For the modern lifestyle where material consumption is the cornerstone of everyday existence, trash is an inevitable by-product.
Greening the kitchen: Keep your cash out of the trash! 042512 NEWS 1 For the Capital City Weekly For the modern lifestyle where material consumption is the cornerstone of everyday existence, trash is an inevitable by-product.

Photo By Jennifer Nu

Rather than discarding the tough inner ribs and stems of green leafy vegetables, save them to add crunch to other dishes

Photo By Jennifer Nu

One orange provides three great products: orange zest, orange fruit and orange pith.

Photo By Jennifer Nu

Save orange peels for baking, cooking, tea or potpourri

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Story last updated at 4/25/2012 - 11:31 am

Greening the kitchen: Keep your cash out of the trash!

For the modern lifestyle where material consumption is the cornerstone of everyday existence, trash is an inevitable by-product.

Hauling a heavy, smelly load of rotten food, take-out boxes, wrappers, and other kitchen waste is one of the most despised household chores.

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that Americans threw away an astonishing 33 million tons of food discards. In addition to wasted food, this figure also represents wasted resources.

Fortunately, as individuals, we can reduce the amount of food waste that we generate in the kitchen with a few simple changes in food choices, food handling, and food storage.

The less trash that goes into the garbage, the more value we get for our money. As an added bonus, many of these money-saving, waste-prevention strategies encourage healthy eating!

For anyone looking to stretch their dollar and to reduce their kitchen's ecological footprint, here are a few tips to keep your cash out of the trash!

Getting more for your money starts at the store

• Minimize packaging: Avoid individually-wrapped items as much as possible. Instead, look for food with minimal packaging. You can better control the amount of the food being purchased without paying for extra packaging. For instance, buying foods in bulk tend to be less expensive than the same items that come pre-packaged. When packaging is unavoidable, reusing containers before recycling them can eliminate the need to buy disposable storage containers. Sturdy yogurt containers with lids and glass jars are great for storing bulk items in the pantry or leftovers in the fridge. Save undamaged glass canning jars and rings for yourself or friends who can reuse them to preserve summer's harvest.

• Look for whole foods: Purchasing processed foods means that the price we pay accounts for more than just the food itself. Labor, packaging, marketing, and advertising are all extra costs that are embedded in the price. By buying whole foods, we only pay for ingredients. The money saved by cooking our own meals is like paying ourselves. As a healthy bonus, we control what goes in the food and avoid paying for unwanted sugars, salts, preservatives, flavors, colors, and other additives.

• Buy organic produce: Although organic foods can be relatively expensive, purchasing organic fruits and vegetables actually gives us more for our money. Vitamins and other nutrients are concentrated in the peels of most fruit and vegetables; however, these nutrients are often lost when produce has to be peeled to reduce the amounts of pesticide and chemical residues in our food. This means more food in the garbage and less on your plate. Certified organic produce contains fewer chemical residues than conventionally-grown produce, so you can save time and money by keeping the peels on. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension recommends using distilled water to wash all fruits and vegetables and using a scrub brush on thicker-skinned produce.

• For more information about pesticides and produce, the Environmental Working Group publishes a shopper's guide each year listing foods that have the most and the least pesticide residues so that you can make the best decision for your household. Visit their website at

Kitchen economics: Ideas for using more of what you buy:

• Purchasing the whole chicken or bone-in meat gives you two potential products: the meat and the bones. Meat bones and poultry carcasses can be boiled for chicken stock and frozen for a future meal.

• Discover the full edible potential of your fruits and vegetables:

• Stems: When recipes exclude certain vegetable parts, piles of broccoli stems, kale ribs, cauliflower cores, and cilantro stalks are left forlorn at the edge of the cutting board. Rather than tossing these edible vegetable parts, use them as a starting point for a new dish or save them for making vegetable stock.

• Leaves: The leaves of radish, beets, and turnips, are just as nutritious as the roots. The leaves of brassicas, such as cauliflower and broccoli, are also edible. Carrot tops can also be chopped up and stir-fried or tossed in a casserole.

• Seeds: Many winter squash such as pumpkin, butternut, acorn, and kabocha contain beautiful seeds packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals. Coat them with a bit of oil and seasonings before roasting them in the oven for a healthy, delicious snack.

• Peels: Orange, lemon, and other citrus zests can also be harvested by grating the rinds for soups, stews, baked goods, and marmalades.

Plan to prevent food waste:

• Storing foods properly will prevent spoilage. In the moist environment of Southeast Alaska, take care to store dry goods such as grains, flours, and legumes in air-tight containers. Maintain an inventory of what you have on hand and keep track of it regularly to see if some items need to be used sooner than others. Label items in the freezer or label storage containers with the name of the item and the date. Keeping masking tape and a marker in the kitchen makes it easy to remember to label items with the date and food name before storing them in the freezer, fridge, and cupboard.

• Anticipate when you may not get to use food before it spoils, such as before taking a trip or moving. Take action to use, preserve, or give away perishable foods. Food that is shared with others is better than food that is wasted.

• Freezing food can be a quick and easy method to store items. Keep a large resealable bag in the freezer for vegetable scraps or leftover bread pieces. When the bag is full, make a stew or homemade croutons! Remember that freezing and refrigerating food only slows down spoilage, but it does not prevent it. Drying fresh fruits and vegetables in a dehydrator is another option to preserve foods that are in their peak condition.

• Control portions to control waste. Notice what portions are eaten by you and your family in order to assist with planning and preparing meals. Perhaps you will want to plan for enough leftovers for extra meals, or perhaps you want to plan for no leftovers.

• Before going to the store, check to see what you have on hand in order to avoid purchasing items that you do not need. Take the time to make a grocery list!

Transform old foods into new foods:

• Learn how to rescue foods that are past their prime but still good for eating. Rice pudding can be made from old rice, bread pudding from stale bread, and banana bread from overripe bananas. Pulverize ripe fruit into tasty smoothies, and make a flavorful soup stock from wilted vegetables.

• Love your leftovers! Many dishes taste better the second day, and eating leftovers saves time. Freeze leftovers when they become tiresome or when there is more than can be eaten within a few days.

• A little dash of creativity tossed together with leftovers can lead to the creation of new meals. Repurpose a bean stew into a bean burrito or combine leftover meat and vegetables with other goodies to make a comforting casserole.

The ultimate food

recycling system:

When spoiled food has reached its point of no return, compost your kitchen scraps outdoors in the garden or indoors with a worm bin. Composting is nature's engineering process for nutrient recycling that transforms your food into plant food.

For more information and inspiration:

• An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler

• University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service publications,

• Preserving Alaska's Bounty webinar series,

• The Food Keeper: A Consumer Guide to Food Quality and Safe Handling,

• Food $ense newsletter about eating well on a budget, archived at

Jennifer Nu is a freelance writer in Alaska. Contact her at