Collectively, we throw away a lot of food: 40 percent of food in the United States goes uneaten.
Every time you throw away food, that's money down the drain. In fact, a four-person family loses about $1,500 a year on wasted food.
I'm guilty of tossing excess groceries and leftovers, too. So for this week's Cash Diet challenge, I had to make a meal using food scraps that I would normally throw out: stale bread, carrot tops and anchovy oil.
I've never cooked with, consumed or even seen anchovy oil, so I brought in an expert: Joel Gamoran. He's the National Chef for Sur La Table and cooking with kitchen scraps is his specialty. He even hosts the cooking show "SCRAPS," in which he travels across the U.S. creating feasts out of food waste.
Joel came over to my apartment with a bag of fresh clams and a recipe that would effectively use up the bread, carrot tops and anchovy oil: pasta with clams.
I quickly learned that my hodgepodge of scraps weren't a limitation at all: The stale bread could be chopped up into crouton shapes and toasted in the anchovy oil, and the carrot-tops leaves could be used as a flavor enhancing herb.
The cooking part was easy. We simply threw the bread and anchovy oil into a pan with garlic and salt to taste. Next, we added the fresh clams, which only take a minute or two to cook, and a generous splash of white wine.
When the angel hair was done cooking, we tossed that into the pan and topped our pasta off with the minced carrot-top leaves.
Not only did we manage to use three ingredients that I normally would have thrown away, we created something way tastier than my pantry items alone could have made.
Joel didn't just bring clams and a top-notch recipe. He offered a handful of tips for "cooking scrappy." Here are a few ways to help you utilize your scraps, reduce food waste and save money:
1. Make a list before you grocery shop and stick to it. The easiest way to reduce food waste is to avoid buying more than you need at the grocery store.
Before you shop, think about the meals you're going to make for the week and write down exactly what ingredients you'll need to prepare those meals. When you actually go to the store, stick to just the ingredients on your list.
2. Get a "scrappy bowl." This is a bowl for food scraps that's not your trash can. It's a place for all your edible scraps to hang out until you're ready to cook with them.
When you're ready to use your scraps, check out savethefood.com, which provides recipes that help you use up all sorts of seemingly useless ingredients, like browned bananas, chicken bones, cheese rinds, potato peels and even sour milk.
3. Use your freezer. Whether you bought too many groceries, overdid it on takeout or are leaving for vacation, use your freezer to preserve your food. Almost any food can be frozen and eaten later.
Read up on more tips for getting the most from your freezer.
4. Revive old food. Don't give up on stale, wilted or overcooked ingredients. Before tossing stale chips, crackers or bread, stick them in a toaster oven to crisp them right back up. The crumbs can be sprinkled over salads or pasta to add a nice crunch.
If your veggies are wilted, a five-minute soak in ice water will restore them. And before tossing overcooked veggies or dishes, try transforming them into soups or sauces by throwing them in a blender with stock or cream.
Check out more ways to revive food here.
5. Keep your food better for longer with a few easy storage hacks. Keep ripe avocados in the fridge so they'll last longer; wrap leftover cheese in wax paper instead of plastic; and keep herbs with their stems in a glass of water.
Check out more storage hacks here.
As I learned, the food you're throwing away could be used to make delicious meals. Before tossing anything, challenge yourself to re-purpose seemingly useless scraps. After all, if I can make an edible meal out of anchovy oil, stale bread and carrot tops, anything is possible.
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See more Cash Diet challenges:
- I had to cook 5 different, healthy dinners for $20—here's how I pulled it off
- Americans spend thousands of dollars dining out—here's how I made boozy brunch for $5 a person
- Americans spend $70,000 on takeout in their lifetime—here's what to do with the leftovers
Video by Mary Stevens