7 Ways to Waste Less Food at Home in 2019

Jennifer Kaplan

While wasting less food seems simple, it can be a mind-boggling challenge. Every year, America doesn’t eat 40 percent of the food produced for human consumption. What’s worse: we toss 76 billion pounds of food per year right in our own kitchens, according to the National Resource Defense Council. Given that it would take less than a third of all that food to feed the nation’s entire food insecure population, our food waste state is nothing short of a tragedy.

While it may seem daunting, reducing food waste at home just takes a little creativity. For example, Massimo Bottura, the award-winning chef and food waste warrior who once famously said, “Make the most of everything and never throw anything edible away” and has turned zero-waste into an ethos guiding his actions. Those beliefs are also at the heart of his cookbook, Make Bread into Gold and in in the soul of his signature dessert, Il pane è oro or Bread is Gold. A heavenly concoction of bread crumbs, warm milk, and sugar, Bottura’s Gold was conjured from his childhood memories. Bottura transformed the rendition of a favorite childhood breakfast—leftover stale bread dipped into warm milk with a splash of coffee—into something entirely new and exciting, proving that reducing food waste isn’t all about reheated leftovers.

If you want to minimize your food waste but feel a little low in the kitchen ingenuity department, we’ve got you covered. To jump-start your efforts, we compiled recipes and tips from the world’s most celebrated chefs because, as Bottura said, “A recipe, after all, is a solution to a problem.”

Make bread into gold

With a free afternoon, you can create Bread is Gold at home, but there are also dozens of other interesting and delicious uses for stale bread. Chef and Nobel Peace Prize nominee José Andrés, makes use of two- to three-day-old bread for a simple, four-ingredient migas—a traditional Spanish breakfast. British chef Theo Randall turns dry ciabatta into panzanella—a Tuscan chopped salad of stale bread and tomatoes. Chef Brandon Jew uses stale sourdough and wilted veggies to make an enticing Italian vegetable stew.

But the queen of ingenious ways to rescue stale bread is self-designated artisanal-bread hoarder and food writer, Samin Nosrat. “The only way I can justify the addiction [to artisanal bread] is to challenge myself to use up every bit,” Nosrat confessed in a New York Times article, I Buy Fancy Bread Just to Let It Grow Stale. Here’s Why. Nosrat claims there are “endless variations” of crumbs, croutons, and puddings to be made from stale bread. The recipe she finds most satisfying? Her version of a French onion panade, a cheesy, onion-and-stock-soaked bread that can be served as a hearty main course or a savory side dish. Nosrat’s panade, which she describes as a French onion soup without the soup, transforms stale bread into a triumph of upcycling.

Convert kitchen castoffs

“Get creative with would-be-wasted produce,’ says chef Kevin Templeton, executive chef of three restaurants in San Diego. “We try to reuse the meats as best we can before tossing as scrap. For instance, the main dish might be a beautiful pork belly, but we aren’t able to use the ends. We’ll top our Iron Fries with the best pieces of pork.” Although you may not be whipping up pork belly and poutine at home, there are many kitchen discards–edible leafy green stalks, meat and fish trimmings, for example–that can be used in small bites or garnishes. This is precisely what chef Andrew Coins does at his restaurant Miel in Nashville, Tennessee. Every night lucky diners are treated to amuse-bouches, single, small bites made from kitchen castoffs like of carrot scrap and fresh herb juice shooters and broken scallop ceviche.

Soup up

If you want to embrace a use-the-whole-veggie, root-to-peel approach to cooking, soup and stock have always been the ultimate solution. Chef Nathan Sandknop, chef de cuisine for The Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, learned this while working as a sous chef at McMurdo Station, a U.S.-based research center in Antarctica. “We didn’t waste anything in Antarctica and that is the driving force of what I do now,” says Sandknop, who likes to get creative with soup. At McMurdo, Sandknop only received fresh fruits and vegetables “freshies” when there was extra room on the supply plane. He soon began saving every peel, stem, and off-cut to make stock. This allowed him to stretch his scraps to the limit and he was able to serve broths both as stand-alone soups and as flavoring for other dishes. Now at The Chase, Sandknop still challenges himself by crafting a soup-of-the-day that makes use of the restaurant’s vegetable and meat castoffs. “Due to its versatility and the freedom you have with ingredients, soup is one of the easiest dishes you can make with leftovers.” Added bonus: Most soups and stocks can be frozen and stored for two to three months.

Transform boring leftovers

“Changing your mindset about leftovers from ‘oh this same old stuff again’ to ‘this is an invitation to make something entirely new,’ is a powerful shift every home cook can it do,” says chef and award-winning cookbook writer Julia Turshen. Celebrating the versatility of leftovers in her cookbook, Now & Again, she provides scores of recipes for transforming surplus food and provides solutions to the question of “what to do with these leftovers?” The answer: make delicious food. Some favorites include using leftover Chinese takeout to make omelet filling or using a waffle maker to press leftover french fries because “They make the best hash browns you’ve ever had but without all the work.” In fact, no leftover is too small or mundane for Turshen, who wastes nothing, even using remaining soy sauce packets to produce savory almonds as a cocktail hour snack. For Turshen, rescuing edible odds and ends is more than a good deed, it’s an avocation: “It means you’re not only not wasting food, but you’re also being creative and having fun.”

Pull from the pantry

“When the crisper’s looking sparse, and you need to get something, anything, on the table, the solution’s simple: Head to the pantry. Here you’ll find cans of beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and pasta ready to be used as the base of chili, hash browns, and pasta,” says Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm, assistant editor at Food52. This “pull-from-the-pantry” mentality offers endless options for quick meals on the fly that are economical and can clear much-needed space in your cupboard. As an added benefit, many pulled-from-the-pantry recipes make use of the leftovers in your fridge. Take fried rice. Uneaten Chinese food rice is the ultimate pantry-raid meal because you can throw in almost anything. Finally, if cleaning out your fridge and freezer also made your resolution list, check out Real Simple Magazine’s Recipes You Can Prepare Using Kitchen Staples. Having taken inventory of America’s most common pantry items, the editors have compiled an inventive roster of appetizers, risottos, side-dishes, and a slew of other recipes that make use of the 32 ingredients you’re likely to have on hand.

Make savory relishes, spreads, and condiments

“Think of making condiments as a way of doing your future self a favor,” says cookbook author Alison Roman who believes condiments made from kitchen cast-offs serve as welcome sidekicks to a menu. For Roman, inspiration came in the form of a pile of perfectly edible stems cut from a lot of big, leafy greens. “While [the stems] are good tossed into stir-fries or sautéed alongside the leaves, I prefer to celebrate their crunchiness rather than tame it,” she notes in her new cookbook Dining In. The solution? A tangy Lemon Relish with Leftover Stems. Or possibly you’re looking to rescue the herbs and greens that languished a bit too long in the crisper? There’s no better rescued food relish than Paula Wolfert’s addictive Herb, Olive and Lemon Jam. Savory spreads are perfect when loaded into a serving dish and served with crackers or semolina bread.

Make jam, jellies, and preserves

If you’ve ever found yourself seduced by the bounty of the season and drowning in leftover fruit, you’ll appreciate the prairie wisdom in preserving it before it spoils. “Jams are surprisingly simple to make,” says Eve Morris in Eight Tasty Hacks for Overripe Fruit. “Add pieces of fruit to a saucepan with white sugar, a little lemon juice, and spices of your choice, and let cook until the mixture has thickened. Then go ahead and enjoy your once overly-ripe fruit on toast, crackers, and waffles.” Sherri Brooks Vinton, author of Put ‘em Up! A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook notes that making preserves isn’t limited to summer produce. Vinton makes hot pepper jam in the fall, citrus curd and marmalade in winter, and pickled asparagus in spring. And if you’re not ready to deal with the overabundance from the farmers market, you can freeze almost anything for later use. For more on how to make preserves from unused bounty check out Vinton’s video on canning basics. It can help even the most kitchen challenged can like a pro.