13 Food Scraps You Never Knew You Could Eat
Americans waste 133 billion pounds of food annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Curb food waste in your own household by adding scraps you'd normally toss into nutritious, delicious recipes.
Rinds from hard cheeses like Parmesan make a great base for homemade stocks or as an add-in to homemade soups for extra flavor. Just rinse off the rind, then throw it into a pot of soup or broth once it’s simmering. Make sure to fish it out of the pot before serving up the soup!
Before you peel that orange, stop. First, grab a cheese grater to zest the peel. If you don’t have an immediate use for it, store it in the freezer in a zip-top bag for later use. “Rather than throwing away that lemon, orange, or even grapefruit peel, I use every piece of it as a zest for marinades, homemade salad dressings, and baked goods!” says Angie Asche, MS, RD, a sports dietitian. “Citrus peels contain vitamin C and fiber, making them a flavorful and nutritious food scrap.” Add citrus zest to anything from flavored water to French toast.
Aquafaba is the liquid in canned pulses such as chickpeas, lentils, and beans. Instead of draining the liquid, consider the numerous ways you can use it, suggests Toby Amidor, MS, RD, a best-selling cookbook author. “It can be used as an egg replacement by whisking the liquid until it is white and foamy, in a homemade vegan mayo when combined with vinegar, mustard, salt, and oil, or as a vegan chocolate mousse when whipped aquafaba is combined with unsweetened cocoa powder and melted dark chocolate,” she says.
Just because it’s not as pretty as the red fruit it’s attached to doesn’t mean you can’t eat the rind! “Watermelon rind is almost always tossed out, making for a lot of food waste after the sweet red inside has been consumed,” says Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, CSO, a Seattle-based spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Pickling watermelon rind in sugar, apple cider vinegar, and spices like cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, allspice, and ginger makes for a great, crunchy snack or garnish.” Best yet—watermelon rind contains immunity-boosting vitamin C and other nutrients.
We savor the bitter crunch of radishes in salads but don’t think twice about tossing the leaves. “Loaded with vitamin C and calcium, the radish leaves have more nutrients than the radish roots themselves,” says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, a dietitian in New York City. “The taste is definitely bitter, so only use a little bit to add some punch to stir-fries and pestos.”
“Broccoli stalks contain numerous health boosters, including fiber, potassium, calcium, and more,” says Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, a nutritionist in New York City. “Each stalk has more than a day’s worth of vitamin C—more than you get in an orange!” Cassetty suggests peeling the outer layer and finely slicing the entire stem. “I then roast them with extra-virgin olive oil and salt on low heat until they’re crisp. I use them as a salad topper or in a side dish mixed with similarly shaped veggies such as thinly sliced carrots.” You can also make a broccoli slaw with the stalks.
Beet stems and leaves
“Most people throw out fresh beet greens, but I don’t, as they are jam-packed with potassium and fiber,” says Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, author of Total Body Diet for Dummies. “After removing the beet, I coarsely chop the stem and leaves and toss them into a food processor to whip into smoothies, use as a base for pesto, or sauté with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, crushed garlic, and a pinch of salt for a tasty side dish.”
Pasta cooking water
The recipe you’re following might direct you to discard the water in which you cooked your pasta. But wait a minute. “The cooking water from pasta is a culinary gem,” says Retelny. “It contains the natural starch from the pasta—and depending on the type of pasta, it can contain vitamins and minerals too. This liquid can be immediately added to thicken and flavor pasta sauces. Or freeze it into ice cube trays and throw a cube into stocks or broths, soup, and chili, or gravies and sauces.”
They might seem like scraps you’re meant to compost, but mushroom stems and other tops and bottoms of veggies are a great base for DIY broth, which you can use as a base for almost any homemade soup. One strategy: Seal and store frozen scraps of food in the freezer until you have enough for a batch of broth.
Rice cake crumbs
Don’t ditch those broken rice cakes or crumbs at the bottom of the bag! “I always have a stash of brown rice cakes around, since I prefer them over toast,” says Cassetty. “The health benefits of whole grains, like brown rice, are indisputable. Think lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain forms of cancer, and weight problems.” Use rice cake crumbs as a topper for salads, yogurt, and overnight oats. Cassetty also enjoys them sprinkled atop sliced apples or bananas, spread with nut butter.” Learn genius ways to use up leftover food.
Peeling carrots for a recipe? Save them. “Carrots taste sweeter when peeled, but those peels can be washed and cooked into soup along with the carrot greens,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It. “They provide a refreshing flavor, as well as fiber and beta-carotene, an important antioxidant and precursor to vitamin A. As with so many fruits and veggies, rich nutrients can be found in and right below the skin—so don’t ditch the peel when it’s so a-peeling.”
Nut milk pulp
Are you a fun of DIY nut milk? Don’t toss the pulp. “I love making homemade nut milks, but after tossing the pulp a couple of times I felt there must be ways to use this nutrient-rich substance,” says Marisa Moore, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Atlanta, GA. “Instead of tossing it, you can add it to oatmeal, muffins, or banana bread for extra protein and fiber.” For muffin and quick bread recipes, swap up to a quarter of wheat flour for dried pulp, advises Moore. Try using nut milk pulp after making homemade pistachio milk.