In my family, the holidays seem to be synonymous with eating. Not only is there a large meal that our Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings are centered around, but there are also the parties with lots of food and alcohol and the gifts of sweet treats and baked goods from friends, neighbors and families that seem to arrive every day during December.
The consumption of all that food means one thing (well, except for the stomach aches and weight gain): a lot of food is going to be wasted.
I recently read that in 2012 (the latest year that data was available), Americans threw out approximately 35 million tons of food. Of course there are many reasons why so much food is wasted and a lot of it is out of our control, but there are things we can do to reduce food waste in our homes, especially during the holidays when food consumption increases. It’s a shame that so much food is wasted, especially when you factor in and the negative impact food has on the environment when it ends up in the landfill.
But it doesn’t have to be that way because we can do something about it. So in honor of Thanksgiving, which is a mere week away, here are ten ways you can reduce food waste:
- Plan your menu wisely. This might sound obvious, but plan dishes that your guests like to eat. Or better yet, ask everyone to bring a dish they like, because the more they like what’s being served, the less that will go to waste.
- Only cook what you need. You can help reduce waste by not cooking more food than you need. If you have a hard time estimating how much you’ll need, check out this portion calculator.
- Reduce hors d’oeuvres. If your guests are full by the time the meal is served, more food will be wasted. Try to limit the amount of food you put out before the meal to avoid this problem.
- Save those scraps. As you’re chopping up veggies, save the scraps for use in veggie stock. You probably won’t have time to make the stock right away, so just put the scraps in a freezer-safe bag or container and make it later. Veggies that work well are celery, onion, mushrooms, carrots and garlic, or any other veggies that won’t turn to mush.
- Use the whole bird. If you’re serving turkey (or ham or another kind of meat) cut all of the meat from the bones you possibly can and save it for leftovers. Make sandwiches with larger pieces, while smaller pieces are perfect when baked into casseroles or added to soup. Then, put the carcass or bones into a stock pot or slow cooker, add water and spices to make stock.
You can then freeze the stock and use later.
- Only take what you’ll eat. I don’t know about you, but my eyes are often bigger than my stomach and I end up taking more food than I can eat. To avoid this, only take a little food at a time and go back for more if you want it.
- Use smaller plates. This goes back to eating less. If your plate is smaller you can only fit so much food on it, so you’ll waste less food.
- Properly prepare for leftovers. Make sure you have enough containers to properly store leftovers. Better yet, ask guests to bring a container of their own so they can take leftovers home. That way you won’t be left with food you won’t be able to eat.
- Donate leftovers. If you know you won’t be able to eat the leftovers you do have, take untouched plates or dishes of food to the local food bank, homeless shelter or another local agency that will accept it.
- Compost. If you have a backyard compost bin or municipal compost available to you, compost leftovers. Just be sure you don’t put any meat or oily foods in it otherwise you’ll attract critters.