9 Ways to Turn Table Scraps Into Delicious Meals

Billions of dollars' worth of food goes to waste in this country every year. Here's how to turn table scraps and trash into nutrition.

5. Look for ‘manager’s specials’

Supermarkets regularly discount meats, breads, fruits, and dairy and deli items with short shelf lives. If they aren’t sold quickly, they’ll turn into garbage. But not if you get there first! You can save 50 percent or more by buying from the “manager’s special” sections.

Obviously these items should be used promptly or put into the freezer. Half-price ground beef is not a bargain if it makes you sick because you neglected to cook it quickly enough.

Nearly overripe fruit is good for smoothies and quick breads; just freeze them for later use. Cook up ground beef or turkey and freeze it for quick meals later on. Milk approaching its use-by date can be frozen or used right away to make frugal puddings or homemade yogurt.

6. Make friends with the butcher

If your grocery store or meat market sells boneless chicken breasts, where did the bones and skin go? Ask if you can have them, then turn them into soup stock.

A blogger named Penny collects these chicken bits in order to render her own chicken fat for cooking. If the butcher isn’t sure that’s OK, Penny suggests asking the storage manager. “Doing that afforded me an easy, ‘Sure, no problem,'” she writes.

Don’t want to do it? Try this instead: When you cook chicken or turkey, don’t skim off the fat and throw it into the garbage can. Freeze it and use it later to sauté vegetables.

7. Check the Freecycle Network

But isn’t that for things like bikes and couches? Sure, but I’ve seen food products on there as well, including canned goods, frozen dinners, garden surplus and tree fruit. If no one takes it, what do you want to bet it gets thrown into the garbage?

8. Glean from gardens and nature

Gardeners and homeowners who find themselves with too much of a good thing usually love to give some of it away. Help them out! A handful of websites maintain databases of free produce. Read more about this at “Stop Paying for Your Food!

Keep your eyes peeled, too. Erin Huffstetler, frugal-living blogger for About.com, regularly harvests weeds that are edible and healthy, including dandelions, red clover, purslane and cattails. She and her family also collect wild-growing pecans, chestnuts, blackberries, mulberries and black walnuts.

9. Try some Dumpster diving

You just knew I’d bring that up, didn’t you? “Freeganism” is potentially illegal, depending on where you live, and maybe even dangerous. Do it right, however, and you may wind up with food that’s perfectly safe to consume.

When I managed an apartment building in Seattle, I noticed that a departing tenant had placed a box of canned goods in the recycle bin. I pulled the box out because unopened cans can’t be recycled — and, yes, I kept them, because they were undented and nowhere close to their sell-by dates.

So while I can’t in good conscience recommend that everyone run to the nearest Dumpster with a shopping bag, I suggest being alert to your surroundings.

What ideas do you have for preventing food waste or getting a bargain on food? Share them in our Forums. It’s a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman @DLFreedman
A former newspaper journalist, Donna Freedman has been a staff writer for MSN Money and Get Rich Slowly, and freelanced for a wide variety of online and print publications. She got a ... More

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