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5 tips to reduce food waste during Thanksgiving and other holiday meals

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer

There’s no better way to give thanks than by making sure none of your Thanksgiving food goes to waste.

A new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) shows that 40 percent of food available to Americans is discarded, and well over 100 billion pounds of food is thrown away every year. Most of that uneaten food ends up going to waste by rotting in landfills.

By planning ahead and following these tricks, you’ll be able to show thanks for the food you are given.

My family at Thanksgiving dinner

(AleksandarNakic/Getty Images)

Divide food into smaller portions

Some people may have eyes bigger than their stomachs and load their plates with more than they could eat in one sitting.

It is better to have little plates and go back for seconds, thirds or even fourths than to get one huge plate that is too much. Set out smaller serving spoons if hosting the meal family-style, or arrange individual plates in the kitchen and serve everyone the same selection of smaller helpings of each dish to start.

That way, touched food doesn't have to be thrown away after it's been on someone's plate.

Give leftovers to guests

If the smaller portions trick doesn't work and your guests don’t finish what’s on their plate, put the remainder into a reusable container, label it with the date and their name and give it to them as they are leaving. If you would like to get the container back, you can label it with your name too.

Pack up extras of other dishes that are left for those guests who would like them. This helps you clean out your fridge, so you aren't stuck with a fridge full of leftovers that will go bad before you can eat it all.

Save the scraps

Peelings and trimmings can be reserved for many cooking uses. Wash all the vegetables before you peel, slice and chop. Save vegetable scraps in a plastic bag or glass jar in the freezer until you are ready to make a broth or stock.

Onions, carrots, celery and garlic are key ingredients, but potatoes, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, bell pepper and leeks also add great flavor. Feel free to add any other vegetable scraps you may have.

Once you are ready to make the broth, add the vegetable scraps to a large pot and add enough water to just cover the scraps. Bring it to a boil, then simmer for one hour. When that is complete, strain stock to remove solids, then you are left with a homemade broth.

Explore plant-based alternatives

Leftovers won't go bad as quickly if you eat a plant-based Thanksgiving meal. On top of wasting less food, eating plant-based foods also contributes less to the livestock sector of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Tofurky offers a turkey roast, ham and a feast with gravy and stuffing. It is made from ingredients such as wheat, water, organic tofu, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, leek and more. This alternative is healthy, doesn't add grease or fat, doesn't go bad as quickly and is a smaller portion.

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Compost the leftovers

Find a way to compost the leftover food. Compost returns valuable nutrients to the soil to help maintain soil quality and fertility.

Compost is a slow release, natural fertilizer that aids plant growth and isn't harmful to plants like chemical fertilizers.

To start a compost, choose an open, level area with good drainage. It is best to start your pile on bare ground rather than on concrete or asphalt. Your compost pile should be moist, not soggy. Most of your water will come from rain, but you may need to water it on occasion.

Do not put items in the compost such as meat, dairy or oil products.

If you don’t compost food waste, chances are there’s someone in your area (a farm or specialized facility, or even an eco-conscience neighbor) who could add your scraps to their own compost pile.

Search for a composter near you on find a composter. And if you fry any of your food, find a cooking oil recycling center in your area. The leftover oil can be recycled into biodiesel fuel.

For more safety and preparedness tips, visit

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