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How to waste less food: 9 tips and tricks from an expert

Local food writer Jill Lightner wants you to waste less food and have more fun in the kitchen

Jill Lightner serves ciderkin and meringue cookies from her new book, "Scraps, Peels and Stems," which offers practical and tasty ways to reduce food waste.


I defrosted more pita bread than my kids wound up eating, and the leftovers were getting stale. Sound familiar?


“Spread them on a sheet pan and toast them until they're crispy … and grind them up in your food processor into crumbs,” says Seattle food journalist Jill Lightner.


An inch of leftover salad dressing lingering in the fridge?


“If it's like an Italian vinaigrette, it's an amazing marinade for any vegetable.” Brush it on chicken thighs or burgers before grilling. Add it to soup.


Lightner should know. In her new book "Scraps, Peels and Stems" (Skipstone Press) she offers good advice and recipes for how to waste less food, especially going into the holiday season. We need those skills; the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that as much as 40 percent of America’s food is squandered.


Why bother fighting waste, when life is busy enough and Seattle offers curbside composting? In the small picture as well as the big one, cutting food waste saves money. It helps the environment. Ultimately, it helps battle hunger.


“It doesn’t mean you have to eat foods that you dislike, and it doesn’t mean you have to staple your kids’ butts to the kitchen chair and say ‘You can't get up until you finish your plate,’” she says.


Jill Lightner’s top tips:


  • Foods aren’t necessarily spoiled just because they’ve passed a “sell by” date. Smells and visual cues are more useful (Is the milk curdled? Are the vegetables slimy?)


  • Buy smaller containers of milk (or shelf-stable boxes) so you don’t wind up pouring out the last pint in the gallon.


  • Instead of fresh seafood — our most-wasted food category — consider canned (it’s cheaper, too!) or frozen.


  • Frozen unseasoned vegetables are nutritious and last much longer than fresh.


  • Use up pantry odds and ends with flexible recipes like granola or muffins.


  • Instead of lettuce, which often rots before it’s eaten, make lettuce-free salads or use hardy greens like kale, where you can toss a sliced handful into your pasta or inside a quesadilla.


  • Make realistic meal plans. Better to order pizza on purpose one night than do it at the last minute and waste the ingredients for the dinner you’d planned.


  • Help kids track what they’re not eating in their lunches, and change packing habits accordingly.


  • Buy a smaller Thanksgiving turkey: Grocery stores tell you to plan on at least a pound per person, but half of that will give you a feast — and you’ll still have leftovers.

Here's Lightner's recipe for Use-It-Up Granola.

Seattle parent Rebekah Denn can confirm that the liquid in cans of beans makes a surprisingly good egg substitute in waffles

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