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7 Ways to Reduce Holiday Food Waste

By Becky Striepe
12/14/2012 11:00:04 AM

Thanksgiving may be behind us, but big food-centric gatherings with friends and family are just beginning. One thing that's always struck me about holiday parties is how much food ends up wasted at the end of the evening. Not only is wasting food bad for the planet, it's bad for our wallets. Tossing out food is just like throwing money straight into the trash, and who can afford to do that?

Of course, I'm not saying you shouldn't have tasty food at your holiday gatherings! You can still have treats - even an abundance of them! - and reduce the amount that ends up getting tossed. The trick is a little bit of planning up front and a little bit more when you're packing up those leftovers.

1. Make Less

We tend to overdo it when it comes to quantity at holiday gatherings, and taking the time to estimate how much food you'll need can mean less wasted - and less to clean up - when the party's over. Get a rough head count and try to think about how much each person will really eat. If you're having 12 people, do you need four pies and a few dozen cookies? Probably not.

2. Reuse those leftovers

You can go beyond the old day-after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich and stretch leftovers into a satisfying meal or side dish. Need some ideas? Check out these 6 ways to revamp your leftovers!

3. Send it away

Stock up on containers that you don't mind giving away, and send your guests home with some of the leftover food. If you want to avoid plastic, Mason jars are great for stashing wet leftovers and they're not so expensive that you have to get them back. You can wrap dry foods like breads and cookies in natural wax paper to send them home with your guests.

4. Embrace the freezer

As you're putting away leftover food, portion it out and stick it in the freezer. You'll be happy to remember that squash casserole on a busy weeknight!

5. Embrace ugly produce

Much of the waste in our food system happens before produce ever makes it to the grocery store. It gets discarded because it's an irregular size or shape - not because it's rotten. There's not much that we can do about that as consumers, but one way to keep some of that ugly produce out of the landfill is to support small farms and shop at your local farmers market.

Related Reading: Why aren't we eating ugly produce?

When you get your veggies from the source, you can opt out of the food system that's built on a mountain of waste. When you're making a pie or casserole, who cares if some of the apples were misshapen or the carrots had two legs instead of the usual one?

6. Donate it

Food banks and homeless shelters need donations more than ever around the holidays. Next time you're faced with a mountain of leftovers, wrap them up and make a donation! Not all organizations will take unpackaged food, so call ahead to make sure they'll accept your leftover pumpkin pie.

7. Get (pot)lucky

A pot luck is much easier to host than a meal where you're doing all the cooking, but it can also help you reduce waste on the back end. Ask guests to bring food containers, and at the end of the evening, you can all divvy up the leftovers! That way, no one is stuck with more than he or she can eat, and less food goes to waste.

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