What to do with Food Scraps: Vegetable Edition

Featured Image: Cardinale, Grace. “Food Scraps Graphic”. PNG. May. 2021

If you’re wondering what to do with food scraps, look no further! Too often, the produce we buy doesn’t get used to its full potential. In fact, the stems, stalks, leaves, and peels you are passing up on have so much unrealized value. Here is your comprehensive guide to making the most of the vegetables you buy, featuring four experts on what to do with food scraps:

Anne-Marie Bonneau, the Zero-Waste ChefImage: Zero-Waste Chef

Anne-Marie Bonneau: Founder of Zero-Waste Chef, a platform that serves as a resource for living a more environmentally responsible lifestyle.

“A lot of people do have the time to cook, but just don’t have the knowledge. Lack of kitchen efficiency leads to a lot of waste.”

Mays Al-Ali: A nutritionist and yoga teacher at Healthy Mays. If you have questions about putting food scraps to use and the many nutritional benefits of eating them, send Mays a DM on Instagram @healthymays.

“I passionately believe in the healing power of nature and now work with an integrative approach to nutrition and healthcare, incorporating the whole person and providing an overall holistic wellness offering.”

Lauren Lovatt: Chef and founder of the Plant Academy and Feed Your Mind Candy. Additionally, she is the Co-founder of The Food Studio and a plant-based advocate.

“Cooking is creative, and if you are confident in the kitchen, explore finding new ways to use things and then share what you have found. There are great people out there on a mission to use food waste, people like Douglas Mcmaster of Silo; you can really read up on their ideas and implement them in your own kitchen.”

Niki Webster: Founder of Rebel Recipes and their new cookbook, Be More Vegan. Dually, an expert on making the most of plant-based ingredients in an elevated way.

“You won’t find any limp lettuce of boring old school vegan food here, though – when you’re as obsessed with vegetables, flavours, and spices as I am, it’s amazing what deliciousness can be created.”

What to do With Food Scraps

So, what exactly are vegetable scraps? Vegetable scraps are those little pieces of veggies that go unused when prepared. For example, these are scraps like broccoli and cauliflower stalks, kale and swiss chard stems, vegetable peels, onion ends and peels, or any other part of a vegetable that ends up unused. Overall, the narrative we tend to have about what to do with food scraps puts constraints on how you can use it. However, there are so many ways to get creative with vegetable scraps.  

Stems, Stalks, and Leaves

These are those pieces of vegetables that are harder to cook in their whole form. For instance, broccoli and cauliflower stalks, beet tops, carrot tops, kale stems, asparagus stems, or another stem, stalk, or leaf you have a hard time cooking. Usually, the best way to use up stems and stalks is to change their whole form by chopping into smaller pieces or blending them.

 

Colorful bunch of swiss chard leaves

Roasted Vegetable Stalks

So much food and money go wasted when the stalks of cauliflower and broccoli go unused. According to Mays, “The stalks of broccoli contain more sulforaphane, a powerful antioxidant with many anti-inflammatory and liver detoxing benefits.” Next time you roast vegetables, cut vegetable stalks into smaller pieces and throw them on a baking sheet along with the rest of your vegetables

Broccoli Pasta Sauce

Next, steam a vegetable like cauliflower or broccoli in its entirety. Then, throw them in a blender with garlic, salt, pepper, cashews, basil, parmesan, or nutritional yeast to make a healthy and delicious pasta sauce ready in under 15 minutes. Here’s a recipe I find myself making all the time that you can use whole steamed broccoli in.

Beetroot Top Stir Fry

Next time you have beetroot tops, Mays suggests making stir fry by steam frying them with onion, garlic, and chili herbs. She usually serves it with tempeh or wild salmon. On top of that, Niki from Rebel Recipes upholds stir-fry as the perfect way to use most parts of any vegetable.

Root Vegetable Top Pesto

Many leafy tops found on root vegetables can be made to make pesto. You could use carrot-tops, beet greens, turnip greens, radish leaves, or a combination of any leafy greens you have handy. Mays puts carrot tops, garlic, soaked pine nuts (or a similar seed), olive oil, and nutritional yeast in a food processor for a super yummy and nutritious carrot top pesto.

carrot top pesto as a great idea for what to do with food scraps

Vegetable Stalk Coleslaw

Finely chop stems and stalks of vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and swiss chard. Combine the finely chopped stems with a dressing made from salt, pepper, mayo, dijon mustard, vinegar, and honey

Sauteed Scraps

Are you still stumped on what to do with food scraps? You can use the tops of root vegetables like radish or beets to make sauteed greens. It’s as simple as chopping and sauteing greens in a pan with garlic and onion. Here’s a recipe for sauteed greens of any kind. Sauteing greens is a simple way to turn food scraps into a healthy and nourishing side dish. 

Pickled Scraps

Anne Marie suggests chopping food scraps such as leafy greens and stems into more petite strips or pieces and pickling them in jars for later use. If you’re feeling intimidated, here’s a guide to pickling vegetables. 

jar with pickled vegetable scraps like carrot, cauliflower, and herbs

Homemade Kimchi

Anne Marie recommends pickling turnip greens which you can use to make homemade kimchi! Moreover, Niki Webster from Rebel Recipes always puts cauliflower leaves to use and makes homemade kimchi.

Cauliflower rice

If you want to use the entire cauliflower at once or have some stalks leftover, Lauren Lovatt suggests making cauliflower rice. It’s as simple as this: finely chop or blend cauliflower into small pieces and when you’re ready to cook them, heat them in a pan until cooked. Even better, it’s a quick and more nutritious alternative to white rice.

Vegetable Scraps

Equally as valuable as stems and stalks that tend to get thrown out are vegetable scraps. Specifically, these are food scraps like vegetable peels, cauliflower leaves, juice pulp, the ends of onions, and any other piece of vegetable that goes unused.

an assortment of vegetable scraps on wooden cutting boards and metal compost bin

Scrap stock

Scrap stock is arguably the easiest route to take when choosing what to do with food scraps. First, collect all vegetable scraps you can’t use. These might be onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms, potato, stems, leaves. Store them in the freezer until you’re ready to make stock. Once you have 5 or 6 cups worth of veggie scraps, dump all of the veggies into a pot along with some onion, carrots, garlic, and salt, and let it simmer for an hour. Strain the broth into glass jars, cover them, and store them in the fridge for up to a week.

Crispy Veggie Chips

If you peel your vegetables, you can reserve the peels and bake in the oven at about 400 degrees with some oil, salt, and pepper for some delicious veggie chips. Starchy vegetables like potatoes, beets, rutabaga, and squash will give you the best result. You could get creative and use what you’ve got. Maya adds, “Cauliflower leaves are a powerhouse of nutrients – I always roast them, so they are crispy and delicious with some paprika and herbs.” Alternatively, you can use greens, but they require a different cooking time and temperature, so don’t mix starchy veggies with greens when making this healthy crunchy snack.

A great idea for figuring out what to do with food scraps is salted crispy veggie chips

Juice Pulp Crackers

Maya is super resourceful and makes crackers using the pulp from juicing vegetables: “Veggie juice pulp has all the amazing fiber benefits from the veggies. I make raw crackers, add in some gluten-free oats, ground flax, chili, onion or garlic powder, tamari sauce, olive oil, and pop it in a dehydrator or an open oven at 40°C to cook slowly into yummy crackers.”

Leftover Ginger Bug

Anne-Marie is a pro when it comes to fermenting food scraps. If you have some spare organic ginger, you can create a “ginger bug” that harbors all kinds of good bacteria. Then, you can use fermented ginger to create flavorful drinks. Niki of Rebel Recipes concurs, fermenting is a brilliant way to use up sad vegetables.

Regrow Food Scraps

If you have kids or a strong desire to grow your own plants and food, you can regrow your food scraps. Anne-Marie says green onions are the least complicated food scrap to regrow. Reserve the white part of the green onion to put it in water and watch it grow new shoots. She has also found luck regrowing basil. Essentially, vegetable scraps will (hopefully) regrow if you put the ends in water and place them in a sunny spot. The process is slow, but eventually, you’ll be able to transfer the sprouted food scraps outside and start a mini garden with this unique idea for what to do with food scraps. Here’s a reference for regrowing vegetable scraps.

a bunch of green onions with roots attached

Savory Scrap Pancakes

Lauren Lovatt makes savory pancakes when presented with vegetable scraps that need to get used. Lauren says, “This involves whisking 100g buckwheat or chickpea flour with 150g water until smooth, then add the finely chopped scraps. Heat a frying pan with a splash of olive oil and, once hot, add a ladleful of the mix and cook for a couple of minutes on each side, until golden. Serve with fermented vegetables, salads, dressing, and or hummus for a great meal any time of day!”

Vegetables about to Go Bad

Sometimes, I end up buying too many vegetables and find a lot on the verge of going bad. Here are some great ways to preserve vegetables or quickly make the most of them before they completely go bad. For more ideas on using overripe fruits and vegetables, check out these great recipes.

 

Ugly over ripened vegetables and what to do with food scraps about to go bad

Shop the Fridge Soup

You can put pretty much any vegetable you have available to create a delicious soup. It’s also a great way to figure out what to do with food scraps. Soup is one of Anne Marie’s “non-recipe” recipes. They are recipes that have an endless amount of flexibility and adaptability. Thus, perfect for food scraps. Here’s her non-recipe recipe for soup

When in Doubt, Freeze Them

If you don’t know what to do with food scraps like vegetables on the verge of going bad try freezing them. It will make your life easier if you chop the veggies up before putting them in the freezer so you can pull them out of the freezer when you need them and transfer them right to the pan or pot, depending on how you plan to use them.

Vegetable Scrap Sauerkraut

If you’re like me and have a hard time finding ways to use those big bunches of cabbage, Anne-Marie offers sauerkraut as a great way to keep it from going to waste. It is the easiest recipe ever and calls for cabbage and salt. Here’s how the Zero-Waste Chef, Anne-Marie makes it. 

Veggie Fritters

Vegetables that don’t look super appetizing but are still perfectly fine to eat are great for veggie fritters. Fritters are a super tasty, healthy, and adaptable way to use food scraps. Here’s how to make fritters out of any vegetable from the Ktichn.

Tips For Figuring Out What to do With Food Scraps

Avoid Peeling Vegetables

We all know about the health benefits of vegetables. But, you might not know that vegetable peels are full of essential nutrients like fiber and antioxidants. According to Maya, you can eat the peels of organic vegetables to reap their nutritional benefits. If non-organic, then soak for 15 mins in baking powder and water to remove as many pesticides as possible. 

Have a Plan Before You Buy

According to Lauren, a little bit of planning can go a long way. She says, “Now, as we are all more likely to be ordering food rather than spending so much time in shops, it can be harder to manage how much food you have, but a little planning can go a long way. I prioritize using things with a shorter shelf life first. If I have a bag of watercress, I’ll try and plan a few meals around that first before using up and roots or something that will last longer.”

Explore New Ways to Use Vegetables

Niki suggests spending some time getting informed about the many ways you can use vegetables. When you’re more familiar with the ways you can use vegetables and what to do with food scraps, you’ll develop a “use your leftovers and re-use mindset.”. 

Challenge Your Mindset

When asked about overcoming food waste from unused food scraps, Niki says, “I think it is a mindset – there are parts of veg in particular people assume aren’t worth or able to eat, but that just isn’t true. What a shame to throw so much delicious food away”. Similarly, Mays recommends that you always think about what you can make with what’s left instead of throwing it away.

Cook With the Entire Vegetable in Mind

Maya, Anne-Marie, and Niki agree that using the entire ingredient at once is the easiest way to minimize the food waste from cooking. Using the whole ingredient decreases the chance of food scraps that have been forgotten and gone to waste you initially reserved for a different purpose. For example, instead of setting kale stems aside after preparing a meal, Niki suggests cutting them into smaller pieces and throwing them into the dish.

Cook in Batches

Lauren recommends cooking in batches so you don’t end up with small amounts of food scraps you aren’t sure how to use. Roasted vegetables, massaged kale, cauliflower rice, carrot slaw, or quick-pickled beets are great to make in batches since they are easy to store and have many uses.

In 2016, a study by the Guardian estimated, fifty percent of produce doesn’t get eaten in the United States. Not only do we waste resources, but we are also essentially throwing the money we earn in the trash. Being resourceful and getting creative when deciding what to do with food scraps can help lower this number. Plus, it will save you $1,600 in produce an American family of four throws out in a year. Hence, next time you find yourself not knowing what to do with vegetable scraps, come back to this post for some creative but practical ways to use them.  

Share this post to help others figure out what to do with food scraps and those valuable bits of veggies.

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Olivia deGregory

Written by Audrey Madison