The holiday season is a time of celebration, but it can also be a time of excessive food waste. While it’s tempting to cook and bake up a storm the leftover food often goes uneaten, put in the refrigerator, and ends up in the garbage.
We live in a world of abundance and while preparing there might be something even gratifying about preparing too much food, but there is the other side of over preparing too. This is the feeling of guilt that comes along a few days after, when you are cleaning out the refrigerator and throwing the leftovers in the trash.
The food is part of the fun of the holiday season and getting together with family and friends but let’s make sure that we spread the love to the planet too. Here are some simple tips you can follow to reduce waste.
Meal planning is one of the most effective ways to reduce food waste in your home during the holidays. It involves taking an inventory of your kitchen and pantry, creating a shopping list, and sticking to it when you go grocery shopping. Meal planning allows you to plan ahead by accounting for how much food you need without having too much left over. This will help cut down on unnecessary purchases and prevent any uneaten food from going bad or being thrown away after the holidays are over.
As a bonus of meal planning is that it will help you not break the bank! With inflation running rampant, cost control might be the most important reason for you to find ways to buy less. Plus, don't forget about heading over to the clearance section at your local grocery store—there may be less-than perfect produce that may not look so pretty but are still great to use and taste delicious in a dish.
Don’t worry if you have already done your shopping, it’s still not too late to review your menu to see if you really need everything. Look at the menu and the recipes you have planned and then think about how many people you have coming. Can you cut down the recipe size or hold off on making a dish or two? Make sure you think about any hor d’oeuvres or appetizers that guests are bring or you are making. I am sure that you have been to parties where there were so many “pre-dinner snacks" that you had no room for dinner. Don’t let that happen to your guests.
Storing and Using Your Leftovers
When storing leftovers, always make sure they are properly wrapped or sealed in airtight containers and stored in the refrigerator within two hours after cooking. I personally try to limit the amount of disposable plastic I use when storing food, so I keep plenty of reusable storage containers on hand. Some of them are glass, because I like to be able to see what is in them because it makes it easier for me to plan how to use what is in them. But I also have plenty of plastic ones, most of which I have gotten from restaurant take-out. These are great to use to send people home with which is one of my favorite ways to get rid of leftovers and my guests love it too!
As you are putting the leftovers away take out a sheet of paper and write what they are down while thinking about uses for them and how they can be used together. Can you make a soup or a casserole with them? Leftover vegetables and turkey can make a great turkey pot pie. Cranberry sauce can be transformed into a delicious cobbler. What about making a frittata with ham, potatoes, and asparagus? Write these ideas down too and attach the paper to your refrigerator or kitchen bulletin board to reference later.
Make sure you think seriously about freezing some of the leftovers if you won’t have time to use them in the next few days. I actually think many leftovers get better with age and love using my leftovers out of the freezer.
All food is safe to freeze, however certain foods may not fare so well when frozen because their consistency and appearance will change. You should avoid freezing gravies with milk and cream, mayo-based dishes, sour cream, soft cheeses, and salads. Foods that freeze well include meats, grains, cooked sweet potatoes and winter squash, roasted root vegetables and cookies. Yes, cookies! I love getting the cookies out of my sight after the holiday but also like having them in the house for when guests stop by or if I feel like a little sweet after dinner sometime.
Before freezing make sure the food is completely cooled and remove as much air as possible from the container. The closer you can get the container to fit the amount of food you are freezing the better. If you are using plastic bags, I suggest reusable, lay the bags flat. This trick will allow you to stack more in your freezer and significantly cut down on thawing time.
Make sure to label all your containers with what is inside them and the date they are easy to find when you go to use them. Putting them in a dedicated section of your freezer is helpful. To make sure you don't forget about them make sure you keep referring to the list you put on your refrigerator. You are going to love this when you are in a hurry and want to make a quick dinner.
The holidays are a great time to start taking food waste more seriously. By making a conscious effort to reduce your food waste, you can save money and feel good about helping to protect the environment. Not only will it save you money, but it will also make you feel good because you are protecting the environment.
This holiday season, please make a commitment to become more aware of food waste and take simple steps to reduce it. Simple changes can make a big difference!
P.S. Look forward to the Food Waste Project coming soon!