Smart Ways to Cook with Food Scraps (Beyond Broth)

Don’t toss those carrot greens and broccoli stalks! A lot of the fruit and veggie scraps that we throw away are actually totally edible.

Not only does cooking with food scraps reduce the amount of food waste we’re sending to landfills, it saves you money. When you use more of the vegetables you buy, you end up needing to buy fewer veggies. It’s also a fun way to introduce new textures and flavors into your cooking that you might have otherwise tossed into your compost bin.

Chances are you know some of the food scrap cooking basics, right? Veggie scraps are great for making broth, for example. And you can zest your citrus peels and freeze the zest for baking and sauce-making. But there are some edible food scraps that I think we overlook a lot. These are some of my favorite ways to reuse food scraps in my kitchen.

Surprising Ways to Cook with Food Scraps

Carrot Greens

Carrot greens have an earthy, slightly bitter taste that you’d expect from any leafy green, but they also have a little bit of what I can only describe as a carroty taste.

If you’re going to cook with your carrot greens, it’s important to wash them very thoroughly.  Those greens likely did a lot of sitting in dirt, and the last thing you want is a gritty stir fry or pesto. My recommendation is to soak them in a bowl of water for a few minutes, then scrub with your hands to dislodge any dirt. Transfer to a colander and rinse well.

My favorite way to eat carrot greens is in a pesto. You can substitute half of the basil from a traditional pesto recipe with carrot greens or go a bit less traditional with something like my sage and carrot greens pesto.

If you’re worried about carrot greens being toxic, don’t fret about it! The Kitchn has a great piece on how this idea got started and why it’s not true. They also have some suggestions for other ways you can cook  your carrot greens.

Surprising Ways to Cook with Food Scraps

Kale and Collard Stems

Kale salad and green smoothie lovers, rejoice! These recipes often call for removing the tough rib from your kale, to make the raw greens more palatable. But you can save those stems for cooking! When you cook them, those tough, chewy stems become crunchy and even develop a bit of sweetness that balances out the bitter kale taste beautifully. When you sauté, you actually don’t have to de-stem your kale or collard greens. Just chop and cook.

If you do have some kale stems sitting around, though, they stand on their own really well. Try this sweet and spicy stir fry or make a kale stem pesto!

Surprising Ways to Cook with Food Scraps

Broccoli Stalks

Like kale and collard stems, you can absolutely eat your broccoli stalks. They have a milder broccoli flavor and work well in stir fries, veggie roasts, soups, and stews.

I realized that I could cook broccoli stems when I dumped out a bag of frozen broccoli, and noticed that there are a lot of pieces that were totally not florets in the bag.  To prep your broccoli stalks, you do need to remove the tough outer skin. Just use a paring knife to slice it away. What’s left is the tender and juicy broccoli heart. Cook it up just like you would broccoli florets.

Surprising Ways to Cook with Food Scraps

There are chard stems in them thar pickles!

Beet Greens and Stems

If you’ve never eaten beet greens, you are in for such a treat! They work well anywhere that you’d use Swiss chard. Fun fact: Swiss chard is actually in the beet family. Like the carrot greens, you want to really wash those beet greens thoroughly. I use the same soak, scrub, rinse method that I use on my carrot greens.

Beet stems – and chard stems, while we’re at it – are great for adding crunch to mayonnaise-based salads. I use them in place of celery when making vegan egg salad. Beet or chard stems also work well as refrigerator pickles or in a stir fry.

A friend of mine likes using beet stems in her juices. They give the same sweetness and deep, red color that you get from beetroot.

Surprising Ways to Cook with Food Scraps

Don’t skin your kiwi!

Kiwi Skins

Kiwi skins are totally edible.

I’m a big believer in not peeling fruits and veggies unless you absolutely have to. If you’ve never eaten your kiwi unpeeled, try it! Once you get past the initial fuzzy texture, it’s not that different from eating peeled kiwi. It’s less wasteful and saves time at the cutting board.

The fuzzy texture is less noticeable if you cut your kiwi into large chunks (think 6 chunks from 1 kiwi) or if you cut it into rings. The only parts you should probably discard are the woody top and bottom.

Surprising Ways to Cook with Food Scraps

Almond Meal Left from Making Milk

Do you make your own almond milk? It feels so wasteful to toss that pulp into the compost, doesn’t it? There are a few ways that you can reuse that nutritious pulp, though!

Dry it out in the oven to make almond flour. Almond flour is just ground almonds, and dried pulp will work just as well. Since making almond milk saturates the pulp in water, you just need to bake that off. Set your oven to the lowest possible temperature, spread your almond pulp onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake, stirring every 30 minutes. It takes about two hours to dry it out, and then you’re ready to use it in baking. You can store it in the fridge for a few days if you don’t need it right away.

If baking it doesn’t appeal to you, you can use that almond pulp in smoothies or as the base for an almond sauce. For the sauce, just toss it into the blender with soy sauce, lemon juice, hot sauce to taste, and some ginger, and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust the amounts to suit your tastes.

Surprising Ways to Cook with Food Scraps

Rosemary Stalks

Okay, so you can’t eat rosemary stalks. But you can reuse them before you toss them into the compost! Next time you’re grilling, try using rosemary stalks instead of bamboo skewers. You won’t be sorry.

To do a rosemary stalk skewer, you need thick, woody stalks. Sometimes store-bought rosemary isn’t hardy enough for this use. Your best bet is to harvest from a big rosemary bush.

What are your favorite ways to cook with food scraps? I am always looking for new ideas to try!

Carrot Green Pesto, Pickled Chard Stems, Almond Meal, and Rosemary photos by Becky Striepe. All other images via Thinkstock.


Christine Stewart

I bought some beets on sale, that had the most beautiful set of leaves, at least 2 feet of stems/leaves! I am for sure not going to waste that greenery!

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill4 years ago


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Valentina R.
Valentina R4 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Sheri P.
Sheri P4 years ago

fun, awesome ideas, thanks!

Jim Ven
Jim Ven4 years ago

thanks for the article.

Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn4 years ago

very useful

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper4 years ago


Karen F.
Karen P4 years ago

Love using rosemary stems for skewers. Taste, smell and look so good.

Warren Webber
Warren Webber4 years ago

Live long and prosper!

Bernie 2016!