This list of kitchen scraps you can reuse is a great way to trim your grocery budget and cut down on food waste.
Every family has a strange hobby. In mine, it’s figuring out uses for kitchen scraps, rather than throwing them in the trash. It all started when we were homeschooling.
We were in the middle of a unit on plant and seed structure one day when I decided to make chips and guacamole for a snack. I’d grown an avocado plant from the pit once when I was his age, so I figured it was his turn to try. (Related: How to Eat Avocado Pits and Other Uses For Them.)
It took a while, but the result thrilled him and led him to try growing other fruits and vegetables from seeds and scraps, too. It wasn’t long before lettuces, scallions, and even a pineapple top crowded my kitchen window sills.
Hey, it got him to eat his vegetables and finish his dinner without complaining, so who was I to stop him? By the time he lost interest (and became obsessed with studying insects), we’d learned how to reuse lots of kitchen scraps — and I had learned that I don’t have the temperament for homeschooling.
I still enjoy looking for ways to reuse kitchen scraps, though. Here are some of my favorites.
Kitchen Scraps You Can Reuse
Before you juice a citrus fruit, remove the zest using the small holes on a cheese grater. Wrap the shavings tightly in wax paper or plastic wrap, freeze it, and pop the frozen packet into a freezer bag for future use. Next time a recipe calls for zest, reuse those kitchen scraps.
- Mosquito control: Sprinkle orange or lemon zest near doors and windows to keep mosquitos out of your home. (Related: Homemade Mosquito Repellant.)
- Pasta flavoring: Add a little citrus zest to pesto or pasta — or both! — to give it a bright zing. You can sprinkle it into the finished product or stir it into the cooking water, too, for even more citrus flavor.
- Flavored water: Add a teaspoon of citrus zest to each compartment in an ice cube tray, then top it with water and freeze. Toss the frozen cubes into a glass of water for a flavor boost, or add them to chilled beverages like iced tea or lemonade. (Related: Homemade Lemonade Recipe with 9 Variations.)
- Soothe coughs: Pour boiling water over one teaspoon of zest and let it steep for 5 minutes. Strain, then stir a tablespoon of honey into the liquid for a soothing cough and sore throat drink.
Don’t toss those peels once you’ve zested them. As with the zest, these are easy kitchen scraps you can reuse. Just store them in the freezer until needed.
- Air freshener: Simmer orange or lemon peels in a small pan of water to eliminate cooking odors and add a natural home fragrance.
- Keep cats out of the garden: Scatter orange peel shavings in your garden to keep cats from using your flower beds as their litter box — they hate the smell.
- Burn them: Try using citrus peels as kindling next time you start a fire. Due to their oil content, citrus peels light quickly and smell fantastic while they burn.
- Make scented vinegar: Scrape the white flesh (known as the pith) from the peels and put them in a large Mason jar. Add vinegar to cover the skins and use a non-corrosive lid. In two weeks, you’ll have citrus-scented vinegar to use in your favorite homemade cleaners. (Related: Homemade Cleaner Recipes.)
And, of course, a strip of citrus peel in a cocktail is always a nice touch.
The easiest way to save eggshells to reuse them around the house is by stashing them in a resealable bag in the freezer. For some purposes, you don’t even need to rinse them first.
- Homemade plant booster: Bake eggshells in a low (150-200°F) oven for 30 minutes until they’re dried out. Crush with your hands, or whir them through a blender, and sprinkle them in your garden or houseplants’ soil. They’ll provide calcium to your plants and deter slugs and snails, too.
- Garbage disposal cleaning: Toss eggshells in your garbage disposal and run it to remove grime (Related: How to Clean a Garbage Disposal)
A bowl of used coffee grounds in the refrigerator is a great way to deodorize it. This is one kitchen scrap you don’t always have to stash in the freezer — leave a container on your counter to make your home smell like a cafe.
Here are more ways to use coffee grounds:
- Plant booster: Sprinkle fresh grounds in your garden to give plants a gentle nitrogen boost. Tomato plants especially love this treatment.
- Furniture scratch repair: Hide scratches in dark wood furniture by rubbing them with damp coffee grounds. (Related: How to Fix Scratches in Wood Furniture).
- Skin exfoliator: Mix coffee grounds with olive or coconut oil to make a homemade anti-cellulite exfoliating body scrub.
Vegetable Scraps and Peels
If you have a dehydrator or an oven that you can set to 200°F, use it to dry vegetable peels and scraps. Once they’ve cooled to room temperature, pulverize them in a blender or food processor. Sprinkle this vegetable powder in soups and pasta sauces for a sneaky nutritional boost. (Related: How to Make and Use Tomato Powder)
- Regrow lettuces: Many lettuces can be regrown if you leave the bottom 2 inches of the central core intact. Place it on top of a glass of water in a shady spot or plant it directly into a pot filled with soil and keep it watered. You should see new growth within a week.
- Regrow green onions: Stick the white part of the onions, root-side down, in a half-inch of water. Dump and replace the water daily. New green shoots will appear within a week. Snip what you need and let the rest keep growing.
- Homemade vegetable broth: Don’t toss carrot or celery ends, vegetable peels, or even the vegetables your kid didn’t finish at dinner. Save them in a large bag in the freezer, then when it’s full, dump the bag into your crockpot and add water to cover the peels. Cook on low overnight, strain, and season to taste.
You’ve no doubt read about bone broth being a nutritional powerhouse. There’s no need to rush out and buy special ingredients for it. Bones are one of the easiest kitchen scraps you can reuse.
- Next time you serve chicken or ribs, or even pork chops, save the bones and stash them in separate bags in the freezer.
- When a container is full, transfer it to a stockpot and add some carrots, celery, and onions. Toss in some peppercorns and a bay leaf, too.
- Then add cold water and some form of acid (lemon juice or a splash of vinegar) and let it simmer all day or even longer. When the bones crumble easily, it’s ready.
- Strain the liquid and transfer it to the fridge to let the fat solidify. Scoop this off, and you’ve got bone broth.
Freezing leftover coffee in ice cube trays is a great way to cool down your morning cup without diluting its taste. But don’t stop there.
- Good gravy: Cold, leftover coffee also adds a nice kick to beef gravies and stews. Or, stir a little into chili to provide a flavorful depth.
- DIY hair highlights: Redheads and brunettes can bring out their hair’s gorgeous highlights with a cold coffee rinse in the shower. (Let it sit for 30 minutes to dye your grays, too.)
- Prettier plants: Acid-loving plants like azaleas and magnolias adore a good drink of cold coffee now and then.
Bread Heels and Crusts
Some people swear that the bread heels make the best sandwiches. If you’d rather not give that method a try, there are still plenty of ways to use the heels and even those leftover crusts your kids refuse to eat.
- Homemade bread crumbs: Grind fresh bread heels and crusts in the food processor to make soft bread crumbs for cooking. For dried bread crumbs, toast the scraps in a low oven first and grind once they’re they’re dried out. Both can be stored in the freezer until needed, and you can add whatever herbs and spices you like, too.
- Clean your walls: Crazy as it sounds, pressing a heel of bread against greasy fingerprints on a wall gest rid of them without damaging the paint. Discard after use. (Related: How to Clean Walls and Ceilings.)
- Use them in salads: Tear up bread heels and crusts to make Panzanella Salad, or brush them with melted butter and cook in a low oven to make croutons.
Vegetable Cooking Water
Cooking vegetables in water transfers some of their nutrients to the liquid. So, don’t let that go to waste. Cooking liquid is an easy kitchen scrap to reuse.
- In the garden: Let the water cool then sprinkle it at the base of garden or houseplants. You can also add it to your compost pile.
- Dyeing eggs: Add a little white vinegar and pour the warm liquid over hard-boiled eggs, then let them sit 2-4 days to dye them. Leave them in the shells for Easter eggs, or take the shells off to color the eggs themselves.
- In cooking: If you’ve got the freezer space, save up the liquid and use it the next time you boil pasta to give it added flavor and nutrition. Or, use it in place of water when baking bread.
- Dog treats: As long as you didn’t use onion or garlic, leftover vegetable cooking liquid makes an excellent filling for your dog’s Kong toys — just plug the small hole with a bit of cheese and add the cooled vegetable water then freeze it. (You can core an apple and do the same.)
There’s always a lot of brine left in the jar once you’ve eaten pickles, so don’t throw it out. Some folks swear by pickle juice as a sore throat remedy, and apparently many athletes consider pickle juice to be the new Gatorade.
- Make quick homemade pickles: Reheat the pickle juice and add more vegetables to it, then let it cool to room temperature. Refrigerate it for two days, and you have quick-pickled vegetables. (Related: Garlic Dill Pickles Recipe.)
- Give salads a zing: Add a splash of pickle juice to macaroni or potato salads. You can even add some of the chopped pickles, too.
- Stir it into deviled egg filling: Classic deviled eggs use white vinegar, but replacing that with pickle brine gives them a neat flavor twist. Add chopped pickles if you like, then top them with sprinkled fresh dill. (Related: 18 Recipes Using Hard Boiled Eggs.)