When it comes time to fire up the grill for a summer cookout, you really can have it all – a delicious spread that wows your guests (with leftovers for busy weeknight meals) and doesn’t generate too much waste.
To help plan the party, Brandon Fortener, product development chef at Kroger, and Lisa Zwack, head of sustainability, share their expert tips on how to maximize your cooking efforts – and minimize waste.
Prep Makes Plenty
Start your menu planning by reviewing your guest list. Does anyone have food allergies or follow a special diet? These details will help you to plan a menu with dishes for every diet. How much food do you need? You want to have plenty to feed your guests, but not so much that food goes to waste. Next, make sure the menu makes the most of the space on the grill.

“Think of your barbecue grill as your outdoor stove and take advantage of the whole grill,” says Chef Brandon.

Get 3 Meals from 1 Bird
A whole chicken is more cost-effective than buying individual parts and it gives you additional meal options. When Brandon grills a whole chicken, he might serve the legs and thighs at the barbeque and then save the breasts to cut up for a salad or chicken parmesan later in the week. To make the sauce for his chicken parmesan, he’ll roast a few tomatoes with garlic and olive oil in a foil packet on the corner of the grill for a quick sauce. (see below for some great recipes)
Don’t Forget Your Veggies
A cookout is the perfect excuse to grill sweet corn and other summer vegetables that can be served immediately and then eaten later. Brandon throws his corn on the cob directly on the grill for a nicely charred side.
Leftover corn can last in the fridge for a week and has many uses, including creamed corn (see recipe) and corn pudding. “Cut the corn off the cob after it cools and refrigerate it,” says Brandon. “Boil the cobs in water for 20 minutes to make a corn cob stock. You get this really nice milk-like liquid that you can use to make corn soup or creamed corn.”
You can take a similar proactive approach with zucchini, peppers, eggplant and other summer veggies by tossing them with olive oil, salt and pepper and sticking them on the grill. Leftovers can be used in anything from grain bowls to paninis throughout the week.
And don’t toss the scraps! “They add a nice smoky flavor and give you a bit of barrier on the grill between vegetables and chicken,” says Brandon.
You can also transform bits of peel, carrot tops and leftover greens, along with freshly cut herbs or flowers from your garden, into a beautiful centerpiece for the table.
Make Being Green a Team Effort
To reduce waste at the cookout, Lisa suggests choosing reusable plates, cups and cutlery. “For bigger crowds, you may have to use disposable items, so consider those with recycled content or renewable materials like paper, or even serving ware that can be composted if you have access to composting.”
Once it’s party time, enlist the kids to get creative by personalizing everyone’s cups and glasses, whether it’s with stickers, charms or markers, so guests don’t lose track of these during the party. This will help cut down on dishwashing and trash at the end of the party.
“And encourage your guests to join your zero waste effort by clearly marking your garbage, recycling and compost bins so it’s easy to participate. You can also ask them to bring containers for leftovers and have a supply of your own ready to share,” Lisa says.
After everyone leaves, start making plans to incorporate the rest of the leftovers into meals for the week. “Even small amounts can yield big flavors,” says Brandon. “A handful of fresh fruit could enhance your breakfast smoothie, buns could become bread pudding or the base of the kids’ sandwiches for day camp, and a few veggies can spruce up any omelet.
Minimizing waste is not only a great way to help improve our planet, but also an awesome incentive to prepare new – and creative – dishes.