The holidays can be a joyous time to bring people together, share memories and break bread over a large holiday feast. But big dinners can have big environmental and financial impacts when uneaten food is thrown away.
The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that food is the largest category of material in landfills. Food releases methane gas as it decomposes, contributing to climate change. Food waste costs money too, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality estimates that each household in the state loses $1800 a year in wasted food.
With a little bit a planning for your holiday meal, you can make sure your guests are stuffed but your trash can is not.
Prepping for dinner
Aim to feed your guests well without leaving you with a fridge full of leftovers - that means figuring out the right portions for each guest. Check out this party planning portion calculator for your next meal: https://savethefood.com/guestimator. The calculator will adjust for heavier or lighter eaters and multiple side dishes and desserts.
Look in your fridge and pantry first to make sure you don’t already have needed ingredients. It’s helpful to label foods so you know what should be eaten first. When grocery shopping, make a list and stick to it.
After the feast
The best way to avoid a fridge full of leftovers is to send the meal home with your guests. Ask them to bring their Tupperware to dinner, loan them yours or repurpose cleaned salsa or yogurt containers that they can later recycle. Many secondhand stores have inexpensive food storage containers, great for giving away after a big meal.
If you still have leftovers, make use of your freezer; meats, soups, cooked vegetables, breads and pastries freeze very well. Foods will stay fresher for longer in airtight containers. If you are tired of eating the same meal for days on end, repurpose the leftovers into new meals.
Creative ways to use leftovers
Substitute turkey wherever you would use chicken such as enchilada filling, nachos, chili, BBQ sandwiches or a pizza topping.
Turkey noodle soup is a post-holiday tradition for many. Boil the carcass until the meat falls off the bones and then strain the mixture. Then add cooked noodles, carrots, celery, onions, herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Adding gravy to any holiday soup will add creaminess.
Yesterday’s mashed potatoes can be tomorrow’s breakfast hash. Form the potatoes into patties and fry in butter to make potato cakes.
Mashed potatoes make great appetizers as a filling for stuffed mushrooms. Use up even more leftovers when substituting stuffing as a breadcrumb topping.
Pureed squash (butternut, acorn, pumpkin, sweet potato) pairs well in an autumn risotto. For something a little spicier, add curry powder, onions, garlic and coconut milk to cooked and pureed squash and you’ll have a simple, but flavorful soup.
Add leftover cranberry sauce and orange zest to a muffin recipe to create tangy and tart morning pastries.
Cranberries make an elevated appetizer when added to a wheel of brie cheese and wrapped in a sheet of puff pastry.