It’s often said that one of the quickest ways to slash the budget is by starting with the food category. This is because it’s both the easiest area to spend money as well as save money. Of course, it depends on your definition of “easy!” Easy to me is something I can do myself with whatever I have on hand. So stretching the days in between a grocery shopping trip by using what’s on hand, including food scraps, fits my definition of easy!
I also try to minimize waste including food waste from the kitchen. It feels so wrong to waste anything that our precious work hours paid for, not to mention how blessed we are to even have food waste when there are starving people all over the world.
I’m always excited when I find a way to use up something leftover or something that would normally be tossed out and I’m happy to share those tips to help you reduce what food wastes go into the trash.
Here are some tips I have found over the years to help me use up the food I have and have less food waste in our kitchen.
Canned Fruit Juice
I tend to look for fruit canned in its own juices so the juice leftover isn’t as sugar-laden as fruit canned in heavy syrup, although I have found ways to use up both light and heavy fruit juices leftover from canned fruit.
- Smoothies are a great way to use up fruit juice, or at least the juice that is lighter.
- Heavier juices, meaning those with more sugar, can make a great base for syrup for pancakes and waffles.
- You can even mix the juice with powdered sugar to your desired sweetness level and use it as a glaze for coffee cakes or other baked goods.
- Leftover fruit juice can be used in gelatin salads in place of water or just part of the water. This is an easy way to add in additional fruit flavors.
- Freezing the leftover fruit juice in ice cube trays makes it easy to use as a flavorful addition to plain water or these can be added to smoothies.
If you boil potatoes then you know there is quite a bit of potato starch left in the cooking water. I have read to keep potato water refrigerated for up to 24 hours and then to freeze it. Here are some ways to use it up instead of pouring it down the drain!
- Make potato bread. I have just used the water in a regular all-purpose bread recipe, but you can also add in mashed potatoes as in this Pioneer Woman recipe. (Also a good way to use up leftover mashed potatoes!) In case you have a bread machine, this recipe might be just the one you need.
- Use to make a homemade leavening starter. In the old days, cooks used the water that was used to boil potatoes to make a replacement for yeast. It is similar to a sourdough starter and is a great way to continue using potato water and can save a bit on the cost of yeast.
- Leftover potato water can be used as a soup base. Just add in seasonings for a broth-type soup or add in vegetables for full-blown soup.
- Gravy can be made out of the leftover potato water. Use it in place of the milk or broth you would normally use. The extra starch in the water from the potatoes helps it thicken naturally so you may not even need flour. (Add the extra potato water to soups as a thickener, as well.)
- Use the water for boiling the potatoes in place of milk in mashed potatoes. This makes it a dairy-free version if you can’t have dairy (and don’t add butter!)
We eat a lot of fruit in our house, but often the peels are just waste. I’ve tried to find uses for the peels and citrus fruit peels are like a gift!
- Make homemade natural cleaner. Add citrus peels to a jar and top off with vinegar. Allow to steep for a couple of weeks, shaking or turning a few times. This makes the cleaning concentrate. To make a homemade all-purpose cleaning spray, add a few tablespoons to a spray bottle and fill with water. Adjust the amount of citrus concentrate to the spray bottle size and add more if you need a tougher cleaner. You can mix lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit or keep them separate.
- Save the zest for recipes. If you are juicing the citrus fruits, peel them first with a vegetable peeler. This take off the outer layer that can be used for zest. Add all of the peels to a food processor or blender and pulse until it is in tiny pieces. Freeze by tablespoons so you can pull out just enough for adding to a recipe. Or add it to hot or iced tea!
- Make candied citrus peels. This is an old-fashioned treat that makes a gorgeous gift! Here is a recipe using lemons, oranges and grapefruits, but you can just use whatever citrus peels you have on hand.
- Freshen the air in your house. Use peels along with cinnamon sticks (or just ground cinnamon) and cloves, whole or ground, in a pan of water on the stove to scent the air. If you’d like to keep a supply on hand, or have some to give as gifts, you can make a dried mixture and even include ingredients from nature such as flowers from your garden or even pine needles. Once all of the ingredients are dried, you can package to use later or to give.
- There are so many uses for citrus peels that I haven’t even tried so you might check here and here for even more ideas!
Whether the juice is from sweet pickles or sour, here are some easy ways to use it up!
- Drink it. Yes, really, some people actually like to drink pickle juice! My younger daughter is one of them. She likes it either sweet or sour. If you have a family member who enjoys drinking the juice, then you might want to try this idea for pickle popsicles.
- Reuse it for pickling. An easy way to get extra uses from pickle juice destined for the trash is to add cucumbers, radishes, onions, boiled eggs, or any other pickling food of your choice to get an additional pickling use from the leftover juice. Easy peasy pickles!
- Use as a marinades. Leftover pickle juice is perfect for marinades since the vinegar base is a natural meat tenderizer. One of our favorite meals is simply pork chops in a baking pan with leftover sweet pickle juice poured into the pan. Bake until the chops are done. Yummo! You can add additional items to the pickle juice base for a marinade specially designed to your family’s tastes.
- Make a vinaigrette. I am a diehard homemade salad dressing fan, and my favorites are vinaigrette style dressings. Vinaigrettes have an oil component and an acidic component, usually vinegar or lemon juice. Sweet or sour pickle juice can be used for the acidic ingredient in any vinaigrette. Just add oil and season it to your liking.
- Add to salads. A few tablespoons added to tuna or egg salad is super yum, or you can add to a shredded vegetable salad, such as coleslaw.
- Bread. If you heart dill pickle flavor, then this bread is for you! I haven’t tried it but couldn’t resist passing along the recipe just in case 🙂
Whether store bought or homemade, we all tend to end up with at least crumbs, if not full pieces, of the loaves leftover. Don’t toss ‘em out! Here are some super useful ideas for getting use out of every last crumb.
- Free breadcrumbs. If you’ve already paid for the bread, then get some free breadcrumbs and stop buying them at the store! Crumbs are often left in the bag, and if you make homemade bread, you know that there are plenty of crumbs to be found after slicing. Keep a container in the freezer for crumbs and just add to it. For pieces of bread, pulse in a food processor or blender and add to your stash. Use in any recipe you normally use breadcrumbs, such as meatloaf, meatballs, or breading chicken.
- Homemade croutons. For larger pieces of bread, cut into cubes to make croutons. Toss in olive oil or butter and season to your liking. Brown in the oven until crisp. These will keep a few days in an airtight container or you can freeze. You can also use the croutons in homemade stuffing.
- Breakfast. Stale bread can be used in French toast recipes with great success since the staleness of the bread allows it to soak up just the right amount of liquid. You can also toast stale bread to disguise the staleness factor and make avocado toast or a bacon sandwich.
- Garlic bread. Again, the staleness is disguised by slathering with butter or olive oil and adding garlic and salt, along with any other seasonings you like. Broil or bake in the oven until desired crispness. You’ll never know it was stale bread destined for the trash!
Over Ripe Fruit
If you have some fruit that didn’t get eaten during its peak time, then find a way to use it up instead of tossing it in the compost!
- Smoothies. This is my favorite way to use up overripe fruit. Add it fresh or freeze it for later. I don’t add sweetener to our smoothies as the fruit is sweet enough, and the more ripe it gets, the sweeter it is naturally.
- Quick breads or muffins. Overripe fruits are perfect for making quick breads and muffins. You can find a recipe online for any type of fruit you need to use up. Banana bread is a popular one since those tricky bananas can go past the “just right” stage in non time 🙂
- Pies and crumbles. Basically overripe fruit is perfect for almost any baked good. Again, search online and you’ll find multiple recipes for any fruit you need to use up.
- Jams. The riper the fruit, the less sugar is needed to sweeten the jam so this is a great use for the extra fruit. Freezer or refrigerator jam is super easy, and here’s a quick recipe. This is also a great use for reusing jars from store-bought products. Just wash well and sanitize before adding the jam.
Ah, bacon grease, how I adore thee! I know many people won’t eat bacon and wouldn’t dare use the grease, but we do. I buy nitrate-free bacon and the leftover grease is quite different from the grease produced by the bacon I previously bought. Here are a few ways we use this flavorful fat.
- Sautee meats. I start with a bit of bacon grease and a bit of olive, avocado or coconut oil whenever I’m browning meat such as ground beef. This is so yummy!
- Frying vegetables. As with meats, this lends a great flavor to browning onions, garlic, potatoes or greens. Use alone or mix with another fat.
- Flavor beans. A tablespoon or two of bacon grease added to a pot of cooking beans, such as pinto beans, gives it just enough flavor to make a difference.
- Baking meats. Rub onto whole chickens, turkey or roasts to bake in great flavor. Again, you can use alone or mix with another fat and add your choice of seasonings.
I threw these away for years before I read somewhere that people actually eat them. They’re so delicious that I actually like them more than the florets!
- Eat raw. Peel them with a vegetable peeler and they’re tender enough to eat raw. I like them plain but you can dip them in dressing too.
- Saute or stir fry. These are a great addition to stir fry dishes with a bunch of other vegetables like onions, carrots and garlic. They get just the right amount of crisp-tender.
- Soups. Adding the stems to a vegetable chowder is a great way to use them up, especially if you have family members who don’t think they’ll like the stems. You can also make a broccoli-cheese soup, and if you puree it, no one will know the stems were included.
- Slaw or rice. Have you noticed that cauliflower and broccoli rice are all the rage right now? Simply pulse the stems in a food processor to turn into broccoli rice. For slaw, shred them however you normally shred vegetables. Both rice and slaw can be eaten raw or cooked lightly, such as stir frying or steaming.
Many types of cheeses can be used interchangeably and even hard or moldy cheese have the potential to be salvaged!
- Remove the mold. If a hard cheese has a mold spot on it, simply cut it off. This works well for cheddar type cheeses or even chunk style softer cheeses like mozzarella or Monterey Jack.
- Freeze it. If cheese is looking a bit past its prime, such as it’s getting hard, you can shred it and freeze it to use on pizzas, lasagnas or any recipe that includes cooking the cheese. You’ll never know it was once stale or hard.
- Put it in soup. Cheese rinds leftover from hard cheeses like Parmesan can be added to soups to flavor and then removed at the end of the cooking time. Minestrone soup is a perfect soup to use Parmesan rinds in. Many cheeses can be added to a type of chowder, such as adding cheddar to vegetable or corn chowder.
- Leftover cheese ball uses. If you love making cheese balls for special holidays, remember these uses for any leftovers: Use in turkey salad, spread on turkey sandwiches, or use in cheesy enchiladas.
If your family eats meat, then you probably often have bones leftover from beef, pork, chicken or turkey. All of these can be used one more time before tossing!
- Ham bones can be placed in a pot of beans for a rich flavor. If there was any meat left on the bone, it can be picked off and left in the beans as it becomes tender.
- Chicken and turkey bones, including the carcass leftover from a whole bird, can be cooked in water, seasonings, and vegetable scraps to make a lovely broth. I find that adding a bit of apple cider vinegar helps get all of the yummy goodness out of the bones.
- Beef bones can also be used to make beef broth. Again, adding some vinegar will enhance the flavor.
- Homemade broth can be frozen or canned to preserve it for later.
If you love coffee and can’t stand the thought of pouring any leftover amount down the drain, then try out these ideas for using it up!
- Freeze in ice cube trays. These can be used to make a coffee-flavored smoothie, in an iced coffee drink or to add to hot coffee to cool it down enough to drink without diluting the flavor.
- Coffee pairs well with chocolate so you can add leftover coffee liquid to basically any chocolate flavored baked good. Brownies are heavenly with coffee added, as are truffles and chocolate cake.
- The classic Italian dessert tiramisu uses coffee as an ingredient to soak the Lady Finger cookies. You can use this idea for tiramisu or just copy the technique and make up your own lovely dessert.
- Make coffee liqueur. This is a brand new find for me. Although I don’t drink alcohol, my in-laws enjoy the Kahlua and making it homemade sounds like a great gift idea!
Whether it’s store bought or homemade, leftover cranberry sauce can be made into some delicious dishes!
- Mix with cream cheese and spread on toast or bagels. You could use this in a stuffed French toast recipe.
- Make cranberry orange bread. It’s so delicious!
- Since cranberry sauce pairs so well with cream cheese, you can use it in a cranberry cheesecake recipe. This can also be frozen to eat later!
It seems I always have leftover frosting when I bake a cake, but I don’t throw it in the trash. I find a creative way to use it up!
- Frost graham crackers, vanilla wafers, or pretty much any other kind of cookie as an extra treat. With thin cookies, you can use the frosting as a sandwich filling between two cookies.
- Use the frosting to dip pretzels into and freeze until hard. If you have any sprinkles, you can use those as a garnish.
- Leftover frosting makes an excellent filling for cakes, such as jelly roll style cakes or any kind of layered cake.
- Frosting will keep for several days in the refrigerator without going bad so you can save it to make another dessert later in the week. Or you can even freeze some types of frosting!
It seems hard to get just the right amount of gravy for a meal so we frequently have small amounts leftover. Here are some tips to use it up!
- Freeze in ice cube trays to use as a base for broths in soups and stews.
- Use as a replacment for cream soups in casseroles.
- Homemade pot pies are a great way to use up leftover gravy. If it’s frozen, just pop it into the pot pie filling as it warms up.
- Leftover gravy, either refrigerated or frozen, can be warmed up to use over biscuits, potatoes, rice or pasta.
Egg Yolks & Whites
Baking recipes can often cause either egg yolks or egg whites to be leftover, but you can stick them in the refrigerator while you come up with an idea to use them up!
- Use extra egg whites to make meringue cookies or really any meringue recipe.
- Freeze both the whites and yolks for later by dropping into an ice cube tray, one per slot, adding a pinch of either salt or sugar to each egg yolk to help with the consistency once it’s thawed.
- Make pudding or custard from the extra yolks.
- Both egg whites and egg yolks can be used in fried rice recipes, and you can even use the previously frozen ones.
- And a nonfood use for whites is to beat until frothy and apply to face as a facial to tighten skin.
- There are a lot of ways to use up extra egg yolks and egg whites!
Chip & Cracker Crumbs
Just like with bread, chips and crackers tend to leave behind some crumbs, and here are some ideas to make them useful!
- Add crumbs to any dish that calls for breadcrumbs, such as meatloaf or meatballs. Either replace the breadcrumbs called for or combine with the breadcrumbs. If the chips/crackers are seasoned, match the seasoning with the recipe flavorings. (You might not like graham cracker crumbs in meatloaf, but, hey, it might be your new fave!)
- Graham cracker crumbs can be used to make crusts for pies or cheesecakes. If you make your own, then you don’t have to buy either the boxed crumbs or the pie crusts!
- Mix crumbs with a bit of melted butter and add to the top of casseroles. This makes a delicious topping when it’s browned.
- Roll a cheese ball in seasoned crumbs and yummy!
- And here are a bunch of recipes that call for cracker crumbs to help spark some creative thinking for how to use up all the crumbs.
So there you go, some great ideas to use up the bits and pieces of leftover foods so you don’t have to throw it away or even add it to the compost pile!
What are your favorite ways to use up food scraps?