4 Eco-Friendly Thanksgiving Tips for Reducing Holiday Food Waste

As we prepare to sit down with our loved ones this holiday season, it’s common to think about what we’re grateful for. Our spouses and children, friends and family, jobs and of course the glorious bounty on the table, food! But did you know that 40% of food in America is thrown away? Food waste is a massive problem, not just because there are 16 million children in our country that struggle with hunger, but also because it causes environmental problems too. Food waste in landfills around the world (160 billion pounds of it in America) contribute as much as 7% to greenhouse gas emissions, which means reducing food waste can play a part in combating climate change.  

Thanksgiving and other major holidays play a big part in the $165 billion food waste problem. This Thanksgiving, Americans will throw away 200 million pounds of turkey while 1 in 8 of us goes hungry. But, what can you do about it? We’ve come up with some eco-friendly Thanksgiving tips to help you reduce your food waste this season. Work with your family to implement these easy ideas and have even more to be grateful for this holiday!

  1.       Check your kitchen before you shop. One simple way to reduce food waste is to not purchase too much food to begin with and this includes buying duplicate items. Many people throw out perfectly good food items based on “best by” dates. It’s important to remember that those dates are chosen by the manufacturer and do not reflect food safety problems, but rather what they deem as the product’s peak quality period. “Use by” dates, on the other hand, often indicate that an item will go bad over time. Some products you can even test yourself, like eggs. Find out if your eggs are still fresh with this simple water test. Taking stock of what’s on hand before you buy and not tossing out food based solely on “best by” dates can help reduce your family’s contribution to food waste all year long.
  2.       Cook only what you need. For some of us, the holiday table piled with food is a big part of the traditional meal but think about how much of that will get thrown away this year. Instead of heaping bowls and overflowing platters, opt for smaller portions that will still leave everyone satisfied but with fewer leftovers. Ask your guests to bring containers so that they may leave with leftovers too. Need help figuring how much to make? Try The Food Network’s Thanksgiving Meal Planner here.
  3.       Freeze leftovers. One way to use up leftovers is to toss them in the freezer to use in other dishes. Freeze fresh fruit for use in smoothies and cut vegetables for soups, purees and stir frys. Roast turkey can freeze for up to 3 months, just be sure to remove it from the bone first. Use this recipe for Homemade Turkey Stock from Taste of Home to turn the carcass into yummy stock for all kinds of dishes. You can even freeze stock in ice cube trays for simple portioning.
  4.       Repurpose Leftovers. Turkey sandwiches and leftover Thanksgiving plates are great…for a while. But eventually with too many leftovers, a family can get Thanksgiving’ed out. Look for creative ways to turn leftover turkey and sides into new dishes for your family to enjoy instead of tossing them out because you’re tired of them. Check out this flexible recipe for Mini Carrot Pot Pies from Country Living. You can add in more than carrots. Add chopped turkey, mashed potatoes and other leftover veggies for a quick, kid-friendly hot meal. Or try these healthy Stuffed Sweet Potatoes from Eat the Gains for a sweet/savory snack or side stuffed with Thanksgiving leftovers.

These are just a few ways to help reduce your family’s food waste this season. If you don’t already have a composting system in place, this holiday is a great time to start. You don’t need a big backyard to compost, you can compost in small spaces and apartments too. Here’s a Guide to Apartment Composting from Going Zero Waste.

Concerned about hungry kids in your community? Volunteering at the food bank or soup kitchen is a great way to give back and teach kids the value of community service. Find ways to help with How to Help Your Hungry Neighbors from The United Way and see our post on Fun Volunteer Ideas for Kids here.

What did you think of our eco-friendly Thanksgiving tips? Have your own to share? Let us know in the comments section below!

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