Cutting Down on Waste: Pantry-Purging Tips

Surely you've experienced this before: you open the pantry or fridge to find barely-worth-keeping amounts of veggie stock, dry goods, or salsa. You're hanging on to it because your sense of "don't waste it" prevents you from even composting it. Most likely, it can be used: here are some tips for using up those random, almost-gone ingredients. Here's what we discovered, just last night: two tablespoons of salsa makes a great snack with whole-wheat crackers. The last of the white wine, the dregs of the dijon mustard jar, mushroom stock from dinner the night before, and leftover veggie stock make a fantastic base for soup. And then came the pantry-purging granola bars, with tiny handfuls of myriad different trail mixes, the last of the pepitas, and even some chocolate chips.

We didn't set out with a plan for any of this, but along the way we realized we were making great progress in the fight against food waste.

Sometimes it's as simple as tossing in a random ingredient and hoping for the best. But sometimes it takes a little planning.

Here are a few bases to start from. Take note of your extra ingredients and toss them in to any one of these:

  • Soup: start with a fat (butter, olive oil, bacon) and add vegetables (onion, celery, carrot) for flavor, and then add liquid. Build it from there. Think mushrooms, beans, rice, spinach... Anything can go in a soup, and many times it takes no planning at all.
  • Macaroni and Cheese: We make catch-all macaroni and cheese, packed with whatever bits of cheese we have left in the drawer and half-bags of frozen vegetables. Corn, mushrooms, spinach, and broccoli work especially well in mac-n-cheese.
  • Muffins: Following a trusted recipe, you can alter the fruit (or even vegetables!) tirelessly. Use over-ripe bananas, apples on their way out, the last of the zucchini and carrots, or nearly-frostbitten frozen berries. Maybe even all of the above!
  • Stir fry: We think anything tastes good on a bed of rice and drizzled with soy sauce. This is a favorite fridge-cleaner for us: one stalk of celery, the last of the frozen broccoli, and even pineapple and cashews have made an appearance. Once you get the hang of stir-frying (merely deciding when the veggies are done cooking), it'll be a breeze. Then stir-fry leftovers can become fried rice. The circle of food reuse is such a beautiful thing.
  • Granola: If you're a collector of trail mixes, this is a perfect way to use up the last bits and pieces. Oats, honey, canola oil, and anything from chocolate chips to pumpkin seeds to almonds to vanilla to dried goji berries... Granola is a great dumping grounds for all these sweet and salty additions. Better yet, homemade granola can easily become granola bars.

You don't have to be a culinary genius to cut down on food waste; you just have to be willing to get creative. And be ok with the fact that the killer meal you just whipped up may never, ever be recreated.

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(Image: Amber Byfield for Re-Nest)

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