Curious about food upcycling? Here’s how to get started.

by Kaiser Permanente |
Person in kitchen putting herbs and vegetables on a cutting board

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicts grocery prices will increase by almost 8% in 2023.1 As food costs rise, many people are looking for new ways to stretch their grocery dollars and eat healthy on a budget. It’s no wonder upcycling food is growing in popularity. Upcycling food means finding new ways to use leftovers and scraps that are usually thrown away. From composting to cooking, here’s everything you need to know to get started.

What are the benefits of upcycling food?

Using all your food — instead of throwing your food scraps away — can have an impact on your budget, health, and the environment. Here are 3 benefits to upcycling food.

Save money on groceries. Because you’re using every part of your food, you end up making more with what you already have in your kitchen. This means fewer trips to the grocery store, which can help lower your grocery bill. You can even have imperfect-looking yet edible produce and pantry items delivered to your home by a food upcycling company — all at discounted prices.

Get more nutrients. Many of the food scraps you typically throw away have vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. For example, carrot tops can contain around 6 times more vitamin C than the root, plus lots of potassium, calcium, and phytonutrients.

Protect the environment. The USDA estimates that 30% to 40% of food is wasted.2 The food that’s thrown away adds to global warming by giving off at least 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions.3

Ready to get started with upcycling? There are 2 main ways to do it at home: cooking and composting.

How to upcycle food in your cooking

Instead of throwing away food scraps like cilantro stems, use them as ingredients in other dishes. For example, you can chop up cilantro stems and use them along with their leaves in a zesty salsa. Try changing up some recipes with these upcycling food ideas:

How to upcycle food by composting

Composting turns food waste into organic matter that can fertilize soil and help grow fruits, vegetables, and plants. In addition to helping you grow more food, composting also keeps waste out of landfills and reduces greenhouse gases.

Here’s how to make compost with your leftovers:

  • Set a small container with a cover on your kitchen counter or beneath your sink. And place a larger compost bin outdoors.
  • Collect fruit and vegetable scraps in the small container. Don’t compost meat, fish, bones, cheese, dairy products, fats, oils, and greases. These foods create a strong odor that attracts rodents.
  • Transfer your food scraps to your outdoor compost bin. You can also add yard waste, such as grass clippings, yard trimmings, dry leaves, plant stalks, and twigs. You can make a compost pile instead of using a compost bin — but the open pile may attract unwanted critters.

If you don’t have a garden but still want to compost, contact your city or local government to see if they offer a composting service. They’ll provide you with a collection bin or cart that they empty on garbage collection days.

Upcycling your food at home requires a little effort. But with a few lifestyle changes, you’ll be on your way to saving money on food, cooking creatively, and helping protect the planet.

Resources in your community

If you’re having trouble affording food or paying for other basic needs, such as housing, utilities, or internet service, explore community-based programs and services available in your area.

1 "Summary Findings, Food Price Outlook, 2023," U.S. Department of Agriculture, accessed April 14, 2023.

2 "Food Waste FAQs," U.S. Department of Agriculture, accessed April 14, 2023.

Hannah Ritchie, "Food Waste Is Responsible for 6% of Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions," Our World in Data, March 18, 2020.