Photo by Winslow Productions via Getty Images

Here's how to reduce your food waste and use every stalk, stem, seed, and leaf.

Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD
January 25, 2018

Locally-grown, ripe, almost-ripe, organic, ugly, on sale—no matter what qualities you’re looking for in produce, most of us have pretty high standards. This seems completely rational, since this purchase affects our health and bank account. But what doesn’t make sense is that food waste statistics suggest we throw away 50 percent of produce purchased!

While spoilage can play a factor, a large portion of discarded produce is trimmed stalks, seeds, rinds, peels and leaves. What most don’t know is that these parts are usually edible, nutrient-packed and delicious when prepared correctly. Since figuring out ways to “upcycle” these trimmings is new for many, here are a few easy ways to get more out of your produce from root to stem.

New Year. New Food. Healthy eating starts here, with the Cooking Light Diet.

Citrus Peels

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Zest or shave lemon, lime or orange peel; then freeze for when you need a fresh flavor burst in a recipe. Our candy citrus peel can be used as edible decor on cupcakes or to dip in dark chocolate for a quick treat.  

Broccoli Stalks and Leaves

Photo: Monica Buck

Sure the leftover stalk is a little tough, but it’s still got potential and is packed full of the same nutrients as the florets. Thinly slice or shave the stalk, and then use raw in a salad or roast. Both Roasted Veggie Stalk Salad and Shaved Broccoli Stalk Salad with Lime use the stalk, not the florets.

Strawberry Tops

Don’t throw away those little green leaves. Toss the top into smoothies and blend, just like you add might add kale, spinach, or other greens. Another idea: infuse water or tea with strawberry flavor by tossing in the tops.

Carrot and Radish Tops

Photo: Justin Walker

Use carrot or radish tops as a substitute for (or in addition to) basil, and make a great pesto. Here’s a variation for Carrot Top Pesto that you can serve as featured as a dollop in soup or toss with pasta or veggie spirals.

Apple Peel

Photo: Grace Elkus

The peel (and just under the peel) is where you find a concentration of nutrients. Rather than discard them, toss peels with a little cinnamon sugar. Then, bake like apple chips for a healthy snack.

Over-Plucked Herb Stems

Credit: Tetra Images

Even if you’ve used the leaves, the bare stems of thyme, cilantro, or other fresh herb are still packed full of the same flavor you loved in the leaves. Toss those still-green stems in a tomato sauce, stew or soup. Simmer to get all the herb’s aromatics, and then discard stems before serving.

Potato Peels

Cooking Light

Prepare crispy, lower-carb chips with leftover potato peels. Toss just-trimmed peels with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees on a foil-covered sheet pan for 18 minutes or until tender and slightly crispy on edges. Sprinkle with Parmesan and fresh herbs before serving or just dip in ketchup.   

Ginger

bhofack2 / Getty

It’s gnarled, knotty exterior makes it hard to gauge how much ginger root to buy when needing only a few teaspoons. When you end up with leftover root, place the ginger root in a cup of water. Roots should start growing, and you can then transfer to a pot or garden.

Pulp from Juicer

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Nothing beats fresh-squeezed juice—except maybe finding a delicious way to use up the nutrient-rich pulp that is left over. Stir extra pulp into Greek or non-dairy yogurt, and then top with a sprinkle of nuts or drizzle of honey or maple syrup. Not your kind of snack?  Instead, freeze pulp in small ice cube trays to toss in smoothies for an icy fruit addition.

Beet Greens

Photo: utah778/Getty Images

Bright red roots make it easy to overlook greens on top, but when compared ounce-per-ounce, beet greens provide not only more fiber and protein, but more than twice as much iron and potassium and almost eight times the calcium than the roots. Use them like other leafy greens - tossed in salads or a smoothie like Berry-and-Beet Green Smoothie or sauteed like in Beet Greens with Oregano and Feta.   

Watermelon Seeds and Rind

Photo: Caitlin Bensel

We regularly toast pepitas to toss on salads and bowls, so why not watermelon seeds? Follow directions for toasted pumpkin seeds. You can also pack watermelon rind in a vinegar-spice solution and make Pickled Watermelon Rind.

Leftover Leafy Greens

Photo: Greg Dupree

Not sure how to use all the spinach, arugula or kale up before it starts getting a little slimy? Make pesto! Although pesto is traditionally made with basil, leafy greens can easily be substituted. Our spinach pesto is a gorgeous twist on the original, while our arugula version adds a peppery bite.

Celery Leaves

Photo: Lee Harrelson

We’re often focus on dicing the long ribs in celery, but the leaves on top can add crisp bite to salad mixes like in Spinach and Celery Leaf Salad with Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette. Leftover celery parts also add freshness and bulk when processed in smoothies.