science environment

5 Ways To Reduce Your Thanksgiving Food Waste

By Cassandra Profita (OPB)
Nov. 27, 2014 1:14 a.m.
Buying and serving too much food at holiday parties can lead to a whole lot of food waste. Proper planning can help reduce that waste.

Buying and serving too much food at holiday parties can lead to a whole lot of food waste. Proper planning can help reduce that waste.

Satya Murthy/Flickr


You might think you're going to eat all that Thanksgiving turkey. But experts say Americans will throw out 230 million pounds of turkey meat after this year's feast. That means more than a third of all the turkey we bought for the holiday will never get eaten.

It doesn't have to be that way, according to Ashley Zanolli of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Food waste is an everyday problem in the U.S., Zanolli said, but Thanksgiving kicks off a whole season of holiday food waste wherein people buy and serve excessive amounts of food for their festivities.

"The average family of four is throwing out about 25 percent of all the food they buy to the tune of $130 each month," she said. "Family gatherings and parties that drive us to serve too much food are one of the reasons Thanksgiving is particularly wasteful."

But Zanolli says the holidays can also be a good time to start changing wasteful everyday behaviors.

"It's even worse to waste good food around the holidays – especially on Thanksgiving – when we're trying to give thanks and waste less," she said.

Here are five ways Zanolli says we can waste less food this Thanksgiving:

1. Be Realistic About How Much Food You Really Need To Buy:

Using an online portion calculator can help you figure out how much food you need, Zanolli said, but they're typically not accounting for all the side dishes people are going to be eating on Thanksgiving. So, adjust accordingly.

"You can buy a couple pounds less turkey than you think you need," she said.

Check your cupboards, fridge and freezer before you go to the store and add the quantities of required ingredients to your shopping list so you don't buy more than you need.


2. Help Your Guests Find Their Way To The Clean Plate Club:

Consider providing smaller plates and serving utensils to your guests.

"This slows down folks whose eyes might be bigger than their stomachs – I know I suffer from that problem – and then guests can take smaller servings that they can actually finish in a single sitting and go back up for seconds and even thirds."

If more of your guests clean their plates, that means fewer food scraps will end up in the trash or the compost.

3. Make A Plan For Using Your Extra Ingredients:

A little planning can go a long way to avoid wasting the extra ingredients left in your fridge after Thanksgiving.

"When you think about your leftovers this year and ingredients you'll be using, are there special ingredients you might not normally use?" Zanolli said. "If so, try to have a plan for these ingredients before you buy them."

She recommends planning some post-holiday meals to make sure you use up the extra ingredients left in the fridge after Thanksgiving is over. Not sure what else to make? Zanolli said you can enter multiple ingredients into sites like Big Oven and Recipe Puppy to get ideas on what dishes fit the bill.

4. Get Creative With Your Leftovers:

Some Thanksgiving leftovers can get a little old if you're eating them day after day in the exact same form you ate them on Thanksgiving. To avoid leftover fatigue and its likely consequence of wasted leftovers, get creative.

"I like to experiment with making an egg strata for brunch with the leftover stuffing," Zanolli said. "Maybe reinventing turkey with a jambalaya after you've had leftovers for a few days."

5. When In Doubt, Use Your Freezer:

If you're not sure whether you'll make it through all the Thanksgiving leftovers in the fridge, consider putting them in the freezer in clear, well-marked containers.

"We're definitely under-utilizing our freezers," Zanolli said. "At the end of the day, you can freeze just about anything."

When you're sick of eating leftover turkey, she said, make a turkey pot pie and freeze it so you can eat it later. If you have leftover herbs, put them in ice cube trays with melted butter or olive oil so you can use them to spice up other meals throughout the winter.

When we waste food, we're also wasting all the water and energy that goes into making that food. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, one pound of turkey meat gobbles up the natural resource equivalent of driving 11 miles to take a 130-minute shower.