Smart Uses for Kitchen Food Scraps

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Your grocery dollars go farther when you use every scrap in your kitchen. These innovative ways reduce food waste while lowering the cost of feeding your family.

Woman in grocery store stands with her shopping cart examining a long paper receipt

It’s no secret that grocery prices are on the rise around the world but in the US, we still throw out 30-40 of food. Imagine tossing one-third of your groceries in the trash when you walk through the door. You’d never do that, yet every day we dispose of scraps from foods we’ve paid for and which could easily be put to use.

Kitchen Scraps You Can Reuse

Most of the time, we throw out kitchen food scraps because we can’t think of a good use for them at that precise moment. Once you know some ways to reuse food scraps, you’ll understand why saving them up in your freezer is a smarter approach. (I use these dishwasher-safe reusable freezer bags and store them vertically in a freezer bin so they’re easy to fill and use.)

Citrus Zest

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.

• 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.

Citrus Peels

If you’d rather not deal with removing the zest from the peel, reuse the entire peel instead.

• 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.

• Garnish: A strip of citrus peel in a cocktail is always a nice touch.

Eggshells

Stash eggshells for reuse in a bag in the freezer and you don’t 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.

Coffee Grounds

Whether you prefer a French press or a drip coffee maker, you can reuse the grounds as soon as they’ve cooled.

• 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.

• Skin exfoliator: Mix coffee grounds with olive or coconut oil to make a homemade anti-cellulite exfoliating body scrub.

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• Deodorizing: A bowl of used coffee grounds in the refrigerator is a great way to deodorize it.

Vegetable Scraps and Peels

Some vegetables can be regrown from scraps, while others provide peels and bits that can be repurposed. You can even use avocado seeds or pits (though they’re a fruit).

• 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.

• Vegetable powder: 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. You can make tomato powder from peels, too.

Meat Bones

You don’t need special ingredients to make bone broth or concentrated stock. Bones are one of the easiest kitchen scraps you can reuse. Stash raw or cooked meat bones in a freezer bag. When it’s full, transfer them 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 to strain and use.

Cold Coffee

There’s no need to toss out a half-finished pot of coffee. Here are some easy ways to reuse leftover coffee.

• 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.

• Coffee-flavored ice cubes: Freeze leftover coffee in ice cube trays and use them to cool down your morning cup without diluting its taste.

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 bread 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, sliced bread is a great way to clean walls covered with greasy fingerprints. Just press the bread against the mess and lift the grime away.

• Use them in salads: Tear up bread heels and crusts to make Panzanella Salad.

• Make croutons: Brush bread heels or leftover slices of bread with melted, seasoned 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 plants. 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 for 2-4 days to naturally dye Easter eggs.

• In cooking: If you’ve got the freezer space, save the vegetable cooking 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.

Pickle Juice

There’s always a lot of brine left after all the pickles are gone, so don’t throw it out.

• 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.

• Soothe a sore throat: Many people find that sipping salty pickle brine soothes scratchy, sore throats. Drink it cold or hot as you prefer.

• Give salads a zing: Add a splash of pickle juice to macaroni or potato salads. (The brine from my garlic dill pickles recipe is perfect for this!) 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.

And, of course, the ultimate reuse for most kitchen food scraps is making compost to fertilize your lawn, garden, and houseplants. To make easy compost, alternate layers of brown matter like dried leaves and soil with green matter, like non-protein food scraps or grass clippings. Keep it moist and turn it regularly with a shovel. When the kitchen scraps are completely broken down, it’s ready to add to your garden.

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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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