7 Ways to Reduce Food Waste During the Holidays

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Updated: October 13th, 2020 | Read time: 3 minutes

After a holiday dinner, here’s a familiar scenario: You’re standing over the garbage or compost, scraping off plates into the garbage. You probably feel some food waste-shame—guilty and powerless about your conspicuous non-consumption. And you are not alone in your pain of excess.

Woman Trying to Reduce Food Waste Scraping Food From Plate into Compost Bin | Vitacost.com/blog

According to Worldwatch Institute, an organization devoted to sustainability issues, “In the United States, we generate an extra 5 million tons of household waste each year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, including three times as much food waste as at other times of the year. When our total food waste adds up to 34 million tons each year.”

To help stem this tide of waste, in 2015, the federal government announced the United States’ first-ever national food waste reduction goal, calling for a 50-percent reduction by 2030. Want to join the movement but not sure how? Here are seven savvy ways to trim shrink your food footprint, from prep to clean-up.

The prep

Plan realistically: All too often, the fear of not having enough to eat causes hosts to overdo the amounts. Instead, plan out how much food you and your guests can reasonably consume. Think small courses, right sized, with the aim of moderation rather than eating with abandon. If you worry you will cut it too close, plan on supplementing with bread, cheese or extra salad—items that are easy to have on hand and will keep if not needed.

Use the whole vegetable: Seeds, skins, and even tops of vegetables like carrots can find their way in to recipes. Many people discard parts of vegetables that actually have valuable nutrients and can be used in a number of ways.

Go cheap and ugly: Don’t be shy to ransack the clearance section of your grocery store and purchase less than pristine produce. Marked down items not only save you money, they also save vegetables from the landfill. Soon, there will be app for that: FoodLoop, still in beta, is designed to help consumers find clearance grocery items. Another one of Foodloop’s features is to notify you when one of your items on your grocery list has been marked down at your local grocery store.

You can also be a first adopter of the ugly produce trend. According to Modern Farmer, “a tremendous amount of the food produce never makes it to the grocery store shelf, because of blemishes, overripeness, small size, or other imperfections—nothing that makes it inedible.” As “ugly produce” becomes more acceptable to consumers, retailers such as Whole Foods and Walmart have recently announced pilot programs that sell wonky produce at a discount in order to re-route produce destined for the compost pile or landfill.

The meal

Self-serve: Empower guests to do their own portion control by serving food buffet style. That way, each person can take exactly what they want and how much, rather than hiding their uneaten leftovers under their napkin. It’s key strategy to reduce unwanted food left at the end of the meal.

Centerpiece savvy: Instead of going big—and spendy—with an extravagant centerpiece, consider investing in a centerpiece made from fresh produce that can be later be donated. AmpleHarvest.org’s Centerpieces for Pantries program encourages swapping flowers for food centerpieces. After the holiday, you can donate your center piece to your local food pantry.

The aftermath:

Compost: Inevitably, there will be leftovers. But instead of trashing them, find a way—and the will—to compost. If you don’t have your own compost bin, consider getting one, or many local communities offer yard waste and food scrap drop-off sites for residents.

Love your leftovers: Get creative with the leftovers to create tasty mashups that will rival the original incarnation. Transform stuffing into patties, leftover turkey into turkey chili, green beans and Brussels sprouts into a savory casserole. Another option: Share the leftover wealth by giving each guest a doggy bag of leftovers to take home.

Making simple changes in how we prepare for upcoming holiday meals can help make the holiday season feel more abundant for all. By consuming food responsibly and respecting it’s resource not to be taken for granted, we can fine tune our appreciation for having enough— enough for ourselves and enough to share.

Editor’s note: For more tips and tricks for reducing food waste (and creative ways to use fruit and veg that are “on the edge”), check out our Zero Hunger, Zero Waste initiative.