The holidays are a time of bounty at the table. But they are also the time for the highest amount of wasted food for us already wasteful Americans. According to the National Resources Defense Council, food waste in the U.S. is estimated at about 40 percent, up from roughly half of that in the 1970s. Waste occurs at every level of the food supply chain and can thus be mitigated at a variety of levels. There are many simple ways to help reduce food waste during the holiday season. Here are ten.
- Know your guest list: If you have a lot of pumpkin pie-lovers attending, by all means make two pumpkin pies. But, if you have several vegans in attendance, don't go for that third turkey or a gallon of eggnog. Know what your guests are likely to eat and pay attention to pound-per-person estimates for your large items like ham and turkey. Pare down your menu and go for quality over quantity. Bring back your family favorites that you know everyone enjoys, but limit the new dishes. Not only is a new dish stressful on a holiday, it can also lead to more food waste if it's not a success.
- Avoid impulse buys: Don't pick up food on impulse. Have a plan and stick to it. If you know what you're making and how much, you'll be less likely to forget it in the back of your refrigerator or pantry.
- Make space in the freezer: Don't just think about how to feed your guests on the holiday, but think also about how to use the leftovers later. If you only have one turkey sandwich lover in the family, wrap and freeze the majority of the leftover turkey and fixings after the big feast so you won't forget to do it later. Turkey only lasts, safely, in the refrigerator for about four days.
- Buy produce from the farmers market instead of a grocer: In addition to reducing travel and middle-man costs, you'll also have the opportunity to buy ugly produce. Yes, your grocer tosses out anything deemed unattractive to the consumer. Support ugly produce and buy it direct from farmers to reduce food waste on the production level.
- When you're prepping your veggies, save the scraps: You'll be chopping and peeling a lot of vegetables for the big feast. Don't compost them right away, turn them into vegetable stock. You can compost what's left after you've made the stock, and you've upcycled those scraps into something else you'll need for the feast. Any food scraps that you do plan to throw away, consider composting instead.
- Portion control: While you can't always portion out everything for your guests in a holiday feast, you can portion some items to reduce waste. Try mini pies instead of full-size and rolls instead of loaves of bread. Giving your guests options to just pick up one piece instead of controlling with a scoop can help reduce what's leftover on the plate. As for those scoopables, try smaller spoons. Give your guests smaller plates and bowls as well to limit the amount of food they can glop on their plate at one time and give the illusion of larger portions. Don't worry, they can always go back for seconds.Food left in the serving dish can be reused, but what's left on the plates is most likely to be thrown out.
- Leftover meals: Be creative when planning to eat your leftovers. Instead of just sandwiches, try Thanksgiving salad, turkey pizza or a casserole. Make quesadillas or fried rice filled with leftovers. And, if you just know you can't get through it all in four to seven days, package it well and freeze it for later. While you may be absolutely sick of turkey the week after Thanksgiving, it will make a lovely and cozy noodle soup in December.
- Donate extras: If you bought too many canned and boxed items for your holiday feast, consider donating to a local food pantry.
- Seek out food recovery programs: Food recovery programs collect excess food from consumers and businesses to be donated to other consumers. One such group in New York City collects enough food to provide groceries and meals for more than 300,000 people, according to Worldwatch Institute.
- Beyond the feast consider non-perishables when gifting: While Christmas cookies and other treats are common gifts, consider gifts that are at least less perishable if not non-perishable during the holidays. Instead of cookies, try canned jam or pie filling.
In addition to these tips, consider reducing meat and dairy consumption, as production of these foods is less efficient than other foods. Keep reducing your food waste throughout the year and keep in mind reducing waste in other ways, such as paper and gasoline use, during the holiday season.