A round waffle, mushrooms, lasagna, a cup of coffee and spinach on a table

Reusing Kitchen Scraps: Stranger Things in the Kitchen

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Has it ever bothered you to toss out vegetable peels? It triggers my inner Joyce Beyers, especially now with the price of food soaring. But what if we began to reuse kitchen scraps like those to grow or create other foods, or for some other purpose?

Besides cutting down on the 30-40 percent of the food supply wasted in the U.S., we could stretch our grocery dollars further, too. Maybe that’s what appeals to me: like Joyce, I’m a busy single mom trying to take care of my family on a budget. So, instead of throwing out those kitchen scraps I reuse them for hair dye and, well, stranger things.

Citrus Zest

Was the secret to Joyce’s famous lasagna was a citrus peel? Maybe not, but don’t throw yours out.

  • Mosquito control: Sprinkle citrus zest near doors and windows.
  • Perk up pasta: Add a dash of zest to cooked pasta to give it extra zing.
  • Enhance hydration: Freeze citrus zest in ice cubes and add them to chilled beverages like iced tea or lemonade. 
  • Soothe coughs: Steep zest in boiling water for 5 minutes, strain and mix with honey to make a throat-soothing tea.

Fruit Peels

Fruit peels aren’t just great for gags like throwing at someone who’s chasing you on your bike. They’re great kitchen scraps to reuse, too.

  • Home fragrance: Simmer citrus or apple peels with cinnamon or other herbs. 
  • Cat deterrent: Scatter peels in gardens to keep cats away.
  • Natural kindling: The high oil content in citrus peels makes them fragrant kindling.
  • Scented vinegar: Remove the fuzzy white inner pith of citrus fruits and soak scraps of citrus peels in vinegar for two weeks. You can use this in homemade cleaners.
  • Cocktail garnish: Add a twist of peel to drinks for a decorative touch.

Egg Shells

Let’s say your eldest son whipped up some scrambled eggs for himself and his younger brother. Don’t toss those eggshells—reuse them.

  • Garden boost: Work crushed eggshells into the soil around plants for a calcium-rich soil amendment.
  • Pest deterrent: Scatter dried eggshells in your garden to deter slugs and snails.
  • Seed starter: Fill eggshell halves with potting soil for a biodegradable seedling pot.
  • Dog supplement: Crush boiled eggshells into powder and add ½-1 teaspoon daily to your dog’s food for dose of calcium, glucosamine, chondroitin and collagen. 

Coffee Grounds

One of those kitchen scraps we often don’t think about, coffee grounds are so versatile.

  • Plant nutrient: Sprinkle around plants, especially tomatoes, for a nitrogen boost that improves stem growth.
  • Furniture scratch repair: Rub damp grounds on dark wood scratches for camouflage.
  • Skin exfoliant: Combine with olive or coconut oil for a natural body scrub.
  • Deodorizing: Place used grounds in the fridge to neutralize odors.

Leftover Coffee

If your small-town police force doesn’t finish the entire pot of coffee, don’t turn it upside down and dump it down the drain. You can reuse leftover coffee several ways.

  • Enhance gravies and stews: Add to beef gravies, stews, or chili for a rich flavor.
  • Natural hair dye: Use as a rinse for redheads and brunettes to highlight hair or let them sit for 20 minutes to dye your grays.
  • Plant nourishment: Water acid-loving plants like azaleas with cold coffee.
  • Coffee ice cubes: Freeze to make ice cubes that won’t dilute the flavor of iced coffee.

Vegetable Scraps

Whether your kid took off on his bike before finishing his vegetables or you suddenly have an abundance of mushrooms, don’t throw out those kitchen scraps.

  • Grow more: You can regrow lettuce, cabbage, fennel and green onions by submerging the bottom in a shallow container. 
  • Plant it: Stick any potato scrap with an “eye” in soil to grow more. That works with garlic, too.
  • Make broth: Stash vegetable peels, scraps, even leftovers freezer bags then simmer them in water to make homemade vegetable broth.
  • Vegetable powder: Dry vegetable peels or trimmings and grind them to make things like tomato powder or other flavors to add to baked goods and soups.

Meat Bones

Raw or cooked meat bones are fantastic sources of collagen and calcium. You can even reuse bone scraps from fried chicken if, say, you can’t bring yourself to finish dinner after what happened to your friend Barb.

  • Homemade stock: Simmer bones with water, herbs, and some of those vegetable scraps you’ve been waiting to reuse.
  • Bone broth: Slow cook bones with a splash of lemon juice or vinegar to extract their nutrients, strain and season to taste.
  • DIY bone meal: Roast bones until they’re brittle, smash them into small pieces with a hammer and grind them into bone meal to feed plants, chickens, or pets.

Bread Scraps

Stop giving the bread heels the side-eye—repurpose them. You can try these with unfinished Eggo waffles, too. 

  • Homemade breadcrumbs: Process fresh or toasted scraps for soft or dried breadcrumbs.
  • Wall cleaner: Use sliced bread to remove greasy fingerprints from walls.
  • Soup topper: Toast a buttered bread heel then melt some cheese on top and float it on a bowl of soup.
  • Croutons: Brush with seasoned butter and bake at 375 F to make croutons.

Cooking Liquid

Cooking water contains some nutrients from boiling things like broccoli or lasagna noodles, so let it cool then reuse this kitchen scrap.

  • Garden nutrition: Give your plants a boost of vitamins and minerals.
  • Baking flavor: Use it to add flavor to bread recipes or savory pie crusts wherever water is called for.
  • Repeat cooking water: Use it to cook rice or other grains, steam vegetables, and poach chicken or fish.

Pickle Juice

Ever dished out the last slice of dill pickles and wondered what to do with the juice? Don’t toss this leftover liquid, reuse it.

  • Quick homemade pickled vegetables: Boil the brine, add baby carrots and green beans then refrigerate for two days before eating.
  • Sore throat relief: Sip the brine either cold or warm to soothe sore throats.
  • Salad flavoring: Splash into macaroni or potato salads for extra zing.
  • Deviled egg twist: Replace vinegar or mustard in your deviled egg recipe with pickle brine for a unique flavor.

Composting Kitchen Scraps

Composting also a great way to reuse fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, eggshells, and other non-meat scraps. But skip the oils, meats, and dairy, as they can attract pests. 

To turn food waste into compost, alternate layers of fresh things (kitchen scraps) with layers of dry things (dry leaves, newspaper), and keep it damp. Turn the pile occasionally to provide the oxygen needed for decomposition. In time, your kitchen scraps will become rich compost you repurpose to enrich your garden soil—or even grow mushrooms. 

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2 Comments

  1. I love this page indeed. When we wash rice before cooking, the milky water looks rich, feels pity to spill into drain…I use it to water the plants..but is there more way to utilize it ?

    1. I think rice water is meant to be a good hair rinse

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