If you cook at home at all, you likely throw away a lot of food waste. That’s not a judgement on you or anything, it’s just what happens when you cook a lot. Things like eggshells, carrot tops, coffee grounds and orange peels go from home kitchens into the trash and then into landfills, where they sit around producing methane instead of quickly decomposing, as organic matter typically does. But this doesn’t have to be the case—there’s plenty of clever ways you can reuse these scraps to keep them out of the landfill and save yourself a few bucks in the process. Gathered from moms, savvy friends in California punk houses and cute blog posts, here’s some tips for making the most of your groceries.
Listen, I know that making stock sounds like a move that only Nigella Lawson and other professionally wholesome home cooks actually make, but trust me when I say that it’s easier than you think. As you’re cooking, collect veggie scraps like carrot tops, onion skins and parsley stems in a resealable container large enough to hold at least three cups’ worth. (Note: don’t use cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower, as they are a little overpowering in flavor. Also don’t use beets unless you’re okay with your stock being bright red.) Once that thing is full, throw all the scraps in a big pot, fill it with just enough water to cover, then bring it to a simmer and let it go for about an hour. After that, strain off the liquid (throw those spent veggies into your composting bin!) and store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for a couple months. You can use that stock for cooking grains or beans, put it in soups or add some to any dish that could use a little extra flavor.
Coffee ground skin scrub
This is the biggest waste culprit for those of us who drink coffee—it’s something we throw out every morning. But there’s something else that leftover caffeine is good for: your skin. Mix two parts coffee grounds with one part coconut oil, and you’ve got yourself a face and body scrub that smells amazing and will have your skin feeling smooth as a newborn baby’s. Store it in an airtight container in the shower and use liberally.
Citrus peel all-purpose cleaner
You’ve got a couple spare Mason jars lying around from your Pinterest-inspired wedding, right? Excellent. Grab one of those jars—preferably a larger one—and start filling it with any citrus peels that accumulate while cooking. Lemons, limes, grapefruits and oranges all work well for this, but oranges smell the best, I’ve found. Keep that jar in the freezer until it’s nearly full so the peels don’t go bad. Once you’ve reached the nearly full point, put enough white vinegar in the jar to cover all the peels. Let this concoction steep in a dark place for a couple of weeks, then strain off the liquid into a spray bottle. Use that bottle of homemade (and non-toxic!) cleaner on your countertops, your sink, your grimy, gross stovetop. Your house will smell great because of it. You’re welcome.
This is kind of the no-brainer one. Any food waste that can’t easily be turned into something new can be made into compost that can feed your garden or somebody else’s. There are many different composting methods, all of which are suited to different homes: If you have a garden at home that you’d like to make compost for, you can buy a commercial compost bin or make your own. If you’re an apartment-dweller like me, though, you can give vermicomposting a try (yes, that means a bucket full of worms under your sink). That said, I recommend simply saving your scraps in a bag in the freezer (make sure you remove any produce stickers, rubber bands or zip ties), then taking it to a gardener friend or to one of the many lovely farms in the Valley once it’s full. You can ask any of the farmers at the farmers’ market if they’re making compost and if they’d like contributions—even if they aren’t, they’ll probably know somebody who is. Visit nmcomposters.org to learn more about different composting methods, including the ones more suitable to a desert environment.