For some reason, using all your groceries before they go bad is actually a pretty hard thing to do. In fact, food waste is such a problem, the National Resources Defense Council reports that Americans aren’t eating about 40 percent of the food they buy. Yes, the Internet tells us there are many ways to keep avocados from browning and bread from getting stale, but even when we use these tricks, we still occasionally find ourselves staring down a garbage bin of bad food. What’s the deal?
For one, you may be overdoing it at the supermarket. Sarah-Jane Bedwell, R.D., L.D.N., host of Cooking With Sarah-Jane, tells SELF that if you don’t go grocery shopping with a plan, you’re more likely to purchase too much or spring for things you don’t need. And if you’re buying more than you can eat in a week, odds are, you’re not going to get to it before it goes bad.
Even if you are doing your due diligence and making grocery lists, avoiding food waste can still be hard. Maybe you find you just don’t have time to cook every night, or you forgot about an ingredient you bought, which Bedwell says can happen a lot with produce left in fridge drawers.
Stretching your food is worth it, not just for the environment’s sake, but for your wallet’s, too. Here, you’ll find 11 insanely easy ways to make your food last longer—no fancy thingamajigs required. Some of these ideas can even be used on foods that appear to have already gone bad. Because, yes, you can resuscitate a piece of stale bread. You just have to be creative.
1. Use a spiralizer to turn broccoli stems into noodles.
The next time you buy a big head of broccoli, instead of simply tossing the stems, use a spiralizer to turn it into broccoli “noodles” (boodles?). This is a favorite trick of Ali Maffucci, creator of the food blog Inspiralized. She says that these noodles are slightly more al dente than those made from zucchini, so they’re better for pairing with something like a hearty Bolognese.
2. As soon as you notice your greens wilt, throw them in the freezer to add to smoothies.
If you notice a sad bag of spinach in your fridge and some of the leaves are still salvageable, don’t throw it away. Instead, toss anything inedible, pack the rest in Ziploc baggies, and store them in the freezer. Frozen leafy greens are great in smoothies, or (if you feel like keeping it savory), pastas, veggie dips, and even just sautéed.
3. Store ginger in your freezer at all times (it’s easier to handle when frozen anyway).
There are many foods you should keep in your freezer at all times, and ginger is one of them. This knobby flavoring agent lasts infinitely longer in your ice chest than it might on the counter or in the fridge, and it’s easier to peel and grate when frozen.
4. Buy a bunch of bread when it’s on sale and freeze what you don’t immediately use.
If you notice your supermarket having a sale on whole-grain bread, swoop up a bunch and store extra loaves in your freezer. Bread will stay good in the freezer for two to three months, and it will taste as good as new as long as you defrost it properly.
5. Turn stale bread into croutons or breadcrumbs.
Bread gone stale? Don’t toss it! Instead, transform it into croutons. Bedwell does this by cutting her bread into cubes, spritzing it with olive oil, sprinkling it with herbs, salt, pepper, and maybe a bit of Parm, then broiling them until they’re extra crispy.
Another option? Grind them into breadcrumbs and use them to coat everything from baked chicken to arancini.
6. Add carrot, turnip, and radish greens to pesto.
Pesto isn’t just for basil. You can turn pretty much any green into that decadent sauce, provided you’re using fair amount of other flavoring agents (salt, Parm, pepper, oil, natch). So why not use the greens you wouldn’t use otherwise? Carrot, turnip, and radish greens all work well. Those oft-forgotten stems deserve a home other than the Dumpster, so try tossing them into your next pesto.
7. If the thought of eating veggie bits and ends grosses you out, cook them into stocks instead.
Making your own stock is both proof that you’re an adult (see, Mom?!) and an excellent way to make use of the parts of veggies you might not want to eat. Throw onion ends, carrot greens, even those broccoli stems in a pot with lots of water, maybe some chicken bones if you’re into that whole meat thing, and a handful of spices. Let it stew for many, many hours. You’ll know it’s ready when your house smells delicious. Transfer it to some plastic food storage containers, and save it for later use in everything from risotto to stew. (You can freeze it, too.)
8. Preserve citrus rinds in water and salt (they’re AMAZING flavoring agents).
Just like carrot greens, citrus rinds don’t automatically belong in the garbage. Preserve them by placing them in a jar with a simple salt-and-water mixture for at least two weeks. When they’re ready to use, add them to whatever you like—dice the rinds and sauté them with a bit of butter and garlic to make a decadent pasta sauce, or add them whole to slow-cooked stews for a citrusy flavor punch.
9. Roast leftover potato skins into crispy chips.
The same thinking behind using leftover citrus rinds also applies to leftover potato skins, albeit in a slightly different way. When you’re finished peeling your spuds, toss the skins with a tablespoon of olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper. Then, spread them out evenly on a baking sheet and let them roast in a scorching hot oven (425 degrees) for 10 to 12 minutes. The result? The crispiest (and healthiest) chips of your life.
10. Combine your meat with mushrooms to make it last longer.
“To make your ground meat go further, add a half pound of chopped mushrooms or mushroom stems to any recipe that calls for it,” Bedwell tells SELF. She says the texture and flavor of the mushrooms blends seamlessly with the meat, and it allows you to use less meat in one go—meaning more for later. Plus, it’s a great easy way to cut a few calories, if that’s something you’re interested in doing.
11. Repurpose small amounts of leftover fish in a creative, burger-friendly way.
Bedwell says, “If you have a little bit of fish leftover from a meal but not enough for another full serving, save it anyway and make it into a salmon cake.” All you have to do is combine your fish leftovers with an egg and some panko bread crumbs, then shape it into a patty and fry it in a little oil. Eat it over a bed of greens or serve it burger-style on a bun.