No matter what: Zero food waste Thanksgiving and Halloween

Fall decorative squash

The “after” Thanksgiving table is a wreck at our house. Any given year we have omnivores who must have turkey, people who love mushroom gravy and those who hate it, pescatarians, vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free and non-dairy. All that variety means it’s a real zero food waste challenge to manage all the leftovers.

Thanksgiving leftovers, Halloween pumpkins, root vegetable tops and peels, ugly produce from the garden; in this season all are at risk if there’s not a plan.

You know the overwhelm of the after-Thanksgiving table. Or, the slow vigil of watching your jack o’ lantern rot on the front porch. Or buying a nice bunch of carrots at the farmer’s market just to realize it’s mostly tops.

What if instead, you could level up with pantry cooking and zero food waste recipes for Fall?

What is zero food waste pantry cooking?

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Cooking from the pantry is a time-honored way to achieve zero food waste. It’s the way our grandmothers cooked.

My grandmas’ cooking practices were forged in the Great Depression and in British World War II rationing. They would no more throw food away than they would join a travelling vaudeville show.

Pantry cooking starts with “what do I have” and makes something delicious from there. It’s a different starting place than “what recipe sounds good”. That’s the essence of zero waste recipes.

If you’d like more low waste recipes and how to’s, I wrote this quick start guide and short email mini-course to go with this post. Get the workbook and guide here.

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    Fall Zero Food Waste Pantry Recipes

    Zero waste recipes for fall center on comfort foods; casseroles, soups, slow roasting and slow cooker dishes. Fall zero waste cooking focuses on rescuing seasonal items that might otherwise get thrown out (like Halloween pumpkins), and on using parts that a lot of people don’t know are edible. 

    Zero food waste beets and carrots

    Zero food waste recipe for carrot tops
    But....they're mostly tops....

    In Fall the farmer’s market is full of tops-on carrots and beets. The root vegetables in the garden are ready to harvest. The root itself is a fraction of the biomass of the plant but you have to harvest the whole thing. What should you do with the rest?

    zero food waste carrot top pesto

    Carrot tops are best combined with herbs such as basil and with stronger flavors in pesto. Strip the more tender leaves from the stems and use a pesto recipe like this one from Diana at Little Sunny Kitchen. This recipe notes you can use any kind of nut and has both vegan and non vegan options.

    Sauteed beet tops

    Beet tops are a pretty mild green. Strip the leaf from the stem and cut the stems into small pieces. Saute the stems with some onion and garlic, then add roughly chopped leaves for the last few minutes. Season with some salt and pepper and a splash of lemon juice and you’re done. I like these as a bed for scrambled eggs for breakfast.

    Roasted beet peel chips

    You don’t HAVE to peel vegetables. But some families prefer it. Since there is a lot of nutrition in the skins, keep the peels if they are otherwise spot-free and edible. It couldn’t be easier; just toss the peels with salt and olive oil and roast until crispy at 400 F.

    What to do with Halloween pumpkins?

    jack o' lantern
    Turn this bad boy into pie

    Front porches everywhere will sprout Halloween pumpkins like flowers in the spring. Here are some tips for using your pumpkin after the big night.

    If you’re going to eat your jack-o’-lantern choose an organic pumpkin to start. Carving pumpkins are not as dense and sweet as pie pumpkins but you can still use them.

    Roasted pumpkin seeds

    When you carve the pumpkin, save the seeds. Separate them from the pulp, rinse them, sprinkle with salt and seasonings and roast in a medium oven (about 350 F) until golden brown.

    Roasted Halloween pumpkin puree

    To light your jack-’o-lantern choose either a battery powered tea light or put the candle where it won’t smoke and burn the inside of the pumpkin.

    If you’re going to eat the pumpkin, put it out on Halloween and bring it back in afterwards. Sitting on your front porch for a week won’t improve it. At our house the elk eat them off our front porch and trample the front garden bed if we leave them out.

    After Halloween, roast the pumpkin at 350F until the excess water is mostly gone. Roasting and removing excess water make it taste best. Scrape the flesh from the skin and puree it, then freeze in one cup portions for easy use. Pull your pre-portioned pumpkin out to use in pumpkin pies and muffins through the rest of Fall and winter.

    What to do with leftover Thanksgiving turkey?

    The “before” turkey is pretty Norman Rockwell, with the family gathered around the table all shiny. The “after” is something else entirely. What do you do with it? Luckily there are a lot of easy zero waste recipes for Thanksgiving.

    Turkey enchiladas

    Growing up, turkey enchiladas followed Thanksgiving every single year. This recipe from Tiffany at Creme de la Crumb is simple and uses up a lot of leftover turkey. If you still have leftovers freeze them for use in soups and casseroles through the winter.

    Turkey brodo or bone broth

    What’s the difference between brodo and bone broth? Brodo is broth or stock in Italian. That’s it.

    Take the leftover turkey carcass after the meat has been removed and simmer it in a slow cooker for 12-24 hours. Include any good carrot peels or celery nubs, onion and garlic skins, other flavorful peels and bits. You can store these scraps in the freezer until you’re ready to make broth.

    After a few hours add some vinegar or lemon to taste to brighten the flavor and extract more nutrients. Skim any froth from the top. After the cooking time, strain the whole thing through a fine colander and freeze any broth that won’t be used within a few days.

    To make soup, add some tortellini or meatballs or dumplings or vegetables and call it good. I like to sip broth in the morning just on its own.

    What to do with the rest of the Thanksgiving leftovers?

    That’s the turkey sorted. What about the rest of it? The first thing to do is to send everyone home with leftovers. Then, use the zero waste recipes below as examples of what you can do with common leftover ingredients. Use the same kind of thinking to find ways to use whatever else you may have.

    Cranberry sauce oatmeal bars

    Some people love cranberry sauce (me) some people don’t. Cranberry sauce always seems like something people want to have at Thanksgiving but not necessarily eat. This cranberry sauce oatmeal bar recipe takes something good and makes it better.

    Savory bread pudding

    It might seem pretty meta to make a casserole from green bean casserole, but here we are. Leftover stuffing and green bean casserole are the perfect starting place for a savory bread pudding.

    To make bread pudding, mix stuffing with assorted roasted vegetables, leftover green bean casserole, anything savory and vegetable like that would taste good. You can add leftover turkey or spiral ham or sausage if you’ve got it. Put the mixture into a baking dish.

    Make the egg mixture: For each cup of egg mixture, crack one egg into a cup and add milk to the one cup mark. Mix the egg and milk together and season with salt, pepper and herbs. Make enough to cover the bread mixture. Put the egg mix into the stuffing/veggie mix until the egg mix covers the bread.

    Bake at 350 F until golden, firm and cooked through.

    A few pantry cooking and zero food waste cookbooks

    Most of us have shelves stuffed with specialty fancy cookbooks from fancy restaurants with lots of complicated fancy recipes with fancy ingredients. Pantry cooking is the opposite of that.

    To get started, I recommend just a couple of versatile cookbooks, with simple, family friendly recipes, plus a zero waste cookbook to expand the possibilities.

    Betty Crocker Cookbook: This is not a fashionable cookbook. But it’s the first one I reach for to find flexible family recipes. I’ve used this cookbook so much I got another copy as a gift because my old one was falling apart. Nothing fancy here, just simple family cooking.

    The Way to Cook: This is my favorite for learning how to cook. Julia Childs distills cooking into master recipes, followed by lots of variations and suggestions on what to do with the leftovers. It’s a perfect way to think about food and cooking, filled with Julia Childs’ wit and wisdom.

    The Nimble Cook: “Nimble” is a good way to describe zero waste cooking. This beautiful cookbook by Ronna Welsh, with illustrations by Diana Vassar does include some fancy recipes with fancy ingredients (tamarind paste anyone?). But it also outlines the zero waste way—being creative with what you have, using everything, making a quick preserve if need be to rescue an at-risk item.

    Planet friendly, zero food waste cooking honors the abundance of Fall

    As a simple living, eco-friendly person, you’re always looking to make the most of what you have. No more wondering what to do with the wreckage of the Thanksgiving table, or throwing away the better part of your vegetables. With pantry cooking and zero waste recipes, you can honor the abundance of the season and use what you have to its highest and best purpose.

    The more you cook the zero waste way the easier it gets. Before long you’ll have a bag of tricks for using all the food that comes your way, in delicious and simple happy family recipes. It’s a simple shift to ask “what do I have” and then turn that question into something good.

    I’d love to hear about your zero waste cooking adventures this season.

    Here’s that zero food waste plan and email mini-course again. Hope to see you there!

    Tired of good food gone bad?

    Learn the step-by-step formula to achieve zero waste food, even when you're strapped for time.


    Get the quick start plan, workbook, easy recipes and email mini-course by subscribing below.

      We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Zero food waste pantry cooking for fall

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