Your mission, if you choose to accept, will help you repurpose two common food waste categories: bread heels and cooked vegetables.
- Save your bread heels and stale bread.
- Start a “soup vegetables” bag in your freezer.
I’ll teach you how to make bread crumbs (and then homemade chicken nuggets) or croutons from the bread heels. The soup veggies can be made into a multitude of soups, but I’m sharing my favorite recipe today.
Bread Heels and Stale Bread
There are two ways to save these:
- for croutons: in a freezer bag (or better yet, just the bread bag) in the freezer
- for bread crumbs: dried out in the fridge
To dry the bread, leave it for a day or two – until completely hard – on a plate on your counter or on a cooling rack like you’d use for cookies to let air circulate. I stick them in my toaster oven sometimes and just leave the door open.
And if you don’t like croutons or bread crumbs or don’t want to bother…you can always make a sandwich or toast with the bread heels, and just offer it up as a sacrifice.
Choose a day when you’re using your oven at 325 degrees or lower anyway. Spread bread hunks (stale or heels) with olive oil or butter. I have a “Misto” type sprayer that I can put my own olive oil in, but a knife with butter would work just as well. Cut or tear into crouton-sized pieces. Sprinkle with garlic salt and Italian seasoning (or basil and oregano, or whatever seasonings strike your fancy). Bake on a cookie sheet until thoroughly crisp. Check after 7-10 minutes, then every 3-5 or so. You’ll know when they’re done!
I store them in a plastic bag or in an empty oatmeal container.
(If you don’t have a blender or food processor, this isn’t going to work for you. Make croutons instead!)
Dry out bread heels or any stale bread by simply leaving it on the counter – or on a wire rack or in the toaster oven with the door open – for a few days until 100% dry. You can hang onto dried out bread in the fridge in a zippered bag until you have enough to make getting out the blender worthwhile.
Blend or process crisp bread until it becomes crumbs. My blender has a button called “Nuts/Crumbs” that is fabulous for this. It pulses the bread. There are always a few little pieces that won’t crumb – you have my blessing to throw those out! Store the bread crumbs in an airtight container (a tall canister is great – I just reuse the only canister of store-bought bread crumbs I ever purchased, or a small oatmeal container would work) in the refrigerator or freezer.
The photo above is of gluten free “bread crumbs” made from Erewhon brown rice cereal – a great use for cereal gone stale! You can use bread crumbs for any recipes; our favorite is homeade chicken nuggets:
Time Saver: Save on dishes! Make these on a night when you’re using the blender or food processor anyway. If I’m going to make smoothies, I’ll make bread crumbs first, then rinse the blender quickly, realizing that if a rogue bread crumb gets into the smoothie, no one will notice.
Added Bonus: If you use whole grain bread, you have whole grain bread crumbs. Ta da – nutrition for free!
Obviously this will take a few weeks or more to have enough bread to make it worth your time to make crumbs. But when you do, come back! Now you can make Homemade Chicken Nuggets, a sure husband and kid-pleaser!
Leftover Cooked Vegetables
If your family is anything like mine, you feel compelled by the food pyramid – and perhaps your mother’s example – to include a cooked vegetable at each meal. At my house, standard fare is usually or cauliflower or frozen veggies.
We’re huge leftover eaters around here. That’s one reason we don’t waste very much food. But nobody wants to take two limp broccoli trees or a handful of peas in their lunch. I always used to throw away the scrapings from the side dish veg.
Now I have a simple zipper bag in my freezer marked “soup veggies”. After a meal, if there are any steamed vegetables hanging around, they get tossed in the bag. Veggies cooked or partially cooked will freeze just fine. Asparagus, green beans, peas, the ever-present broccoli, and even corn on the cob (cut off the cob first) get fresh living quarters, all jammed in there together…kind of like my college dorm room.
When you have enough for a meal, or when your vegetable soup needs a little boost, you can empty the bag into the soup pot. I just used my whole bag last week to make Cream of Vegetable Soup. This, by the way, is a great Lenten Friday meal, paired with salmon patties, biscuits, or grilled cheese sandwiches.
Time Saver: Keep the bag in the door of your freezer for easy access. You won’t use it if you can’t find it!
UPDATE: See this post on how to freeze and store fresh produce for more ways to avoid wasting dead vegetables.
You would certainly think I wouldn’t ask you to use obviously throw-away food, right? How often do you peel potatoes for a meal? Mashed potatoes, potato salad, soup, etc. Here’s a way you can even use the potato peels that you would normally throw away, either before or after cooking:
Toss them in olive oil and salt (pepper optional) and bake on a cookie sheet at 350-450 degrees for 10-20 minutes next time your oven is on. Turn at least once while baking. Since most of the nutrition is in or just under the peel, you’ve secured all sorts of vitamins, extra iron and a “free” snack from something you would have thrown away! If the peels have no potato on them at all, they get crunchy – I eat this as a crumbled salad topping, while crispies like those above are just for snacking. You can store the crispy ones on the counter or more moist ones in the fridge just fine for a few days.
You’re Making a Difference!
Consider this: The amount of food required to eliminate hunger in the U.S. is only 5 billion pounds annually, says charity Feeding America. If just 5 percent of food scraps were recovered, states the USDA, it would equal a day’s worth of food for 4 million people; recovery of 25 percent would feed 20 million.
Do you have other food waste weak spots that you’d like to see addressed? We will return to this topic periodically…Please share in the comments section.
Life as MOM has more ideas for potatoes and root vegetables!