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Innovative Ideas for Cooking with Food Scraps

Plant Based Recipes

Last Updated on July 24, 2023

These innovative ideas for cooking with food scraps save waste, save money, and make for delicious recipes.

Being a zero waste chef is totally doable with just a little bit of foresight! These zero waste recipes utilize scraps for sustainable cooking, no matter where you live. Minimize your food waste by making delicious recipes from what you would otherwise throw away. I’ll give you ideas for what to do with some of the most common scraps so you can try your hand at zero waste cooking!

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zero waste cooking

America wastes 40% of its food! And, if that number doesn’t scare you…. according to the National Resources Defense Council, each American household is throwing away over $1,800 a year in wasted food.

The NRDC cites portion size, impulse buys, and the low-cost of food in the US for our blatant wastefulness. Did you know the average dinner plate has increased in size by 36% since 1960? 

We often judge portion size by filling the plate rather than what we really need to eat. This results in overeating and wasted food.

Impulse buys also lead to buying too much food. We simply can’t eat it all. Our food costs are also low. The NRDC says we often view it as not a big deal to waste food because it’s not that expensive.

Farming is very energy and resource intense. We should view it that way.

Zero waste cooking just requires a little bit of forethought rather than going to the store and tossing whatever looks good into your cart.

Try buying less food than you think you need, and make a point to eat all of it before buying new food. Also, take five minutes to map out a couple of meals you might make this week. 

I hate meal planning, but get my painless 5-minute guide! It will help prevent food waste, and it’s a totally new way of doing it — I promise. 

sustainable cooking even before composting

On top of that, almost 20% of all methane released is from organics rotting in landfills. Methane is 20 times more powerful than your average greenhouse gas. You should never throw away your food scraps. Always compost them! 

RELATED: Your Guide to Backyard Composting

But, before you compost any of your food scraps, you should ask yourself, “Can I eat that?” and incorporate those scraps into some sustainable cooking practices.

zero waste chef

I caught up with our favorite zero waste chef, Joel Gamoran, the host and chef of the TV show “Scraps.” It’s a show on the FYI network all about cooking with scraps. I was so excited to see a TV show highlighting our wastefulness on the air. 

Joel has so many great ideas for using up all those odds and ends! It was great to chat with someone so passionate about ending food waste. We got to swap recipes and ideas, and chat about our favorite ways to use up those scraps.

Here are the biggest hits on our latest album, “Don’t waste the food!!!” 

zero waste recipes

Save these simple zero waste recipes and reuse your most common food scraps to make new, delicious recipes out of them.

beet greens:

You can eat your beet greens! They taste similar to chard. Sautee for an awesome side dish, add in a stir-fry or my favorite way to eat those beet greens, and blend them into a killer green smoothie — it will give you an extra boost of antioxidants. Beet greens are super high in vitamin B6.

Shia from Wasteland Rebel offered an awesome tip on her Instagram feed this week! When at the farmers market, ask for scraps. People discard their beet greens and carrot tops (which they already paid for) all the time.

If you’re ever pinched for cash, stock up on these items. Farmers will typically give them away for free. 

RELATED: 15 Tips for Saving Money on Real Food

chard stems:

Chop those chard stems up and don’t let them go to waste. Joel’s favorite way to munch on chard stems is frittata style. Saute the stems, then add smoked cheddar and caramelized onions. He says, “That’s a proper way to wake up in the morning!”

shrimp shells:

Living in the bay area, fresh seafood is at the farmers market every Saturday morning. I wonder how many of those shrimp shells go to waste?

Joel recommends making shrimp shell stock. Use it to cook the rice in a summer paella with mussels, clams, and the shrimp themselves. 

chickpea water: 

Chickpea water is also known as aquafaba. It’s a wonderful vegan substitute for egg whites. My personal fave is making a lighter, dairy-free tiramisu, but Joel’s chocolate mousse miiiiiiiggggghhhttt be winning me over. 

Plus, it’s WAY faster to make. 

If you make chickpeas from dry beans (like I do), reserve your cooking liquid. I make my chickpeas in the crockpot and save that water to whip up later. 

strawberry tops: 

Joel’s favorite way to use up those strawberry tops is simple syrup. A simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water. Add both ingredients to a saucepan and heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add in the strawberry tops and let them soak for at least an hour. The flavored syrup makes insane cocktails! 

My favorite way to use strawberry tops is pretty mundane. I soak my strawberry tops in water overnight. Add a little lemon and mint for an infused water treat! Strawberry tops aid in digestion. Perfect for the night after one too many of those insane cocktails. 😉 

RELATED: 7 Ways to Avoid Food Waste

broccoli stems: 

Don’t waste your broccoli stems! Sure, the florets are delicious, but the stalk can be a little tough. Peel the outermost layer, chop it finely, and add it to a stir-fry.

My favorite way is just to toss it with the florets. If you chop the stem small enough, no one will ever know. It will be our little secret! 

carrot tops:

I think Joel and I both agree, carrot top pesto is the way to go. Carrot top pesto is so simple to make and delicious. 

peach leaves:

This tip was completely new to me! When you go peach picking this summer, grab some of the overlooked leaves off the tree. The leaves are floral and sweet. Make a summer tea by steeping the leaves or try your hand at ice cream


what else can i do with my food scraps?

The options are almost endless! You can use apple cores to make your own apple cider vinegar. You can make your own bone or vegetable broth, or even regrow your veggies in water. And, if you can’t find anything else to do with them, composting is always an option.

which kinds of food scraps can’t be composted?

Most food can be composted at home. This includes vegetables, coffee grounds (and their paper filters), egg shells, tea bags (as long as they don’t have staples), etc.

However, the United States Environmental Protection Agency suggests avoiding highly acidic fruits like citrus and tomatoes because the acid can destroy the good bacteria. They also suggest avoiding highly odorous foods like onion and garlic, meat, or dairy products. Greasy foods and bones don’t break down very well.

We’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to cooking with scraps! 

And, don’t think for one second, we’d go over cooking with scraps and fail to mention lonely bananas. Make some yummy muffins this weekend. 

What are some of your favorite and unusual ways to cook with scraps? 

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  1. I make a zero waste apple butter.. I dont bother to peel or core the apple. I was them really well and cook the quartered apples with other seasonings in the crockpot.. I also roast whole pumpkins and make a puree from the flesh, seeds and skin. Strawberry tops go to my bunny.

  2. I thought I just read somewhere that you shouldn’t eat carrot tops?
    Also if you juice, you could throw your broccoli stem in the juicer.

    I just recently found out that the seed (kernel) in apricots are cancer-fighting and are eaten around the world. You can buy them on amazon. Also, don’t forget to roast your pumpkin seeds if you make a jack o lantern.

  3. Over ripe bananas go into the freezer for later use. The peel will turn brown but the banana inside is just fine. We use them in smoothies or banana bread.

  4. There are so many great things you can do to use scraps:
    – I keep a container in my freezer with vegetable peels, ends of celery, tomato cores, herb stalks etc. and then boil it down into broth and use/freeze for later.
    – Stale bread gets turned to croutons/breadcrumbs.
    – If you use a juicer, the vegetable pulp is actually great in meatloaf/veggie loaf.
    – freeze lemon/lime juice if they need to get used up.
    – Strain bacon grease through a sieve and store in a jar in the fridge to use in all kinds of things.

    I feel like I could go on…. but I love finding new ways to be creative.
    Cheers to you and your blog! This is great!

  5. Just started to go zero waste. This post is really interesting! I like to make ricotta cheese from goat milk. I re-use the remaining petit-lait to cook my grains for the week and I use the glass bottle to store my nuts and beans.

      1. You can make bioenzymes with it. Dry the peel grind and use as scrub with yoghurt/ honey and kaolin clay if you have. Brings a lovely glow🙏