Super Healthy Vegetable Parts You Are Probably Throwing Away

I’m always striving to limit food waste and it’s definitely a challenge. I get so inspired at the farmer’s market that I often return home with enough produce to feed a family of six instead of our family of two (soon to be three!) and inevitably some of it ends up in the compost bin or trash.

Unfortunately I’m not alone in this; Americans waste a whopping 40% of their food each year and more than half of this waste comes from fruits and vegetables. I’m always trying to come up with different ways to minimize unnecessary waste and one idea I’ve been giving more attention to recently is applying the “nose-to-tail” eating philosophy to produce.  I’ve learned that so many vegetable parts I once considered inedible are not only edible but extremely healthy and delicious. Tara Duggan, the author of “Root-to-Stalk Cooking” (a great book I recommend) explains that most of the unused produce trimmings typically have a similar taste to the traditionally used vegetable component but are either stronger flavored or slightly muted.

Here is a list of some of some of the most commonly disposed of super healthy vegetable parts and some ideas for repurposing them into a side dish (or an entire meal!)

Leek Tops

So many recipes call for the use of only the light green parts of leeks but the top/dark green section should be saved and appreciated- they are highly nutritious (rich in potassium, B6 and B9) and pack great flavor!

You can generally substitute them for the light green leek section in any recipe, just remember that they take a bit longer to cook. Try them in stir fry or save them for baking fish, like this leek-wrapped salmon recipe.

Chard Stalks

This is another great tip from Tara Duggan and I love it because I was always a little sad getting rid of the vibrantly colored rainbow chard stems. Simply saute the stalks until they are tender and then pulvarize in a blender and incorporate into your favorite hummus or dip recipe.

Besides adding lots of nutrients (chard is naturally rich in antioxidants, Vitamins C, E, B6 and potassium), the red and pink stalks will have a similar dying effect as beets and create a beautiful jewel-toned spread.

Broccoli Stems

For a long time I used to cook broccoli the way most people do; trim away the broccoli florets and a small amount of stalk and ditch the remaining stem. Not only was I wasting food but I was also missing out on the benefits of Vitamin A, calcium, protein and iron (to name a few) in the broccoli stalks (3).

Thank you Jacques Pepin (one of my culinary heroes) for showing me the light. I came across an episode of “More Fast Food My Way” a few years ago where Jacques was explaining how the stalk is his favorite part of the broccoli because it has the sweetest flavor. He demo’ed how to peel away the fibrous outer later of the stem with a vegetable peeler or paring knife and after trying his method I was sold. You can use the stalks along with the florets in any recipe that calls for broccoli and I find adding both into the mix is nice for diversifying textures. Here’s a few more recipe ideas to check out. And I love these 7 ways to use broccoli stalks.

bunch of young beets on the boards

Carrot Greens

Once considered mainly as feed for the farm animals, these greens are turning up on more and more restaurant menus.

They are packed with chlorophyl, minerals and vitamins (calcium, potassium and SIX times the amount of vitamin C as the carrot root) and can be used similarly to parsley. Use them in stocks, salads or as a garnish and here are five more healthy and delectable recipes to try.    *see note below

Beet Greens

Believe it or not, when beets were first grown they were harvested for their leaves and it was only in subsequent years that the root we typically  eat today became the more popular culinary plant part.

They are chock-full of nutrients, including folate, iron, calcium and Vitamins A, C and E and have a flavor that is similar to a beet-kale hybrid (2). You can blanche or saute them the way you would with any other leafy green, mix into soups or toss them with pasta. For more inspiration, here’s another great group of recipe ideas from the

The green tops of root vegetables draw moisture out of the plant so to preserve shelf life, trim them away from the root and store separately (in a plastic or produce bag wrapped in damp paper towel) in the fridge.



*Note-There has been some confusion about the safety of eating carrot greens because they contain alkaloids and nitrates, compounds also found in the nightshade plant family (like tomatos, potatoes and peppers) but this is really only a concern if you were planning on eating POUNDS of carrot greens. In other words, if you have a sensitivity to nightshades it’s always a good idea to check with your health practitioner but in general they are perfectly safe to consume (1).












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