You know making meals at home is a good way to eat healthier and save money compared to picking up takeout. But you may not notice just how much you throw away when you’re prepping your ingredients. Things like potato skins, carrot peels, beet greens and kale stems all too often head to the trash, meaning you’re missing out on valuable nutrients.
Eating many fruits and vegetables from top to bottom, including the skin, can deliver a variety of nutrients, says Cathy Kapica, RD, food scientist and CEO of The Awegrin Institute, an independent consultancy based in Chicago.
However, the specific type of nutrient depends on whether you’re eating the leaves, stem or peel. For example, peels are “a rich source of fiber and many of the phytonutrients are just below the skin. If you peel too deep, you get rid of those,” explains Kapica. A good illustration is apples. A substance found on apple peels, ursolic acid, has been shown in animal studies to have anti-obesity effects, according to research in PLOS One. The nutrients in apple peels may also have cancer-protecting properties.
It’s also a more sustainable way to eat. “What’s best for people and the planet is to get more nutrients from the food that we’re already growing and eating,” adds Kapica. The average household wastes $1,500 worth of food annually. You can count this as one way to lessen that burden — and eat healthier, too.
Here are seven ways to get started:
Broccoli and cauliflower rice are a popular wellness trend amade from the stems, says Kapica. Since the stems are tougher, it’s best to chop them into smaller pieces, which helps them tenderize once cooked. Try putting the stems into a food processor and pulsing until they reach a rice-like consistency. Sauté or add frozen cauliflower rice to a smoothie to enhance creaminess. Plus, bagged broccoli or cauliflower rice can be pricey, so this is a good way to save money.
Rather than throwing away the fibrous stem of collard, kale or Swiss chard, chop it up small (this is key so it cooks evenly) and sauté, says Abbie Gellman, MS, RD, chef and owner of Culinary Nutritional Cuisine. “This gives them a nice crunch,” she says.
Use veggie greens like leafy beet and radish greens as you would spinach, says Gellman. Throw them into a morning smoothie or sauté in olive oil, garlic, onion, salt, pepper and a pinch of crushed red pepper for a quick dinner side.
Wash potatoes well by scrubbing the skins with a brush under running water. Then, use as is without peeling. “Potato skins contain insoluble fiber, a type of fiber beneficial for digestive health,” says Gellman.
For herbs that have more delicate stems, like cilantro and parsley, don’t bother plucking all the leaves off. Instead, chop up the stems along with the leaves, says Gellman and use them to garnish everything from grain bowls to baked fish. (On the other hand, rosemary and thyme are woodier, so you don’t want to eat these.)
Don’t throw out the seeds from winter vegetables like pumpkin and squash. Rinse them well under water to remove the pulp and pat dry. Then, spread the seeds on a baking sheet and toss with salt, oil (and other spices if you wish). Roast for about 20 minutes at 300°F (148°C) and you have a healthy snack or garnish for salads and soups.
Any scraps you’re absolutely not going to repurpose — like onion skins and mushroom stems — can be tossed in a gallon-sized, freezer-safe bag to make easy, homemade vegetable stock, says Gellman. Once it’s full, dump the bag in a slow cooker, cover with water and add salt and pepper to taste. Cook all day or overnight and strain. Not only will it be unique in flavor, but it will also contain less sodium compared to the packaged variety.