The coronavirus pandemic has changed much of our daily lives. The masks. The social distancing. The major disruptions in our food supply chain.
Many restaurants are still closed, or seating at reduced capacity. Grocery store shelves have been swept clean of essentials like flour and beans. This all likely means you're paying a lot more attention to what you have in your pantry and fridge, and wondering how long you can hold out until your next grocery run. (Victory garden, anyone?)
It turns out that there are plenty of ways to stretch your food stash further—not by waiting weeks for those tomatoes to finally grow, but by simply repurposing the food scraps and leftovers you typically toss in the trash. This will not only save money and extend your time between store trips, but you can also feel good knowing you're recycling items that were otherwise destined for the landfill. It's a win-win all round!
For inspiration, here are 20 different ways to reuse food scraps and leftovers that are so easy, you'll wonder why it took a pandemic for you to try them.
1. Regrow green onions
In addition to being very tasty and versatile, green onions are a gift that keeps on giving. The next time you buy some, try using only the tops for recipes and dishes. Drop the remaining bottoms into a glass jar, then fill with enough water to cover the roots. Set the jar on the windowsill, and watch as your green onions magically regrow before your eyes.
This tutorial from the Ripe Tomato Farms shows exactly how to do it.
2. Reuse leftover jar juices
When you finish all the pickles, olives, or pepperoncini in a jar, you might be tempted to just dump the remaining juice down the drain. Not so fast!
These briny juices can be reused as meat marinades, salad vinaigrettes, secret ingredient in dirty martinis, or, yes, even pickle pops. You can also use them to pickle just about any vegetable, from tomatoes to a whole new batch of cucumbers.
3. Add cheese rinds to soups and stews
Cheese rinds are full of leftover cheese bits and flavors, so it's a shame to waste them. Instead of tossing them in the trash, drop them into the pot the next time you're making soup or stew.
Simply fish out the big chunks of rind before blending or serving your soup and, voila, you've got extra umami flavor. There are even recipes that call for used cheese rinds, like this video tutorial for minestrone soup below. Yum!
4. Make gummy candies with leftover citrus peels
Instead of tossing the peels from lemons, limes, oranges, and other citrus fruits, why not turn them into natural gummy candies? You basically boil the peels in water, then again in a sugar-water solution, before letting them dry and tossing them with sugar. You'll be rewarded with a healthy(ish) candy even your kids will love.
5. Transform stale bread into croutons or breadcrumbs
It happens to the best of us: Our bread goes stale before we can eat the entire loaf. But the good news is you can easily turn this old bread into crunchy, delicious croutons or homemade breadcrumbs.
For croutons, start by cutting the bread into cubes, drizzling them with olive oil, and tossing them in the oven.
6. Use food scraps to make master stock
Instead of throwing vegetable scraps and meat bones in the garbage, save them in the freezer until you have enough to make master stock. This all-purpose base can be made with whatever you have handy: chicken bones, beef bones, pork bones, carrot peels, celery ends, you name it. You can even add those crispy onion and garlic skins you typically throw away.
Once you've made your stock, you can either use it immediately or freeze it to use later in soups, casseroles, and other savory dishes.
7. Steep banana peels in hot chocolate
Make your homemade hot chocolate taste gourmet by adding banana peels. Make your hot chocolate in a saucepan on the stove, adding the peel for a little extra oomph. (You'll want to remove it before you drink the hot chocolate, of course.)
8. Save bacon drippings to use in place of olive oil
Olive oil isn't cheap. Make yours last a little longer by sometimes replacing it with bacon grease. The next time you fry up some bacon, simply pour the remaining drippings and oil into a glass jar with a lid. When you're cooking something that calls for olive oil, simply spoon out a little bacon grease instead. As we all know, bacon makes everything more delicious.
9. Freeze overripe bananas for smoothies
If you're so over banana bread but you've got some overripe bananas on the counter, don't fret. You can freeze them and drop them into smoothies later for a sweet, creamy treat. All you need to do is remove the peels and store them in the freezer in an airtight container or plastic bag.
10. Grow your own romaine
The next time you make a salad, go ahead and save the core of the romaine lettuce. Similar to green onions, you place the bottom in a glass jar, then add enough water to cover the lower portion. Set the jar on a windowsill and wait—soon, you'll see new, dark-green lettuce leaves peeking out from the middle.
11. Roast or fry your potato peelings
The next time you peel a potato, save the skin to turn it into a crunchy, salty snack. Toss the peels with a little olive oil, some salt and pepper, and any other spices you like. Spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast them in the oven. After you pull them out, you can even top them with a little grated parmesan, like they do in this tutorial from PCC Community Markets,,,,.
12. Turn used cooking oils into bird suet
Suet is a type of bird food made with solid fat and seeds or grains. After you make bacon, for example, simply pour the remaining grease into a container, stir in some store-bought birdseed, and pop the whole thing in the freezer. Once the fat hardens, you can place this suet chunk in a small suet cage, found at gardening and home improvement stores.
13. Chop up herbs and freeze them in butter for a future flavor bomb
If you bought (or grew!) more herbs than you can use before they'll go bad, don't worry. You can wash, chop, and freeze these herbs in an ice-cube tray, along with a little butter or olive oil, for later use.
For example, the next time you need to melt a little butter in a skillet to saute some veggies, drop in one of your herbed butter cubes instead. Instant flavor!
14. Turn drippings and grease from cooked meats into gravy
Another way to reuse drippings and grease from cooked meats is to make gravy. Simply pour the grease remaining from meat into a jar with a lid.
If you wake up the next morning craving biscuits and gravy, add a few tablespoons of the now-solid grease to your pan, make a roux with flour, and add milk or cooking stock. Stir and, within minutes, it will thicken and make a savory sauce for your biscuits.
15. Make a natural cleaning solution with orange peels and vinegar
If you love the bright, fresh smell of oranges, you'll be happy to know you can easily make your own natural cleaning solution with orange peels. Simply add your peels to a jar, cover with distilled white vinegar, top with a lid, and wait a week or two. The time allows the vinegar to extract all the yummy-smelling oils from the peels.
Don't have oranges around? You can use other types of citrus, too. Once it's ready, pour the solution into a spray bottle and use it to clean the entire house.
16. Use veggie peels to make natural fabric dyes
Have a shirt you hate because the color just doesn't work with your skin tone? Instead of tossing it in the donate pile, try dying it with natural dyes from veggie peels.
Beet skins, red cabbage leaves, onion skins, spinach, blueberries, and even tea bags can be used to dye fabrics, without harsh, synthetic chemicals. This tutorial from My Green Closet shows how it works.
17. Grind up eggshells and add them to your garden
Eggshells are made almost entirely of calcium carbonate, which is great for boosting your garden soil.
The next time you make eggs, grind up the shells and mix them into your garden. The shells will provide much-needed calcium to your vegetables and plants, as well as neutralize soil acidity.
18. Transform used coffee grounds into body scrub
With spas and salons closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, there's never been a better time to make your own wellness and beauty products at home.
Mix used coffee grounds with sugar and the oil of your choice, like coconut or almond, for an exfoliating body scrub that will leave your skin feeling soft and smooth. Watch this tutorial from abetweene.com for full instructions:
19. Save plastic bread and produce bags for dog waste bags
This one isn't a food as much as it's packaging, but it still counts as fantastic upcycling! You probably already save your plastic grocery bags and use them to pick up dog waste when you're out walking your four-legged friend. But don't forget to do the same thing with plastic bread and produce bags, too, which helps reduce the amount of plastic you're sending to the landfill.
20. Turn an orange peel into a candle
The next time you reach for an orange, be strategic about how you remove the peel. You can easily turn this discard into a natural candle that smells wonderful using just a little olive oil and some ingenuity.