How to get the most from your food scraps

Egg shells

Grind eggshells into a fine powder for use in the garden. They’re a great natural source of calcium. (Photo: Jonathan Kemper via Unsplash)

Have you ever thought about other ways food scraps in your compost bin could be used?

When people waste food, all the resources to grow, ship and produce it get wasted, too, including money, time, energy and massive volumes of water. Foods (and other organic materials) that end up in landfills produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. When you throw away food, you’re also throwing away flavours and nutrients.

Once you’re doing more with food scraps, use what you’ve learned and build community by starting a food sharing club.

Upcycle food scraps

“Upcycled” typically describes commercial endeavours to create marketable products. It’s also a green habit you can adopt in your home.

Food scraps are any organic material left over from preparing your fruits, vegetables, tea or coffee. Upcycled foods are “made of ingredients that would otherwise have ended up in a food waste destination.”

And it doesn’t just end in the kitchen. From cooking to arts and crafts — there are many creative uses for food scraps.

Once you’ve extracted all you can from your food, or you can’t find other uses for food scraps, compost whatever remains.

Child reaching for a washed strawberry

Tips:

Cooking and baking

Homemade stock or broth

Make delicious soup stock or broth by saving and using:

  • potato skins
  • celery tops
  • carrot peels and tops
  • leek greens
  • kale stalks
  • broccoli stalks
  • asparagus trimmings
  • herb trimmings
  • corn cobs
  • squash peels
  • pea pods
  • mushroom stems
  • meat and poultry bones
  • seafood bones, shells, heads, cheeks and collars

Tip: Organize scraps in complementary flavour groupings (e.g., corn, squash and seafood; potato, celery, carrot and kale).

Soups and sauces

Blend carrot, turnip and radish tops, broccoli, swiss chard or collard green stems or wilting herbs into green sauces like pesto, chimichurri, zhoug and salsa verde. Or, chop them up with wilting greens and add them to soups.

Use fruit and vegetable trimmings to make sweet or savoury chutneys and compotes.

Add leftover pickling liquids or juices from overripe fruit to salad dressings and marinades.

Reserve liquid from boiling potatoes, beans or pasta to thicken soups and sauces. Add parmesan rinds for flavour.

Drinks

Create a sweet and citrusy fruit tea from pineapple cores, apple, lemon and orange peels.

Use fruit and vegetable trimmings to flavour kombuchas, shrubs and sodas.

Steep fruit skins and stones in liquor to infuse them with flavour — think vodka or umeshu. (You may need to add sugar.)

Infusions

Infuse vinegar, oil and water with leftover citrus zests and peels. Add herb stems and trimmings for extra flavour.

Croutons, bread crumbs and other uses for stale bread

If your bread is stale, but not yet mouldy, don’t chuck it! Make croutons and bread crumbs. Just toast, fry or grill it, then dice or pulverize.

Stale bread is also great for soaking up liquids. Use it for French toast or panzanella (bread salad). Toast or grill it to use as a base for open-face canapés like bruschetta or as a side to sop up soups and sauces.

Sweets and treats

Make jams, jellies, marmalades and candied fruit from peels, cores and other scraps.

Make meringue from leftover egg whites or custard from leftover egg yolks.

The liquid from canned chickpeas, called “aquafaba,” is a versatile vegan alternative to egg whites. Use it to make meringues, whipped cream or as a replacement for egg whites in recipes.

Combine overripe avocados with cocoa and a sweetener to make creamy chocolate pudding.

Use pulp from your juicer and fruit trimmings to make nutritious, delicious fruit leather.

Seeds and grains

Add leftover oatmeal or pureed squash or pumpkin pulp to cookie dough, muffins and breads.

Use leftover whey from homemade yogurt or cheese instead of water in baking or when cooking grains.

Roast squash and pumpkin seeds. Remove shells and enjoy as a snack, use as salad or oatmeal topping, or purée into seed butter (like tahini).

Pickling

Pickle broccoli, swiss chard, beet and collard green stems or watermelon rinds (remove the green skin but keep the whites).

Save herb stems to flavour pickling brines.

Combine and save pickling liquids, then boil it to blanch and quick pickle other vegetables.

Mains and other dishes

Use carrot, turnip and radish tops, broccoli, swiss chard, beet or collard green stems or wilting salad greens as a vegetable — roasted, sautéed or in soups.

Scrape cooked fish bones for meat to use in salads, soups and rice dishes such as fried rice, risotto, paella, etc.

Make fried rice from leftover rice, folding in other protein and vegetable scraps.

Make patties, burgers and croquettes from vegetable pulp, over or underripe vegetables, leftover rice, bread crumbs, beans or grains. Bind with egg whites or yolks leftover from baking or with aquafaba.

Use wilted greens or overripe vegetables as pizza toppings.

Make hash from leftover potatoes, proteins, vegetables and herbs.

Make kimchi from kale or cabbage scraps.

Grill or deep-fry salmon or swordfish skin until crispy.

Grind uncooked meat offcuts and/or offal to fill sausages and dumplings.

Other scrappy cooking tips

Save bacon grease, ham drippings and/or schmaltz in a jar in the refrigerator to use instead of other oils or fats.

Regrow leeks, scallions and celery by barely submerging root ends in a shallow cup of clean water. (Refresh the water regularly.)

Purée wilting herbs with olive oil and freeze in ice cube trays for future use.

Save citrus rinds in the freezer after juicing. They’re easy to grate for zest when frozen.

Arts and crafts

Natural dye

Make beautiful all-natural dyes to colour fabrics, paper, icing — even Easter eggs. You can make colours using many foods and spices; these use only common food scraps.

Pink

  • avocado skins and pits
  • red cabbage trimmings
  • beets

Brown

  • coffee grounds
  • tea bags
  • onion peels

Orange

  • onion skins
  • carrot trimmings

Follow this step-by-step guide by Fiber Artsy & Craftsy.

Citrus peel candles

Turn grapefruit, orange and lemon peel halve into green candles. Always use eco-friendly soy or beeswax and never leave candles unattended while lit. Try this recipe from Sustain my Craft Habit.

Cleaning

Cleaning solution

Add lemon and orange peels to vinegar to create a grease-fighting antibacterial spray. Use it in DIY cleaning recipes.

Air freshener

Save citrus peels and simmer them in a pot to create delicious-smelling natural potpourri.

Plant polish

Shine plants and remove dust with the inside of banana peels.

Pet snacks

Pets can benefit from food scraps, too!

Research what foods are safe for the animal(s) you’re feeding. Save meat trimmings and fruit and vegetable scraps to make delicious pet treats and meal toppings. Read more about planet-friendly pet care.

Body care

When using food scraps in a DIY body care recipe, follow a recipe from a trusted source (like Love Food Hate Waste) and do a patch test to watch for reactions. Check out these seven non-toxic DIY body care recipes.

Body scrub

Coffee grounds make a great homemade body exfoliant or face scrub.

 

Garden

Grind eggshells into a fine powder for use in the garden. They’re a great natural source of calcium.

Leave banana peels in a bucket of water for a few days to create potassium- and phosphorus-rich compost tea for your garden and house plants.

Use coffee grounds as fertilizer to add nitrogen to soil. This organic material also supports drainage, water retention and aeration, and attracts beneficial microorganisms and earthworms. (Note: used coffee grounds don’t increase acid levels to balance pH levels in soil — only fresh, unwashed grounds do.)

Make your own compost!