18 Food Scraps You're Throwing Away That You Can Actually Eat

Save money, and eat better, with these zero-waste cooking ideas.

April 18, 2017
17 zero waste cooking ideas - how to use food scraps in recipes.

Studies show that roughly one-third of all the food that makes it to stores and to consumers’ kitchens ends up in the landfill. (That’s 133 billion pounds of waste every year!) What’s more, we’re often throwing away parts of the vegetable that are packed with flavor and nutrition. Here are 18 tips for getting more out of your grocery run:

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Banana Peels

Most people throw away banana peels without a second thought, but if your bananas are organic, eat them: banana skins are packed with nutrients like vitamin A, lutein, and other antioxidants, including B vitamins, which your body needs to keep its metabolism stoked. What's more, they have tons of soluble and insoluble fiber, even more than the fruit itself—both can slow digestion, boost feelings of fullness, and even work to lower cholesterol. Skins from green bananas can be cooked as you would a bell pepper—try adding them to stir-fries, curries, and tomato sauce. Skins from ripe bananas can be eaten raw: just remove the stem and throw a whole banana into your next smoothie.

Beet Greens

If your beets have the greens still attached, you’re in luck—those leaves are even more nutritious than the roots, packing plenty of calcium, phytonutrients, and a compound called betaine, which helps support healthy blood circulation. Young beet greens are tasty raw, in salads, while older leaves are delicious steamed or sautéed. Check out these tasty recipes.

Cantaloupe Seeds and Rind

candied cantaloupe rind
Rodale Test Kitchen


If you have an organic cantaloupe, you can make use of the entire fruit—the seeds and rind are also edible. Cantaloupe seeds are a good source of fat, protein, and minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Throw them into your next smoothie, or roast them, tossed in olive oil, in a 325F degree oven for 25 minutes. Simmer cantaloupe rind in sugar syrup to make a gummy candylike treat. 

Related: 7 New Ideas For Cantaloupe 

Carrot Tops

The mildly flavored greens that accompany fresh carrots can be used instead of lettuce on your next sandwich or blended into a green smoothie. The greens have six times more vitamin C than carrots themselves, as well as being rich in vitamin K and magnesium.

Related: 14 Vegetarian Foods That Have More Iron Than Meat      

Cauliflower and Broccoli

Though most people chop off the florets of broccoli and cauliflower, the stems themselves are healthy, mineral-packed leftovers that too often wind up in the garbage. Pare off the tough exterior to get to the mild-flavored flesh. Shave it into ribbons and cook those into a pasta doppelganger, or slice the stalks into sticks that you can use for dipping hummus or salsa. Use the huge leaves that grow around heads cauliflower by cutting them into ribbons and serving them as a salad, dressed with a warm vinaigrette.

Related: I Ate 3 Eggs Every Single Morning For A Week—Here's What I Learned

Celery Leaves

Celery leaves taste just like celery stalks but have a more concentrated flavor, and they pack more calcium and magnesium. They can be used any way you’d use celery: added to a salad, tossed into a stir-fry, or even substituted for parsley.


Chard, Collard, and Kale Stems

Leafy greens are the healthiest veggies you can eat—but don’t eat just the leaves. The stems pack just as much nutrition. In fact, chard stems are rich in glutamine, an amino acid that boosts your immune system and helps muscle recovery after workouts. Here's the easiest way to cook any kind of greens—stems and all: 

Corn Cobs

Cobs have just as much flavor as the kernels, and after you boil them for about 10 minutes in some water, that flavor will be released. Use the corn stock for chowders or in this recipe for a summer corn soup.

Related: The Best Way To Cut Fresh Kernels Off the Cob 

Fennel Stalks, Fronds and Flowers

Most recipes focus on fennel's swollen leaf base, or bulb, which has a mild anise flavor, but every inch of the plant is edible. It’s easy to grow at home, where the fronds and flowers and provide lots of additional material to cook with. Stalks can be finely chopped and added to soups and sauces; added whole to soup stocks; blitzed with garlic, olive oil, and nuts for a pesto. Fronds can be used as you would any fresh herb: chop and use raw as a garnish, or in salads. Try them with fresh dill tossed with buttered boiled spring potatoes. Flowers have a lovely licorice flavor; snip fresh flowers and serve with fish, toss with pasta, and in salads, or dry the flowers and rub off the florets to make fennel pollen—a licorice-y spice for seasoning meats or tossing with pasta.

Related: I Replaced All Of My Cookware With The Instant Pot For One Week—Here's What I Learned  

Orange Rind

dried orange peels
Antonis Achilleos

No part of an organic orange should go to waste: there are more nutrients in the peel and seeds than there are in the fruit. Try grind the antioxidant-rich seeds to sprinkle on yogurt, and try rubbing the pectin-filled pith on your teeth. It’s a natural whitener. Orange peels are intensely flavored and wonderfully versatile when dried: Combine them with other aromatics and infuse organic vodka with them for homemade cocktail bitters, throw them in boiling grains for citrusy flavor, steep them in tea, or grind them into powder to mix into spice rubs for grilled or roasted meats. To make them, leave slices of peel out to air-dry. They’ll curl and harden within a few days. Or use the oven: Spread peels on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet at 170 degrees for about 1 hour.

Related: 7 New Ways To Use Oranges 

Fruit Skins

If you can or jam, you likely produce a great deal of discarded skins. Instead, you can ferment peach, plum, apple, or apricot skins and use the resulting vinegar as a tonic with seltzer (like an old-fashioned shrub), as a marinade, or in a salad dressing.

Ginger Skin

Most recipes that require fresh ginger tell you to peel a ginger root, then slice it into your dish. Save the peels and steep them in water to make tea, or drown them in olive oil, which you can use to make ginger-tinged salad dressings.

Related: 4 Healing Soups To Boost Your Immune System         

Herb Stems

Don’t toss the stems of your next bunch of herbs! They contain the same flavors as the leaves, and can be blended into salsas (cilantro) or pestos (parsley) or steeped in teas (mint).

Related: How To Preserve Fresh Herbs

Leek Greens

fried leek greens
Jennifer Causey

Most leek recipes call for the white parts only, but don’t throw out the tough, dark greens! Make stock, add them to soups and stews (besides lending flavor, their long-chain carbohydrates thicken the broth). Or try them in these recipes for crispy fried leek greensleek greens confit and leek greens pesto.

Related: 8 Delicious Things You Can Do With Leeks

Mushroom Stems

Most recipes suggest that you remove mushroom stems before cooking, but the stems are edible. Some varieties of mushroom stems may be too fibrous to taste good when raw, but sautéed or boiled, they soften up and become quite tasty.

Onion Skins

The papery skins are great for veggie stock, but they can also be used to make a pungent tea that’s rich in antioxidants such as quercetin. Simply steep the skins of an onion in boiling water or a tea baller for a few minutes, bearing in mind that the longer they sit, the more assertive the tea will become.

Related: 9 Seasonal Foods To Fight Seasonal Allergies 

Pineapple Rind and Core

Save pineapple rind and core to make a refreshing pineapple tea.

Cutting up a while pineapple creates a whole lot of waste—that is, if you throw away the prickly rind and the fibrous core. So, don't throw them away. Simmer them in water with your favorite spices (Food 52 recommends ginger and cinnamon sticks), then chill, to make a refreshing tea.

Radish Leaves

Save those leaves! Radish leaves contain more vitamin C, calcium and protein than radishes themselves. Toss the leaves into a pesto, stir-fry, sautéed (here's a recipe for buttery sautéed radishes with radish greens), or even your next green smoothie.