35 Genius Ways to Use Up Food Scraps

Do you dream of operating a zero-waste household? Do you get a real thrill when you squeeze every last ounce of usefulness out of your food and drink? Are you constantly on the lookout for new and clever ways to use each bit and scrap?

Well, then this post is for you! In the community-wide effort to turn trash into treasure, we’ve rounded up a slew of resources, tips, and tutorials to aid you in the very worthwhile quest of breathing new life into items that are typically tossed in the garbage. It’s good for you, the planet, and your pocketbook. So without further ado, here’s what you can do with…

Bones

In days of yore, bones from slaughtered animals were carved and shaped to make tools, art, and weapons. Nowadays, bones still have some excellent uses.

Bone Broth

Probably the most widely used application of animal bones in modern times is for the making of soup stocks and broths. Bones that are simmered for a matter of hours or days unleashes a wealth of nutrients, minerals, and amino acids into the brew. A great source of protein, calcium, phosphate, and gelatin, bone broth is very good for you, incredibly easy to make, and practically free.

Bone Meal

Rich in phosphorous and calcium, bone meal (or bone manure, if you prefer) is a wonderful organic soil amendment in the garden. Promoting plant growth while encouraging healthy roots and blooms, it has an N-P-K rating of 3-15-0. Bone meal is slow-acting and needs only be reapplied every four months or so. While it should be used somewhat sparingly, bone meal is gentle enough that it won’t burn your plants if you do go a little overboard.

Making homemade bone meal is simple – animal bones need to be cleaned, dried, and then crushed into a fine powder. Since bone meal is most effective on soils with a pH of 7 or less, it’s wise to use a soil testing kit before adding any to your garden.

Biofuel

The next time you build a fire, consider adding some animal bones in with the firewood. Bone burning goes way back – it is believed that in primitive times, bones were used as a primary fuel source in places where wood was not readily available.

Recent experiments on bone combustion have revealed that a fire composed of 50% wood and 50% bones burns brighter and longer than those layered with firewood alone. And as with wood ash, the cremains from bone burning can be collected and worked into your garden’s soil to boost calcium and phosphorous content.

Bread Ends

Depending on your regional dialect, the ends pieces from a loaf of bread might be known as bread heels or bread butts. Regardless of what you call ‘em, bread ends may not be pretty but they are still quite tasty.

Make Croutons and Breadcrumbs

Store your bread heels in the freezer until you’ve collected about 15 slices or so. When you’re ready to make croutons or breadcrumbs, thaw them out and set the oven to 350⁰F.

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For croutons, you can follow this basic recipe and experiment with adding different seasonings and herbs.

For breadcrumbs, cut up the bread heels into cubes and spread them out on a cookie sheet. Bake for several minutes until they are completely toasted and crunchy. Remove the baking tray from the oven and allow the bread cubes to cool for 10 minutes. Crush them into crumbs using a food processor or place the cubes into a brown paper bag and mash with a mallet or hammer.

Soften Sugar

Hard brown sugar can be quickly remedied by adding a bread butt to the sugar jar. The bread’s moisture will transfer to the sugar and render it scoopable again.

Eat it

It’s still bread, right? There are plenty of recipes out there that require bread as an ingredient: bread puddingand stuffing and pappa al pomodoro and French onion soup and ribollita, to name a few. And for those weeks you were too busy to go grocery shopping, you can trick your brain by making a sandwich with the bread heels facing inward.

Fruit & Vegetable Scraps

There are loads of ways to put your fruit and vegetable leavings to work!

Fabric Dye

Save your peels and other odds and ends from beets (for reds), oranges and lemons (for yellows), spinach (for greens), red cabbage (for blues), and yellow onions (for oranges) to make a permanent clothing dye. See the complete tutorial here.

All Purpose Cleaner

Supercharge your vinegar solution by using lemon, lime, and orange peels to concoct a wonderful, completely natural cleaning agent.

Combining the anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties of vinegar with the oil and grease dissolving powers of citrus is pure genius. It makes a mean all-purpose cleanser that smells so much nicer than vinegar alone.

To make, remove all the pulpy parts and place citrus peels in a jar; cover them completely in vinegar. Allow the mixture to sit for two weeks, then strain the peels and transfer the liquid to a spray bottle.

This is just one of several ways to give citrus peels a second life.

Vegetable Stock

When you’re chopping up vegetables for other meals, be sure to save the peels, skins, stems, leaves, and other bits which can be used to make a delicious and nutritious vegetable broth. Practically any cutting will do – carrot and potato peels, mushroom and herb stems, celery leaves, corn cobs, and green onion ends are just some of the scrap options. Collect these kitchen bits as you go and store them in the freezer until you have amassed about four to six cups’ worth.

Grow Houseplants

Save the seeds, pits, and cuttings and grow a few gorgeous houseplants!

Regrow it

There are at least 17 fruits, vegetables, and herbs you can buy once and regrow forever.

Fruit Peel Jam

Another ingenious way to ensure nothing is wasted is to make jam from apple peels and cores. The same idea works with strawberry tops and apricot peels too.

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Fruit Scrap Drinks

Alternatively, apple peels and cores can be used to brew up some yummy apple honey tea. Strawberry leaves can also be steeped in boiling water for a surprisingly delicious hot beverage.

Fruit-infused water can be easily had by dropping strawberry tops, cucumber peels, watermelon rinds and other fruit scraps into a glass of water. Let it sit for one hour before straining and drinking.

Fruit Vinegar

Perhaps the most commonly-known fruit vinegar is apple cider vinegar, but did you know you can make a fruit vinegars out of a wide array of fruit scraps? Peaches, plums, nectarines, pears, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, apricots, pluots, and persimmon are all great candidates for homemade fruit vinegar and this mix is especially economical when you only use the fruit castaways (the peels and cores, as well as bruised and freezer-burned fruit).

Have a jar at the ready filled with either red or white wine, balsamic or apple cider vinegar and plunk in your fruit bits as you go. Give it at least two weeks to infuse before straining. You can use this concoction as a salad dressing, marinade, dessert sauce, or pickling juice. Another option is to use vodka, rum, or brandy as your base to create fruity liqueurs.

Fruit Shrub Syrup

An old-timey beverage that harkens back to the 15th century, a few drops of shrub syrup can be added to cocktails, spirits, or carbonated water or used undiluted in salads, jams, and as a glaze. While this shrub recipe calls for peeled and chopped fruit, it works equally well with fruit scraps too.

Fruit Peel Facial

Give your skin a good dose of vitamins and antioxidants by rubbing fruit peels all over your face. For oily skin, use citrus rinds (but avoid the eyes) and rinse after 15 minutes. For dry skin, the peels from avocado, papaya, cantaloupe, cucumber, watermelon, kiwi, pomegranate, and banana will gently rehydrate your skin when you let it sit for 30 minutes before rinsing away.

Air Freshener

Make your home smell clean and fresh by making this citrus peel spray, or baking a fragrance with fruit scraps, or crafting these adorable odor absorbers using halved and hollowed citrus rinds filled with sea salt and your choice of herbs.

Spoiled Wine

Wine that has gone bad needn’t be unceremoniously poured down the drain!

Rescue it

According to science channel Reactions, smelly wine can be restored by simply dropping a copper penny into the glass, stirring, and then fishing the penny out. Thiols, a group of sulphur molecules that give wine its rotten egg and burnt rubber odor, are the unintended result of a chemical reaction in the winemaking process. Adding copper, though, neutralizes the sulphur smells and renders your wine palatable again.

This trick works only with pennies minted before 1982 since newer pennies are mostly made from zinc. Also, if using a penny – please wash it really, really well. If the idea of placing a coin in your drink is unfathomable to you, a silver spoon will work too.

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Make Vinegar

The origin of the word “vinegar” translates from Old French as “sour wine”. In fact, it is believed that vinegar was a serendipitous discovery, a result of improperly sealed wine kegs in Babylon circa 5000 BC. Our ancestors knew better than to throw it away and soon found ways to clean with it, drink it, use it as a condiment, bathe in it, and so on.

It’s easy to make your own supply of vinegar with wine and champagne. All you need to do is pour the old wine into a glass jar, cover it with some cheesecloth to protect from bugs and dust, and place it in a cool, dark place. The transition from wine to vinegar can take anywhere from one to six months. Give it a whiff and a sip every so often to check its progress.

Cook with it

Because wine acts as a preservative, consuming bad wine won’t make you sick and you can still use it for cooking. It works best with dishes that have a long simmering time, like reduction sauces and slow braising.

Vinotherapy

Red wines, in particular, offer an ample store of antioxidants, tartic acid, and polyphenols – all of which can be great skin treatments. It’s a fairly new technique, and so scientific studies on vinotherapy are nonexistent, but many swear by it for its anti-aging, exfoliating, and cellulite reducing properties. Next time you run a warm bath, try dropping a glass or two of red wine in with the water and see for yourself!

Food Scraps Roundup:

Even more ideas for repurposing your food:

  • Tomato peels, cores, and juice – Make some killer tomato sauce with the refuse.
  • Dry cheese & leftover cheese rinds – Use dried out cheese to make mac n cheese and 23 other leftover cheese recipes.
  • Brewed coffee – The dregs at the end of the pot can be used in a myriad of food and drink recipes.
  • Coffee grounds – Use your coffee grounds in the garden, around the home, and in various beauty treatments.
  • Bacon grease – Use bacon fat to make suet and feed the birds during winter.
  • Tea bags – There are no less than 18 ways to put your spent tea bags to good use.
  • Eggshells – Green thumbs adore eggshells, and with good reason.
  • Watermelon rinds – When pickled, watermelon rinds are entirely edible.
  • Potato skins – Make a crunchy, delicious potato peel roast from the skins.
  • Broccoli stalks – The “trunks” of the green trees can be made into a nutritious soup.
  • Pumpkin guts – Next Halloween, save your pumpkin leftovers to whip up some delectable pumpkin puree which can be used as an ingredient for a slew of recipes, including this pumpkin face mask.
  • Banana peels – Need your shoes shined? Your meat tenderized? Use a banana peel!
  • Cherry pits – Cherrystones retain heat really well and can be used to fashion a bed warmer.