Reduce Your Waste
In 2012, the National Resources Defense Council published a report stating that 40 percent of America’s food ends up in the trash. It’s even worse between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, when U.S. households produce 5 million tons more food waste than usual. While it may seem like excess is what the holidays are all about, there are many improvements we can make to reduce our waste—and save money in the process.
Shopping Without a List
If you’re not organized, food waste can start at the grocery store. First, establish what you actually need and what you already have in your fridge and pantry. Make a detailed list ahead of time so you know exactly what to shop for. It can be tempting to impulse-buy extra food or unnecessary products—especially when supermarket sales actively encourage purchasing multiples of certain items. The cost of these apparent savings can add up, however, contributing to having more food than you actually need.
Wasting Food Scraps
While preparing holiday meals, lots of food scraps inevitably end up in the trash. But many of the things we’re quick to throw away can actually be repurposed to enhance the flavor of future dishes. Onion skins, carrot tops, stems from herbs and leafy greens, and turkey bones all make excellent ingredients for a soup stock. If you don’t want to use them right away, they can all be stored together in the freezer to be cooked at a later date.
Not Making Your Ingredients Multitask
During the holidays, people often cook with ingredients they may not use for the rest of the year. This inevitably invites food waste. You may only need half a can of pumpkin puree to make a pumpkin pie, for example, but you can make the ingredient multitask by preparing pumpkin muffins for a holiday brunch, so the rest of the can doesn’t go into the garbage.
Preparing Too Much Food
No one wants their guests to go hungry, so many hosts have a tendency to cook for a group of 12 even if they’re actually only serving six. This mistake can leave you with an overwhelming amount of leftovers that you don’t know what to do with. There are free planning tools available to help you organize your meals based on the number of people you’re hosting. While a full turkey may make for a picture-perfect Thanksgiving tablescape, many smaller families could be better served by simply preparing turkey breasts, or evening considering a less substantial bird like a chicken.
Focusing on Quantity Over Quality
For many, the holidays are all about excess and involve buying massive loads of groceries from a big box store. Rather than giving your money to a large chain, however, consider buying a smaller quantity of high-quality meat and produce from a farmer’s market or directly from farmers in your region to support the local economy. By doing so, you’ll also reduce the amount of carbon emissions created by transporting food from across the country (or around the world).
Serving Large Portions
Much of the food waste we create is scraped directly from our plates into the trash. By serving our guests supersized portions, wasted food becomes inevitable because we can’t accurately predict how much people will eat. Instead, let people serve themselves, and encourage those who are still hungry to go back for seconds.
Forgetting Food Safety
It’s important to keep food safety in mind during the holiday season. Putting out a cheese and charcuterie plate and letting it sit on the coffee table all afternoon before storing the ingredients in the fridge again can be a recipe for disaster. According to the The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), meat shouldn’t be left at room temperature for longer than two hours because of the potential growth of dangerous bacteria.
Not Sharing Leftovers
Be sure to send your guests home with leftovers so you’re not left with more food than your family can reasonably expect to eat. Alternatively, consider sharing your leftovers with other members of your community such as friends and neighbors who may not be taking part in family gatherings of their own.
Not Freezing Leftovers
Leftovers will last for just four days in the fridge, on average. Rather than letting your holiday leftovers slowly go bad, freeze them in a timely manner. Most mains and side dishes can be frozen in airtight plastic containers or in freezer-safe plastic storage bags. Your leftovers will taste best if defrosted within three months, but can be safely kept for up to a year.
Not Transforming Leftovers Into New Dishes
It’s understandable if you and your family can’t stomach eating the same holiday meal for four days straight, which is why you should get creative when it comes to repurposing your leftover dishes. Leftover turkey can be turned into soup, pot pie, casserole, or even tacos. Leftover mashed potatoes can become gnocchi, muffins, or potato pancakes. You can also combine all your leftovers into an epic holiday sandwich.
Food that is thrown in the garbage ends up in a landfill, but food that is composted can actually improve the nation’s agriculture systems by creating more nutrient-rich top soil. While some cities and towns offer compost pickup alongside trash and recycling, in many places you might need to research the availability of private compost collection services. If you have a backyard, you can even set up your own DIY compost bin.
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