How To Make The Most Out of Stale Bread: Croutons, Bread Crumbs, and Other Delicious Methods to Avoid Food Waste

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.

  1. Save your bread heels and stale bread to make croutons and breadcrumbs.
  2. 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:

  1. for croutons: in a freezer bag (or better yet, just the bread bag) in the freezer
  2. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Cut or tear into crouton-sized pieces.
  4. Sprinkle with garlic salt and Italian seasoning (or basil and oregano, or whatever seasonings strike your fancy).
  5. 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

gluten free homemade breadcrumbs

(If you don’t have a blender or food processor, this isn’t going to work very well for you. Make croutons instead!)

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

gluten free breaded 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.

Recipe: Tater Skin Crispies

potato skin crispies

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:

  1. Cut off the very end of the stem.
  2. Trim down the sides to “peel” the toughest outer skin off, with all those weird stumps. I usually make four flat sides.
  3. You should now have what looks like a rectangular rod of broccoli. Mmmm, that’s appealing to the senses…
  4. Cut lengthwise into four equal sticks, about 1 cm. or less across.
  5. Chop the sticks (they should stay stacked fairly well for you) into cubes.How To Make The Most Out of Stale Bread: Croutons & Bread Crumbs
  6. 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:

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!).

Use those food scraps to save money, and the earth at the same time!
Here are more ways to help create less food waste:

Need More Baby Steps?

Monday Missions Baby Steps Back to Basics

Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.

That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and got them all spruced up to send to your inbox – once a week on Mondays, so you can learn to be a kitchen steward one baby step at a time, in a doable sequence.

Sign up to get weekly challenges and teaching on key topics like meal planning, homemade foods that save the budget (and don’t take too much time), what to cut out of your pantry, and more.

30 thoughts on “How To Make The Most Out of Stale Bread: Croutons, Bread Crumbs, and Other Delicious Methods to Avoid Food Waste”

  1. Joanna Jackson

    How long do the breadcrumbs last and do you keep them in the fridge since they do not have preservatives?

    1. Joanna,
      I do keep them in the fridge or freezer, but since they are totally dried out, it probably doesn’t matter all that much. I’ve never ever had them go bad…so they last months and months and months, as long as you get all the moisture out! 🙂 Katie

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  3. We regularly make almond milk and always make sure to save the almond meal leftover after straining out the milk. We either add it to mashed pumpkin and make “pumpkin cereal,” or mix it with eggs (or flax substitute), oil, and seasonings and bake (or dehydrate) to make a flat bread. I feel like I get “double-duty” out of my almonds! As far as peelings go, we don’t even peel carrots or potatoes anymore (as long as their organic!). But we do save veggie scraps and freeze them for broth. And the rest goes to the pigs and/or chickens!

  4. As soon as I find a safe place to dry my bread for crumbs (my Great Dane loves bread) I will start making my own bread crumbs. As for left over veggies, I usually feed to my chickens, ducks and barn cats. Guess I will save some for my freezer soup bag too. Great tips!

    1. Linda,
      Would on the rack inside the oven (off) work? Just make a note near the “on” button to remind you they’re in there! 😉 Katie

      1. Good idea, I will have to sneak it in when he is outside. I have to keep my bread in the microwave to keep him from getting it as he will eat a whole loaf if given the chance. I guess I could keep all bread in oven. But I think he can open it as he can some cupboards.

  5. The bread heels thing is funny to me, since I consider that the best part of the loaf! Except when I started making my own in the breadmaker, the end is really just hard and blech by the time we get to it. However, I only use bread crumbs about once a year! Maybe I’ll have to see if my kids will do garlicky croutons.

  6. I save up bread crusts and dried out bread to make dressing. Mix the bread with celery and onion sauted in butter, add water or chicken broth and poultry seasoning. Line a pan with the dressing and top with browned pork chops for an easy meal.

  7. If you are making homemade applesauce, don’t throw away the cores! Put them in a separate, smaller pot on the stove with a little water, cook until soft, and then press through a fine-mesh strainer. You’ll be surprised at how much apple you can get out of it that way!

    Another thing that you can do anytime you are making something that requires peeled apples is to save the peels. Squeeze out as much juice as possible (adding the juice back into the recipe, of course!), and then lay the peels out on a cookie sheet. Put them in a warm oven (about 175 degrees), checking frequently, until the peels have dried. Then you can chop them up by hand or use a food processor to get them into small pieces. Store in an airtight container and add some to your oatmeal cookie dough for extra nutrition, fiber and flavor!

    1. Jennifer – I LOVE ways to cook with garbage. 🙂 I even have a post in my draft folder titled that, to which these ideas are being added immediately! Thank you! 🙂 Katie

      1. You’re very welcome – I love all the ideas here!

        I thought of a few more things that I do a lot:

        First, when I make coffee, I usually wind up with a little bit left in the pot. I used to just dump it, but now I add some sugar to taste and put it in a container in the fridge. Even if it’s a small amount that might not seem worth saving, it adds up in a couple of days and can be used to make iced coffee by adding milk and maybe some flavored syrup. It’s really good, and sometimes I find myself making extra coffee just to make sure I’ll have enough!

        (As for the used coffee grounds . . . those go in the compost heap, of course!)

        Second, I eat a lot of tortilla chips and salsa, but since there’s no way to scoop salsa up with the crumbs at the bottom of the bag and I don’t like them plain, I used to just toss them. Well, I’ve figured out some cool ways to use them, as well as any that might have gone a little stale. If you give them a whirl in a food processor or blender until they’re finely crushed, you can use them to make a savory pie crust (same method as making a graham cracker crust) for quiche or Mexican pie or whatever. I’ve also figured out how to make cornbread with it too by replacing the cornmeal with the crushed chips.

        Third, when I have extra hot dog or hamburger buns that have gone stale, I make garlic toast with them. Just mix up some softened margarine or butter and garlic salt, slather it on top, add some shredded Parmesan if you like, and then either bake them or freeze them to bake later. Yum!

        1. Oh, and I almost forgot . . . if you grow your own broccoli or get some with the greens still attached, be sure to use the greens too! They’re wonderful – if you’ve never tried them, they taste like broccoli except milder, and they have a nice texture. They can be frozen too. I use them as substitutes for spinach or other greens in recipes. They’re so tasty, I honestly don’t know why they don’t carry them in stores (at least, not that I’ve been able to find around these parts)!

        2. Very nice! Did you know coffee grounds are really healthy for acid-loving plants, like holly, rhododendron, azalea? You can also freeze coffee in ice cube trays to add to any recipe including chocolate – brings out the choc flavor, especially if the coffee is concentrated a bit. 🙂 Katie

          1. That’s great – our Indiana soil isn’t naturally acidic enough, and I love all those plants! Blueberries, too . . .

            Cool idea about freezing coffee – hadn’t thought about doing that, but I’ll have to try it! Thanks!!!

    2. Regarding apple peels: Please remember to scrub the heck out of them before using. Apples are covered with pesticides(as are other fruits and vegetables).

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  9. Two more great uses for bread heals are bread pudding and breakfast casserole (basically a savory bread pudding with ham or bacon, eggs and savory herbs.) No one even notices that they are eating crusts and heals in these recipes.

    1. Danna,
      Excellent ideas! I always have more bread heels than I can use in crumbs, so I’ll have to pull out my Grandma’s breakfast casserole for them. Thanks for the reminder!
      🙂 Katie

    1. Hi Katie. I found a recipe for Roasted Kale Chips on the Local Nourishment Website. I can’t wait to try them. I also can’t wait to try your Tater Skin Crispies… Thanks!

      1. I just tried kale chips last week! No one will eat them but me, but I like the saltiness… thanks for linking up! 🙂

  10. Ok, I thought I might be the only person in the world that saves bread heals, dries them on the counter and puts them into a “bread crumb” container!! I even use crust from sandwiches or toast that the kids don’t want. I love it! This is like something my grandmother did while living in the depression.

    What a great idea for the potato skins! I’ve also used kale or collard greens in similar fashion, especially when they’re in season. It’s like eating healthy chips!

    FYI-I know Bed Bath and Beyond sells counter top composting containers with a charcoal filter to keep odors down so you don’t have to empty scraps daily. I think they run $20-$50.

  11. I also make crispy’s from my potato peels– yummy!
    As for all your other veggie scraps, carrot peels, onion, garlic skins, pepper, etc. Keep another bag in freezer. When scrap bag is full use it to make veggie broth. Dump in stock pot, fell with filtered water and simmer for 45minutes or so.

  12. Carolyn,

    Your comments make my day! I’m so glad to have you on board. I would love a sink corner compost dealie, too. Sometimes I get lazy enough that I just don’t compost a day or two because I don’t have a dedicated container every day…

  13. My mother-in-law is a die-hard composter, and she has this nifty container in the corner of her sink. It’s triangle-shaped and has holes in the bottom. As she’s cooking, she throws anything compostable in there, and when it’s full, she puts it in a larger container to go out to her compost pile. I’m not sure where to buy this, but I would really like one! (Here in the Greater Toronto Area, the city has a “Green Cart” into which we place anything compostable, and they take it away every Friday! It’s great!)

  14. Do you compost your veggie scraps? I was thinking about this today as I was peeling carrots and potatoes and throwing the scraps in the trash. I’d like to start composting but don’t know where to begin. Any tips on that would be great!

    1. I save scraps in a plastic bag in the freezer – when it’s full I use to make homemade vegetable broth. I just started doing this, but it’s a great food-saver. Then when I’m done making the vegetable broth, I’ll compost the solid pieces.

    2. I have a very small compost maker it’s made by Nature Mill. It holds 5 pounds of scraps the size for a family of 5. It sit’s in the corner of my kitchen. That’s what I wanted for my birthday last year. My husband and sons always tell me that I ask for strange gifts. But I want something I can really use. Back to the composter you just put your scraps in add 2 Cups of sawdust and 2 tablespoons of baking soda. That gives it the right mixture. I get my sawdust FREE from Lowe’s. If you don’t have a Lowe’s you can check with Home Depot or your local lumber yard most places are glad to get rid of it. They sell sawdust pellet’s but no since in buying them when you can get sawduct for FREE. I’ve never bought pellets. You get a small pack of pellets when you buy the composter.It’s very loud the first 2 week (break in period) after that it’s fine. No smell to it. It kicks on every 4 hours for a total of 4 minutes. Takes about 5 cents a day to run it. Cost can very from $200 to $300. I bought mine at www.naturemill.com but Target.com sells them as well. Hope this helps someone 🙂

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