We get it, you’re trying to be healthy. But, as the saying goes, “the fruit and vegetable drawer in the fridge is where good intentions go to die.” Then ensues the trash-can-side funeral for your forgotten or prematurely ripened fruits and veggies, so lovingly selected with so much in mind for them. However, you needn’t worry about this happening yet again. With a little research and some application, even fruits and vegetables that are literally growing mold can still be used for something and not needlessly chucked in the bin. Hopefully this will alter your mindset into looking out for and practicing ways you can use those leftovers in creative, alternative ways, not only by contributing them to landfills. Also not by just binge eating them before they expire because you don’t want to “waste” them. With these tips and ideas, they don’t have to be binged (aka “waisted”) Here are 15 ways to get the absolute most out of those fruits and vegetable purchases without losing food, squandering money, or missing out on health and other opportunities! *Note: Most of these options take some research of recipes, so hit the internet and find what recipe works for you with the fruits and veggies you have!
15. Stirfry Rice
This is a my favorite way to incorporate leftover veggies into another new meal. (It also helps to have leftover rice in the fridge, which makes it even more convenient!) You can find plenty of recipes, but from experience, to get that authentic vegetable-stir-fried rice taste, it’s recommended to use some soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil in the pan as you cook your rice! This can be personalized in so many ways. Just toss in any leftovers (onion, broccoli, carrots, etc!) to the rice while heat it up, scramble an egg in, add garlic and favorite spices, and you’ve got a really delicious Asian-style meal and are using those leftover veggies at the same time. This is also an easy-to-make vegetarian option. (Rice not your thing? Make it a true stir fry by using beef or other meats instead.) The more veggies you have, the more you get to use, and the more nutrients you get to eat!
Got a plethora of various leftover vegetables you’re not quite sure what to do with? Grab some sort of base stock (chicken, vegetable, etc.,) simmer the leftovers with some favorite herbs and spices, (or look for a recipe if you’re particular about it,) until the vegetables are soft. Then use a stick blender and blend everything into your own, homemade vegetable soup. (You can also carefully transfer the mixture in batches to a blender if you don’t have a stick blender.) Or alternatively, if you prefer, cook the incorporated veggies until soft and eat as is; it’s up to you! This is a highly customizable meal in that you can choose to make it vegetarian, or experiment with a range of add-ins such as chicken, grains such as rice, quinoa, or even pasta to oomph it up into a truly hearty meal. The possibility of a homemade, leftover veggie soup is so much better than cracking open a can of over-salted, condensed, preserved, gloopy soup. This way you know exactly what’s in it, and can take more pride in making it with love yourself. And, most importantly, you use up your leftover veg!
13. Banana bread/pancakes
These are generally quite easy recipes, but a fantastic way to use leftover bananas. Bananas are quite notorious for over-ripening into sad, soft versions of their earlier selves right under your nose. In banana bread and pancake recipes, the banana must be smashed up before being cooked, so if they’re already starting to get soft, all the better! This makes the batter for bread and pancakes smoother and with less pesky banana lumps. Both these options make a tasty, (deliciously carb-y,) healthful breakfast items. –Especially compared to plain pancakes. Why not add some more potassium and nutrients to get you fueled up in the morning?
Okay, so we’ve explored many options for using a variety of vegetables, so lets get more into the fruits! Smoothies are probably an obvious choice for using bits of leftover fruits, but you can actually easily incorporate veggies in with these sweet drinks. (In fact it’s getting vastly more popular to have vegetables in these drinks or commonly called “green juices.”) There are countless ideas out there, but you can just as easily experiment with combining different fruits and veggies to see what works (and what may not!) It is helpful to have: a cold element, such as frozen fruit (ice will water your smoothie down without incorporating any nutrients); a liquid agent, such as the juiced fruits, milks, etc.; and a thickening agent, such as yogurt, bananas, kale, etc. Go wild! –Just try to keep the components on the healthy side. If you use ice cream instead of frozen fruit and whip cream instead of yogurt, you’ve made a milkshake! You can also throw any leftover fruits that are about to go bad in the freezer and pull them out later to use to chill a yummy, healthy smoothie.
11. Jar it
Plain old pickles aren’t the only thing you can preserve in a jar. Jams, jellies, butters (ever tried apple butter? YUM.) are all some of the fruit options. You can also experiment with pickling a wide selection of vegetables, such as radishes, beets, onions, and more. Check out what kinds of jarred preserves you can make with your leftovers, and you will find through this process you’ll be able to extend the shelf life of these fruits and veggies tenfold by making jams, chutneys and pickles that all can enjoy. You can even throw ribbon or twine around the lid and add a tag on the jar to make a nice, homemade gift! Before you object– Note: you don’t necessarily need special equipment or inside knowledge for every preserve. Granted, depending on the recipe, you may need a particular ingredient or tool. Generally, just a recipe for pickling brine or applesauce, some leftover fruits and veg, and a jar will be enough to give it a go!
This may seem out of date or old-fashioned, but hey, if it ain’t broke! There are plenty of updated, delicious casserole options out there. They’re certainly a tried and true method of incorporating several leftover vegetables into a new, easy, one-pan meal. (Now begs the question: what to do with leftover casserole?)
Another way to treat yourself with fruit (and veg) that you don’t know what to do with, is to popsicle-ize them. Even more savory combinations can work, like cucumber, rosemary, and lemon among other recipes. If you’re not a fan of whole add-ins to your frozen delights, try freezing the smoothies you’ve made! Test various combinations with some simple bases and enjoy those fruit and veg like never before. All you need is some sort of popsicle mold, (there are a lot of fun ones out there), a handful of recipes, (or not, if you want to walk on the wild side,) and a freezer. If you’re really in dire straits and don’t have access to an actual popsicle mold, you can hack one by using an ice cube tray, tinfoil (or plastic wrap) and toothpicks. Simply pour your mixture in the tray, cover with your wrap of choice, and poke toothpicks through in the center of each well to make bite-sized pops. Or, skip the toothpicks altogether and use your “popsicle ice cubes” in summery drinks!
8. Use for animals/bird feeders
If your leftover fruits and veggies are no longer fit for human consumption, why not consider animals? Just make sure the foods you happen to have are safe for birds, squirrels, and other animals to consume, and won’t attract unwanted wild animals such as skunks. Carrot ends, potato peels, mushy berries, hard corn, stale nuts, even the silk from corn husks can be useful for birds for their nest-making. Often times, parts of fruits and vegetables we can’t eat (rinds, peels, seeds, etc.), are appreciated by local wildlife. See if your living area is appropriate for treating some furry and feathered friends. If not, see if there is anywhere nearby you can donate these leftover bits and bobs, such as to farms, zoos, or friends with pets who appreciate these types of leftovers for their horses, hamsters, goats, pigs, etc.!
7. Regrow them
Many veggies can be regrown from their leftover roots, stems, and ends. Depending on what vegetable you have, the process for regrowing will vary. Some can simply be put in a cup of water to sprout new growth from their base. Others may need soil or some degree of care, attention, and preparation, but after growth has occurred again they are perfectly usable! How many times they’ll re-grow varies again depending on what type of food you have. But once you get the hang of the best way to make each flourish, this will be an invaluable life hack for getting double (or more) out of those previously discarded bits, ends, and stalks, giving them a second chance to be useful in your life!
6. Plant the seeds
If it’s impossible to regrow the fruit or vegetable piece from the root or as is, most of the time you can salvage the seeds from them and put your gardening skills to the test in regrowing them from the seed up. Do a little research for the best way to treat the seeds you have for home planting. Many non-farmer’s-market produce seeds need to be washed and dried or otherwise prepped before starting. This is another way to get double (typically lots more!) usage out of leftover fruits and vegetables or mere pieces. Something will be saved and reused from these unusable leftovers, even a part as minuscule as is seed, can be used for growing your own food from one initial purchase.
5. Use the peels
Citrus and other fruit peels can be used in many ways and not just simply stripped and cast aside. Chop up squeezed-out lemons and run in your garbage disposal to clean the metals and freshen it up. Peels can also be used to wash other stainless steel appliances to restore their original sheen. Look up very easy cleanser recipes for appropriate ratios for what you have in mind to polish. Citrus peels can also be used for more glamorous functions such as making potpourri. Or use a hollowed out half orange as a cup and pour wax in it and add a wick to make an au-natural, fresh smelling candle. Even parts that are truly inedible are being utilized. You can even use a cleaned out half orange or similar to start the germination of a seed (see re-growth idea), and plant the whole unit in the garden later, providing the sprout with its very own biodegradable “pot.”)
This one may sound odd at first, but it’s certainly possible to put the really inedible fruits and vegetables to use in arts and crafts. Many vegetables, provided they aren’t overly moldy or too soft to handle, can make really unique and creative patterns when dipped in paints and stamped. You can even customize the shape, such as carving designs out of old potatoes, carrot and celery ends, watermelon rinds, even the tops of peppers. This activity is great to do with kids; you can teach them about fruits and vegetables, shapes, patterns, and colors, all at once! Really explore what shapes and designs you can get from these all-natural art supplies. A popular thing is to stamp plain brown paper and use it in the future as a homemade and totally one-of-a-kind gift wrap. Or a child can stamp on a large piece of sturdy paper to produce unique artworks for their homes, friends, or family. Fruit and veggie stamps don’t sound so odd anymore, do they?
Believe it or not, there are some pretty rad natural dyes you can make out of leftover fruits and vegetables. This is a great way to use the truly inedible in a different way in yet another neat arts and crafts project. Dying can also become a group activity done with kids, to create gifts or as an educational exercise with colors. Or do your own projects by dying your own fabric and cloth which will produce a truly one-of-a-kind, all-natural way to reuse those leftover “good intentions.” Look up different methods and instructions of what dyes you can make and how to make and use them. You may stumble upon a fun new hobby in food tie-dyes.
2. Spa supplies
If you can’t eat it, absorb it by osmosis? But seriously, there are many more uses for the nutrients found in produce than simply popping them down the hatch. Even topically, fruits and veggies can benefit your skin, hair, feet, nails, and more in many ways. Do a little research to see what you can make with what you have, and what the different foods can do for your skin, etc. Face masks, foot treatments, aromatherapy, and hair masks all fall into the category of “green” beauty supplies and treatments. Treat yourself to a spa day! (Using healthy foods).
Finally, your fruits and vegetables have had a decent run. Maybe they’re leftovers thrice over, maybe they’re far beyond salvaging, or otherwise absolutely, completely, unusable. Now you can finally lay them to rest. –Not in a plastic garbage bag, but in your own compost. There are a few different ways to have a compost, ranging from small homemade bins to large specialty compost bins that are you can buy. Do some reading to see which style and size are best suited for your living arrangement, area, and climate. (Also, note that fats, bones, meats, and oils can never go in any compost. You can research the dos and don’ts.) If your compost of choice ends up outside or in an inconvenient area, place a small bin or bowl on your kitchen countertop to toss scraps of compostable items. Compost takes some real care and upkeep, but from experience saves SO much room in that so-often-filled trash can. It also avoids extra-stinky garbage, and helps your conscious by being able to recycle your leftover fruits and vegetables as they naturally should be: recycled into nutrient soil for future generations of food!