Waste Not, Want Not

By Sharon Naylor

September 28, 2015 5 min read

According to the National Resources Defense Council, Americans waste 40 percent of our food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that a typical American throws out 40 percent of fresh fish, 23 percent of eggs and 20 percent of milk. Citrus fruits and cherries top the list for fruits, and sweet potatoes, onions and greens are commonly wasted vegetables. Overpurchasing causes two-thirds of household food waste from not being used in time, and the other third of food waste comes from cooking or serving too much food.

Holiday meals are wasteful events, since overpurchasing, overserving and food spoilage run rampant. Look to these tips to help you prevent as much food waste as possible, cut down on the cost of grocery shopping for your holiday dinners and fully enjoy your food investments:

1) Make a detailed first draft of your menu ... and then cut it down. The excitement of hosting a holiday dinner can cause you to plan too much. A first draft of your menu might have 12 side dishes, and a wise edit can whittle that down to six or seven. If you'd like to make two different kinds of green bean dishes, you then know how to shop for each recipe.

2) Stick to your shopping list. Grocers know how to entice you into extra purchases through their placements of food items -- for example, standup displays of cookies. Stick to your list and you'll avoid spending extra on foods that might not make it into your holiday menu and might spoil quickly. "I got inspired to make gourmet deviled eggs as an appetizer before the meal, and they weren't as popular as I thought they'd be," says holiday dinner host Margie Shales. "I wound up throwing out a dozen eggs and having to waste a plastic container so that they wouldn't stink up my garage before trash day."

3) Be specific about what you'd like guests to bring to your dinner. If you respond to guests' offers to bring something with, "Bring whatever you'd like"' you could wind up with six bowls of mashed sweet potatoes that will surely go to waste.

4) Use small plates. For a first course, arrange for each guest to be served a small plate containing a small amount of appetizer food. You'll only need to make a small amount, and it will be enjoyed without wasting a large platter of food.

5) Plan dishes that can be used in a secondary recipe. Sauteed spinach can later be added to omelets or stews, while creamed spinach doesn't lend itself as well to second dish options. Use leftover veggies in a stir-fry, or follow celebrity chef Duff Goldman's lead and top a homemade pizza with leftover veggies and cheese. Leftover turkey can be made into tacos, leftover ham into omelets, leftover baked potatoes (as opposed to mashed potatoes) can become home fries or potato salad the next day.

6) Only serve some of what you make. Prepare a full batch of a dish, and then plate half on your holiday table. Refrigerate the rest. You'll be happy to throw away only a few spoonsful of stuffing, as opposed to four cups.

7) Buy plenty of storage containers in different shapes. Store leftovers with their contents visible when you look at the refrigerator. This helps leftovers get used more quickly and before spoilage. When you and your family can't see those delectable leftovers, they're less likely to be eaten in time.

8) Know how long leftovers last. The FDA website, and numerous food apps, has handy tools to time your leftover use more effectively, helping you avoid too much food waste as well as food poisoning from eating old items.

9) Set up a leftovers bar. Guests are likelier to take home leftovers when they see you've put effort into their doing so. After the meal, move platters of food onto a table in your kitchen where you've set up storage containers and scoops. Add a sign announcing your leftovers bar, and your guests will feel more excited to take food home.

10) Organize a leftover swap. Websites have popped up for swapping leftovers with strangers, but you might feel more comfortable swapping with people you know. Organize a group email that encourages your neighbors to list what they have to offer and encourage leftover swapping.

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