Everyone knows that we throw away a lot of good food – it’s a big problem. Many of us participate in some sort of composting program – which is great, because composting does help with greenhouse gas reduction. But there’s no argument that we still pay a small fortune in spoiled, wasted food every year. And that compost, while diverted eventually back to a farm, still is a huge volume of food that took energy to create, more energy to get to us, and will take even more energy to move around when we don’t want it anymore. Not to mention, it creates things like methane when it rots.
Composting is a big part of living eco-friendly. But what if I told you you you could reduce the amount of compost you put out of these 9 common grocery items by half – or maybe even more? And what if I told you that by doing so you could put more food in your family’s bellies instead? What if I told you you were throwing away a ton of money even when you thought you were being good about waste?
Would you believe me?
Do you buy broccoli, cut off the big stem, and chuck it? You’ve just thrown out like half the vegetable you paid for – and, ironically, possibly the most nutritious part. The hard stem of broccoli is eminently edible, and contains just as much in the way of nutrition as the florettes (which only beat out the stem in Vitamin A content). And they have a ton of fiber in them.
Broccoli stems holds up well to heavy-duty cooking (ending with a texture slightly more firm than a cooked carrot), and adds significant bulk to any veggie dish for a very low price. They are also the first part of the broccoli I learned to like as an adult. You may find that picky kids who aren’t keen on the texture of the florettes may warm up to broccoli stems.
They take about the same amount of time to cook in boiling water as pasta – and actually this is one of my favourite ways to use them. When I make my favourite fast-food dinner (Spaghetti with Olive Oil and Garlic), I usually add lots of veggies to the end of it. But I’ll chop the broccoli stem up first after trimming the end, and add it to the boiling water directly along with the pasta to cook while I do all the rest of the chopping. Broccoli stem also goes great in stir-fry.
Did you know that banana peels have an antidepressant-like effect on our bodies? A blogging psychologist friend of mine, Meg, introduced me to banana peel tea. Yup, those peels that we throw away in the garbage can actually be made into a feel-good (and free) evening drink before bed. Or you can powder it and toss it into your smoothies. It’s no substitute for real antidepressants and shouldn’t be used as such, but as a supplement it can give you a serotonin boost!
Celery leaves should never be tossed. If you love making soup, throw them in the freezer until the next time you’re making soup from a chicken carcass. I sometimes make a kind of mirepoix slurry in a food processor for some soups too, rather than compost the veggies that will get over-soft. Celery is one of the vegetables many kids don’t develop an appreciation for. But the best part is that, when processed fine, picky kids never know it’s in there.
Celery leaves are also great for smoothies. Just toss in a freezer bag until ready to use. Make sure you’re saving and freezing trimmed ends and outer celery stalks for vegetable stock too!
Citrus (orange and lemon) peels – and even seeds!
I could give you a whole list of health benefits of citrus peels, but who gives a crap. The important thing to know is that a lot of flavour is found in the citrus peel, and citrus peels can be used a ton of ways.
I don’t have a whole lot of fondness for candied citrus peels, but I know some people love them. What I like to do, though, is zest the heck out of them, because hello, BBQ season is coming. And what would summer be without lemon and rosemary marinated chicken breasts? So I’ll zest and freeze them. And sometimes (especially if there’s been a Costco run) I’ll quarter and freeze whole fruits. I’m not as fond of using orange peels in BBQ, but you simply cannot make my amazing General Tso’s chicken sauce without orange zest. And if you have more than you think you’ll ever eat, well, you could try using them as an air freshener.
The seeds have a purpose too… especially if you like making jam! They’re naturally high in pectin, and you can boil them in the jam in a scrap of cheesecloth. I don’t make a ton of jam, but I don’t usually have people say no to my strawberry cocoa freezer jam. And if you only want to make a little, I’ve perfected the strawberry cocoa freezer jam microbatch – just one jar.
Who doesn’t love watermelon? Not only is it just an awesome fruit, if you work out, it’s a great natural recovery food and can help with muscle soreness. But if you’re like most, you chuck the white and green rind. The white part of the flesh has the most L-citrulline, an amino acid that your body converts to L-arginine and nitric oxide – which has some proven benefits for your cardiovascular function and health.
So use a sharp knife and save the white section of the watermelon. Freeze it and use it in smoothies, or follow one of these recipes that use watermelon rind. Or you can just eat your watermelon down to the green!
Apple cores and peels
You should be eating your apple peels anyway – that’s where all the nutrition is! But like citrus seeds, apple cores – seeds included – are high in pectin. So are peels. And apple pectin is great for jelly and jam making, especially with strawberries and other low-pectin fruits. You can store your cores and peels in a freezer bag until you’re ready to process a batch of homemade pectin, and then freeze the pectin until you’re ready to use.
Green onion tops and papery onion skins
Like celery leaves, these things go straight into the bag in the freezer destined for the next pot of vegetable stock. (Boy having a big freezer sure comes in handy, eh?) Oh, and don’t forget you can regrow green onions from the roots.
We should never peel cucumbers – that’s where most of the nutrition is. But cucumbers are typically coated in wax to keep them from drying out too quickly. So if you can spare about 10 minutes, treat your cucumbers (and apples too) to a vinegar bath to break down that wax before rinsing and drying. Then just eat them!
Root vegetable leaves
Carrots, beets, and even fennel bulbs come with greens that are all edible and extremely nutritious. And, there’s dozens of ways to use all of them. Beet greens are similar to Swiss chard, fennel fronds taste just like fennel and can be used more like a seasoning herb, and carrot greens can either be used to garnish like parsley or make up the bulk of a salad, like this chickpea and carrot-top salad.
We can’t avoid all of the waste, but we can certainly reduce a lot of it. And you can see it takes a lot of freezer space and a little bit of planning – but it’s worth it.
Using your freezer to store scraps for saving, though, means that you may have to change your habits regarding things you WILL want to throw away to keep from getting mixed up. During the warm months, many use the freezer to store compost waste to reduce odour and fruit flies. Compost bags can get leaky or sloppy, and they don’t stack well in small spaces. But a rigid container like the Greenlid might help make things easier for homes and families of all sizes, especially if you’re finding you’re short on waste space and move your compostables out of the freezer (Greenlid bins are fully leak proof and smell resistant).
Rather than trying to peel into a bag or another paper towel that you have to transfer to another bin that needs a bag and will eventually be leaked into and get moldy, you can keep the Greenlid bin conveniently on your kitchen counter to toss compost waste into directly and dispose of in entirety on trash day – it’s made of end-of-life recycled paper and is fully compostable. So if you live in Canada and you’re interested in a product made in Canada with a carbon negative footprint – and you hate how gross your composting bins can get when dealing with wet items – the Greenlid makes an excellent choice.
If you want to try it out, enter the contest to win 1 of 5 Greenlid prize packs which include a $50 gift card and Greenlid starter pack!
This post and the giveaway is sponsored by Greenlid and YMC, but opinions are my own.