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Thursday, October 10, 2013

15 ways to reduce food waste during the holidays

Believe it or not, the holidays are almost here.  If you are reading this, the holidays probably mean fun, family and a whole lot of food.  There's just one problem with the food - a lot of it will go to waste and most likely end up in a landfill.  Why is
15 ways to reduce food waste during the holidays
iStock / riskms
this a problem?  Food waste in landfills creates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas known to contribute to global warming.  What does this mean to you?  It's probably costing you more money than you know.  According to the National Resources Defense Council, the average family of four wastes about $2,275 worth of food every year.

So what can you do?

Give your family and the planet a gift this season by helping to reduce food waste.

Need to know how?   Here are 15 ideas to get you started:

  • Have a plan for keeping food fresh longer - whether from parties, family gatherings or gifts, one problem with the holidays is we can accumulate more food than ways to safely store it.  Make sure you have plenty of food safe, BPA free containers, wraps, bag clips, silicone lids and food storage bags on hand so you're always prepared.
  • Find delicious ways to use leftovers - bread can become your signature french toast, fruit can be frozen in ice cubes to become a special garnish for beverages and smashed potatoes can be transformed into a topping for a warm and hearty Shepherd's Pie.  The possibilities are endless!
  • Extra food from the office party?  Try donating it to a shelter.  Be sure to coordinate the donation ahead of time though.  Some shelters will even assist by picking the food up your location.
  • Only buy the food you know your family can eat before it goes bad - that 'large bag' may seem like a better deal, but it won't be if it goes bad before you can use it.
  • Family gathering?  Encourage friends and family to take some extra food home with them - our tip?  Have 'take home' containers conveniently and conspicuously placed for anyone to use.
  • Another tip for family gatherings - try using smaller plates.  People's eyes are typically bigger than their stomachs during the holidays, with many people heaping their plates full.  And unfortunately, they tend to load their plates with more than they can eat.  A lot of food waste during celebrations comes from uneaten food from plates.  Using smaller plates can help reduce that waste.  Another benefit? It may move the food line quicker!
  • Party over?  Fridge space will be at a premium.  It may be tempting to store leftover side dishes in the container in which they were served, but that can create problems later on.  After all, who wants to unpack an entire refrigerator to get one item?  The solution?  Where possible, store leftover food in smaller containers for convenience and added storage space.
  • Share your extra food family gatherings - a gift of food opens many doors.  Reach out elderly neighbors or to those living alone who may not cook.  It may mean more to them than you ever know.
  • Prepare holiday dishes that are easy to make, serve and store - why? You're more likely to make it and store its leftovers.  You'll also be less likely to toss it in the trash and more likely to reuse the leftovers.
  • For holiday gatherings, think food safety - have a plan for keeping hot foods hot and cold foods chilled to minimize the risk of food poisoning.  Use coolers, ice or other methods to keep cold foods chilled and slow cookers, warmers or insulated containers to keep warm food warm.  As a reminder, food should be left out no longer than 2 hours.
  • If you haven't starting composting, the holidays are a great time to start - compost adds valuable structure and nutrients to soil, and aids its ability to hold moisture.  Compost bins started now have a good chance of producing compost by spring, depending upon where you live.  Use your compost in gardens, potted plants and lawns.
  • Try some of these creative uses for leftover ingredients, including leftover fat for dog treats or suet and drying herbs for later use.
  • Eat locally grown and seasonal fruits and vegetables wherever possible - why?  It takes fewer resources to move that produce and it also supports your community.  Not certain what foods are in season or where to find them?  Try the NRDC Eat Local app to locate farmer's markets and seasonal recipes.
  • Got extra milk, eggs or produce?  Try these tips for adding convenience and saving time in the kitchen! No fresh milk for cooking?  No problem!  Simply freeze extra milk in large muffin tins, then store in a food safe bag or container in the freezer.  A large muffin tin will hold approximately 1/2 cup of milk, premeasured for your favorite recipes.  Extra onions?  Try chopping, spreading them on a cookie sheet and freezing them.  Once frozen, store in an airtight container in the freezer.  You'll have chopped onions at your fingertips without the smell or tears.
  • Lastly, donate to your local food bank - food insecurity is and continues to be a problem, regardless of where you live.  In fact, the USDA reported that almost 15% of US households were 'food insecure' at some point in time during 2011.  Food banks are a lifeline for many through the year, but especially for the holidays.
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