Dana Gunders

Guest blogger Dana Gunders is a staff scientist with the Natural Resources Defence League, with a focus on food and agriculture. She leads the NRDC’s work on reducing food waste and is the author of a widely distributed report “Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40% of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill”. Her most recent book is The Waste Free Kitchen Handbook.

Five holiday food-waste pitfalls to avoid

’Tis the season for lots (and lots) of leftovers. Avoid making these five mistakes, and you’ll drastically cut down on how much uneaten food winds up in the trash.

It’s that festive time of year, and what comes with it? Feasts. In fact, the very word festive comes from the idea of feasting. From cookie swaps to latkes to gingerbread houses, food is at the core of how we express and enjoy ourselves over the holiday season. Evenings start with delicious aromas setting our mood for a good time — and end with us holding our bellies and groaning about eating too much as we stare at large platters still half-filled with food that doesn’t look so appetizing anymore.

Sometimes it gets tossed right there and then. Usually it’s put into containers and thrown in the refrigerator — only to be trashed later.

This year, try to avoid these common pitfalls, and you’ll enjoy your holiday season with a little bit less waste.

Pitfall #1: Sticking to your regular grocery list. Many of us carry on with our normal shopping routines over the holidays and just add a few party dishes to the weekly meal plan. We don’t factor in the leftovers we might take home from a friend’s party. Or we might not remember about all the meals we’ll have away from home. We might intend to make salads to eat between all those heavy meals, but between cold weather and tempting alternatives, we just let those veggies wither in the crisper drawer. Be sure to think about all these factors when loading up your cart.

Pitfall #2: Matching recipe serving sizes to the number of guests. Holiday feasts tend to have more dishes than your average dinner, and with so many options on the table, most people won’t eat a full serving of everything. Have 12 guests coming? Try cooking enough of each dish for 10, or even 8. No one will leave hungry.

Pitfall #3: Being polite. Somehow, it’s become rude to ask to take food home. Hosts forget to offer, and guests may leave wishing they could have a little more of those mashed potatoes for lunch the next day, but they don’t ask! Offer leftovers to everyone, and have containers on hand to send the food in. Or, even better, open the door early by asking guests to bring their own containers in your invitation.

Pitfall #4: Eating the same thing. Let’s say you have half a ham leftover from Christmas. I’m guessing by the fourth day, you might be sick of ham sandwiches and conveniently avoiding gazing in the direction of all the meat that is still left. Fortunately, the Internet is brimming with creative recipes for your holiday leftovers. Mix it up! Ham pho, anyone?

Pitfall #5: Refrigerating leftovers. Even if you get creative, you might not be in the mood to eat turkey or potatoes or even pie every day for a week before they go bad in the fridge. The fix? The freezer! Almost anything can be frozen, including leftover ingredients like tomato paste, coconut milk, and fresh herbs. Label them with the date and keep them in plain sight, so you’ll remember to use them before too long.

For more tips on storing and freezing foods, check out my book, Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook And have a wonderful, waste-free holiday season!

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