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If You Can’t Prevent, Repurpose

By Robb White, CEC CCA AAC; Executive Chef & Food Waste Prevention Catalyst  ///  November 20, 2017

When it comes to reducing the amount of food waste your kitchen generates, prevention is key -- actually having just enough food purchased, prepped, and cooked, and no more. Of course, no matter how well you forecast, there are times you will have food left over. Chefs and kitchen managers need to be able to utilize this leftover product in order to keep their food waste to a minimum and to keep their operations financially viable.

Also, no matter how well you plan, you’re also left with trim. And whether you repurpose that citrus peel or not, you still paid for it. Throwing out trim is throwing out money, just like throwing out an overproduced pan of lasagna is.

Repurposing food is nothing new, but it has to be a deeper part of many kitchen cultures. Utilizing every bit of the food we buy, grow, and prep in our kitchens is critical in reducing food waste and the associated production of greenhouse gasses wasted food generates. Although there is a lot of food lost throughout the entire food supply chain (farm, processing, retail, consumer, etc.), in high-income countries the majority of food waste is generated toward the end of the chain, by both pre- and post-consumer activities. The kitchen staff is literally at the vanguard of reducing food waste, reducing greenhouse gasses, and saving the water that is lost from wasted food. (Yes, prep cooks can save the world!)

There are pockets of change throughout the industry, restaurants that focus on zero-waste, ugly produce programs, food donation programs (a form of repurposing), new menu items that utilize cuts or parts of products that were once considered “undesirable,” restaurants that work directly with farmers to grow exactly what they need, and the focus on tracking and controlling food waste in the professional kitchen are just a few of the noted changes being made. Still, with the much needed changes slowly taking place in the behavior and mindset of the consumers and culinary industry, we need to do more, much more.

We need to retool our brains, open up our creativity, and our palates, change our mindset, and embrace the behavior change that comes with utilizing and repurposing our food. So what does that look like for the consumer and the industry professional? Here are some ways you can change your behavior and refocus your efforts on repurposing food that will minimize your avoidable food waste.

  • Don't just toss the leftovers. If you can’t use them right away, properly refrigerate or freeze them for later use.
  • Buy only what you need. If you buy produce with greens attached, use the greens in a saute or salad. If you don’t use the greens, then buy the cleaned produce.
  • Some people won’t save food if they have just a little bit left, but you can always freeze little bits and combine them for a complete meal or service.
  • Be flexible with your menus. Keeping your menus flexible allows you to get creative and repurpose food from a previous service.
  • Be smarter with your menus. Having a plan already in place to utilize leftover product in a different preparation will help minimize or eliminate food waste.
  • Store food properly so you are able to get the fullest life and utilization from the food.
Here is just a short list of ideas on how to repurpose some common food items:
Bruised Apple Sauce
Baked Bruised Apple Crisps
Apple Peel and Core tea
Overripe Banana Ice Cream
Dried Banana Chips
Candied Citrus Peel
Dried Citrus Peel dust (for baking and breading)
Wrinkled Grape and Lemon Peel Breakfast Cake
Pickled Watermelon Rind (Pickled Anything!)
Watermelon Rind and White Gazpacho Soup
Candied Watermelon Rind
Asparagus Ends Soup
Beet, Radish, and Turnip Top Saute
Moroccan Beet Greens
Warm Grain Salad with Beet Greens and Mushroom Stems
Broccoli Stem and Cauliflower Core Slaw
Shaved Broccoli Stem Salad with Feta
Kale Stem Pesto
Green Sauce (for pasta)
Baked Peel Chips (parsnip, carrot, potato)
Sauteed Greens (beet, pea, chard)
Roasted Pumpkin Skin
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin Seed Pesto
Veggie Stock
Mushroom Stock
Juice Pulp Guacamole
Swiss Chard Stalk Hummus
Bruised Tomato Sauce
Stir Fried (anything - reuse eggs, proteins, veggies)
Fried Rice Pudding
Bones (bone broth)
Jams / Jellies
Fruit Vinegars
Fruit Simple Syrups
Candied Cantaloupe Rinds
Corn Cobs (stocks, soups)
Ginger Peels (curries, teas)

I could go on.

Repurposing is actually very easy. Getting the most out of the food that you have purchased takes thought, a little creativity, and the drive to want to make a difference. The first step in reducing avoidable food waste is always prevention -- the second is repurposing.

Chef Robb is LeanPath’s food waste fighting chef, with more than 30 years of culinary expertise and a passion for minimizing food waste in the kitchen. If you have a question or an idea for next month’s tip, email AskChefRobb@leanpath.com.

Topics: Food Waste Musings, Food Waste Prevention Newsletter, commercial kitchen