Food waste reduction: cooking with scraps and other food saving tips

If you’re interested in reducing your kitchen food waste and making your weekly shop go further, here are some tips and ideas to get you started. 

collection of fresh fruits and vegetables food on a black background

4 minutes to read

Food waste is actually worse than plastic for climate change

Saying that food waste is worse for the environment than plastic is a pretty bold statement. But is it true? It’s widely known that the plastic problem is wreaking havoc on our planet. Destroying precious ecosystems, floating in the oceans or laying in landfill for generations to come. Not to mention releasing dangerous gases and chemicals into the air, soil and waterways as it gradually breaks down.

But according to research from WRAP UK’s Love Food Hate Waste initiative, 4.5 million tonnes of edible food is wasted in UK households every year. This is not only expensive for us as consumers – we effectively scrape £500 into our household bins every year – but also damaging for the environment.

When food waste is put in landfill, it starts to rot, releasing gases including methane into the atmosphere. Whilst methane is a more short-lived greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, it is still about 28 times more powerful than CO2 at trapping heat energy over a 100-year timescale. This means that our household food waste (not to mention waste from farms, restaurants, supermarkets and other areas) is having a worse effect on climate change than plastic. So what can we do about it, at home, in our kitchens?

food water reduction pinterest pin

Food waste reduction tip #1: stop peeling everything!

A few years ago, my husband did an Indian cooking course. He learnt to make some pretty delicious recipes, and I must remind him that he hasn’t made them for a while. But the most valuable piece of information he brought home is that we do not need to peel everything we are currently peeling. 

Take a carrot for instance. Why are we peeling carrots? The skin is perfectly edible. It’s not woody, or bitter, or in any way offensive. The worst thing about it is that it’s maybe a bit muddy. But it’s surely easier to wash it than peel it.

This goes for so many things we might default to peeling. Roast potatoes are absolutely delicious and extra crunchy with the skins left on.  If we forget our obsession with super-smooth mashed potato, leaving the skins on adds texture, flavour and saves time too!

Note: as potatoes are listed in the “dirty dozen” in terms of residual pesticides (even after peeling), it’s best to buy organic potatoes if at all possible. However, this is not an option for many people so if you’re using non-organic, make sure you give them a good scrub before using them.

man in black jacket standing in field holding muddy potatoes

The most surprising thing my husband learnt on that course is that even ginger doesn’t need peeling. If you’re mincing or chopping it finely enough, you’ll never notice the skin is still there.

So next time you’re cooking, think about whether you really need to take the skin off.

Food waste reduction tip #2: cooking with scraps

Once we have assessed whether it’s really necessary to peel that parsnip or chop the end off that runner bean, it’s time to take the things we’d usually throw in the bin and start cooking with scraps! One of the most effective ways to reduce food waste is by creating delicious recipes with peel, seeds, ends and leaves.

Carrot top pesto

A delicious alternative to the basil variety, this carrot top pesto recipe from Fork In The Road is a fantastic way to use up the green tops of carrots. It includes parmesan cheese but is easily made totally plant-based by using dairy-free parmesan or nutritional yeast. This is also a very good reason to go and buy carrots with their tops intact from your local greengrocer, rather than the pre-cut supermarket variety. More bang for your buck, generally tastier and no plastic packaging. Once you get into the habit of regularly making pesto with your carrot greens, it doesn’t even feel like you’re cooking with scraps anymore – it feels like you’re using something delicious and edible to make dinner!

Not food waste, food! Person holding a bunch of carrots with tops still on against a black background

Crispy potato peelings

If you really do want smooth, creamy mash and you end up having some potato peelings ready to be composted, wait! These spicy potato peel crisps from Vegan On Board are SO moreish and delicious, you’ll be making them all the time and wondering what to do with all the leftover peeled potatoes you end up with.

Banana peel sandwich – food, not waste!

This is probably the weirdest suggestion I’ve come across, but stick with me. In an effort to use as much of the food she buys as possible, Ailuna co-founder Helene was looking into recipes for cooking with scraps and found this pulled pork-style sandwich.  I never would have thought that there would be a use for the peel from all the bananas our family gets through each week, but this is one recipe that I REALLY can’t wait to try.

banana peel laying on a green background

Stock from vegetable food “waste”

I’m definitely guilty of throwing a lot of ends, tops and peelings into the compost when I’m cooking. I also regularly buy vegetable stock because, well, it’s convenient isn’t it? But it’s actually surprisingly easy to make a batch of homemade vegetable stock using cooking scraps you’ve collected over a few days. This recipe from Oh My Veggies is really simple and you can mix up the scraps you use depending on what you have. Also, this tastes SO much better than the shop-bought variety.
 

Roasted seeds

Another thing we tend to throw away without thinking is seeds. Whether it’s from a pumpkin, a butternut squash or a melon, they are only good for the compost, right? Absolutely not right!

butternut squash cut open with seed spilling out on a wooden table

Most seeds can be tossed in oil and seasonings and be roasted into a tasty snack, or to be used to sprinkle on risotto or pasta dishes or as an addition to homemade cereal bars.  I love this recipe from The Spruce Eats for roasted watermelon seeds, and these sugar and spice roasted squash seeds from Teaspoon of Spice. Seeds are also nutritional powerhouses, containing loads of good-for-you macronutrients and vitamins. So don’t throw them, roast them! 

Aquafaba – magical chickpea water

Reducing kitchen waste doesn’t just stop at fresh ingredients. Until recently, I’ve spent years just draining the water out of my tins of chickpeas until I heard it had a name – aquafaba. Aquafaba is all the rage in the egg-free cooking world at the moment. It can be whipped to create beautiful meringues or meringue cream, and chocolate mousse. Or if you’re more of a savoury fan, you can use it to make delicious egg-free mayonnaise and quiche! Food blogger Lets Eat Smart has some amazing ideas on her site – well worth a look.

Food waste reduction tip #3: regrowing from scraps

This is my new favourite thing! I first spotted this idea on Ailuna’s Instagram page and now I’m hooked. It turns out that once you’ve cut the bottoms or tops off of your vegetables, you can make them grow again!

To give you a few ideas, here are some of the easiest things to regrow from your kitchen scraps:

Cabbages, lettuces and bok choi

Bok choi was the first thing I regrew after finding out about this phenomenon. All you do is leave about 2.5cm of the base of the lettuce, cabbage or bok choi, place it in a bowl of shallow, slightly warm water and you’ll start to see new shoots appearing in as little as 2 days! Then, when the leaves get big enough, snip them off to use in your salads and stir fries.

person holding bok choi sprouting after being grown from scraps My bok choi after just 36 hours in a dish of water!

Celery

If you’re anything like me, you get through a fair bit of celery as a base for pasta sauces, chilli and other dishes. So to get more from your celery, why not try regrowing it. Cut about 3cm from the base and put in a small amount of water in direct sunlight. Once you have a good growth of leaves forming (this usually takes about a week to 10 days), you can plant in soil and watch it grow into fully-fledged celery!

collection of plants such as lettuce and leeks growing on windowsill from food scraps

Ginger

I’m writing this post at a time when I’m finding it really hard to get hold of fresh ginger in the shops. So next time I get my hands on some, I’m definitely going to have a go at regrowing it.

All you have to do is keep a small part of your ginger root, and plant it, buds-upwards in some potting soil. Once you notice new shoots after 1-2 weeks, you can pull it back up to cook with again!

Carrots

OK, so we’re not actually regrowing the carrots themselves here, but if you’re keen on making the carrot top pesto I mentioned above, you can put your chopped-off carrot tops into a shallow dish of water and watch the greens regrow. A house with an endless supply of pesto sounds like my kind of house.

Onions and spring onions

For spring onions, just place in water in a sunny spot as above. You can pot them in potting soil once they’ve started to regrow for s higher yield. For white or red onions, place the cut-off root and around 2cm of the bottom of the onion straight into potting soil in a sunny area and hey presto, new onions!

Important tip! 

Remember to keep an eye on your water levels and refresh the water as needed. Especially with spring onions. If you leave them in the same water for more than a day or so you’ll definitely be able to smell them!

Food waste reduction tip #4: use your freezer

One of the easiest ways of reducing food waste and making your food go further is by freezing it. If there is anything sitting in your fridge that you know you won’t use anytime soon, or if you have any fruit that looks like it might be past its best soon, pop it in the freezer.

frozen berries in a glass on a wooden table

Frozen fruit is perfect for smoothies and if you chop and freeze vegetables like celery, carrots and peppers you can throw them straight into your pan when you need them for a recipe.

Another great idea is to pre-chop garlic and ginger as soon as you buy it and freeze into ice cube trays. You can then pop one cube out to use in cooking which saves time as well as food waste.

If you’re unsure about what can or can’t be frozen, check out The Full Freezer. Created by Mum-of-two Kate Hall, it aims to help families make the most of their food by filling your freezer rather than your food bin. It’s ideal if you’re busy, find mealtimes stressful or find yourself with food left over at the end of the week that you’re not sure what to do with. 

We’d love to hear more about how you are reducing your kitchen food waste. Please give some of our ideas a try and send us photos via Facebook or Instagram so we can share them with the Ailuna community.

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