Food, Waste, and the Holidays!

By Lydia Keenan

As the days get shorter and the weather gets chillier, it is time to start thinking about all the wonderful holidays and events coming up in the next few months. The last year and a half have been challenging for everyone, and we are all eager to reconnect with friends and family.

One of my favorite things about planning and attending holiday events is, of course, the food! Unfortunately we know that in the United States, nearly 40% of food is wasted – perhaps even more around the holidays. There are many ways to reduce your household food waste year round, but let’s take a look at some creative ways to use holiday leftovers and keep your trash can empty!

  • Ask guests to bring leftover containers or send doggy bags. This way, you are not stuck with all the leftovers and not enough people to eat them.
  • Remix your leftovers
    • We’ve all had turkey and cranberry sandwiches the day after Thanksgiving, but what about risotto with leftover mashed veggies?
    • Or sub turkey for other proteins in soups and casseroles, whip up a salad and top it with leftovers from the charcuterie tray.
  • Freeze it! Throw some holiday favorites into the freezer and thaw them out to have a cozy meal any time of the year.
  • Have a “leftover party”! I grew up doing this with my family – the day after a holiday, we throw a big party and the only rule is you have to bring a leftover. Everything is served potluck style and everyone gets to taste your version of a holiday classic. Less leftovers for each household, and a great way to connect with friends!

These are all great ways to minimize food waste that comes from leftovers, but what about some tips to reduce waste from the start? There are some great ideas at your fingertips with a simple Google search, but here are some of my go-to’s.

  • Label waste bins. Make sure trash, recycling and food waste bins are clearly marked so guests are not confused or have to spend too much time thinking about how to clear their plate.
  • Use cloth napkins and real cutlery and tableware.
  • Find (or make) decorations that work for more than one holiday.
  • Borrow! Don’t have enough plates or glasses? Need more decorations or tablecloths? Ask your friends and family! Chances are they are attending your party, and won’t have a need for those items and you can return the favor later.
    • You can also rent party supplies – check out what is available to you locally.
  • Source locally (and in season). If possible, choose recipes that feature seasonal produce and purchase ingredients locally. This reduces the amount of emissions required to produce, package and ship the products! It is also a great way to support businesses in your community.
  • Go paperless! Instead of sending out paper invitations, use an e-vite website or design your own and email it to guests.
  • Skip the party favors, or check out these great zero waste goodies here!
  • Buy in bulk. This keeps packaging to a minimum, allows you to buy the exact amount you need, and saves money!

None of us are perfect – any steps you take to reduce waste this holiday season make a big impact! No matter how or what holidays you celebrate, there are so many great ways to minimize waste and impress your guests.