Use-it-Up: How to Eat to Cut Waste

  • Article
  • November 11, 2016

Food-waste warriors approach the kitchen with a use-it-up mentality.

They are ready to concoct new dishes that make use of whatever ingredients are on hand. They shun tradition and eat breakfast for dinner, or dinner for breakfast, depending on what needs to be finished up.

It might sound unusual at first, but the use-it-up mentality can unleash a world of creativity. What do French toast, fried rice and bread pudding have in common? They’re part of a rich history in which different cultures have created ways to use up food that would otherwise be thrown away. It’s not just Old World convention, though. It’s likely that the use-it-up mentality is responsible for recipes that now adorn the plates of Michelin-rated recipes around the globe.

Here are a few tips and strategies that can help build a use-it-up mentality into your own cooking right now:

  • Ensuring that you can see all the food in your refrigerator is not easy, so I recommend telling yourself what’s in there instead. A magnetic whiteboard does the trick. Stick it on the refrigerator and update it every few days with leftovers and what needs to be used up.
  • Holidays and parties are a particularly important time to pay attention to just how much food is being planned. Your freezer will come in handy for party prep and leftover storage. So as your party nears, try to “eat down” your freezer. And no matter how much you plan, you’re likely to have some food around at the end of the party. Have containers on hand so that you can send your guests home with “doggy bags.” Old yogurt containers work great.
  • Learn use-it-up strategies for foods that you commonly buy. For example, next time you give milk the sniff test and you’re on the fence about it, use it as you would buttermilk in pancakes (see the recipe below!), waffles and other baked goods; it’s amazing how you won’t taste even the slightest bit of bitterness. 
  • Of course, you can only eat so many pancakes, so if you know you’re not going to get to use milk before it turns sour, put it in the freezer. It may separate a bit when it thaws, but it will be perfectly fine.


Excerpted from Waste Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders (Chronicle Books, 2015).

For more use-it-up strategies and recipes to avoid food waste, check out the Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook or visit



  • 1 cup all-purpose flour or whole-wheat flour (or use ½ c of each)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil, such as light olive, grapeseed or canola oil
  • Butter for the pan

Optional toppings:

  • Maple syrup
  • Raspberries, blueberries, sliced strawberries
  • Sliced banana
  • Peanut butter or almond butter

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda until well-combined. In a medium bowl, beat together the milk, eggs and oil. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and blend in the milk mixture until the batter is smooth.

Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat and coat with a little butter.

Ladle ¼ cup batter onto the pan to make 4- to 5-inch pancakes. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until bubbles appear and ‘dry out,’ then flip and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes on the second side. Repeat with the remaining batter, using more butter for the pan as needed.

Serve warm with the toppings of your choice.