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Don't Compost That! 20 Ways to Cook With Kitchen Scraps

Even orange peels can be transformed into a  delish dish. Photo © malerapaso

A lot of food goes to waste in the typical family kitchen. Into the garbage (or compost bin, preferably) goes the leftover rice, banana peels, stale bread, and the rinds of Parmesan cheese.

That’s why I love turning scraps into delectable meals. Not only do I reduce waste and save money, but I often wow my family: “You made this out of that!?!”

Why yes I did.

And yes, these meals taste delicious, too.

You, too, can become a Kitchen MacGyver with these 11 ideas for kid-friendly cooking using food scraps you’d typically toss.

1. Leftover Rice Becomes Stir-Fried Rice or Porridge.

Has last night’s Thai takeout left you with grains galore? Throw them in a wok (or big skillet) for a quick and easy stir-fried rice, like this fresh, flavorful version from the Kitchn—delete the nuts for kids under 4 and add fresh or canned pineapple.

If you only have a cup or so, try this yummy breakfast “cereal” instead:

  • Put the rice in a pot with 1 1/2 times as much water or milk, a splash of vanilla, a pinch of salt, and a dash of both cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered until the rice is soft but still has a bit of texture, 10-20 minutes.
  • Remove from heat, cover, and let sit for about five minutes—the mixture will thicken as it rests.
  • Top with raisins, sliced bananas, or berries.

2. Leftover Pasta Becomes Casserole or Noodle Pancakes!

Cooking up plain noodles for wee ones often yields an excess cup or two that doesn’t improve with refrigeration. Fear not! Depending on the pasta type, you can use it in a dinner frittata (like this cheesy version), bake it into a casserole, toss it in a stir-fry (add in the last minute or two so it doesn’t fall apart), include it in a soup (also toward the end so it doesn’t get too bloated), or stir it into these Real Simple noodle-zucchini pancakes

3. Leftover Vegetable Pieces Become Homemade Stock!

Making your own stock for soups, casseroles,and pasta is a snap. Throw your leftover carrot tips and tops, mushroom stems, onion skins, celery leaves, wilted produce, herb stems, and so on in a plastic bag in the fridge. When it’s full, add water, cook, and strain, as directed by The Kitchn. Experiment with adding bones or shrimp shells (like Emeril Lagasse for the Food Network). You can also repurpose leftover corn cobs to make a could-not-be-easier stock (Martha Stewart tells you how here)—use the husks for grilling or, if you’re feeling ambitious, tamales.

4. Parmesan Rinds Become Broth!

Grating your own parm lends more flavor to dishes than the bagged/container variety, but tossing the rind can feel like you’re missing out on a ¼ of your purchase. Instead, store the rinds in a bag in the freezer. When you’re in the mood, use them to make a delicious, umami broth (get some how-to from Bon Appétit) that’s a knock-out with pasta, beans, and rice.

5. Stale Bread Becomes Croutons and Breadcrumbs!

Chop those crusty slices into croutons (seriously—they are beyond easy, as you can see on Better Homes and Gardens, and give salads instant kid-appeal) or pulverize and toast for bread crumbs (check out these Serious Eats instructions) that you can use atop casseroles or to coat healthier oven-fried chicken. The stale stuff also makes for the best French toast, as The Kitchn attests.

6. Leftover Polenta Becomes Porridge or Hash!

Most kids love this creamy Italian cornmeal porridge—mix in a little cheese like this Weelicious recipe, and serve with grilled fish or meat, or top with a hearty tomato sauce. Flatten any leftovers in a pan and let them firm up. You can slice it into fun shapes the next morning and fry them in a little olive oil (top with fresh fruit and a drizzle of maple syrup), or cut it up and cook with veggies for a tasty hash, topped with eggs.

7. Citrus Peels Become Muffins!

Next time you down an orange or grapefruit—or squeeze a lemon or lime—get zesty! Finely grate the peel (this cheap Microplane zester makes it super easy!) and use it to brighten your baking (like these healthy cranberry orange bran muffins from, sauces, and salad dressings. You can even store it in the freezer for later.

8. Watermelon Rinds Become Pickles!

Give it a go with this pickled rind from MyRecipes—try it with cantaloupe and pumpkin rinds, too!

9. Excess Fresh Herbs Become Herb Butter!

Antioxidant-rich fresh herbs like basil, oregano, dill, cilantro, and parsley are fab for adding flavor to dishes, but who among us hasn’t used a little in a recipe and then let the rest of the bunch wilt in the fridge? First try storing them correctly, as described here at Serious Eats. Second, use the leftovers to make herb butter: mix a softened stick of unsalted butter with ¼ cup finely chopped herbs and a pinch of salt; plop/spoon into a small bowl and cover in plastic (or onto wax paper and roll into a cylinder) and then chill; keeps two weeks. Use it with grilled chicken, corn, string beans, whole-wheat pasta, or warm whole-grain bread.

10. Banana Peels Become Smoothies and Curry!

Anyone in the infant-to-preschool set probably produces enough banana peels to circle the earth. Turns out these seemingly useless yellow cloaks are a rich source of potassium, fiber, tryptophan (a natural mood booster), and lutein.

Try plopping them in the blender (remove the tough tops and bottoms) with more fresh fruit, yogurt or coconut milk, and some ice, or give them a fine chop and include them in an Indian curry.

You can also make peels more approachable by soaking them in fresh water for a few days (change the water each day), then boiling, straining, and blending to get a sweet, date-like purée that’s fab in baked goods. Read about more uses from here!

Tell us the creative ways you use all these items—or share any tasty tricks you have for other “scraps”!

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