Make Soup, Not Waste

simple pumpkin soup
Pumpkin soup garnished with homemade sour cream and minced parsley

I find that when people realize just how much we throw into landfills and how much plastic finds its way into our oceans, most want to reduce their waste and many don’t know where to start. Unless you buy consumer goods compulsively, I would hazard a guess that your kitchen generates the most garbage—packaging and food.

How bad is our food waste problem here in the US?

According to the NRDC (National Research Defense Council), producing food in the US:

  • Expends 10 percent of the total energy budget
  • Uses 50 percent of land
  • Accounts for 80 percent of all freshwater consumed

A downright obscene amount of food goes to waste in this country:

  • 40 percent of food goes uneaten
  • This waste squanders 25 percent of all freshwater, plus massive amounts of other resources needed to grow all of that food
  • Once it rots in landfill, this wasted food produces 25 percent of all US methane emissions, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than CO2


  • 1 in 6 Americans is food insecure
  • A mere 15 percent of this wasted food could feed 25 million American ever year

My number one rule for reducing waste is this:

Learn to cook.

Cooking helps eliminate both your food waste and packaging waste. If you cook, you won’t buy a bunch of overpackaged, processed, food-esque junk. You’ll buy real food and because you cook, you’ll know what to do with that real food. Cooking will also improve your health, reduce your dependency on the corporatocracy, save you money, lower your carbon footprint, taste better than what you can buy and make you a self-sufficient rebel with a spatula.

“But what should I cook?” you may ask. I have an answer for that too:

Make soup.

I can make tasty soup out of almost nothing. I need a bit of fat, some homemade broth (also made from nothing) and some of those vegetables rattling around in my refrigerator—vegetables that might otherwise go to waste.

I cook two types of soup regularly: vegetable soup and creamy vegetable soup. You don’t need all of the ingredients I used for this post, pictured below. I like to throw in frozen cubes of whey, leftover from ricotta cheese-making, and scrap vinegar, both of which add some tang to soup. If you have leftover brine from fermented vegetables, or sauerkraut juice, throw some of that in too. For this post I sautéed the vegetables in lard I rendered from pork fat* that the butcher ordinarily throws in the garbage, in order to help prove the point that I can make dinner from basically…well…waste.

* We don’t actually eat pork but I will eat lard made from pork fat that the butcher would otherwise throw out because I would rather eat it than see it go in the trash.

soup ingredients
Left to right, top row to bottom: frozen whey-cubes leftover from cheesemaking, onion, scrap vinegar, beef broth, cubed pumpkin, homemade lard, homemade chicken broth

I make broth for soup a couple of different ways:

  • When prepping vegetables, I freeze all the little ends and scraps and peels. After a week or two, I have enough to make broth. I simmer everything in salted water for an hour and then strain out the vegetables. Here’s a detailed post on vegetable broth.
  • I do the same thing with bones—store them in the freezer after meals. When I have enough, I simmer them in salted water for an hour or two on the stove OR in a slow cooker for 24 hours and then strain. Here’s a detailed post on bone broth.
Vegetable soup

As with fermentation, you don’t need to follow exact measurements for soup. You can add more or less broth as desired and mix up the kinds of vegetables you use. That’s what makes soup a perfect I-have-too-many-vegetables-in-my-fridge-and-need-to-make-dinner-now kind of meal.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or other fat
  • 1 onion or leek
  • 5 cups of vegetables on hand
  • 4 cups broth or water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Seasoning such as a bay leaf, thyme, oregano or italian seasoning

1. Sauté onions in fat in a 4-quart pot or Dutch oven.

2. Throw in a bay leaf and some thyme if you have them.

3. Add homemade broth or water.

4. Add harder chunks of vegetables that take longer to cook—dense potatoes, root vegetables, squash, cauliflower and so on—and bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. The vegetables should be covered with broth.

pumpkin cooking
If vegetables are not covered in liquid, add more broth

5. After these first denser vegetables have cooked for 10 minutes or so, add the chunks that take less time to cook—tomatoes, corn, asparagus, peas. You could add small pieces of vegetables now too. Toss in some apple slices if you wish.

6. If you have greens like spinach or kale, chop them roughly and throw them in just at the end.

7. Your soup is ready when all the vegetables are tender. Purée with an immersion blender if desired.

Puree with an immersion blender or transfer to a blender to puree
Immersion blender in action

8. If you have cooked, leftover pasta, rice or beans, toss in about 1/4 cup.

9. Top with homemade croutons made from stale bread for an impressive zero-waste dish.

This also tastes delicious with a large dollop each of sauerkraut and homemade sour cream.

Creamy Vegetable Soup
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or other fat
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of flour
  • 1 to 1-1/4 cups milk
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups broth or water
  • 2 to 3 cups cooked vegetables of your choice (I steam mine): broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes sweet potatoes, parsnip or a combo of these
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Seasoning such as a bay leaf, thyme, oregano or Italian seasoning

1. Melt fat in a 4-quart pot or Dutch oven.

2. Add flour and whisk, cooking for one minute.

3. Add milk and whisk constantly until it thickens and foams up.

4. Whisk in homemade broth or water.

5. Add steamed vegetables, salt, pepper and any desired seasonings.

6. When heated through, purée with an immersion blender or transfer to a glass blender to purée.

7. If you prefer chunkier soup, purée only some of the soup and leave some vegetables in larger pieces.

8. If your soup is too thick, add broth or water in small amounts until it reaches your desired consistency.

34 Replies to “Make Soup, Not Waste”

  1. This is GREAT. I have been preparing a very similar p0st ab0ut s0up and the imp0rtance 0f c00king. I will link t0 this one. 🙂 (And s0meday my keyb0ard will have an 0 again!)

    1. Thanks, Annie. Cooking is SO important and the solution to so many of our problems! I like your 0s. I was wondering about how you type now, but then realized the o is so close to the 0. It’s a convenient letter to lose on your keyboard 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for the reblog!

  2. Looks good – haven’t made soup for a couple of months and this has jogged my memory. Thanks.

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you found the post useful. Enjoy your soup 🙂

  3. Last night we made chicken for chicken and rice and I was so proud of myself to remember to save the broth/fat for rice! So, next time we make rice we’ll use 1/2 broth instead of all water. It makes the rice delicious if you’re not too worried about calories. You can do the same from cooking down jerky marinade (after meat is removed) and it makes the rice just 100% better.
    I always keep your blog in the back of my mind because I have 100% waste regret, but we’re always moving forward.

    1. That all sounds delicious! I keep my chicken fat and drippings too. They’re like gold! How do you make jerky? I have access to a food dehydrator and would like to try making some. What a great idea to save the marinade. Zero-waste is an ongoing project and I’m always dealing with something. Last night I had to make krautchi while my giant radishes were still (pretty much) fresh. I’m glad you find my posts useful. Thanks for the comment and for reading 🙂

      1. The key to jerry is just salt. You could literary salt the meat and then just dehydrate it, but that’s no fun.
        Buy top round or London broil, it’s on sale almost every third week in the winter. We like london broil best. Keep cold or freeze for easy slicing. Use a sharp knife to cut into 1/4 inch thick slices.
        First we dry rub with a mix of garlic powder, onion powder, hot spices, paprika and cumin. (We like it hot)
        The pour over any soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, wochester sauce, any thing in that line of sauce. For one London broil we maybe use one bottle of teriyaki, one of worcester, 1/2 soy and fill the bowl with water until meat is covered. Let sit in fridge over night. Two nights is ok, no change in flavor though.
        We cook in oven for 2 hours first, but it can go straight in the dehydrator. In oven put on 250 with door open. I use toothpicks and hang meat from top rack, with bottom rack covered with pans/AL foil for drips. Then about 3-4 hours in dehydrator. You can do in only dehydrator or only oven. Leaving the door open removes humidity.
        Lasts 2-4 weeks in fridge, lasts less out of fridge. My recipe makes it a bit sticky cause of the sauces we use.
        Sometimes we put habanero in the sauce to soak, very good.

      2. Thanks so much for these detailed instructions. My boyfriend loves jerky and this sounds delicious. Also, I need a recipe for a solar cooking festival this summer and this would be perfect 😀

  4. At the risk of sounding like one of those spambots, very important messages in this post! And you back it up with specific remedies to significant problems. Thanks for sharing!!!

    1. Hahaha. That’s just what the spam bots sound like but you use better grammar 😉 Thank you!

  5. Such sobering statistics on food waste in this country. It’s truly a crime! There’s just no reason for it. We need to rethink how we view our food–a most precious commodity not to be squandered. I’ve addressed this topic in the past; perhaps it’s time to revisit. Thanks Anne Marie!

    1. Thank you, Karen. All this food waste is simply madness! But there also seems to be a lot of awareness about it. I like to think things are changing.

  6. I would also add: COMPOST!!!

    1. Absolutely! I’m a big fan of compost—after I’ve made my vegetable broth 😉

  7. Spot on! Learning to cook eliminates all manner of waste along across the hole domestic supply chain. Not only do you stop ‘importing’ over-packaged nutrition-poor food into the household, you also reduce the amount of food you bring in full-stop as you quickly discover leftovers and that food you think will do for one meal actually serves for two meals, when bulked up with a spoon of beans or few scraps of bacon. I.e. you discover how to turn leftover soup into a simple stew.

    And I thoroughly agree with MarneyMae: compost (whether in the garden or in a wormery in your flat). It brings food to a full non-waste circle. Any unavoidable scraps feed your composter to create turbocharged soil in which to grow more food (salads, herbs, tomatoes…) to feed you. Waste-free and tasty!

    1. Thank you, Meg. Like my hero Ron Finley says, “Food is the problem and food is the solution.” The processed stuff makes us sick and the home-cooked real food has so many benefits. I think cooking and anything domestic has been put down for so long, people don’t realize how enjoyable it is. Not to mention marketing has somehow convinced us that self-sufficiency is beneath us. But I am preaching to the choir 😉

      I also compost! A compost post is on my long to-blog list…

  8. […] her home are inspiring, and I love the tips and tricks she shares about this. This week she’s posted about making soup from leftovers, including really simple and easily adapted recipes. She’s passionate about fermented foods too, […]

  9. Great tips, thanks for the article.

    1. Thanks for that and for checking it out 🙂

  10. Wow, those are some shocking food facts! I really enjoyed your article. We should all do more to reduce waste! 🙂

    1. Thank you. I agree it is shocking. Not to mention sheer madness!

  11. Thanks. I just copied the cream soup recipe. A neighbor is getting a milk cow this spring (trying not to be jealous), and I will have access to decent milk!

    1. Great! It works with all sorts of vegetables. I’m jealous of both your neighbor and of your access to milk. I can buy raw milk here but I would love to have it straight from the cow, especially a cow I know. That’s so cool!

      1. Well, she is getting the new girl this spring, an experienced mother of 6 years, so my fingers are crossed hopefully 😉 Maybe the calf will be female and I will be able to buy it.

        Are you aware of the A1-A2 genetic issue in milk, and do you buy into it?

      2. Oh, wow! I will keep my fingers crossed also. No I don’t know about this issue and I have a feeling I won’t like it. What is it??? I buy organic non-homogenized milk OR organic raw milk. Am I safe?

      3. Here is the wikipedia article; A1 milk has a genetic mutation that some people think makes milk more indigestible.

        Some of my farmer/rancher women friends are purchasing or converting to A2 only cows. Honestly, I have not jumped on this bandwagon. The mutation occurred naturally 6-12000 years ago. It seems to me that a natural genetic mutation is unlikely to be a true problem. .

        I know how important healthy food is to you, and was genuinely curious whether you had heard of this making a difference for anyone.

        Thank you for your interest!

      4. Thanks for enlightening me. I hadn’t heard of this. We drink raw milk sometimes, so I imagine that’s the A2 stuff, but mostly drink Straus milk or St Benoit milk. Those are non-homogenized, from grass-fed cows. They’re both delicious but St Benoit is jersey milk and tastes like liquid ice cream. And Straus runs their dairy operations on cow poop-generated electricity! I’m going to read up on this more tomorrow.

      5. poop electricity, that is cool! I wouldn’t worry about this A2 thing, just wondered if you’d heard of it.

      6. Isn’t it great! I would love to tour the dairy one day. Happy pastured cows, poop energy, delicious milk. Okay, I won’t worry about it. I do think it’s fascinating though 🙂

  12. Even easier. Save all the cooking water in a container in the freeze. Just keep adding the cooking water and any left over vegetables from supper. Add leftover bits of meat and the meat juices. When ready to cook, defrost the leftover cooking water and any other additions. Dump in crock pot. Add anything you thing it needs, or things that need used up – like bits and pieces from the vegetable crisper. Additions could include beans, peas, hamburger, whatever. Season to taste. I also like using oatmeal as a soup thickener. The soup is never the same twice, and it is LOADED with nutrients. Basically, it’s almost free.

    1. Wow! That’s a great idea. Thanks for sharing it. I need to use my crock pot more. It’s perfect for something like this.

  13. […] you leave enough headspace so they don’t break! Check out Zero Waste Chef’s posts on ‘leftover soup’, soup stock and bone broth, and while you are there check out her post on freezing without […]

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