Those fruit and veggie stalks, stems and peels you’re throwing away can add flavor and nutrition to your meals.
Have you heard the term “nose to tail eating”? It’s a concept that aims to reduce food waste by encouraging the use of all parts of an animal during food preparation.
Another similar trend – called “root to leaf eating” – is really the same concept applied to plants. Rather than throwing away skins, stems, stalks and peels, the aim of root-to-leaf is to make use of as many parts of the plant as possible when preparing meals.
The average American throws away about $1,600 worth of fruits and vegetables every year, and much of what we toss consists of plant parts that are perfectly usable, delicious and nutritious. Rather than tossing them in the trash or the compost heap, you can make use of some of your plant discards to increase your nutrient intake.
Beet and turnip greens take a little longer to cook than more tender greens like spinach or chard, but they’re equally delicious. If your supermarket sells your beets or turnips with the tops still on, you’re in luck – you get two veggies for the price of one. Like other leafy greens, they’re loaded with nutrients – especially vitamins C and K, beta-carotene, folic acid, copper and potassium.
Broccoli stalks are often tossed out, but they’re rich in nutrients – especially vitamin C, folate, fiber and a phytonutrient compound called sulforaphane, which acts as an antioxidant. They can be finely shredded into a salad or slaw, or added to soup during the last few minutes of cooking. You can also try slicing them into ¼-inch thick slices, adding a little olive oil and salt, and roasting them in a hot oven until tender.
Carrot and fennel tops make a nice garnish, but they’re also completely edible and can be snipped into salads, sautéed with a little olive oil and salt to make a fresh sauce for grilled chicken or fish, or made into a pesto with olive oil, nuts and garlic. Carrot tops have more vitamin C than carrots themselves, and fennel tops are a good source of B vitamins.
Celery leaves are delicious, and I’m always surprised when people throw them away. I actually look for the leafiest bunch when I buy celery because I love to add the leaves to green salads, sandwiches and soups. Like the stalks, the leaves are a good source of vitamin C.
Citrus Peel contains compounds called bioflavonoids, which act as antioxidants. Finely grate the peel (avoid the white part, which tends to be bitter), and add to salad dressings, cooked vegetables or smoothies. You can also add strips of fresh peel to enhance the flavor of water, mineral water or tea, or add some citrus zest into the water when you cook rice.
Stems from leafy greens like chard, kale and collard greens can be tough, so many people cut them out before cooking the greens. But you can chop them coarsely and add them to dishes like soups and stews – they’ll soften with the long cooking times. Or cut them finely and sauté with a little oil and garlic or onion until they begin to soften, then add the leafy tops and finish cooking. You can treat green cauliflower leaves the same way. Adding the greens and stems of these nutrition powerhouses boosts your intake of vitamins A, K, iron, potassium and fiber.
Strawberry tops are great to add to a pitcher of drinking water or to hot or cold tea. They’ll add a bit of flavor and a dash of vitamin C to your drink.
By Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training
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