12 Ways to Keep Good Food From Going Bad

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Yes, you can use those brown bananas, too-ripe tomatoes – even celery leaves. Ready to stop wasting food? Here's how.

Despite my best efforts to shop smart and plan meals ahead, I don’t always get to all the food in my fridge before it starts to turn bad.

Right now I have tomatoes, zucchini, bananas, and a loaf of bread about a day past prime eating time. But I’m OK with it because I know it won’t go to waste, since I’ve learned ways to use up everything in my fridge before it can go bad. Here are a dozen examples…

1. Add instant coffee to baked goods

I make my own bread, cakes, and cupcakes from scratch. They taste better than store-bought and I can make my own for a fraction of the cost. Whenever I have leftover coffee (instant or ground) I add a tablespoon or two to chocolate cake, rye bread, or wheat bread batter. The coffee adds a lot of flavor to the finished product and the coffee doesn’t go to waste.

2. Freeze bananas

I’ve never liked the taste of overly ripe bananas, but I can use them in cooking. When I notice a banana is mostly brown, I peel it, put it in a plastic bag, and toss it in the freezer. Later I’ll use it to make banana bread or add it to cake batter as a substitute for eggs. (Yes, it really works.)

3. Scrub pans with Coke

If you have a 2-liter of Coke going flat, dump it in a burned pan before you toss the bottle. Coke can actually pull those blackened burn marks off of sauce pans. Add enough to cover the mark, boil the Coke inside the pan, and wash as normal.

4. Clean with old lemons

Lemons overly ripe? Use them to remove odors. For example, after cleaning my cutting board  I sometimes notice a faint food scent. A lemon cut in half and run over the surface removes the odor. I also use this trick on my countertops and fridge door. Once I’m done cleaning, I toss the rind in the garbage disposal to remove odors there as well.

5. Freeze vegetable bits

When I make a recipe that calls for half a vegetable (like pepper and onion) or a fraction of a bunch (like celery and carrots), I used to stick the leftovers in the fridge, forget to promptly use them, then end up tossing them. Now I freeze leftovers in one big container. Once it’s full, I add the vegetable bits to chicken stock and make a stew, or boil them to make vegetable stock.

6. Turn grapes into ice cubes

Before grapes rot, toss them in the freezer in a plastic bag. Once frozen, add them to drinks instead of ice. Put frozen grapes in homemade punch or mixed drinks, or add them to a glass of white wine to keep it cold without watering it down.

7. Add celery leaves to salad

I learned this trick from a chef: Celery leaves are edible. When you toss them in a salad, the leaves add a bit of color and a nice crunch. You won’t get a ton of taste, but you’ll be using the entire celery stalk.

8. Turn old bread into croutons

My parents freeze sliced bread once they realize they won’t reach the end of the loaf before it spoils. I’ve never liked the taste of thawed bread, so instead I’ll tear it into bite-sized chunks, coat the pieces in a tablespoon of melted butter or margarine, toss them with some seasonings (garlic and Italian season blends work well), and bake them in the oven on a low heat until they’re completely dry. My homemade croutons last up to a week and go great in salads or soups.

9. Bake old Oreos into crust

After the package has been open for a few days, Oreos get stale and chewy. Not so wonderful to eat, but still great for baking. I run old Oreos through a food processor (icing included) until they’re a dry paste. I press the paste into a pie plate, spread on two tablespoons of melted butter, and bake the whole thing at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. The result: inexpensive, homemade chocolate pie crust.

10. Make your own pasta sauce

If you’ve got unused tomatoes sitting in the fridge, chop them, toss them in a stock pot with some onion, and cover the whole thing with water or red wine. Turn the heat to simmer and add in whatever spices you like. (I use oregano, garlic, basil, and parsley.) Keep the heat low, stirring and adding water occasionally, until the tomatoes break down into mush. Once your homemade pasta sauce cools, store it in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for several weeks. My last batch was good six weeks after freezing.

11. Make potato pancakes from old mashed potatoes

In my house we never toss leftover mashed potatoes. I put them in the fridge and make potato pancakes the next morning for breakfast. They’re simple to make: Just put a bit of olive oil or butter in a cast iron skillet on medium high, shape the cold mashed potatoes into pancakes, add salt and pepper to each side, and toss them on the hot skillet. Cook for two to three minutes on each side and you’re done.

12. Bake your own vegetable chips

A few times a year my neighbor gives me a couple of bags of home-grown zucchini. It’s a great gift, but I’m always left scrambling for ways to use them. My favorite go-to: baked vegetable chips. I use the mandoline setting on my food processor to slice the zucchini into thin chips, sprinkle them with olive oil and sea salt, spread them on a cookie sheet, and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown. I prefer zucchini, but this recipe also works with beats, kale, or purple potatoes.

What methods do you have for keeping good food from going bad? Share your tips below or on our Facebook page!

Stacy Johnson

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