Tips to Reduce Holiday Food Waste

by Rona Berg

The holidays are a time of abundance, and that over-the-top ethos most certainly applies to food. Even in normal times, the amount of food that gets wasted is huge: approximately 40 percent of all food goes to waste. And it’s much worse over the holidays. 

 With so much food insecurity in the US and around the world, that is simply heart-breaking. Not to mention, the resources it took to grow and distribute the food, are wasted, too. 

It may be surprising to learn that consumers are responsible for most of that food waste at home. With more people cooking, and as restaurants and the food-service industry scale back due to COVID, the amount of food waste is on the rise. 

Food waste is bad for the environment, and, according to the national nonprofit ReFed, it’s responsible for close to eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and consumes approximately 20 percent of all freshwater, cropland, fertilizer and landfill volume–all for food that goes uneaten! That wasted food could have gone to support the one in seven people who are food-insecure, a number that has also grown throughout the pandemic. 

We spoke with Dana Gunders, Executive Director of ReFed, for tips on what we can all do to reduce food waste over the holidays and beyond.

  1.  Plan Ahead
  •  Don’t buy groceries without thinking ahead a few days or a week to consider what you’ll be eating.
  •  Planning ahead is easier than ever now that more and more people are ordering their groceries online.
  • Consider “recipe trios” to help use up food that you buy in bulk. For example, if you cook a roast chicken for dinner one night, make chicken tacos the next night, and chicken salad for lunch the following day.
  •  If you’re going to eat frozen pizza once (or twice) a week, plan for that too, so you don’t buy anything else for that night and end up not eating it.
  1. Store Your Food Properly
  • Different foods need to be stored differently, and they’ll last a lot longer when they are stored right. For example, fresh herbs can be stored in a glass of water like flowers in your fridge; apples should be stored in the fridge, but oranges are fine on your counter; and bread should be wrapped in plastic or aluminum foil to retain its moisture.
  1.  Use Your Freezer
  • Your freezer is a magic “pause” button to keep food fresh longer.
  •   Freezing food is a great way to extend its life. You can freeze most anything, cooked and uncooked (check online to see which is best for the foods you’re freezing).
  • An added benefit is when you don’t feel like cooking and can just take something out of the freezer to heat up and eat.
  1.  Learn the Labels
  • The most common date labels are “best if used by,” “sell by” or “expires on” followed by a specific date. Learning what labels really mean can save you from throwing something away when it’s still perfectly good to eat.
  • Date labels typically refer to quality, not safety.
  • Major food industry groups have endorsed the use of “use by” to indicate when a product should be discarded for food safety reasons.
  • Use your best judgment. If a product looks good, smells good, and tastes good, it’s probably OK to consume.
  1. Eat Down
  •  As you plann ahead for what you’ll be eating for the week, plan in a day to Eat Down all of the leftovers and excess food in your fridge.
  • Separately, they might not be enough for a full meal, but together, they’re just right.
  • Create a smorgasbord of leftovers for your family to graze on.
  • Make meals like tacos, soups, and salads where you can be creative with a range of different ingredients.
  • Some people like Wasteless Wednesdays, others go with Stir-Friday. 
  • Visit SaveTheFood.com for more information on how to make the food you buy last longer. It’s got a lot of great information, including meal plans, storage tips, recipes and more.

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