Reducing food waste: how to use up everything from your weekly veg box
If you’re wondering whether to sign up to a veg box scheme or have just signed up to one, your main question may well be “how do I use up all the veg in my veg box?” Cooking with everything in your veg box is something we know some of our customers struggle with. A regular supply of seasonal veg that’s nonetheless somewhat unpredictable in terms of contents can be overwhelming if you’re used to just going to the supermarket and buying what you need for the day. Many of our customers have specifically signed up to get a weekly veg bag because they want to get into cooking in the first place, rather than buying ready meals or ordering takeaway. If this is you, you may find that making the transition from simply heating and eating to actual food prep is easier said than done when life gets busy.
This week is Food Waste Action Week, highlighting the connection between food waste and climate change. With this in mind, we’d like to share with you our tips and tricks for cooking with yout veg box (or bag) this week and every week.
We post the contents of the weekly veg bags in advance, so by Monday at the very latest you should be able to view them on the site and get a sneak preview. If you’re the sort of person who likes to plan ahead, this can help with researching recipes by ingredient and doing any related shopping. Even if you’re the sort of person who cooks on a whim depending on what you fancy eating that day, looking at different recipes in advance can help you start thinking about options and what sort of things you might be interested in later.
Prioritise the perishable
With proper storage you can help veg keep for longer, but some vegetables will always keep better than others. Unless you’re freezing your veg or batch cooking, it makes sense to use up more perishable veg earlier in the week so that they don’t go off by the time you’re ready to eat them.
Things like salad leaves, some greens, soft veg and fruit can go off surprisingly quickly, but even root veg left in a cupboard or fridge drawer will eventually start to rot.
Most veg that’s about to go off can also go into vegetable stock, which is also a great way to use up various stalks and leaves you normally leave out when making something else. Stock is surprisingly easy to make and freezes well. It will instantly upgrade soups, stews, sauces, and many other dishes and one big pot divided into jars can keep you going for weeks or even months.
Batch cooking is your friend
This is a method that works for a lot of our customers. You make up a big batch of one or several dishes using up most or all of your veg, then live on that for the rest of the week. Popular batch meals include stews, soups, roasts, curries and salads. These can be frozen in smaller containers if you have the space or refrigerated until you are ready to eat them. You can even turn your veg into vegetable pasties to snack on throughout the week.
With batch cooking, you don’t need to spend as much time in the kitchen and you get ready meals that you can simply heat up and eat, but the downside is that you’ll be eating the same thing all week. If you’re the sort of person who likes variety and gets bored after eating the same dish a few times in a row, this might not be the best method for you. Being able to freeze your food does mean you can take a break from eating the same thing and go back to it later, but not everyone has that option. An alternative is to get together with some friends, housemates, or fellow Crop Droppers who also batch cook and swap some meals for more variety. You can find likeminded Crop Droppers on our Facebook group.
If in doubt: think small
One of the reasons our customers love us is the fact that getting unexpected veg in the bag inspires them to cook exciting new dishes. But when life happens, you may find that you simply don’ t have the energy or headspace to figure out a complicated recipe or spend too much time prepping. We’re here to tell you that it’s perfectly OK to make something simple and quick with your veg. We have lots of super easy recipes on our site you can draw inspiration from, but many of our staff, volunteers and customers have their own go to dishes they turn to when they need to use up veg quickly. Once you find a sauce, spice profile or combination of flavours that work for you, you may find yourself rehashing the same recipe or recipes with different veg every week. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Save the fancy cooking for when you have the time and energy to invest. For busier times, fast and simple will do just fine, thanks!
Cooking with a veg box - some ideas
Simple ways of using up your weekly veg. These all lend themselves to batch cooking.
Soup or stew
One of the easiest methods of using up pretty much every veg in your bag and perfect for batch cooking. Kyra makes some sort of stew almost every week and often brings it to share with volunteers on Wednesdays.
Her go to vegan recipe includes onions or leeks, some sort of root veg cubed (usually turnips, carrots, potatoes), one leafy green roughly chopped (could be cabbage, kalettes, Brussels, or salad leaves), a handful of pearl barley, a couple of spoonfuls of boullion stock, your choice of herbs and a splash of oat milk before serving.
Our resident chef Tantrem makes a spicy vegan jambalaya that can also be made with pretty much anything in your bag and is perfect for batch cooking.
For vegetable soup, here is a good example or a recipe you can make with whatever you have in your bag.
Roast / Bake
Our catch-all vegetable tray bake recipe is one of the most popular recipes on our site, which is hardly surprising. It’s a quick, simple way to use up most things in your bag and is the perfect comfort food on cold days.
Root veg can also be easily turned into crisps ( as can kale) or glazed and baked, roasted or braised with a variety of flavour profiles, like Rachel’s harissa or miso glazed turnips and Tantrem's roasted Jerusalem artichokes.
Pretty much any root veg can be boiled and mashed on its own or added to potato mash and served as a side. This celeriac mash recipe will pretty much work with any other root veg or a mix of several.
Steam or sauté
The fastest, easiest way to cook greens and many other veg, that really brings out their natural flavour. Our various greens recipes should work with pretty much any leafy greens, so simply choose what flavour profile you fancy and use up whichever greens you have at home. Steamed greens work perfectly with just a bit of butter. For a sauté, here’s garlic and sesame, mustard, and chilli and coriander. For a more substantial meal, you can even add chickpeas to your green fry up.
You can stir fry pretty much anything and change the sauce to match your mood. Store bought sauce is absolutely fine, if that’s the only thing holding you back, though we prefer to make our own. This sweet and sour stir fry can be made with pretty much any veg in your bag, as can this hoisin sauce stir fry. Rachel’s superfood stir fry has an even easier sauce to try.
You can pan fry pretty much any veg, including root veg (even fennel!). Add some greens and some chickpeas like in the sautéed greens above and you’ve got yourself a meal. Adding greens or root veg to any fry up is an easy adjustment that’ll make any meal just a little bit healthier.
For a slightly more involved dish, a frittata is perfect for using up both leftover cooked veg and fresh veg. The frittata on our site uses eggs so is not vegan, but there are lots of vegan versions (like this one) about you can use if you don’t eat eggs.
Deep frying is another way to use up pretty much any veg, especially ones you might not like the taste of. It might not be the healthiest, but certainly works as a special treat. Try this bhaji recipe and this tempura recipe for inspiration, made here with kalettes.
Did you know the most popular recipes on our site are for pasta dishes? Nothing is quicker and easier than whipping up a pasta sauce when you're hungry.
Leafy greens, herbs, mushrooms, courgettes, aubergine and a whole load of other veg can be turned into pasta sauce or noodle topping. For some inspiration, check out our collection of pasta dishes & noodle dishes. When it comes down to it, though, you can pretty much steam or sauté anything and turn it into a quick and easy pasta dish.
Summer veg like tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, etc. are the obvious choice, but plenty of veg can be eaten raw and added into salad, including most root veg. Carrots, beetroot, turnips, swede, fennel, and celeriac can all be chopped or grated and turned into healthy, tasty dishes like this fennel salad, celeriac remoulade or raw turnip salad. Grated apple, carrot and beetroot also works well with a simple vinaigrette or honey mustard dressing. You can add nuts, seeds and / or feta or goat cheese (or vegan alternative) to make things even more exciting.
If you want to cook your root veg first, this versatile salad can be eaten warm or cold and will accommodate most veg.
Pickle or ferment
One of the ancient ways of storing and using vegetables, with added probiotic benefits. Pickling takes minimum effort, and the result will keep for weeks or even months. You might think of gherkins, kimchi or sauerkraut when thinking about pickles and ferments, but there’s no reason to stop there. This site is a good place to learn about so-called “Israeli pickles”, which are actually versions of things like Iraqi torshi (or turshi) and Middle Eastern pickled turnips. They make a perfect side dish, snack, or sandwich filling. You can even preserve lemons and pickle aubergines.
If you’re pickle-curious but afraid of taking the first step alone, you can try a workshop or class. Check out our event listings, where we occasionally list cooking workshops in London or online.
Turn it into cake
Vegetable cakes have become “our thing” on veg pack days. Apart from the obvious carrot cake, we’ve also had swede cakes, parsnip cakes, courgette cakes and even a Brussels sprout cake! In winter, when root veg just keep coming, cakes and desserts can be a good alternative when you just can’t deal with mashing or roasting anymore.
If you have a juicer, you can turn many unused veg into fresh juice. Carrots, beetroot and celery are probably the most well known and go well together, as well as with apples. Add some ginger or fresh turmeric for an added kick. You can also easily juice cucumbers and even sweet potato. Greens, herbs can be juiced with more specialist juicers, but can be turned into green smoothies with just a blender or a hand blender. You can, of course, blend pretty much any veg into a smoothie, too, even root veg, if you have a strong enough blender. It might not be the most imaginative way to use up produce, but it works and is still good for you, so why not? As a bonus, both juice and smoothies can be frozen for 2-3 months.