How to Serve Holiday Dinner Without Waste

How to Serve Holiday Dinner Without Waste

During the stress of the holidays, it can be easy to forget that responsible food use is just as important as responsible food production. An average American family of four will throw away around 122 lbs. of food a month. Not only does this represent lost money for the consumer, but food in the garbage is also a waste of energy and water resources. The U.S. Agriculture Department estimates that a quarter of water consumption in the U.S. and 4% of U.S. oil consumption goes toward producing and distributing food that is eventually discarded. Food waste is an especially important issue around the holidays, when friends and family are coming together to enjoy big helpings of their favorite turkey, vegetables, and pies.

Waste not, but enjoy the bounty.

The Best Way To Prevent Waste: Plan Ahead

The easiest way to avoid food waste is simply to not cook more food than you need. With lots of people to serve, it’s easy to whip up lots of potatoes and turkey, just to be on the safe side. But this holiday, take the time to plan how many servings you’ll need, then measure and cook accordingly. Below are suggested servings per person for typical holiday foods:

    • Turkey – 1 lb.
    • Stuffing – ¼ lb.
    • Pie – 1 slice or 1/of a 9″ pie
    • Mashed potatoes – ½ lb. potatoes
    • Cranberry sauce – 3 tbsp.

Also plan ahead to have enough tableware on hand so that you don’t have to rely on disposable plates and cutlery. Ask friends and family to bring along extra plates, bowls, forks, and glasses if you think you’ll come up short. If you end up needing to use disposables, find ones made from recycled or biodegradable materials.

What To Do With Leftovers

No matter how well you plan, you holiday meal will probably result in leftovers. To be environmental conscious, store leftovers in non-plastic containers. Alternatives include glasssteelrecycled plastic, and bagasse. All of these will help reduce the amount of non-biodegradable plastic that ends up in landfills.

Cold turkey sandwiches are a holiday tradition, but you can also find creative ways to use all those leftovers. To turn mashed potatoes into tasty potato pancakes, mix two cups cold mashed potatoes, one egg, and your choice of seasoning (try Italian seasoning or curry powder), then fry in a tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat for eight minutes. You can also use the turkey carcass and leftover vegetables to make hot and healthy turkey soup or combine leftover turkey, veggies, and mashed potatoes into a Shepherd’s Pie.

If those leftovers are going to remain uneaten, the best way to dispose of them is by composting. It’s easy to start: all you need is a compost bin, a little water, and some sunlight. Collect food scraps (excluding any meat or animal products) and add to the bin. Ensure there is a mixture of green waste (nitrogen-rich food scrapes or green plant clippings) and brown waste (carbon-rich materials such as leaves, egg shells, or coffee grounds). Keep damp and turn once a month; your holiday leftovers will be turned into fertilizer just in time for spring.

Donate

In keeping with the spirit of the holidays, many people like to donate to food banks or local shelters at this time of year. For health and safety reasons, most places will not accept prepared foods, so instead pick up extra supplies while doing the holiday shopping. Unopened cans of fruit, veggies, and meats along with staples like rice and pasta will make a great meal for a family in need.

Have a green and happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays!

-Rachel Tardif is a freelance writer and editor specializing in environmental issues and sustainability.  

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