Seniors & Aging

How to turn your vegetable scraps into nutritional gold

The brassicas - which include broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower - provide nutritious leaves and stalks that many people overlook.
The brassicas - which include broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower - provide nutritious leaves and stalks that many people overlook. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Food waste isn’t just bad for the environment. It’s also bad for your wallet, and, in the case of vegetables, bad for your health.

Eating vegetables from stem to root adds nutrition to your daily diet. In some cases, parts of the vegetable people consider inedible could be the most nutritious part.

Gretchen Woody, who grows dozens of varieties of fruits and vegetables at Spring Frog Farm at Holistic Homestead in Everson, says there are many ways to reduce food waste, veggie by veggie.

The most flagrant waste she sees is among the brassicas — which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage and cauliflower.

“A lot of people don’t use broccoli stems, when they are half the weight of the vegetable they are buying,” she says.

Broccoli stems can been sliced into coins for the same use as the florets, or shredded for a broccoli slaw with sesame or coleslaw dressing and topped with sunflower seeds.


The greens of root vegetables such as turnips and beets, and even those attached to plants, as with rutabagas, are filled with magnesium and calcium and can be added to salads. Woody should know; she grew up in south Georgia, where it was common to boil turnip greens with a touch of salt.

The tops of other plants also are filled with nutrients. At her stand at Bellingham Farmers Market, Woody says, many customers ask her to remove the fringy tops off bunches of carrots. Yet other customers prize the tops for their beta carotene (more than in the carrot) and add them to their homemade green juices.

Another example: Celery leaves, found at the end of celery stalks and often cut away from the celery ribs, are rich in calcium, vitamin E, and iodine. Woody grows celery as part of her micro-green mix sold in grocery stores throughout the Northwest. At home, celery leaves can be added to other greens for a salad, or braised as a side dish.

Collard green ribs can be added to the braise of the leaves, or you can eat the ribs raw, like a celery stick, dipped in hummus, Woody says.

If you plan to eat such greens, keep them attached to the root vegetable until you want to use them, or cut them off and keep them in a water-filled container until you are ready.


Many vegetables, including carrots, don’t need to be peeled.

“Mostly, I find that people are peeling vegetables because they consider them dirty,” Woody says.

She says a sturdy vegetable brush and water should be enough to remove any dirt, leaving the nutritious skins intact.

If you feel compelled to peel, Woody suggests frying the peels in oil for veggie chips, or adding them to a stir-fry.

Stems and outer leaves

Such herbs as basil, cilantro and oregano are prized for their fragrant leaves, but Woody says the intense flavor spreads throughout the plant, so when making pesto or sauce, chop up the stems, too.

People often pull off the older, tougher leaves of leafy greens, such as romaine, butter lettuce, or cabbage. Woody suggests shredding the leaves into a topping for tacos, for a rice bowl, or adding them to a salad mix with more delicate lettuces.

Citrus peels

Peels from citrus fruits, such as lemons, oranges and limes, are known for the high-value oils in citrus zests. Using a zester or other fine grater to scrape off the brightly colored zest just above the bitter pulp can add a flavorful punch to any citrus-based dessert, dressing or sauce — even when the recipe doesn’t call for it.


Food scraps, wilted veggies found in the fridge, asparagus ends, onion skins, and other leftover bits from your cutting board can form the basis of a great broth.

Woody says some people keep a freezer bag full of vegetable odds and ends. When the bag fills up, they toss it in a pot, cover with water, add garlic and peppercorns, and simmer until it’s a rich broth full of nutrients that otherwise would have ended up in the trash.

Speaking of trash, Woody doesn’t let her veggie scraps — whether remnants of her juicing machine, woody thyme stems, or the white roots of a scallion stalk — go to waste. She feeds those scraps to her chickens, or tosses them onto her compost pile, where the garbage becomes soil for new growth.