Every family has a strange little hobby and, in mine, it’s figuring out what kitchen scraps you can reuse. It all started when I was homeschooling my then six-year-old son. Since we were studying plant and seed structure, I decided we should try to grow an avocado from seed.
We had such success that my son began trying to grow other fruits and vegetables from seeds and scraps. Before long, lettuces, scallions, and even a pineapple top crowded my window sill.
Then, as part of a unit study about poverty in the United States, we learned that about 30-40% of the nation’s food supply is wasted, roughly 20 pounds per person per month! With all the enthusiasm of a child, my son appointed himself the Kitchen Garbage Patrol in our house and declared his mission was to make sure we weren’t wasting food.
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 some kitchen scraps — and I had learned that I don’t have the temperament for homeschooling.
That was so many years ago that now we’re all in the habit of reusing these things. Over time, it’s helped us save quite a bit of money, too.
10 Kitchen Scraps You Can Reuse
1. Egg shells
Stash rinsed egg shells in a bag in the freezer until it’s full then bake them 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.
Don’t have a garden? Toss eggshells in your garbage disposal and run it. The shells will clean away any gunk that’s built up.
2. Coffee grounds
Freeze like the eggshells until you get a good amount then sprinkle them in your garden to give plants a gentle nitrogen boost. Or use old grounds to fix scratches in wood furniture. When combined with olive oil, they make an excellent, anti-cellulite exfoliating scrub in the shower, too.
3. Vegetable peels
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 crock pot and add water to cover the peels. Cook on LOW overnight and strain to make a vegetable stock that you can freeze in muffin tins or ice cube trays. Or, if you have a dehydrator, dry then grind them into a powder that you can sprinkle into soups or onto meats.
4. Citrus zest
Before you juice a citrus fruit, scrub it with a homemade fruit wash then remove the zest using the small holes on a cheese grater. Wrap the zest tightly in wax paper or plastic wrap, freeze it and pop the frozen packet into a freezer bag for future use. Next time you a recipe calls for zest you’ll have plenty available.
5. Citrus peels
If you have enough zest stored up, there are still ways to use citrus peels. Simmer them in a small pan of water to freshen your kitchen. Scatter them in your garden to keep cats from using your flower beds as their litter box — they hate the smell. Try using citrus peels as kindling next time you start a fire; they’ll light quickly and add a nice fragrance, too.
Or, scrape all of the flesh from the peels and put them in a large Mason jar then top it off with white vinegar and cover it with a lid. In two weeks time, you’ll have citrus-scented vinegar to use in your favorite homemade all-purpose cleaner. And, of course, a strip of citrus peel in a cocktail is always a nice touch.
6. Meat bones
“Save the bones!” is a commonly heard after-dinner phrase in my house. Store chicken, beef and pork bones in separate bags in the freezer. When a bag is full, transfer it to the crock pot and add some carrots, celery, and onions (or just some saved vegetable scraps) and let it simmer overnight to make stock. Remove the fat and pour it into smaller freezer bags or muffin tins to use in future recipes.
7. Cold coffee
Freezing leftover coffee in ice cube trays is a great way to cool down your morning cuppa without diluting its taste. Cold, leftover coffee also adds a nice kick to beef gravies and stews. 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!) And, of course, acid-loving plants like azaleas and magnolias adore a good drink of cold coffee now and then.
8. Bread heels and crusts
Grind bread crusts and heels in the food processor to make bread crumbs for cooking. Larger pieces like heels are useful in strata recipes: just layer them with beaten eggs, veggies and cheese then bake to make a delicious, easy meal. Use them in Panzanella Salad, or brush them with melted butter or flavored oil and cook in a low oven to make croutons. Of course, leftover bread makes an excellent treat for neighborhood birds, too. (Find more ways to use bread heels here.)
9. Vegetable cooking water
Cooking vegetables in water transfers some of their nutrients to the liquid. Put this to work in your garden by letting the water cool then using it to water your plants. If you’ve got the freezer space, you can also save the liquid to flavor soups or use it in place of water when baking bread.
As long as you didn’t use onion or garlic while cooking the vegetables the leftover liquid also makes a great 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 for a nutritious treat that will keep your dog busy and entertained.
10. Pickle juice
Reheat the pickle juice and add more vegetables to it (try fresh green beans, cauliflower, peppers or carrot coins) then let it cool, return it to the jar, and allow it to sit in the fridge for two days to make more pickled vegetables. Or splash it into macaroni or potato salad to add a tang. It gives a nice zing to deviled eggs and Bloody Marys, too. Some folks swear by pickle juice as a sore throat remedy, and apparently many athletes consider pickle juice to be the new Gatorade!
Granted, none of these kitchen scraps you can reuse are, on their own, likely to turn you into the next Warren Buffet (who, by the way, allegedly reuses tea bags). But taken together they can add up to savings. More importantly, you’ll start seeing other ways to reuse “scraps” to get your money’s worth and that, my friend, is what frugality is all about.