Personally, I hate a lot of the typical New Year’s resolutions that circulate every January. Sorry, but I’m not going to stop drinking during the darkest, most depressing month of the year. I’m also not interested in spending hundreds of dollars on a gym membership that I’m only going to use a handful of times before I get tired of waiting for the StairMaster. And it’s 2023—weight loss as a resolution is officially canceled.
However, one resolution that I am tackling this year is reducing my food waste. Working in food media means that I probably waste more food than most, and even though I’m lucky enough to live in a city where I can easily compost, it still feels like I’m not being as eco-friendly as I could be. Plus, food is ridiculously expensive now—according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, average food prices skyrocketed 13.5% between August 2021 and August 2022. Because of this steep increase in prices, I now feel even worse when I realize that bag of spinach in the fridge has gone soggy.
Look online, and you’ll find countless articles offering a wide array of tips and tricks to reduce food waste, from creating meal plans to freezing leftovers. But if you ask me, one of the best ways to reduce food waste is also one of the most delicious: making pasta salad.
You probably have a pasta salad recipe or two tucked away for summer barbecues and parties when you need to feed a crowd. But I’m here to tell you that pasta salad is one of those dishes that doesn’t require a recipe. In fact, I’ll venture to say that a large portion of what you have in your fridge right now could work in a pasta salad if you get creative with your flavor combinations. That’s why it’s perfect for reducing food waste in your kitchen: If something’s about to expire, there’s a good chance you can include it in a pasta salad.
After you cook your pasta and while you’re waiting for it to cool down, you’ll want to take stock of what you already have in your kitchen. Start with the veggies. I cannot think of a solitary vegetable that doesn’t work in a pasta salad; I generally start with greens. Whether you’re using kale, spinach, romaine lettuce or arugula, adding a handful of greens to your pasta isn’t just a great way to use up these quick-to-spoil ingredients; it’s also a simple way to add nutrients into a carb-heavy dish. After the greens, try to find any veggies in your kitchen that are about to go bad. Those tomatoes that are starting to get a little soft, the half of an onion that’s been sitting in your fridge for a week, the broccoli florets that are just starting to turn brown: they’re all solid candidates. Chop them finely and add them to your pasta salad.
Next comes the protein. I almost always have beans on hand, so I usually toss them into my pasta salad, but the possibilities here are pretty much endless. If you have some cooked ground beef or turkey or some leftover shredded chicken, you can easily toss it into the mix. Sometimes, I’ll even use leftover chopped deli slices that are approaching their best by date. And don’t be afraid to take some extra time to fry up the tofu or tempeh that you promised you’d eat but is still hanging out in the back of your fridge.
Now, it’s time to consider the fruit you’re trying to get rid of. I know that fruit in pasta salad isn’t everyone’s thing, and I totally understand if it sounds less than appealing. But hear me out when I say that fruit in pasta salad can be delicious when it’s done right. Make a pasta salad that highlights fruit specifically, or just throw in those old strawberries to go along with your mixed greens and lemon zest. When you use the right dressing, adding fruit to a pasta salad can make it infinitely more refreshing.
And when it comes to the dressing itself? Don’t overlook all the almost-empty bottles you have sitting around in your fridge. That spoonful of Dijon mustard that’s sticking to the sides of its bottle can be combined with some olive oil, red wine vinegar and freshly grated garlic to create a flavorful pasta salad dressing that takes a subpar salad to a whole new level.
Whether you’re interested in cutting back on the amount of food you throw in the trash or you’re just trying to make your grocery budget stretch a bit further, finding creative ways to use up all those random ingredients in your fridge is essential. As long as you have a box of pasta on hand, you can make this task a bit easier—and a lot more delicious—for yourself by making a pasta salad.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.