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by Francine Spiering

According to Feeding America, an estimated 25-40% of food grown, processed and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed. Field to landfill? It is a horrifying thought. Even more horrifying is the thought that we all contribute to that every time we leave food unfinished on our plate or let it go to waste in our fridge; every time we toss food in the bin. Here are eights steps we can take to minimize food waste in our home kitchens:

1. Keep a clean fridge

In an overstocked fridge, it is impossible to see what you have. Scooping leftovers into sealed containers is great, but it’s easy to forget about them if they’re hidden behind jars of this and cartons of that. Finish fresh ingredients before stocking the fridge with new ones. A little organizing goes a long way.

2. Plan portions

My mother always warned, “don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach.” If I put it on my plate, I had to finish it. This extends to all aspects of food consumption, from buying food to scooping it on your plate. Leftovers can make for a great meal later, but not all half-eaten food makes for reusable leftovers.

3. Can and Preserve

Yes, back to the good old techniques of preserving food. Making pickles, sauces or jams is an excellent way to use produce that you get in bulk when it’s in season or on sale. Canning chutney or salsa is perfect for kitchen scraps. Smoke meats and vacuum seal in smaller portions to keep them longer; get a dehydrator to dry fruits and herbs.

4. Use your kitchen scraps

Kitchen scraps are not what you scrape off your plate when you’re full. Kitchen scraps come from prepping ingredients: cabbage cores, vegetable stalks, tougher outer leaves. So much of that is habitually tossed in the bin, yet they make for excellent aromatic garnish for stock. Diced small and sauteed, they can make a nutritious filling in chili, tomato sauce or risotto!

5. Wing it!

When you cook from a recipe, you buy what the recipe states, not what you already have in the fridge or pantry, then end up wasting what you have. Winging it with a bunch of ingredients helps develop a less wasteful way of cooking. Obviously, a recipe can be of tremendous help as a guideline, but don’t let it limit you.

6. The Whole Animal Approach

If you eat meat, go beyond the prime cuts and try the edible organs, head, tail and trotters as well. Build a relationship with a local meat farmer and buy a meat box, a selection of different cuts that guarantees a better use of the whole butchered animal. A whole chicken can stretch over several meals: roast chicken dinner one day, then chicken and rice soup the next. There’s more variety and taste, too!

7. Compost

Composting is not a substitute for better food waste reduction, but it is a solid way to transform food waste into a nutritious component for healthy soil. If you don’t garden, find a neighbor gardener or nearby farmer who may be happy to receive your bucket of collected kitchen scraps and coffee grounds.

8. Help raise awareness

Landfills are not the only way to dispose of household garbage and food waste. Better solutions have been developed in countries like Sweden, where waste management through power plants has led them to actually import incinerable waste. As consumers, we can reduce the amount of garbage we send to landfills. But we can do more. We can start asking to eliminate landfills and implement alternative solutions.

Cooking with Scraps

Recipes by Francine Spiering, adapted from recipes published in Edible Houston

Kitchen Sink Croquettes

Once you have the basic sauce, you can use just about anything to make these, like shrimp, mushrooms, herbs, cheese or leftover braised beef. Favorite combinations are mozzarella, basil and sundried tomatoes; garden peas and tarragon; chopped shrimp, jalapeno and cheddar. Use any leftovers (just make sure to shred or finely chop them).

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  • 1 quart milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup assorted kitchen scraps (washed peels, stalks and stems)
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 4–5 cup chopped leftover cooked meat
  • Salt and pepper

For the breading:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups homemade breadcrumbs

Bring the milk to a soft boil. Add bay leaf and kitchen scraps. Simmer low for 30 minutes. Strain and cool.

Melt butter in large pot. Add flour, mix and cook for about five minutes. Add milk little by little, mixing it in well, to a smooth, silky and batter-like thickness. Mix in egg yolks, mustard, Worcestershire and season well with salt and white pepper. Taste and adjust if too bland.

Stir in meat and mix well. Pour croquette base into a rectangular dish 13 x 9 inch. Chill overnight. Cut to divide into equal portions of each 1.5 x 3 inch.

Prepare three bowls, one each for flour, beaten eggs and breadcrumbs (replenish as needed). Take a portion, roll in flour, then egg and finish with breadcrumbs. Roll between palms to shape into a cylinder or balls and transfer to a plate. Continue until done.

Deep-fry until golden and hot and serve with mustard, a mixed salad and crusty bread for lunch! Makes about 25 croquettes.


Stalky Stock

This stock can be made with a whole lot of different kitchen scraps. Add the carcass of roasted poultry for a meatier flavor. Or (and this one reason why you should buy whole fish) use fish bones, head and tail to make a fish stock!

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  • Stalks of 1 bunch kale
  • Stalks of 1 bunch collard greens
  • 1 large onion, coarsely diced
  • 3–4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 twig rosemary
  • 2–3 twigs thyme
  • 1 cup dark green leaves of leek (use the rest to braise)
  • 10 or so white peppercorns
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1½ quarts water
  • 2 cups vegetable scraps, washed and cleaned (I used the peels of black radish, dark and tough beet greens, and radish greens)

Put everything in a stockpot and add water. Simmer for an hour. Strain and press on the vegetables in the strainer to release as much of the flavor as possible. Use stock for risotto, to make soup or as a base for a braise. Makes one quart.

Labneh Beetroot Salad

Labneh is “yogurt cheese.” It is easy to make and a great way to finish up yogurt. Add a pinch of salt to two cups of yogurt and strain it for 3–4 hours through a cheesecloth-lined sieve. Transfer the thickened yogurt cheese to a bowl; use the collected whey in a smoothie.

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  • 1 cup labneh
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • 1 cup assorted roasted beets
  • Edible greens from your garden (basil, mint, herb flower tops)
  • Fennel tops
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Rose peppercorns

Put the labneh in a bowl and mix in garlic, lemon zest and cayenne. Transfer to the center of a serving plate. Cut the roasted beets in wedges, season with salt and fresh ground black pepper and arrange on top of the labneh. Divide the greens. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle with fennel tops and garnish with rose peppercorns. Serves two.