Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to reduce food waste. By completing this mission you’ll not only save money, but you’ll also be doing the earth a favor!
I’m going to help you repurpose two common food waste categories: bread heels and cooked vegetables.
- Save your bread heels and stale bread to make croutons and breadcrumbs.
- 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’ll share my favorite recipe with you.
Save Your 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.
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How to Make Croutons Out of Stale Bread
- Preheat your oven to 325 degrees, or, even better, save energy and 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!
Once completely cooled, store in an airtight container.
How to Make Bread Crumbs
(If you don’t have a blender or food processor, this isn’t going to work very well 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.
Store the breadcrumbs 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 “breadcrumbs” made from Erewhon brown rice cereal – a great use for cereal gone stale! You can use bread crumbs for any recipes; our favorite is homemade chicken nuggets:
Time Saver Tip:
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 breadcrumb 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!
What To Do With 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 mixed 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 box. 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 homemade Cream of Vegetable Soup.
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.
What To Do With Broccoli Stems
You know how whenever you buy a package of broccoli, it comes with the florets on top (which you know how to use) and the long, thick stems (which are a bit of a mystery when it comes to serving ideas)? I always used to just chop the tops off and throw the stems away like they were a waste product, like the end of a carrot or something. If you’re in that place, read on for ways to use the healthy broccoli stems (other than compost)!!
Added Bonus: You’re reclaiming something you’d throw away and making it part of a meal. Hard to get more frugal and environmentally sound than that!
How to Cut the Broccoli Stem
I learned this from a magazine, Cook’s Illustrated possibly. The problem with using the broccoli stems is that they are so much denser and tougher than the florets, so they generally don’t cook evenly in the same steamer pot. Here’s your solution:
- Cut off the very end of the stem.
- Trim down the sides to “peel” the toughest outer skin off, with all those weird stumps. I usually make four flat sides.
- You should now have what looks like a rectangular rod of broccoli. Mmmm, that’s appealing to the senses…
- Cut lengthwise into four equal sticks, about 1 cm. or less across.
- Chop the sticks (they should stay stacked fairly well for you) into cubes.
- These are just the right size to steam evenly with your larger florets.
Ta Da! You’ve successfully saved a broccoli stem from the garbage or compost. Now what do you do with the cubes?
How to USE and SERVE the Broccoli Stems
First, once they’re cut into little cubes, you can just steam them with the florets and serve to your family if they’ll go for that kind of thing. It reminds me of a bag of frozen broccoli, actually. In a mixed vegetable medley with a little seasoning, you can often pass off broccoli stems as something people want to eat. 😉
Other than that, there are lots of cooked vegetable main course dishes you can put the stems into. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Cream of potato soup
- Chicken Pot Pie
- Turkey Chili
- Stir Fry – My mom used to slice the stems very thinly for stir fry…I don’t know if she peeled them first or not, but I bet she can leave instructions in the comments! 🙂
- Veggie Bean Burritos
Timesaver: I usually cube and steam the stems with my dinner veggies and freeze them in my “soup vegetables” bag until I am making a cooked vegetable casserole or soup.
Sometimes I can’t serve these dishes enough to use up all my stems. Sometimes you just have to donate to the compost and allow yourself to not feel guilty about it. Just do your best! This is what works for me and is oh, so frugal!
You’re Making a Difference By Creating Less Food Waste!
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.
How Much Food is Wasted?
- Each year, Americans discard more than 96 billion pounds of good food. If 5% was recovered, it could provide the equivalent of a day’s food for four million hungry people.
- Americans are tossing out at least $75 billion in food each year. We waste half of the food produced in our country, or 27% of the edible food available, according to the USDA.
- Fast food chains sometimes waste up to 40% of their food.
- At home, the average American family throws away 14 percent of their food–almost $600 every year in meats, fruit, vegetables and grain products.
- Food scraps or leftovers, according to the EPA, comprise the single-largest component of waste by weight in the United States, at the cost of $1 billion for disposal.
- On his Wasted Food blog, Jonathan Bloom places that figure at more than 150 billion pounds.
I know when you throw away that bit of steamed vegetables that didn’t get eaten at dinner, or the heels from your bread, or the leftovers that got lost (and nasty) in the back of your fridge, it feels like just a peanut, a minuscule amount in the scheme of things. But all those peanuts are adding up to one big mess.
Let us polish our lenses and increase our perspective of the peanut on the floor (and the one in the garbage!).