The holiday season is finally here! With delicious traditions like your Thanksgiving turkey or homemade pumpkin pie, there’s tons of food to look forward to in the upcoming weeks. While we begin preparing for the holiday season, it’s important to take a step back and look for ways we can celebrate more sustainably.
Why Should I Reduce Waste?
Every year, the average American family throws away almost 1,200 pounds of uneaten food! If that seems like a lot, it’s because it really is. In fact, that adds up to nearly 40% of all food made.
Unsurprisingly, the amount of food wasted skyrockets during the holiday season. With a holiday like Thanksgiving, where the goal seems to be to make and consume as much food as possible, food waste is an unfortunate reality.
This is especially true when it comes to the traditional Thanksgiving dish: turkey. So, how much turkey is actually wasted on Thanksgiving?
Every November, Americans throw away 200 million pounds of turkey! For a holiday that is built around gratitude, we sure don’t realize how much we’re throwing away.
The effects of food waste go way beyond your wallet. While you might not immediately associate reducing food waste with sustainable living, it plays a crucial role in conserving resources and reducing pollution.
After you toss the turkey, the leftovers end up in a landfill, where it slowly breaks down. As it decomposes, it releases harmful methane gasses into the atmosphere, leading to further climate change. Not to mention, you’re also wasting all the resources that went into harvesting that food: water, fertilizers, gas, and electricity.
When you think about the long-term effects of those Thanksgiving leftovers, you can see the importance of doing your part in not wasting food. Do your part to save our planet and use these 5 tips on how to have a green Thanksgiving!
5 Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste During the Holidays
The holiday season is known for the bounty of food and time spent with family and friends. And like they say, the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach. This means a lot of time is spent gathering around the dining table filled with delicious dishes.
This can lead to a massive increase in food waste. The good news is, you don’t have to give up any of your favorite holiday treats in order to create less waste! There are plenty of other ways that you can make your holidays more sustainable.
Only make as much food as you need.
When planning a grand Thanksgiving meal, there’s a lot of planning involved. From deciding the menu to timing the dishes, there’s a lot that goes into consideration when preparing such an excessive amount of food.
While it’s great to continue celebrations that are focused on food, we can make small changes to the way that we prepare and portion our food. One of the easiest ways to reduce food waste? Simply include it as part of the planning process!
Finalize the guest list.
In order to understand how much food you need to make, you first need to know who’s coming. Before you go grocery shopping, get a final headcount of who you’ll be feeding to make sure you don’t overdo it.
Plan dishes that use similar ingredients.
Try to choose dishes that use similar ingredients! Better yet, choose dishes that can use waste from other dishes. For example, skip the boxed stuffing and make it homemade with the veggies used in your turkey! Not only will it taste much better, you’ve given a new purpose to those carrots and onions. Talk about two birds with one stone (three, if you’re counting the turkey!)
Calculate portion sizes.
Remember to keep in mind how much each individual will eat. When it comes to portion sizes, no two people are the same. For example, your cousin who happens to be a college linebacker is not going to eat the same amount of food as your seven year old niece.
Use this free dinner calculator to calculate how much food per person you need to make this Thanksgiving!
It’s also important to keep in mind people’s special diets. Have vegetarians or vegans in the family? Count them out on the turkey! Have a couple relatives who are lactose intolerant? Then doubling that mac and cheese recipe probably isn’t necessary.
Less is more.
While we all love to have our options, sometimes less really is more! Instead of creating several different dishes, try sticking to a few main favorites. Not only will you reduce food waste, you’ll also save time!
Reconsider buying in bulk.
Wholesale stores like Costco and Sam’s Club can make it tempting to buy your ingredients in bulk, especially when it comes to the savings. Before you buy, ask yourself these questions:
How much do I need for Thanksgiving recipes?
The first step in purchasing ingredients is figuring out how much of each you’ll need for your meals. Once you establish your portion sizes, use that as a guide for how much you actually need to buy of each ingredient. Most of the time, the bulk portions of an ingredient are going to be much more than you need for your Thanksgiving meal.
Is this a non-perishable item?
If you’re buying dry goods like dried spices, flour, and pasta, buying in bulk can actually help you reduce waste by limiting the amount of packaging and bags you’re using. However, for products like vegetables, meats, and bread, it usually goes bad before it can all be used.
Will I use this item after the holidays?
Even though non-perishable items might not expire, if you won’t use the ingredients in any recipes outside of your holiday meals, it will still go to waste. If it’s not an ingredient you use in your typical recipes, it’s best to buy just what you need for the holidays.
Coordinate recipes with friends and family.
If your family is taking a potluck approach to Thanksgiving this year, coordinating recipes can be an easy way to reduce food waste. When discussing who’s bringing what, be sure that there is a wide variety of dishes and nobody is bringing any duplicates. This way, you won’t end up with too many side dishes or too many desserts that won’t get eaten. (Trust us, you won’t finish three pumping pies.)
Planning a meal with several people can be difficult, so here are some tips to help:
- Send a Google Doc with everybody’s names and have them write down what they plan on bringing next to their name.
- Create a predetermined menu and have people select which dish they will bring.
- Make a list of types of foods (ex: sides, entrees, desserts) and put a specific number of spots next to each category. This way people don’t have to commit to a specific dish, but you can still make sure there’s some variety.
By including the entire family in the planning process, you can lead the way in going green for Thanksgiving!
No matter how much planning you do, there’s always the possibility of still having leftovers. That’s okay! If the thought of eating turkey leftovers for the next week leaves you queasy, here are some other ways you can put those leftovers to good use.
If you have any unopened, non-perishable goods, you can donate them to a local homeless shelter or food bank! Items like gravy, cranberry sauce, and canned vegetables can make the perfect donation! Not only does it help reduce food waste, but you also help others in need who might not otherwise enjoy a Thanksgiving meal.
Find local food banks using this food opportunities map or through Feeding America!
You may also be able to donate perishable foods and cooked leftovers to local animal shelters. There are plenty of pups who would love some of those turkey scraps!
Start your holiday shopping sustainably.
Once you’ve taken the last bite of your Thanksgiving meal, it’s time for another important holiday tradition: Black Friday! The official start of the holiday shopping season, Black Friday can unfortunately make the holidays even more wasteful if you’re not intentional about being sustainable.
Wrap up your sustainable Thanksgiving day with some sustainable shopping! When you’re holiday shopping, it can be tempting to click “add to cart” on the cheapest and quickest gifts you can find. However, these products are usually cheaply made and will end up in a landfill in just a few months.
Instead, spend time sourcing sustainably-made products that work towards saving our planet. Your friends and family will appreciate being gifted high-quality products that will last them a lifetime. Plus, you’ll be doing your part to reduce waste!
Reduce Waste & Make Thanksgiving Sustainable
Thanksgiving and the holiday season is better when we celebrate it together, especially around the dinner table. But it can also be incredibly wasteful. Not only does it contribute to wasted time and money, it’s a waste of raw resources and a major contributor to climate change.
Fortunately, there are many easy ways to reduce ways that don’t require sacrificing your favorite Thanksgiving dish. Go green this Thanksgiving and use these 5 sustainable Thanksgiving tips:
- Cook only what you need.
- Don’t buy everything in bulk.
- Coordinate dishes with friends and family.
- Donate leftovers to local shelters.
- Kick off your holiday shopping with sustainably-made products.