Healthiest Food “Scraps” You Are Throwing in the Trash


When we eat certain foods, we often chuck parts of them into the trash, like the core of an apple or the skin of kiwi. But it turns out that a lot of those food “scraps” which we routinely trash are actually edible and good for us. The next time you eat these foods, especially if you buy organic, make sure you don’t throw away the healthy parts you could be eating!

Broccoli Stalks and Leaves

Most of us just eat the florets of broccoli, but my favorite parts are actually the stalks. I grate them and add a bit of salt and vegan mayo for a super simple, healthy side dish. As for the leaves on broccoli, they are especially healthy because they contain carotenoids, which turn into vitamin A. Just throw the leaves in with the rest of the broccoli when you are cooking.

How to use:

  • Cut stalks thinly and add to stir fry
  • In soups
  • Broccoli slaw
  • Juicer recipes


Orange Rinds and Pith

Most of us think of orange peels as the natural “packaging” surrounding the good stuff inside. But orange peels, as well as the white pith between the peel and fruit, are very healthy for you. They contain flavonoid antioxidants, including hesperidin. Hesperidin is a very powerful anti-inflammatory and can also help lower cholesterol levels. The antioxidants in orange peels are also potent histamine-suppressors and can help with lung cleansing and allergies.

Orange peel might be too bitter to eat raw, but that doesn’t mean you need to throw it away. I had a Russian guest stay with me once who made the most amazing hot drinks out of tea, orange rinds, jam, and whatever fruit I happened to have in the bowl that day. If you aren’t feeling experimental, you can just boil orange rind with some ginger and/or cinnamon and sweeten to your liking. There are plenty of recipes which call for orange zest. And, at The Sprouting Seed, you’ll find 30 uses for orange peel including as a body scrub and mosquito repellent. Orange pith isn’t as bitter as the rind, so just leave it on when you are eating an orange.

How to use:

  • Orange peel tea
  • Orange rind recipes
  • Kitchen cleaner
  • Deodorizer
  • Bug repellant
  • And tons more…


Celery Leaves

Celery leaves might not be crunch like the stalks, and you can’t slather them with peanut butter for a healthy snack, but you don’t want to throw them away. Celery leaves contain 5x more magnesium and calcium than the stalks, as well as vitamin C and antioxidants.

How to Use:

  • Just like you would use celery – soups, stir fry, fresh juices, etc.
  • Use as a garnish
  • Chop and mix into salsas
  • Add a handful to mixed salads


Potato Skins

I never peel potatoes but, admittedly, it is mostly because I am lazy. In this case, my laziness has paid off with better nutrition. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietics, potato skins have more nutrition than the rest of the potato. Just the skin contains about half the potato’s fiber, and also contains calcium, B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, and other nutrients.

How to use:


Pumpkin and Squash Seeds

As a kid, whenever we carved a pumpkin we would scoop out the insides and throw them out. The same went anytime we cooked a squash dish: all the seeds went right into the trash. This is ironic considering that squash seeds (aka pepitas) are rightfully considered a superfood.

Squash seeds are rich in iron, Omega 3, zinc, magnesium, fiber, calcium, B vitamins, and a slew of other nutrients. They contain a lot of tryptophan, so can be good for helping you get to sleep and improving mood (tryptophan is converted into serotonin in the body). Pumpkin seeds are also anti-inflammatory and may reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.

How to use:

  • Roast and eat as a snack
  • Eat them raw right out of the pumpkin or squash
  • Put them in salads
  • Put them in homemade bread

*It is perfectly fine to eat the shell, but you can hull pumpkin seeds too


Apple Skins

Like with potatoes, laziness would prevent me from ever peeling an apple before eating it. But, just in case I did feel inclined to peel it, knowing that the apple peel is loaded with nutrients would stop me.

Apple peel contains more fiber than the rest of the apple (4.4grams of fiber in a medium unpeeled apple vs. just 2.1grams when the apple is peeled). Apple peels are also packed with vitamins A and C.

Another reason to eat whole apples is that they contain an antioxidant called quercetin which is mostly found in the peels. Quercetin is noted for improving lung function and breathing problems, and also may fight cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. If you are overweight, you’ll be happy to know that apple peel contains ursolic acid, which is found to increase muscle matter and “brown” fat, thus boosting metabolism.

How to use:

  • Eat the entire apple, peel and all!


Beet, Turnip and Carrot Greens

If you buy your root veggies from a farmer’s market, then chances are you get them with the green tops still attached. Don’t throw these away! Just like with other greens, the green tops of these veggies are loaded with nutrients like calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin K, antioxidants, and more. Oh, and if you’ve heard any rumors that carrot tops are poisonous, you can ignore this myth. Carrot tops are perfectly safe to eat!

How to use:

  • Steam, sauté, or stir-fry
  • Juicer recipes
  • Green smoothies
  • To make soup stocks
  • Carrot tops can be cut finely and used as a garnish or in salads


Watermelon Rind

This one really surprised me because I’ve never considered eating watermelon ring. It turns out that the inner white part of watermelon rind contains citrulline. Citrulline is an amino acid which dilates blood vessels and thus improves blood circulation. Because citrulline is converted into L-arginine in the body, it is often toted as a performance-enhancing nutrient and said to fight impotence. The evidence to its effectiveness in these matters is scant, but there is no reason not to get an extra dose of nutrition and reduce your food waste by eating the rind.

How to use:

  • Just gnaw deeper into watermelon when eating it
  • Carve out the white rind and use it in smoothies or cocktails
  • Make watermelon rind preserves (recipe here)


Watermelon Seeds

This one I found out about while I was eating watermelon and Skyping with a friend from Palestinian. He saw me spit out the watermelon seeds and immediately told me that I should eat them because they are good for me. Well, I did my research and it turns out he was very right (apparently, everyone in the Middle East eats the seeds).

Watermelon seeds are rich in iron, magnesium, zinc, copper (which is why they are toted for improving your hair and skin), as well as other important nutrients.

You can buy roasted watermelon seeds at some specialty stores, or buy roasted watermelon seeds on Amazon herewidth=1.

How to use:

  • Just don’t spit them out when eating watermelon
  • Roast and eat as a snack
  • Add roasted seeds to salads
  • Use to make Nigerian Egusi (melon) soup (recipe here)


Banana Peels

I have long prided myself on not throwing away any food. Well, it turns out that I actually have been tossing out a lot of perfectly usable food: banana peels. Yes, I know what you are thinking. You can eat banana peels? Well, it turns out that you can – and they are actually quite tasty. There are plenty of Indian recipes which use them as testimony to this.

Banana peels are a great source of fiber and actually contain more than the flesh inside them. But the really cool thing about banana peels is that they contain lots of tryptophan, which means they can help you sleep. Tryptophan gets converted into serotonin in the body, and studies have found that eating 2 banana peels for 3 days can boost blood serotonin levels by 16%. Since serotonin is our “happy chemical,” no wonder other studies have found that banana peels can ease depression!

If you aren’t keen on the idea of eating banana peels, you can also use them as a natural beauty remedy. Put them on your skin to moisturize it or to treat acne. Or rub on your teeth as a natural teeth whitener. Got a bug bite or poison ivy? Just rub some banana peel on it. The peels have powerful anti-inflammatory agents that will calm the swelling and itching. You can also rub banana peels on leather (or fake leather) or silver to polish it. Still have banana peels to use up? Put them in a jar and cover with water. Then use the water to water your plants.

How to use:

  • Eat them in Indian stir fries , like in this banana peel sauté recipe
  • Make banana peel chutney
  • Eat to treat depression or sleeplessness
  • Leave on face to moisturize or fight acne
  • Rub on teeth as natural whitener
  • Put on skin for bug bites, poison ivy, or rashes
  • Use to polish leather or silver
  • To fertilize plants


How to Stop Throwing Away So Much Food

I recently went back to visit my parents in the US and was shocked by the state of their refrigerator. It looked something like this:


If you hail from a Westernized country, then you are probably wondering what is so shocking about this fridge. Well, compare it to the state of my refrigerator:


From a Western viewpoint, youd probably think that my daughter and I were starving. No, my child and I are not starving! In fact, from these bare shelves, I am going to make an awesome dinner of pancakes stuffed with sauted mushrooms, spinach and lentils topped with fresh tomatoes and vegan sour cream.

With this empty shelf syndrome affecting so many Americans, it is no wonder that people are wasting so much money on food. According to the estimates by the National Resources Defense Council,

Americans throw away 25% of the food and beverages they buy per month, costing the average family of four of $1,365 to 2,275 yearly.

In the UK, things are a bit better since the government initiated a plan to reduce waste, such as by clarifying that best used by does not mean the food expires on that day! They managed to reduce household waste by 18% from 2007 to 2013, but Brits are still tossing out 20% of what they buy!

Lucky me that I live in Eastern Europe where things are very different as far as food goes. For starters, there is a food market on the corner of every street (I’ve actually got three on my short street). Heck, I used to live in a town of just 5,000 people and even it had 7 markets plus an outdoor green market. With so many grocery stores in close proximity, it is no problem for me to go shopping every single day. I just make sure to always have dry staples on hand and pick up the fresh fruits or veggies I need every day. It might sound like a burden to go shopping every day. But, actually, it makes my life easier. Meal planning is a breeze, shopping is quick and easy, and I save oodles of money because I NEVER throw food away.

(Okay, I do sometimes throw food away. But it is a really rare thing at my house.)

Throwing away food isnt just throwing money in the trash. It is also taking a serious toll on the environment:

  • Food production from farm to fork consumes 10% of total US energy budget
  • Food production uses 50% of US land and 80% of all freshwater used in the US
  • Food waste is the largest component of US landfills
  • Rotting food waste accounts for 23% of the USs methane emissions

How to Stop Throwing Away So Much Food

Okay, Ive admittedly got it a lot easier than the average American, Canadian, or UK dweller. It is easy for me to go shopping every day (I pass 3 markets on the 4-block walk to my daughters preschool every day). But I also believe that anyone can reduce food waste without making it a big hassle.

Put It In the Friggin Freezer!!!

According to the NRDC report, people today are preparing a lot more food than they used to. They estimate that the surface area of the average plate increased by 36% from 1960 to 2007 (obesity epidemic, anyone?). As a single working mom, I am a big proponent of cooking in large quantities. It means youve got leftovers to eat. But the key is to actually eat them! Nobody likes eating the same thing every single day, so put the extra food into freezer bags or containers and put it in the freezer.

vegan This is what a real vegan freezer should look like! Though mine isn’t quite so organized as this one…

While you are at it, put all fruits and veggies that are about to go bad into the freezer. Just make sure to clean them and cut them up first for easier dethawing. All those frozen fruits make great smoothies or can be added to cereal. Throw all the veggies together in a pan for a stir fry or into a pot for a quick soup.

Note: I put things in the freezer RIGHT AWAY instead of lying to myself that I will eat it tomorrow and then waiting until it is all slimy and gross before throwing it into the freezer.

The Infamous Meal Plan

Yes, yes. You know that you should be making a meal plan. But are you actually doing it? And are you actually sticking to it? According to a retail association study, 76% of supermarket purchases are made on impulse. The result is that you have a LOT of food in your fridge and pantries that you will probably never get around to eating.

At the very least, you can make a shopping list. This way, you will avoid buying foods that you already have on hand (Ive made a very easy vegan shopping list which you can go by). If you are super-savvy, then you will compile a few recipes to make for the week which use the same core ingredients. So, if Mondays recipe calls for half a zucchini, then Tuesday or Wednesdays recipe better also call for half a zucchini.

If you are the type that succumbs to sale items, then take a look at the store flyers and make your meal plan to include these sale items.

Buy a Single Orange

bulkIt feels wrong to buy a single orange at the store (or a single item of any produce). But are you really going to eat all 10 of those oranges, or will you be sick of oranges after the 3rd day of bringing them to work? Who cares about what a hassle it is for the cashier person to weigh each item individually if it means buying less and producing less waste.

While we are at it, stop shopping for produce at places which force you to buy entire bags of produce (like Trader Joes). You will also want to avoid all of those super saver packages which give you mass quantities of food for cheap. The UK report found that 35% of bagged salads, 40% of apples, and HALF of bakery items like bread get throw away!

Recipes are for Inspiration Only

How many times have you bought an ingredient for a recipe, only to use just a bit of it and throw the rest away? Stop being a slave to recipes. Just do without the ingredient or find a substitution. Or, if you are actually making a smart meal plan (as you should be), then your meal plan would include dishes which also contain that ingredient.

You Can Use the Stems Too

Heres a news flash: the stems and leaves of vegetables are edible! I personally make an awesome slaw out of grated broccoli stems :)You can also slice them up thinly and add them to your dish along with the tops. Out of laziness, I usually dont even peel potatoes, which means even less food wasted. With the less-tasty stems and leaves, I just throw them into a giant bag in my freezer. When the bag gets full, I throw them all into a giant pot, cover with water and some seasonings, and simmer until Ive got a bangin veggie stock.

broccoli This is made with broccoli stems!

You Can Always Make Compost

I admittedly dont do this. But, if you want a way to assuage your guilt about throwing away a lot of food, you can always compost it. My friend Tyler has some great advice on composting at his website Crazy About Compost, including how to compost indoors without making your kitchen stink.


Image credits:
Refrigerator by Mark H. Anbinder Attribution License
This is what a *real* vegan freezer looks like. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License
nothing but delicious!!! by Attribution-NonCommercial License

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Diane Vukovic

Diane Vukovic is a vegan mom, health nut, and kitchen diva. When she's not deducing veggie nutritional facts, she's probably dancing crazily with her daughter or traveling somewhere in Europe.