Broccoli stalks and bread crusts – just two of the foods we throw away when preparing meals. But many kitchen scraps can add flavour and boost nutrients, says Juliette Kellow
Every year we throw away seven million tonnes of food and drink – enough to fill around 97 million wheelie bins, or around one and a half wheelie bins for every person living in the UK. It’s a huge amount, accounting for almost a fifth of the food we buy.
It means a typical family with children throws away a massive £700 on food and drink each year. But what’s truly alarming is that 63% of what we bin could actually have been eaten.
Food being past its use-by date (think bags of leaves and pots of yogurt), cooking too much food and not using up leftovers are some of the main reasons we waste food.
But that’s not all. Many things we automatically throw away when we’re preparing food – peelings, bones, seeds, rind and leaves – can actually be eaten.
And better still, these ‘kitchen scraps’ can boost our health.
Here’s how to enjoy the bits you normally bin.
The peel usually ends up in the bin, but it’s rich in hesperidin, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties that lab studies show may lower cholesterol and blood pressure. The zest is full of flavour, too, so can be used instead of less- healthy salt and sugar.
Beat the bin: Before peeling, wash the fruit then grate or cut off the zest, avoiding the bitter, white pith. Do the same with lemon and limes used for juice.
Sprinkle the zest over fish or chicken, add to marinades or salad dressings, stir into porridge or yogurt, add pieces of zest to a chicken cavity before roasting, or place strips in a bottle of olive oil or even vodka for citrus-infused flavours.
This adds a savoury flavour to dishes, so there’s no need to use salt – great news for keeping blood pressure under control.
Beat the bin: Add the rind to stocks, tomato sauces, soups or risotto while they’re cooking, then remove before serving. You can freeze the rinds in a polythene bag, too, if you don’t want to use them immediately.
For a healthy heart, we’re advised to discard fatty juices from roasted chickens and joints of meat. But the juices are concentrated with flavour and this means we can use them instead of salty gravy granules or stock cubes.
Beat the bin: Sprinkle meat or chicken with herbs. Once cooked, pour the juices into a jug and leave the fat to rise to the top. Discard the fat, then mix the remaining juices with boiling water and thicken with cornflour for salt-free gravy.
We normally peel off several layers of the papery outer skin, but that means losing antioxidants, which are most concentrated in the outer layers. A red onion loses a quarter of its quercetin and 75% of its anthocyanins (which give it its red colour) if overpeeled.
Beat the bin: Just peel off the first layer of skin and use the rest. Or save up your onion skins, freeze, and when you have enough, use to make soup.
When you peel apples for pies, crumbles and sauces, you’re losing fibre, potassium and a heart-friendly flavonoid called quercetin that’s found only in an apple’s skin.
Beat the bin: Leave the skin on and wash instead. Or make apple-peel crisps by popping the peelings on to a lined baking sheet, toss with cinnamon and a little sugar, then bake for a couple of hours at your oven’s lowest setting until dry and crisp. Cool before eating.
We mostly use the white stems and discard the leafy tops of leeks. But this means we’re binning folate, a B vitamin important for strong immunity. Plus, leeks contain a flavonoid called kaempferol, which may help to keep the blood-vessel linings healthy.
Beat the bin: Far from being tough and fibrous, leek tops are delicious when cooked. Cut the leaves into thin strips and add to stir-fries, then chop into bigger chunks for soups or casseroles, or dice and cook with chopped onions to make sauces.
Binning the ends of a loaf means we lose energy-giving carbs, B vitamins, calcium, and fibre, plus wholegrains with wholemeal or granary bread.
Beat the bin: Blitz crusts in a food processor to make breadcrumbs, then freeze. Use to make fishcakes and chicken goujons or to top lasagne (you’ll be able to use less cheese, so reduce fat). Or break the crusts into small pieces, spray with oil, bake until dried out and you have croutons for soups or salads.
Most of us peel potatoes, carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes – then bin the skin. But the peelings are fibre-packed and full of antioxidants, which lie in larger amounts just beneath the skin.
Beat the bin: Choose organic veg, scrub well and cook with their skin. Otherwise, turn peelings into low-fat, high-fibre and antioxidant-rich crisps by spritzing them with olive oil and baking at 200°C or Gas Mark 6 for 15-20 mins until crisp.
Fish bones, heads and tails
They’re perfect for making salt-free stock – it’s what chefs do all the time.
Beat the bin: Rinse and place in a pan with veg trimmings, a bay leaf, peppercorns and fresh herbs. Cover with water, put a lid on and simmer for 30 mins, skimming off any scum. Strain, divide into portions and freeze once cool. Use the stock for fish soup, stew or risotto.
Belonging to the same family as cabbage, kale and broccoli, cauliflower leaves are packed with similar nutrients, including immune-boosting vitamin A and C, folate and iron.
Beat the bin: Steam the leaves and enjoy with the florets. Alternatively, shred and add to stir-fries.
Butternut squash seeds
Like pumpkin seeds, butternut squash seeds are packed with heart-friendly unsaturated fats, protein, fibre, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese.
Beat the bin: Remove any flesh from the seeds, rinse, drain and dry with kitchen paper. Toss the seeds with olive oil and herbs or spices, such as rosemary or paprika. Place on a baking sheet and roast at 170°C or Gas Mark 3 for 25 mins until golden brown.
Rosemary, parsley and thyme stalks often end up in the bin, but these contain the same oils found in the leaves, so are natural flavour enhancers – and you don’t need the salt pot!
Beat the bin: Add to stocks, combine in a muslin bag and tie with string to make bouquet garni, or use thick, woody rosemary stalks as skewers for meat, fish or veg – the flavour will infuse the meat from the inside out.
The carcass from a roast chicken or the bones left after deboning chicken pieces before cooking are great for making salt-free stock.
Beat the bin: See making fish stock method.
7 Other ways to make food go further…
1 Keep a ‘waste’ diary. Write down or take photos of every food or drink you bin in a week. Once you know your weak spots it’ll be easier to stop wasting food.
2 Plan a weekly menu and use it to write your shopping list. You’ll be less likely to overbuy and end up with unused, out-of-date food.
3 Do a stocktake before shopping. You may already have food that needs using up.
4 Get your fridge priorities right – soft drinks and unopened ketchup don’t need to be chilled. Most veg will last longer if refrigerated.
5 Get date-savvy – bin anything past its use-by date as it may no longer be safe to eat. But it’s fine to consume food past the ‘best before’ date (this relates to quality not safety) and ignore ‘display until’ or ‘sell by’ dates – they’re for shops’ use.
6 If it looks like you’re not going to get round to eating a food, freeze it right up to the use-by date, but not beyond it.
7 Turn leftovers into meals – find ideas at lovefoodhatewaste.com