You take a trip to the farmers market or grocery store to stock up on a week’s worth of veggies and fruit. You have great plans to use each and every item in the next few days.
Then life gets busy and your plans change. You end up eating meals out, deciding you don’t want what you bought or just forget it’s around. A good portion of what came into the home to be eaten ends up getting tossed in the trash can.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Food waste in America is a real problem (and our busy lives don’t help it at all). In fact, the average family of four loses up to $2,275 each year in wasted food, a hefty sum even for the most affluent of homes.
The impact of food waste doesn’t stop there. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, the equivalent of 1.3 billion tons of edible food goes to waste each year. That equates to roughly 1 in every 4 calories of food produced for consumption goes uneaten.
In first world countries like the U.S. and Canada, the majority of this loss happens at the retail and consumer levels, meaning we’re producing and buying more than we can consume. Most of what goes unused ends up in landfills, where it (unfortunately) won’t self-compost. Instead, it produces methane gas, thus contributing to the problems of pollution and global warming.
So on top of the money you could save each month, cutting down on food waste is actually an effective way to lower your carbon footprint. Luckily, there are some simple ways to save foods that are about to turn, meaning you’ll get the most out of your grocery expenditure, reduce the amount of waste your household contributes to landfills and end up with some seriously delicious goodies you might not have made otherwise!
Here are some of our favorite ways to repurpose foods that are about to go bad.
Ah, the classic overripe fruit. Browned bananas, of course, make the perfect base for homemade banana bread. You can also puree and use in place of butter in most recipes, particularly those that can stand a slightly fruity flavor. One of our favorite ways to repurpose a squishy banana is to peel and freeze it, then pop it in the food processor and blend until it becomes gloriously smooth vegan “ice cream.”
As the sugars in berries start to break down, they soften, making them less than ideal for topping parfaits or eating by the handful, but absolutely perfect for things like pie fillings and jam. It’s surprisingly simple to make your own homemade spreads. One of our favorite tutorials from The Kitchn is here.
Also, thanks to their increased sweetness, overripe berries make a beautiful addition to smoothies. You won’t notice their mushiness, and they’ll bring a bright burst of berry flavor. Not ready to use them right away? Freeze in a single layer on a baking sheet and transfer to a sealed container for use any time you want an icy fruity treat.
Nature’s test of good timing in fruit form, avocados are a tough one to buy and consume in time. If these green gems aren’t fashioned into guacamole *quite* in time and start to develop soft spots on the skin (or brown patches on the inside), you still have some options before descending into I-will-never-buy-avocados-again despair. Simply remove the brown parts from the inside with a small spoon, and transfer the remaining green portion into the food processor. Blending is going to be your best bet, especially if the texture has started to turn a little mealy. These still-good portions can serve as the substitute for bananas or dairy in smoothies or sorbets, thanks to their creaminess. They’re also excellent creamy bases for dairy-free soups.
Root vegetables and alliums
Did you discover a bag of potatoes and onions in the bottom of the pantry that started to sprout? Never fear—these can be made into a brilliant vegetable stock, as can the withered carrots, leeks, celery, mushrooms, corn cobs and green beans hanging out in the bottom of your crisper.
Simply slice off any sprouted or obviously rotten bits (extra points for composting), wash and chop your veggies into one-inch chunks and place in a large pot of water seasoned with salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour. Strain the remaining solids (again, compost for bonus points) and divide the broth into freezer-friendly containers. You now have budget-friendly, homemade stock for use in any recipe that calls for it.
Tomatoes are another tricky one. When they’re too hard, they’re totally unappealing, but when they’re too ripe, they’re mushy and mealy and very nearly inedible. Good news: Squishy tomatoes are perfect for sauces, soups and tomato paste. Simply peel and puree, leaving more chunks for pasta sauce and fewer chunks for soup and paste. Season as you like with herbs and spices, adding in cooked onion and garlic to taste, then refrigerate or freeze until you’re ready to use them. The sauce heats up easily and make excellent homemade gifts. (Looking for a tutorial on canning? Here’s a great one from The Kitchn.)
Take those mushy apples out of the fruit basket, chop them up and stew them into the most delicious filling for pies, cobblers or apple butter. In fact, they’re extra delicious when they start to break down, thanks to the increased sugar content, making them the perfect addition to desserts. If you’re interested in exploring canning, stewing a batch of apples with spices and coconut sugar is a great way to start. Plus, they’ll last all year and make a great topping for yogurt and ice cream.
While citrus fruits like lemons, limes and oranges have pretty impressive shelf lives, a too-soft piece isn’t tremendously appetizing (and can be difficult to slice into cute shapes for the edge of your water glass). Save your citrus by peeling and slicing into rounds and adding to a large vat of water. You won’t notice the squishiness, but the breakdown of the juices will help to flavor plain water beautifully. Juice can also be squeezed and frozen in ice cube trays for cooking. Keeping it chilled will prevent further spoilage and means you’ll have convenient cubes to toss into soups, sauces or baked fish dishes.
Overripe oranges can also be baked into delicious muffins and cakes—think lemon loaf but without the Jello powder and with all the goodness of whole oranges.