8 Tips for Reducing Food Waste This Thanksgiving

CC BY 2.0. Stacy Spensley

Americans threw away the equivalent of 6 million turkeys last year. Let's make 2017 different.

Thanksgiving is unique because the meal is the holiday, as opposed to the meal being used to celebrate the holiday. As a result, people go overboard with food. They fall into feast production mode, which is a great, but it can have the undesirable side effect of generating excessive amounts of food that a family may not be able to eat. Across the nation, this adds up to a significant amount of food waste.

The National Resources Defense Council states that, last year, Americans discarded 6 million turkeys after Thanksgiving. This was estimated to be worth $293 million and equivalent to "more than 100 billion gallons of water—enough to supply New York City for 100 days. And when it comes to climate pollution, it wastes emissions equivalent to driving a car across the country 800,000 times."

This is shocking, especially considering that 41 million people in the U.S. struggle with hunger. The good news, however, is that change begins at home. You can reduce food waste this Thanksgiving by approaching meal preparation and consumption with care.

1. Rethink the turkey.

If you're a TreeHugger reader, you may already be vegetarian or vegan, but for those who can't resist meat at Thanksgiving, there are other, less wasteful options. Choose a meat that your guests are more likely to eat in its entirety, such as a roast or boneless turkey or chicken breast. (Arguably, if a piece of meat has been deboned by a butcher, the carcass is likely going to waste, so it's still better to put in the effort to pick meat off the frame and make stock with the rest, but if that's really not your habit, stick with what you *know* will get eaten.)

Alternatively, go vegetarian or have a side-dish extravaganza. After all, isn't that what we all love best about Thanksgiving, anyways? Check out: Menu for a vegan Thanksgiving

2. Choose your recipes carefully.

Avoid one-off ingredients. Keep it simple; use what you have. Incorporate the bits of food that normally go to waste, such as carrot tops (blended into a soup), bruised fruits (in a cake or pie), turkey giblets (gravy, stock, stuffing). Say no to those 'family tradition' dishes that nobody ever likes. (I'm thinking about Great-Grandma's awful pudding with rum sauce that always comes out at my family's Christmas, but I'm sure you have your own Thanksgiving equivalents.)

3. Forego the extra courses.

Having hors d'oeuvres and appetizers may seem feast-like, but they are pointless if they mean guests are too full to enjoy the meal thoroughly. Consider cutting one of these courses. It also means less work for the cook (and fewer dishes).

4. Do not go grocery shopping this week!

This advice from PopSci is counterintuitive but makes a lot of sense, once you think about it:

"Your fridge should be as close to empty as possible when you make your Thanksgiving shopping trip. This will minimize headaches while you’re cooking and give you a shot at having well-organized leftovers. You don’t want your turkey day spoils to hide spoiling milk as November turns into December."

It's true. When my fridge is already crammed full of food, it discourages me from tasks such as making stock, which typically requires lots of space to store.

5. If you must shop, buy ugly.

Depending on the dish you're making, choose bruised and unattractive ingredients, especially if they'll be pureed or baked into something that does not resemble their original form. In PopSci's words, "Aim to purchase all the Charlie Brown Christmas trees of the produce aisle."

6. Serve smaller portions.

One of the worst culprits of food waste is food left on guests' plates. Avoid this problem by using smaller dinner plates and smaller serving spoons. Encourage people to go back for seconds or thirds, rather than loading up the first time.

7. Plan for post-feast storage.

Make sure you've got enough good storage containers for the fridge and freezer. This makes it easy to divvy up leftovers for future meals. Hunting for lids and containers that match is not something you want to be doing late at night in a slightly hungover state.

8. Make stock immediately.

While your guests are (hopefully) doing dishes, get your pot of stock going with all meat bones, vegetables scraps, and giblets. Let it simmer while you enjoy dessert or apéritifs in the living room, then leave it to cool overnight on the stove before freezing in the morning -- or turning into turkey noodle soup.