Food waste in Canada is a serious social and environmental issue, whether in your own kitchen or on a national level. Tiffany Mayer shares seven practical tips to help prevent wasted food at home, specifically preventing wasted bread and grains as part of our three part series on preventing food waste.
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Be sure to read the rest of our series on preventing food waste in your kitchen:
It’s true that fruits and vegetables are the most wasted foods globally.
But in the U.K., bread is the biggest victim of being kicked to the compost heap or to the curb on garbage day. Brits toss 24 million slices of bread a day.
That’s more than a quirky stat. That's staggering. Closer to home, our neighbours to the south only consume 68 percent of the bread that comes out of a baker’s oven, leaving nearly one-third of the staff of life destined for the trash.
And while stats on breads and grains wasted by Canadians are more elusive, we're guilty of wasting 873 pounds of food — breads and grains included — per capita every year.
The good news is there are several ways we can rise to the occasion of avoiding bread and grain waste.
Seven Practical Tips for Preventing Food Waste with Bread and Grains
1. It all starts with storage
Raise your hand if you’ve ever headed to your pantry with visions of fresh baked bread in mind, only to find your flour was infested with weevils. It’s gross and a sure path to the garbage bin for that bug-eaten sack.
Storing flour in the freezer is one way to not only keep it bug-free but ensure it stays fresh longer. In fact, most grains, especially whole grains, can last for years when kept in cool, dry and dark conditions.
Bugs can easily penetrate cardboard, cellophane and paper bags but not a mighty mason jar. So those without the luxury of room to spare in their freezer or fridge can stretch their dough by storing whole grains in airtight glass, plastic or even metal containers in a light-deprived pantry.
Still, if you’re worried about insect eggs in your flour from its time at the store, zap it on high for five minutes in your microwave. That'll kill them.
According to Bob’s Red Mill, purveyors of all things whole grain, the following must always be stored in a fridge, no exceptions:
- Almond meal
- Hazelnut meal
- Coconut flour
- Wheat germ
- Rice bran
- Ground flaxseed
- Hemp seed
- Active dry yeast
If you’ve lucked out and managed to make that loaf of bread, wrap it in plastic or foil to prevent it from drying out. Bread can stay fresh this way for up to four days.
Home-baked bread tends to dry out and go stale. The store-bought, commercial brands are more likely to go mouldy because of the preservatives they use to extend shelf life. It seems logical to store bread in the fridge like other foods to keep it fresh, but this will only harden your favourite slice, so keep it on the kitchen counter or in a bread box.
Admittedly, it can seem like a Herculean task for some of us to eat our way through an entire loaf in four days. This is where the freezer comes in handy. Store slices in a freezer bag, using them as needed by defrosting, toasting, or wrapping in foil and heating in a warm oven.
2. Using Spent Grains (and Making Friends With Your Local Brewmaster)
Breweries literally go through tons of grains to make their suds. Many craft breweries have established relationships with farmers who use those leftover spent grains as animal feed. Spent grains make for excellent baking, however. If you’re a habitual baker, it might be worth getting to know your local brewer better and scoring some spent grains to make anything from crackers and pancakes to your next loaf of bread.
You can use wet grains as is — and within a day or two of the brewing process — to bulk up baking, adding different flavour and textural components.
Food52 also suggests drying spent grains. Spread them 1/4-inch thick on a baking sheet, and put in a dehydrator or oven set to 170°F (76°C) for seven hours, stirring occasionally to facilitate drying. Then grind them into flour. You don’t need a fancy gadget for this; a coffee grinder will do. Just remember to store the flour in an air-tight container.
3. Make Your Own Beer
Speaking of beer, home brewers can use stale bread in place of malt in their concoctions. Replace one-third of malted barley with leftover bread, and toast to limiting food waste.
4. Delicious Ways To Use Stale Bread
Stale bread makes a worthy thickener for soups and sauces. Cut into cubes for soup and break them apart in the broth to give it a stick-to-your-ribs quality.
Milk, cream, and bay leaf can help turn dried-out baguette into a sauce for vegetables or other Sunday dinner fixings.
Sahara-dry slices can also be cubed, tossed with olive oil and seasoning, and baked into croutons. Dried-out bread makes perfect panzanella, too — that clever Italian salad that combines bits of old loaves with juicy tomatoes to make a toothsome summer dish.
Bread pudding and French toast are also classic ways of reinventing yesterday’s rye. (Check out our recipe for Easy Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding - it will make you want to let your bread go stale on purpose!)
If nothing else, blitz hard heels in a food processor to make bread crumbs. Store them in a Ziplock or air-tight container in your freezer and use as needed.
5. Repurposing Cooked Grains
Perhaps you batch-cooked too much oatmeal or hot cereal this week. No problem. Repurpose it by adding it to muffins or bread.
Day-old cooked rice begs to be fried, but other leftover grains, such as quinoa and millet can also be treated in much the same way. Fried rice/grains are ideal vessels for food waste prevention. Mix in whatever dregs of veggies are lurking in your crisper, or bits of leftover meat from dinners past.
Few things are less palatable than leftover risotto. Instead of suffering through the starchy, gummy remnants, turn them into arancini or rice balls. Just add more cheese, form into balls, coat in egg and bread crumbs, then fry or bake your way to waste-free living.
Leftover plain rice and grains can also be given the pudding treatment, warming them with milk and cream, and adding fruit, nuts, cinnamon, cocoa or other favourite accompaniments.
Excess cooked grains can beef up frittata, be added to soups, or give heft to salad, too (like this peach, asparagus, barley and feta salad). Feel like quiche instead? Mix those grains with cheese, and bake them into a crust for your savoury egg pie.
6. Turn Leftover Pasta and Bread Crumbs Into Comfort Food Casseroles
Some people swear by leftover pasta. If you don’t relish the thought of dining on last night’s noodles again, revamp them by spreading them in a casserole dish, topping with more sauce, then blanketing them in cheese and some of those breadcrumbs you already have on hand. Bake and enjoy.
Excess plain noodles can be used in soups and in noodle kugel, too.
7. Just say no to bread
While there are plenty of ways to make the most of a loaf at home, saying no to the bread plate at restaurants can help reduce food waste when we’re out. Save that space in your stomach for your entrée or dessert instead.
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- Creative Ways to Repurpose Holiday Leftovers
- 6 Tips To Avoid Wasting Meat, Seafood and Eggs
- 10 Tips To Avoid Wasting Fruits and Vegetables
- Minimize Food Waste: Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding
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.