Cooking tips to reduce food waste

Those scraps may have a second life–even as a menu item


The world is fighting a climate crisis on all fronts. As individuals, one of the biggest things anyone can do to address global emissions is decrease the amount of food waste they produce. At least one-third of the food we grow goes to waste globally. This happens cultivating crops, transporting food items, and because consumers often buy more than they consume

Significantly lowering the amount of food waste that winds up rotting in landfills could support better equity and decrease methane and other environmental impacts of food waste. For many of us, that change can start right in our own kitchens, with handy cooking tips that help reduce waste.

10 ways to cut food waste in your cooking

In order to cut the amount of waste coming out of our kitchens, home cooks need to get a little creative and develop strategies to consider how to use the ingredients they already have on hand.

Keep track of your perishables 

Maintain a running tally of the items in your fridge or cupboards that are most prone to spoilage. Arrange them on shelves and in drawers with a “first in, first out” mentality. This way you’re not letting items spoil by accidentally using the newer bag of cheese, or newer produce, before the older one. Designating an “eat me” zone in the fridge can also help keep what you need to use up at the front of your mind. 

Use the entire piece of produce

If you look at online recipes, you’ll often see stems and other cuttings ignored or thrown away. There are so many parts of a fruit or vegetable that are easily incorporated with a few tips. “Cauliflower and broccoli leaves and stems are delicious,” says Alison Mountford, the entrepreneur and chef behind the website and meal planning service Ends+Stems. “[And] soft herb stems like parsley, cilantro, and basil have lots of flavor.” Here are some of ways to use it all up:

  1. Carrots and potatoes don’t have to be peeled to be incorporated into many recipes. Give ‘em a good scrub before eating or cooking to remove and surface dirt. 
  2. The ends and stems of different herbs, such as cilantro and parsley, can add flavor to soups and stews—or get blitzed into pesto. The same is true for those green strawberry tops.
  3. The greens on root veggies can be sauted too, like those from beets and turnips
  4. The bulb of a green onion can go in a cup of water and grow back the fragrant and delicious green stems for future dishes.
  5. Softer fruits and veggies like bananas and zucchini tend to go mushy quickly, so consider making smoothies or goodies like banana bread and zucchini bread

Get familiar with substitutions

Being flexible with recipes that you’re looking forward to making can save trips to store to buy items you might only use once—or wind up with too much of. For example, if you already have some crunchy veggies to add to a specific salad recipe, don’t go out and buy the specific  greens the recipe calls for. Cauliflower, for one, can stand in for broccoli. Need to add crunch but the recipe specifically asks for carrot? Consider celery or any other crunchy veggie that you can eat raw or that pairs well with the salad dressing. 

“Substitutions guide what you have on hand and starting to plan a meal around what you have is one of the best ways to reduce waste,” explains Mountford. “Separately, but important, when you customize a recipe with substitutions, it becomes your original and it’s more artful, fun and satisfying.” Here’s a list of popular substitutions to help use up as much of your produce as you can.

Find recipes that use what you have

Figuring recipes that will incorporate what you’ve got laying around doesn’t have to all happen in your head. Stacy Savage, a zero waste specialist and the founder of consulting firm Zero Waste Strategies, advises trying an app like Super Cook. In this tool, you simply enter what you have on hand, and the app suggests recipes based on those ingredients. The app Eat This Much even includes a virtual pantry if you want to keep tabs on what you’ve got in stock. You can even ask ChatGPT to whip up some ideas if you feed it a list of ingredients—though we can’t vouch for how good of a cook it is.

Bulk up on bulk goods

Consider adding bulk non-perishables to your kitchen and cooking routine. Lean on dry goods like beans, rice, and nuts. These will keep for a long period of time in the pantry—or you can stash nuts in the freezer. 

Declare “scrappy Saturdays”

It doesn’t have to be Saturday, but designating a day each week to eat through the last bits of what you have on hand is a great way to use up food before it goes to waste. Many recipes are fantastic vessels for these “gotta-use-it-up” moments. Salads, soups, smoothies, quiches, frittatas, pastas, and stir frys are all delicious places to swallow up extras. 

5 go-to recipes to reduce food waste

Mastering a few kitchen basics will give you a template with which to tinker with the vittles you have on hand. These five techniques can eat up any fruits and veggies that are at risk of going to waste. 


Pretty much any produce can be “quick” pickled—meaning the briny bounty lives in the fridge, because it won’t be shelf stable. Combine vinegar and water in a pot with salt and sugar, and boil until the grains dissolve. Pack clean jars with the fruit or veg of your choice, pour in the hot liquid, wait till it cools, then cover and refrigerate. The results are great for snacking, tossing into salads, or dressing up a grazing board. 


You don’t need sterilization tools or specialty ingredients to make a jammy delight—as long as you store the finished product in the fridge—and use it up before you spot signs of spoilage. Whipping up a quick jam from fading fruit is as simple as simmering it slowly with sugar and a few teaspoons of lemon juice or vinegar.


A quick blitzed drink is a perfect home for almost any bruised fruits or droopy greens. (We’re looking at you, bag of spinach.) It’s easy: Toss produce into the blender with ice (or frozen fruit) and your favorite alt-milk or juice—even water. Add a spoonful of nut butter for protein, a drizzle of honey or maple syrup for sweetness, a little chopped ginger if you want some kick, and a sprinkle of cinnamon and/or turmeric if you’re feeling fancy. 


Any vegetable(s) can transform into a splendid soup. The formula: Chop any allium—onion, garlic, shallot (or a combo)—and sauté for a few minutes. Toss in chopped veg and cook until it softens a little. Add about 4 cups of broth or water per pound of roughage along with any spices or herbs you like. Pop on a lid, bring it to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer until the veggies are tender. The finished product is also a perfect vehicle for leftover legumes or a sprinkling of herbs you’ve gotta use up. 

Sunday stock

The day of the week doesn’t matter, but the idea is the key. Scraps like carrot ends, onion peels, herb stems, and more can form the basis of a flavorful homemade stock. Collect all those bits and bobs in a big bag in the freezer. When it’s full, load them into a big pot, cover ‘em with water, add seasoning like peppercorns and bay leaves, let it simmer for a couple hours, and strain. Here’s a very simple stock recipe

What else can you do to reduce food waste at home?

Shopping tips to reduce food waste

Eliminating as much household food waste as possible starts at the store—and with being realistic about the ingredients that you’ll be using throughout the next week. For example, if you realize that there are some ingredients that are more likely to accidentally spoil, avoid buying more of these items. Or buy them frozen; for example, fresh spinach and other leafy greens may go bad pretty quickly. Check out more shopping tips here

Storage tips to reduce food waste

Storage is crucial for reducing food waste. For starters: When you come home to put food away after a grocery run, push the older items to the front of your refrigerator and pantry so that the older food is eaten first. Also try to create a labeling system—for example, add dates to your older food and leftovers so that you can keep track of them. Check out our guide to food storage here

Composting to reduce food waste

When you’re left with indelible food scraps like banana peels or eggshells, consider turning them into compost. These backyard piles and community programs take organic waste and turn it into what farmers call “black gold”—a nutrient rich concentrate that can help plants and crops thrive. See how to get started here

Portions of this story were adapted from Cool Beans, a newsletter from one5c focused on sustainable eating. Additional reporting credit: Liza Schoenfein.