How to avoid wasting your food during your Thanksgiving feast

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A Thanksgiving meal is seen in an undated file photo. (Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS — Many think of Thanksgiving as a time of gathering in love and feasting on delicious food. However, many don’t consider the vast amount of food wasted from being uneaten.

It is estimated that the average American family of four loses $1,500 — or 1,160 pounds — of uneaten food each year. In the entire United States, that food waste totals to be about 133 billion pounds, and $161 billion worth of food, which is between 30-40 percent of the food supply.

It’s a problem. Not just for the fact that about 10.5 percent of households struggle with food insecurity, but also due to its impact on the environment. Food is the single-largest category of material that’s in municipal landfills, where it emits methane, a greenhouse gas, and contributes to climate change. It also wastes the land, water, labor and energy that was used in the process of growing, preparing, storing and transporting food. Effectively reducing food waste will require cooperation among everyone.

“This holiday season, we must all do our part to help people and the environment by preparing only what we need, cutting down our food waste, and sharing or donating what we can to feed others,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a press release.

In order to prevent wasting food this year, here are a few key points to remember:

  • Plan your holiday meal ahead of time. Most of the waste comes from a lack of preparation when it centers around food shopping. When it comes to what to make for Thanksgiving and other holiday feasts, it’s best to plot out what you plan to make instead of improvising. Before you go anywhere, shop your refrigerator and pantry first, as there may be things you already have so you won’t waste money on extras and won’t waste the food you already have. Stick to your shopping list and don’t buy more than what you need. Research found that making a written list helps reduce impulse purchases, preventing potential food waste.
  • Give “ugly” food some love. Ugly foods are ones that have physical imperfactions but are not damaged or rotten. This could include produce that’s misshapen, canned food with a dented can, a dented box or just have a slight imperfection. Many times, stores will actually make those items discounted. If you don’t want to serve the ugly foods, you can use them to cook soups, smoothies and other dishes where the food is either blended, crushed or hidden. Nobody will notice the difference.
  • Be mindful of the amount you eat. When eating, start in smaller portions so you will have an empty plate when you get full and won’t cause discomfort. Or, if you find that you had too much, use a separate tubberware specifically for your own leftovers that you’ve already started eating so you don’t have to worry about waste or spreading germs. It can always be eaten later.
  • Save scraps for future cooking. Getting creative with what’s left of the food you didn’t use will save a lot of money and food in the long run, as well as providing unique experiences in the kitchen that can be fun for the whole family. For example, you can season potato peelings and bake them into chips and you can bones from meat and other vegetable scraps for a soup stock.
  • Store leftovers and be creative with them. If you cook a lot, it’s obvious that there will be leftovers. The easiest way to go through them is to have leftover nights, but there are other ways to use leftovers in different dishes altogether. For example, stale bread can be made into bread pudding or croutons and leftover turkey can be used in soups and stocks. There are many different websites online that give inspiration for creative uses for leftovers. Another way to get rid of leftovers without waste would be to pack extra food into containers specifically for the guests to take home with them. Of course, if nothing else, food lasts longer in the freezer.
  • Learn the difference between “sell-by,” “best-by” and “use by” dates. Food dating helps provide customers the information so they understand when their food is at its best, and it does not always pertain to safety. Except for infant formula, many products are still safet to eat after the date passes.
  • Compost food scraps. Composting helps gardens grow by feeding the soil and providing nutrients. It also reduces the amount of methane emissions into the air, eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers, promotes higher yields of crops, aid reforestation, heal polluted soil, enhance water retention and of course, save money. Getting started on composting at home is a great first step to reducing food waste.
  • Donate excess food. There are many local food banks in need of any spare canned food that people may have. Not only will it prevent food waste, but it will provide food to those who need it. Feeding America and Ample Harvest are two organizations that accept food. EPA’s Excess Food Opportunities Map and the Food Rescue Locator help find nearby community food banks and other organizations that accept food for those who are hungry.

No matter how you choose to celebrate your holidays, these tips can help reduce food waste and save money, and could potentially help others. Of course, it’s not limited to the holiday season.

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