuse later

Vegetable scraps often get thrown out, but they’re a great way to add more flavor and fiber to your meals. Whenever you’re done chopping up veggies (whether they’re carrots, broccoli, celery, beets, spinach, or all of the above) transfer their tips, greens, and stems to a reusable baggie and chill them rather than tossing the scraps. Next time it’s time to make a meal, pull the bag out and integrate what’s inside to sauces, broths, and soups. Once you get in the habit of this, you’ll wonder why you weren’t doing it before, because it's so easy. By the way, you can store your scraps in the fridge or the freezer—once you drop the spinach stems into a breakfast smoothie or add the beet greens to a soup broth, you won’t be able to taste the difference.

Day 18: Make your own vegetable broth using scraps

Yesterday you learned about saving your veggie scraps to use in other ways, and today, we’re going to put that know-how to good use by preparing a veggie broth, which chefs always recommend making from scratch. Not only does homemade broth add flavor to your finished recipe; it also curtails food waste because it can be made from many ingredients that would otherwise be wasted, such as carrot and potato skins, onion and garlic tops and bottoms, herb stems, and so on.

You simply bring a pot of water to boil, toss in the veggie scraps you want to use, and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. You can add salt to taste, and then, strain the veggie broth from the veggies themselves and store it in the refrigerator. When you use it to make the sweet potato and lentil soup later in the week, you’ll find that it’s more flavorful than using just water when making soup broth. I especially love the taste of onion water because it gives a mild base layer of flavor you would otherwise miss out on. I promise: Try this trick, and you won’t miss the beef in your barley soup one bit.

Day 19: Consider composting

Not all food scraps can be eaten, and that’s where composting comes in. Composting is a way to feed the Earth foods that humans can’t consume. Make today the day you start composting at home—all you need is a bucket devoted to the cause.

The first step on your composting journey should be to take a hard look at the amount of food you're throwing away, and reduce it wherever you can. In terms of what you can safely compost, think green and brown: Some common compostable foods include fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grounds, leaves, eggshells, and nutshells. You can even compost tea bags, house plants, and floral bouquets. Meat and fish bones, pet litter, dirty diapers, dairy products, and oils are not composable; you never want to compost anything as that attracts critters.

Next, grab that compost bin that we discussed and liner bags specifically designed to trap odors. You’ll keep this bin in your kitchen, under the sink, or even in the freezer, and toss in the compostable scraps outlined above. When it comes to what to do with your compost, it’s easy: If you have a garden, you can use your compost to help your plants grow. To do this first, moisten the compost with water. Once your compost pile is established, mix grass clippings into the pile. Bury fruit and vegetable waste under 10 inches of compost material. If you don’t have a garden and can’t use your compost at home, many cities and towns have a pick-up service that will pick up your compost and take it to a composting site. CompostNow, for example, is one such service that operates nationwide. You can learn more about this pick-up process—and tips that’ll help you along the way—in our beginner’s guide to composting.

Day 20: Invest in reusable food savers to cut waste

Often when you’re cooking, you end up with some leftover produce. For example, a lot of times you don’t need an entire avocado or lemon to make a dish. That’s when food savers can come in handy. Since they keep produce vacuum sealed and air out, your leftover produce won’t spoil as fast as it would otherwise. Tomorrow we’ll be making a nourishing soup that requires just half a lemon. So store the other half this way and it will stay fresh for a future recipe.

Day 21: Make a soup using would-be-wasted foods

Two types of foods I tend to see go to waste a lot in the kitchen are greens and herbs. In both cases, once they start wilting, they’re looked at as inedible. This is far from the case. One way to use wilted greens and herbs is by incorporating them into a soup. You’ll still get all the glorious flavor and nutritional benefits as you would using fresh greens and herbs, and you’re cutting down on waste in the process. Need some recipe inspo? Try this herby sweet potato and lentil soup. Check back on January 23, and I'll give you the full recipe to make it. It’s stick-to-your-bones comforting while being full of protein and fiber.

Looking to hit refresh on your healthy habits this January? Check out our full 2022 ReNew Year program for expert-led plans for better sleep, nutrition, exercise, and self-care routines. 

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