Food waste in Canada is a serious social and environmental issue, whether in your own kitchen or on a national level. Tiffany Mayer shares ten practical tips to help prevent wasted food at home - specifically preventing wasted fruit and vegetables.
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Be sure to read part one in our food waste series: Tips To Avoid Wasting Meat, Seafood and Eggs.
Tables at farmers market are about to start creaking under the weight of this year’s harvests, and our willpower is likely to be just as strained.
It’s easy to be tempted by those luscious heirloom tomatoes piled high in baskets. And who hasn’t been hoodwinked by the romantic image of juice-stained fingers that compels us to buy a sizeable share of the latest berry crop?
But how many times have we been caught up in the fleeting freshness and beauty of in-season fruits and vegetables, only for them to find their way to the compost heap rather than our bellies?
Canadians waste $31 billion of food each year — roughly a third of what we produce.
Food waste is among the most significant social and environmental issues of our generation.
According to the Ontario Association of Food Banks, Canadians waste $31 billion of food each year — roughly a third of what we produce. Meanwhile, one in eight Canadian families struggle to put food on the table, and 800,000 of us visit a food bank each month.
From an environmental perspective, there are the finite resources used to produce that cabbage that got pushed to the back of the fridge to become a science-project-in-waiting.
That once-perfect head of cabbage required 237 litres of water to grow. Then there’s all the fuel and energy required to plant, harvest, pack and ship it.
Granted, grocery stores and the restaurant industry are food waste heathens compared to the average person. But our desire for perfect produce doesn’t help, often keeping up to 30 per cent of fresh fruits and vegetables from ever being harvested.
Still, if you’ve got it, use it. It’s not only good for our wallets and the planet to eat what we grow and buy … consuming all those fruits and vegetables — and all parts of them — is good for our health.
Ten Practical Tips for Preventing Food Wastes with Fruits and Veggies
Here are some practical tips for ensuring you get the most from those farm stand hauls this summer while minimizing food waste. Many of the fruits and veg mentioned here are hyperlinked to recipe collections that can help you get even more deliciousness out of them!
1. Store Fruits and Veggies Properly To Prevent Waste
One of the easiest ways to give your produce haul a shot at making it all into your family's tummies is to make sure you're storing everything properly as soon as you get it home. Proper food storage will make sure your fruits and vegetables live their best life and give you maximum flavour and nutrition while they're in your kitchen.
Most other items will be fine in the fridge but some shouldn't be washed or peeled until you're ready to use them. Some do better when wrapped in a damp paper towel or stored away from other produce. For a great, comprehensive guide to storing fruits and vegetables visit Half Your Plate where you'll find lots of tips. You can also download their PDF guide to storing produce at home - it's very helpful!
And don't forget - canning, preserving and freezing are all great ways to store all that summer bounty to have it available through the winter!
2. Use the Tops and Bottoms of Vegetables
Chef April Bloomfield made carrot top pesto de rigueur in her 2015 cookbook A Girl and Her Greens. Her recipe for pan-roasted carrots with carrot-top pesto and burrata showed North Americans that the wispy crowns of tap roots shouldn’t be overlooked.
But carrot tops aren’t the only ones worthy of our attention.
Radish, turnip, rutabaga and beet greens are all brilliant sautéed with a bit of butter and garlic. Kohlrabi, generally grown for the mild-tasting bulb, is often sold with greens that make suitable substitutes for hardier leaves like collards.
Even strawberry tops have a place in our bellies. Kate Turner, author of My Zero-Waste Kitchen, advocates leaving the greens on your berries when making a smoothie. They provide extra vitamins and fibre.
Don’t fret when you’re fortunate enough to find a bunch of cilantro with the roots intact, either. They’re milder than the leafy tops and an essential ingredient in from-scratch Thai curry pastes.
3. What to Do with Vegetable Seeds and Stems
You’ve torn your kale leaves and given them the deepest of massages required for an incredible salad. But what to do with those tough stems?
You can chop them up and use them in stir-fries, or if you’ve got a high-speed blender, use them in smoothies. Ditto for broccoli stems. Just peel, dice and freeze, adding them to your morning fruit, veg and milk concoctions as needed.
Chard stems can make an elegant side when cut into finger-length pieces, bundled and tied with a ribbon of chard leaf, then steamed or braised.
When it comes to seeds, all squash seeds — not just pumpkin — can be roasted and used to add crunch to salads, as a pine nut alternative in pestos, or as a healthy snack.
4. More Than a Peeling - What to Do with Fruit and Vegetable Peels
Raise your hand if you’ve ever eaten or cooked banana peel. Turner recommends putting a ripe banana peel underneath meat in a roasting pan to keep it moist and tender during cooking.
She also suggests blitzing topped and tailed banana peels with 1/2 cup of water in a food processor or blender. Use the smooth, dark slurry to add moisture and nutrients to cakes.
Potato and sweet potato peels make excellent chips when tossed with olive oil and salt, and baked in the oven. Languishing roots, such as beets, parsnip and carrot, also make great chip candidates.
5. Souped-Up Scraps - Make Stock!
Sometimes it’s not possible to salvage an entire vegetable. There are rewards for cutting out the bad parts, however. The bits and bobs left over can make flavourful additions to dishes; for example, don’t break Romaine’s heart by tossing heads that start to lose their vigour. Chop up what’s still edible for a sublime stir-fry.
Peelings and scraps left behind on the cutting board can also be thrown into a freezer bag and used later to make stock.
6. In Praise of the High-Priced Kitchen Gadget
Preventing Food Waste with a Blender
There really is something to be said for that expensive blender that sounds like an airplane taking off and runs at mach 4 speed. It takes no prisoners when it comes to the toughest or ugliest parts of vegetables that we might otherwise write off as inedible.
As mentioned, kale stems have nothing on a good blender. And no one will be able to tell those peppers and beets in your hummus were a little shrivelled.
Using a Juicer or Dehydrator to Minimize Food Waste
Don’t discount the juicer, either, for helping you to keep up with an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Some say they’re a pain to clean, but they do give you the gift of all that leftover pulp, which is begging to be added to quick loaves, granola bars or other baking that can handle some sneaky nutrition.
Dehydrators can help you stay on top of hot peppers, apples, and that prolific cherry tomato growing in your garden. Citrus peels also get a new lease on life when dehydrated and ground into powder that adds depth and brightness to savoury dishes.
7. Do the Mashed Potato (or What to Do with Leftovers)
Leftovers are a bastion of food waste. Some foods don’t taste so hot when they’re reheated, after all. Take mashed potatoes, for example. The good news is they can repurposed into many wonderful bites. Any kind of patty, fritter or latke can benefit from the addition of leftover mashed potatoes. Pureed potatoes also make a silky soup thickener, especially for those trying to curb their heavy cream consumption.
8. Hydration Station - Soak Greens in Water!
Whose mouth hasn’t watered at the sight of fresh kale, chard, collards, dandelion or another green? Those perky leaves are hard to resist. A few days in the fridge, however, and they can lose their shine.
Revive limp greens, or root vegetables that have lost some firmness, by soaking them for a few hours in a sink full of water. Alternatively, stick that bunch of leafy greens in a large glass or vase filled with warm water and watch that H20 create some serious turgor pressure for all you hungry science buffs out there.
Once they’ve been revived, wrap damp greens loosely in a paper towel, then store in a plastic bag in the fridge. You can also chop or tear them into pieces, seal in a freezer bag with the air removed, and freeze until needed.
9. To Freeze or Not to Freeze
Herbs are one of the most commonly tossed fresh foods. They’re often purchased in clamshells at the grocery store, but unless pesto is on the menu, we only ever need a few sprigs. To keep from wasting the rest, blitz tender herbs, such as basil, parsley, dill, and cilantro in a food processor, then scoop by the tablespoon into ice cube trays. Cover with water or olive oil and freeze until you need them for soups, stews, pestos, or curries.
Dry excess woody herbs by tying the stems together, then hanging upside down in a dry corner of the kitchen. After a few days, they’ll feel crumbly and be ready to store at room temperature in an airtight bag or container.
10. Grow It, Don’t Throw It
My, what big eyes those forgotten potatoes have. The better to hone your greenthumb with, though. Turner suggests turning those tired tubers into the next generation by cutting them into pieces about five centimetres in diameter. Leave to dry overnight and plant them abut 20 centimetres deep in soil with the eyes facing up. Prepare to reap what you sow in a few weeks.
You can also grow a new crop of lettuce from those old heads. Just cut off any leafy parts for eating, and put the remaining base in a shallow bowl of warm water so only the very bottom is submerged. Place the bowl in a sunny spot until new leaves begin to sprout, then plant in soil so only the leaves are showing.
Harvest as you need it for some of the best bowl food going.
Here are some more resources that might help you reduce waste in your home:
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Tiffany Mayer is a freelance journalist and author of Niagara Food: A Flavourful History of the Peninsula’s Bounty (History Press, 2014). She blogs about food and farming at Time For Grub. You can also listen to her food podcast, Grub and read more of her work here on FBC.