Give Thanks for Bounty and Reduce Food Waste from Your Thanksgiving Celebration


You probably think you’re doing everything you can to avoid food waste. After all, you buy your groceries at the farmers market, selecting only what you need, you cook smart and freeze your leftovers, and you’re sure to use all of your scraps to make a homemade stock, right? But there might be even more you can be doing to reduce food waste, and with Thanksgiving on the horizon, it’s the perfect time to be thinking of how you can cut down on wasted food this holiday season.

Thanksgiving is traditionally a time to give thanks for plenty, so plenty often graces our tables. But when does plenty become way too much? Does your Thanksgiving table need to be buckling to be festive?

According to NRDC’s landmark food waste report Wasted,America throws out 40 percent of our food. That’s almost half of what we eat, which isn’t terribly surprising considering the fact that portion sizes have grown enormously. And considering that more than 15 million American children live in food insecure households, those numbers need to be fixed in a big way. Every little bit counts, so when you’re planning your Thanksgiving dinner this week, consider taking a few steps towards reducing food waste this Thanksgiving.

Buy Only What You Need

Last year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, approximately $277 million of turkey was thrown away over the Thanksgiving holiday. When people plan their Thanksgiving menu, they tend to plan for way too much, and even with leftover turkey sandwiches the next day, some of that ends up in the trash.

When you’re planning your menu, bear in mind that when an adult is eating a regular meal, it is recommended to plan for 4-5 ounces of protein, 1-1.5 cups of cooked starch, and 1-1.5 cups of cooked vegetable. Consider the number of people you’re feeding, and plan food amounts accordingly.

Portion sizes are often poorly estimated because of large dinner plates, and the same is true of large baking dishes. There’s no need to fill your biggest dish with sweet potatoes and green bean casserole when a smaller dish would suit just fine. Try using a smaller brownie pan instead of an enormous lasagna pan for your Thanksgiving sides.

Take Five Minutes on Thursday Night

After eating all of that food, the last thing you want to do on Thursday night is pack up the leftovers, but enlist some friends and family members to help. Leaving all the food out or not packing it properly can send it straight for the trash can.

At the very least, put everything in separate, sealed containers and set the dishes in the sink to soak, but if you have time (and energy):

  • Remove all of the leftover turkey from the bones and freeze the carcass so that you can turn it into homemade turkey stock later
  • Remove all of the stuffing from the turkey and put it in a container with any dressing you baked on the side
  • Freeze at least half of the cranberry sauce. (We all know there’s always too much.) In a month, you can thaw it and make cranberry sauce bread
  • Freeze at least half of the leftover gravy in an ice cube tray. Now you have homemade gravy to use with weeknight dinners!

Be Smart About Leftovers

Taking that extra time on Thursday night means that you have no excuse not to be smart about your leftovers. Once everyone is sick of eating leftover turkey sandwiches, consider using up your leftovers in other meals. Use leftover vegetables, sweet potatoes and turkey in quick and easy quesadillas, and use leftover stuffing to top your favorite baked mac and cheese recipe.

As for all that celery you thought you needed now wilting in the crisper and the half-dozen apples sitting on the counter that didn’t make it into the pie, consider donating them to your local food bank. While many people donate canned goods this time of year, fresh fruits and vegetables are often missing from food bank shelves. If you don’t need it, donate it; make this Thanksgiving a season of giving back as well.

Related on Organic Authority

The Pros and Cons of Brining a Turkey for Thanksgiving

3 Authentic Thanksgiving Feast Ideas for Your Holiday Table

Thanksgiving Meal Leftovers: 3 Tips for Safe and Tasty Food Storage

Image: Ben Frankse

Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco