Food scraps are inevitable in the catering industry, but that doesn’t mean that leftovers must be destined for the trash can. Discarding viable ingredients is like throwing away money. You paid for that food, so you should try to get the most out of it.
In addition to the cost savings, reducing food waste is a great way to help the environment and make your company more sustainable. When food waste gets sent to the landfill to decompose, it produces methane — a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
Repurposing scraps does require some creativity, but it’s worth knowing that you’re saving on costs while reducing your environmental footprint.
“Food cost is an obvious benefit, but managing sustainability is so important for future generations to come,” explains Robin Selden of Marcia Selden Catering. “It reduces the amount of garbage and, in turn, landfill — which is huge! It may seem like you could never make a difference, but you can and must try to.”
Here are a few ways to make the most of your leftovers.
Repurpose what you can
With a bit of innovation, you’d be surprised how much you can do with food scraps. Most things can serve a second purpose. For example, not every part of a vegetable is appealing on a plate — but those leftovers can come together to make a great stock base.
“Soups are a great place to incorporate the tops of carrots, potato peels, tips of beef filets, fish trimmings, and so on,” says Selden. “Stems of herbs make great chimichurri, pesto, and other sauces. We also make awesome croutons and breadcrumbs with our leftover bread, so we never have to buy them.”
Repurposing food waste isn’t limited to client meals, too. “We utilize ‘food waste’ daily and incorporate it into our staff family meals for lunch,” add Selden. “Our chefs are encouraged to be creative when making the lunches and sometimes even comes up with new recipes that we add to our roster. It’s something we are pretty passionate about.”
Donate viable food
There are always people and organizations in need of food, so see how you can support their cause with leftovers. “All of our leftover food items are donated to women’s shelters, homeless sanctuaries, missions, and soup kitchens,” shares Lon Lane of Lon Lane’s Inspired Occasions.
There are typically restrictions on food that can be accepted for food safety purposes, but it’s worth checking to see how you can help. Freshly prepared meals that are untouched may be welcomed, as are certain ingredients that have a longer shelf life.
Donations are a great way to give back to your community while reducing the amount of waste your company sends to the landfill. Plus, clients value philanthropic endeavors so it can enhance the client experience if they know they are contributing to those in need.
There’s a good chance you’ll still end up with waste that isn’t able to be repurposed or donated. In that case, look to compost those leftovers to give them a new life.
Composting food scraps, like vegetable pieces, wilting herbs, used coffee grounds, and egg shells, keep them out of the landfill — plus, you can throw in used paper towels and cardboard boxes, too. Just be sure to keep animal by-products, like meat, dairy, and eggs, out of your compost pile to prevent odors.
If you have an onsite garden, the nutrient-rich compost can be reused as a fertilizer that will produce heartier and tastier ingredients for a truly sustainable food cycle. It also has natural pesticidal properties to save your fruits and vegetables from insects.
If you don’t have space for a bin, many community gardens have compost piles that accept scraps from local businesses for gardeners to use on their plants.
For the next week, be mindful of how much food is ending up in the garbage — and think about how much money you’re throwing away. Make it a team challenge to see who can get the most creative in upcycling leftovers. Your bottom line—and the environment—will thank you.