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6 Simple Tips to Reduce Food Waste on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is all about sharing and gratitude, yet on this holiday — probably the most food-focused day in the United States — about 200 million pounds of turkey meat alone is thrown in the garbage. 

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the greenhouse gas emissions from the wasted turkey alone is equal to what would be produced if every resident of Jacksonville, Florida drove their own car all the way across the U.S. to San Francisco. That’s the equivalent of 25.6 billion grams of protein, which is enough to meet the recommended daily protein intake for more than 500 million adults! And that doesn’t even count all the uneaten mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie that goes from the table to the trash.

As sad and unappetizing as this is, there are plenty of simple strategies for making sure every morsel of your Thanksgiving feast is savored rather than sent to languish in the landfill. Share these ideas to reduce food waste on Thanksgiving with your family and friends and start making food waste reduction part of your holiday tradition!

  • Plan ahead
    • Get an exact headcount of guests and plan your meal accordingly. Use The Guest-imator tool from the NRDC to more accurately determine portion sizes.
    • Consider serving your meal buffet-style using smaller plates.
    • Ask guests in advance to bring their own to-go containers for taking home some of the leftover deliciousness.

  • Embrace imperfection
    • Look in your refrigerator as you plan your Thanksgiving meal to see what’s already there before heading to the grocery store. Even wilted veggies and fruit and stale bread can be used in a variety of ways for your meal.
    • Roll with your mistakes! Cooking mishaps are the stuff family Thanksgiving legends are made from, and there are plenty of ways to salvage dishes that are too salty, overcooked, or even burned. Check out this article for ideas.

  • Take stock, then make stock
    • Save your vegetable scraps as you prepare your meal (even ask guests to do the same, if you’re feeling like going all in on this!). After dinner, clean your turkey carcass of all usable meat (store that in the fridge or freezer to repurpose into another meal), then add everything else — bones, skin, joints, juices, everything! — to a stock pot with your vegetable scraps and plenty of water. You can even throw in leftover gravy and cooked vegetables, if you like. Bring to a boil then let it simmer away on the stove for at least 3-4 hours (simmering even longer will make richer stock). Once it’s cooled, portion into containers and freeze to use in soups, stews, and gravies all winter long!
    • This recipe for Turkey Bone and Stuffing Dumpling Soup uses up just about every imaginable leftover from the Thanksgiving table.
reduce food waste on thanksgiving with stock

  • Repurpose, repurpose, repurpose
    • Get creative with those leftover side dishes so no one gets bored! Leftover bread and rolls can be quickly made into tasty croutons. Mashed potatoes lend themselves to shepherd’s pie and can easily be shaped into patties and fried. Peas, green beans, corn, carrots, and other vegetables can be made into soups, pasta dishes, and frittatas. Turkey meat can be tucked into tacos, sandwiches, omelets, and more. The internet is full of great recipes for repurposing all kinds of dishes!
    • Give your pets their own Thanksgiving. Turkey and pet-safe foods like sweet potatoes, peas, and green beans can be cooked with a little brown rice to make a doggie feast!

  • Freeze!
    • As the Thanksgiving leftovers you’ve stashed in the fridge start to near the end of their salad days, transfer them to the freezer (either in individual portions or as meals) to be thawed and enjoyed later on busy winter weeknights or as  heat-and-eat lunches.

  • Spread the love
    • If you have large amounts of leftovers or bought too much at the grocery store, consider donating to a local food bank or food redistribution organization for others to enjoy. In Western North Carolina, MANNA FoodBank is a good place to start in finding agencies that might accept food donations.

Article by Gina Smith

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