The chef suggests simple recipes to help you use the food you usually throw away.
Most people might make a face when they hear the term “food waste,” and they aren't entirely to blame: It evokes the stuff that goes in your compost bin, like the leafy tops of carrots, broccoli stems or the leftover vegetables from a dinner a day or two in the past. You know, the food that typically goes straight into the trash. It might not seem like much in the moment, but Americans waste $218 billion worth of food every year. That’s a tremendous amount of leftovers, made up of the bits of vegetables that look inedible (but actually aren’t) and produce that has a few imperfections. Companies like IKEA, as well as several restaurants, are combating the food waste stigma by creating meals out of the products that would usually be discarded and by using tools that help the staff only buy what they need. Stephanie Izard—Top Chef winner and owner of three restaurants—is among the strongest proponents for saving food you might otherwise toss in the trash. She says that she became acutely aware of the food waste epidemic after Morton Salt approached her about partnering with its Erase Food Waste campaign.
“I went back into my own kitchen and suddenly become aware of everything little thing that goes in the garbage,” she says.
At her restaurant Girl & the Goat, for instance, she tries to share leftover parts of the pig she serves with her other restaurant, Little Goat. (“We’ll send the bones to the other restaurant to make a pork broth,” she says.)
Reusing and repurposing your leftovers shouldn’t gross you out. Think of it as an cooking adventure—all it takes to make what was once food waste into useable ingredients for your next meal is a little imagination. To get you started, Izard has a few tips for how you can fight food waste in your own kitchen.
“Tomatoes are one of the most wasted items,” she says. “For softening grape tomatoes, you toss them with spices and slow roast them. For heirloom tomatoes when they are starting to get soft, you can make a tomato jam.”
Leafy carrot tops are another item that's often thrown directly into the trash, but Izard says you can easily repurpose this part of the vegetable for a Chimichurri or a salsa verde. In fact, sauces are one of the best ways to use leftover vegetables; Izard says that one of the tastiest ways to repurpose these vegetables is to throw them in a blender with vinegar and oil for a roasted vegetable dressing.
“You could add yogurt to make it creamy,” she adds. “Vegetables make it earthy, while the vinegar brightens it up.”
Izard recommends paying close attention to how much food you’re buying at the store. For instance, if you’re thinking about buying a whole head of lettuce to make a slaw, which you know you’ll never finish, you could try using the stems from broccoli to make the slaw instead. You could even plan all your meals for the week out (if you have the time) and then shop ahead of time only for the ingredients you need for those recipes.
Opening your fridge during the week can be demoralizing—you might be facing Tupperware containers full of leftover veggies and meat from previous dinners. Don’t dump it right away! There are plenty of ways to add leftovers to new meals to make them exciting again. Izard suggests chopping up leftover vegetables and meat and adding the ingredients to a pasta or fried rice dish, or a layered vegetables lasagna, which she says is a “good way to sneak veggies into a meal.” Izard also sometimes adds quinoa to the mix for a healthy lunch.
“Reimagining [leftovers] will get your family excited about eating the same thing again,” she says.
It’s a win-win-win: Make your family happy, save money, and stop contributing to the landfills full of wasted food that are a blight on the planet. Whether it’s making a simple salad dressing, or getting more creative with the stems of your broccoli, you can save that unused food from the garbage.
Update 1/17: A previous version of this article stated that Izard owns two restaurants. She owns three.