10 ways to turn your food scraps into dinner (and save the planet while you’re at it)


This Onion Dip is being prepared by Chef Kirstyn Brewer of Hunky Dory, to eat with chips made from potato skins. Photo: Courtesy of New York’s Strongest

If you’re the type of person who gets overwhelmed by the prospect of climate change, reducing your food waste is one thing that is easy to do at home that will make a difference worldwide. New Yorkers throw out a million tons of food each year, and while much of it may be organic, it’s typically wrapped in plastic and takes decades to decompose, all the while emitting methane, which contributes to climate change.

We spoke to a few sustainably minded chefs and foodies who will be at NYC’s first Food Waste Fair, and compiled 10 tips to lower your food waste at home. This is a challenge you’ll want to take.

Tip #1: Take a waste audit

Claire Sprouse, co-owner of the Crown Heights all-day cafe, Hunky Dory, one of the restaurants competing in the Food Waste Fair’s culinary challenge, recommends taking stock of your food waste first. “Before you can manage your waste, you have to measure it. I find that the best place to start is to post a piece of paper on your refrigerator and write down every food scrap that is getting tossed in the garbage. At the end of the week, think about what opportunities exist within that list. Rethinking your waste can mean new food and drink ideas, but will most likely cut down on your grocery bills. It’s a win-win on all sides.”

Tip #2: Create a space for your scraps

Anastasia Cole Plakias, Co-founder & Chief Operating Officer of Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm knows a thing or two about food waste and led the sold-out workshop on May 20th called “A Conscious Kitchen” as part of the Food Waste Fair. “Get your fridge and freezer organized so you have a set space in which to stash reusable food waste,” suggests Cole Plakias. “For example, make room for a “stock container” where you can store bones or veggie peels till you have enough to justify making a pot of stock. If you have to reorganize the contents of your freezer every time you want to put away scraps or leftovers, you’ll be more likely to give up and throw them out.”

Tip #3: Turn takeout pizza into a vehicle for your veggies

You don’t have to turn all those scraps into stock. In fact, if you will never make a stock, try saving the odds and ends of your vegetables to saute the next time you order takeout. writes Ronna Welsh, the founder of Purple Kale Kitchenworks and one of the panelists at the Food Waste fair, recommends topping your pizza with your leftover veg, but you could also turn them into a healthy side on the nights when you don’t have the energy or time to cook a main dish. “Takeout can be part of your strategy to put more home-cooked meals on the table,” writes Welsh in her brand-new cookbook, The Nimble Cook. It will make the most of your broccoli stems, too.

Tip # 4: Make salads from your half-eaten bunch of herbs

Ronna Welsh’s cookbook, The Nimble Cook: New Strategies for Great Meals That Make the Most of Your Ingredients, is essentially the bible of maximizing every item in your fridge. She’ll be at the Expert Corner at the fair, presenting on ways to use a whole ingredient you might toss after one use. “My spin on food waste won’t be on using typical ‘scraps,’ but on using food we buy with every intention to use, but end up throwing away. The half bunch of celery, of herbs.”

One simple recipe she’ll be demonstrating from her book takes all the fresh herbs you might use in one recipe, and recycles the leftovers into a salad.

You combine 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced, a small fennel bulb or tw2o small celery stalks, thinly sliced, with a 1/2 cup of finely chopped herb stems from tender herbs like parsley, dill, cilantro, tarragon, basil, mint, or chervil.

Then whisk in the juice of one whole lemon with 3 tablespoons excellent olive oil, a teaspoon of kosher salt, and then delicately fold in 2 cups of the whole leaves of the herbs by hand.  “It is such a delightful surprise recipe and everyone loves it,” she says.

Tip #5: Find more recipes for things you often toss

Once you’ve figured out what you throw out the most, “find a couple of recipes that make use of your most consistent waste, and add them into your weekly repertoire,” says Cole Plakias. “Love making stock with your scraps and bones? Learn to make risotto, or pencil in a weekly soup night! Eat a ton of pasta? Get creative with the greens you’re tossing in your pestos!”

Tip #6: Fill your fridge with “starting points”

“No one likes to waste food, but people are more motivated to cook by being able to create something delicious than by just trying to do what’s right. I help them do both,” says Welsh.

Her cookbook is based around the principle that storing ingredients at their most “ready” is the best way to ensure that you can cook at a moment’s notice. She calls these “Starting Points,” whether it’s washing and dicing all of the ingredients for your favorite salad and making a dressing in advance so it’s ready to be tossed at a moment’s notice, or caramelizing onions so that you can easily turn it into a soup or braise. It frees you up to use these item in other things, too—you could dress a grilled fished with your vinaigrette, add the nuts to your oatmeal, or the greens to a soup or pasta dish.

Tip #7: Keep a pen and stickers in your kitchen drawer and label everything

“Label everything and make lists of what’s in your freezer, so you can conveniently remember what’s available to defrost on those nights you don’t feel like cooking,” says Cole Plakias. “Respect the FIFO rule in the fridge: first in, first out. Monday night’s leftovers get priority over Tuesday’s.”

Tip #8: The sell-by date is not the expiration date

“I’ve read enough articles about that to know that I don’t need to throw out my yogurt at the sell-by date or whatnot,” says Julie Raskin, Executive Director of The Foundation for New York’s Strongest, the official non-profit organization of the NYC Department of Sanitation and the host of the Food Waste Fair. In fact, your local stores consistently are changing those sell-by stickers on cheese, etc., so learn how to distinguish when something is still fine to eat and when it actually needs to be tossed.

Tip #9: When all else fails, compost

Raskin says we can use the slogan “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” for our food waste too. “Reduce the waste that you’re generating. So be conscious when you’re shopping about what you’re buying, how long it’s gonna last. As you’re cooking, think about what you can do creatively with what you’re cutting off to perhaps repurpose it. If you do end up having excess food, find a way to donate it or put it to another use…Set it out for compost, whether you are in one of the neighborhoods where we collect it at curbside or you can look up all of the drop-off locations on the sanitation website.”

Most NYC greenmarkets collect compost now, and you can build that quick drop into your weekly schedule so it becomes a habit.

Tip #10: Don’t aim for perfection

“Finally, remember that you are not perfect,” says Cole Plakias. “Rather than trying to reduce your food waste to zero, find the shifts in behavior that are most practical for you, and aim to implement those. We’ll make a far greater impact if each of us improves our practices just a little bit than we will by attempting to be perfect.”

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