When experimenting with adding more plant based foods into your diet, you might enjoy some perks like having more energy, feeling less tired, and even saving a dollar or two at the market. However, you might also find yourself stuck with way too much produce on the verge of going bad and no real game plan for what to do with it.
This list doubles as a resource to reduce food waste and is also jam packed with easy cooking tips for beginners, no matter what your diet looks like.
Check out these Easy Tips to Cut down on food waste
1. Know your Produce
Know the best ways to preserve your fruit and veggies to avoid making them spoil.
Keep asparagus and any fresh cut herbs in a cup of water in the fridge. Treat them like cut flowers, they will drink up the water and stay perky for up to two weeks. Be sure to change out the water if it starts looking old.
Know which veggies to refrigerate and which ones to keep on the counter. Tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, bananas, can all stay on the counter. Refrigeration actually breaks down their cell membranes, causing them to decay faster.
Refrigerate apples, oranges, berries, beets, onions, cucumbers, melon, mango, eggplant, carrots, scallions, leeks, etc.
Keep greens crisp. Collards, kale, spinach, etc should be stored in a big bag with a little breathing room. Cut slats in it or poke holes so they retain moisture but have room to breathe and not turn to mush. You can even keep a rag in a bag of spinach to soak up extra moisture.
Dry herbs if you think they’re not going to make it in refrigerated storage. Simply tie a rubber band or piece of twine around the stems, and hang upside down from a week. I just hang from a cabinet knob. Voila, no need to buy jarred herbs any more!
2. Blenders are the answer.
Find yourself a cheap old blender or food processor, no matter how prehistoric, and put it to work. Know anyone who is moving, getting an upgrade from a wedding registry, or got an all-in-one type deal for their birthday? Hit them up for their old blender or food processor, or even pick up a hand blender for $20 online.
This will carry you far in the world of DIY cooking and sneaking veggies into all sorts of creative dishes. I recommend making a large batch of beans, and using them to make various sauces and creative hummus or dip recipes. Check out this easy bean pasta sauce and this simple cauliflower hummus recipe.
3 Sauces can have secrets.
Who says pizza sauce must be comprised of exclusively tomatoes? If you have a few red peppers near their end, why not fire roast them (i.e. pop onto your stove top burner for a nice char), and blend them in with garlic, herbs, and a tomato or two? Heck, even a few pieces of butternut squash or eggplant could go into your sauce.
Cauliflower is a fantastic way to add creaminess to sauces like Alfredo or vegan mac & cheese. If you have a head of cauli that’s starting to look a little sad, roast or sauté it, then blend with a quarter cup of non-dairy milk, a tablespoon of plant- based butter, some garlic and herbs, and voila! Dinner is served.
4. Stems and wilted veg are your friends.
So, you’ve bought a bunch of beets from the farmers market (yay for supporting your local farmers!) but they have all those leafy stems that don’t fit too neatly in your fridge. Stems have just as many nutritional properties as the root of the veg, so why not put them to good use?
Pesto is a flavorful and ever changing way to prevent food waste and eat seasonally. The base to any good pesto is a “cheese” component (for plant based opt for nutritional yeast), a fat (typically pine nuts), and an herb (traditionally basil), but there are no rules in the sustainable kitchen. In the winter, beet greens, walnut, and thyme make a delicious pesto to drizzle over pasta or potatoes. In the spring, peas, spinach and basil. For a summer pesto, I love a good kale, basil, and cashew, and in the fall, opt for carrot stems, kale, walnuts, and thyme. If a leafy green is starting to wilt, you can cook it down or blend it to get the nutrients without having to worry about texture.
5. Sneak all sorts of ugly fruit and veg into your smoothies or morning oats.
Adding veggies to your smoothie or oatmeal can sneak in vitamins and help stabilize your blood sugar, so why not get creative and use up some of the sad looking produce in your morning routine? Mimic a carrot cake with ginger, carrot, and pineapple. Got some berries that are starting to get soft? A smoothie is the perfect vehicle to get your vitamins without having to worry about the texture of your produce. Try blueberry, strawberry, spinach, zucchini for a healthy and flavorful way to kick start your morning. Here’s a list of some of my favorite smoothie ideas, and you can bet most of them used up squishy, old fruits and veggies.
6. Freeze treasures for later.
You don’t have to eat all your goodies fresh. If you find yourself with too much of anything, there is probably a way to freeze it.
Berries, corn, carrots, spinach, broccoli, etc. can go straight into the freezer in a lidded glass container.
Bananas can be peeled and then frozen for later smoothies, scones, or banana breads (which you can also incorporate other grated veggies into). Many fruits, like pineapple, coconut, etc. can be cut up and stored in the freezer in chunks.
Herbs can be mixed with olive oil and frozen in ice cube trays to pop into a hot saucepan down the road. If you’re oil free, simply freeze them in water.
Other veggies with more moisture content, like zucchini can be made into a quick fritter with chickpeas and herbs, baked, and then frozen to toast another day. The easiest way to use up a bunch of veggies is to make an easy slow cooker soup or casserole, and then freeze portions of it in glass containers.
7. Home made jam? Yes you can.
There’s some crazy myth that jam is super hard to make and full of sugar. What? Possibly my number one hack for cutting back on food waste is to boil down all of my leftover fruits with perhaps a tablespoon of sugar, some chia seeds, (and even more sneaky veggies) and then plop into a jar for a variety of uses. Store bought jam has so many preservatives in it, not to mention mountains of sugar, so why not create a more sustainable relationship with your food and treat yourself to something yummy at the same time?
The beauty of this is also that there is no right or wrong recipe, so you can’t go wrong. Try a 2 apples, 10 blackberries, a teaspoon of sugar, a dash of lemon juice, and a tablespoon of chia seeds in a saucepan for 10 minutes. Mash, let cool, and store. I also use these homemade jams in dessert making a lot. When making a homemade bread, set a little dough aside, swirl your jam throughout, and bake with a sprinkle of low glycemic index sugar like coconut or date sugar on top.
Starting a plant based diet is fun and freeing, and you may catch yourself trying more foods than ever before. I found it easiest to have more fruits and veg than usual on hand when I was first starting out to make sure I got all of my vitamins and nutrients. Keep this list in mind so you can explore uninhibited, and feel good about the creative ways you prevent food waste along the way.
As always, if you make any of these recipes, tag me on Facebook or Instagram, and let me know how it goes! You can also check out my Pinterest page for more easy recipe inspiration and was to cut down on food waste. Finally, leave me a comment here if you have questions, I’m always more than happy to answer any quandaries you might have and help any newcomers adapt to the vegan lifestyle the best I can.
Check out these recipes that would be great for cutting down on food waste: