Published December 17, 2021 / Updated November 8, 2022
In 2021, ReFED estimated that more than 305,000,000 pounds of food would go to waste on Thanksgiving alone, and this year, we anticipate a similar forecast. Meanwhile, rates of food insecurity in Massachusetts are almost back to peak pandemic levels.
Plus, wasted food is a big contributor to the climate emergency. Unsold and uneaten food takes up more space in landfills than anything else and is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gas behind China and the United States. This is to say nothing for the way producing food uses valuable natural resources.
So in a time when there’s so much food, how do we make sure it all gets eaten? Here’s what you can do for your at-home holiday gatherings and in your community.
1. Shop smart
Before you begin pulling together recipes and making a shopping list, take an inventory of your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Do you have bread a couple of days old that you can use for croutons? A neglected bottle of white wine you use in a sauce? Frozen meat tucked away that you can dethaw?
Next, pull together your recipes. Here’s what to consider:
- Utilize recipes that allow you to use ingredients that otherwise may not last long.
- Don’t be afraid to make substitutions that allow you to use what food you already have.
- If you have to buy a new ingredient and think you might have extra (like a bag of carrots), try to work the excess into another recipe.
- To avoid buying/making too much, use a food calculator to determine what amounts to prepare.
From there, make your shopping list and stick to it. Only buy what you need! More on smart shopping.
2. Store extra ingredients the right way
When you get home from shopping, it’s time to store those ingredients. Whether your celebration is that night, a few days away, or you’ve ended up with excess ingredients you hope will last till later in the week, knowing the best way to store your food can help it stay fresh and taste better for longer.
Some quick tricks:
- Put fresh herbs in a glass of water with a plastic bag over it in your fridge. Basil doesn’t like the cold, so keep it on your counter just as you would a vase of flowers.
- Wrap leafy greens in a paper or dish towel to absorb extra water and prevent soggy leaves. Then store it in a bag in your fridge.
- Store onions and other alliums separate from the rest of your produce. Alliums produce higher levels of ethylene gas, which will cause other produce to spoil faster.
- Store celery and carrots in water in your fridge. Or, stick them in your freezer. You’ll want to blanch carrots first, but celery can go right in after being chopped.
- Freeze extra portions of meat as soon as you can.
- Keep extra stock in your fridge to make rice later in the week.
Read our Food Storage 101 blog for more tips.
3. Salvage your scraps
When meal prepping, save those beautiful scraps! While they might not look appetizing on their own, those scraps are nutrient-filled and can be consumed in other ways. Our favorite: stock.
Start by grabbing a freezer bag. As you cook, add scraps like carrot and potato peelings, onion tops, garlic skins, and kale stems to the bag. When you’re all done, seal the bag and stick it in the freezer for up to 6 months. Every time you cook, continue to add scraps to your bag.
When you’re ready, make your stock. The water will soak up many nutrients from the veggie scraps, and you’ll have a great base prepared for soup! Making your own stock also gives you more control over the flavor if you’re a home cook enthusiast.
4. Involve guests in your efforts to waste less
Don’t be afraid to tell guests what to bring
If a visiting friend or family member asks what they can bring to your house for dinner: tell them! Many of us habitually say, “just bring yourself!” to be polite, but when visitors show up with a couple of dozen chocolate chip cookies to add to the ones you already have, there’s more potential for some to be left uneaten.
Send guests home with leftovers
The best way to share the responsibility of eating leftovers is to do just that: share your leftovers. While you can encourage your guests to bring their own containers, it’s also an opportunity to give the plastic takeout containers you’ve acquired a second life. Start saving your containers a few weeks or months before a gathering and offer them to your guests to pack up leftovers. You can even suggest they try experimenting with their leftovers to make something different. There are endless ways to turn yesterday’s leftovers into a new, delicious meal!
5. Support food rescue
Here at Lovin’ Spoonfuls, we’re focused on connecting excess food from retailers (your area grocery stores, farms, and farmers’ markets) to nonprofits serving people facing food insecurity across Massachusetts. Every week we rescue more than 85,000 pounds of food – enough for nearly 70,000 meals – for people who need it. If you’re interested in supporting our food rescue and hunger relief efforts, learn more about our food recovery work and how you can get involved.