A Season to Taste, Not Waste

by Brianna Carroll, Dietetic Intern Bay Pines VA Healthcare System

The holiday season is filled with joy, family, friends and food. While you can never have too much joy, friends or family, too often we are surrounded by an overabundance of food during our holiday celebrations. According to the USDA, Americans waste around 31% of edible food, a practice that can lead to overstuffed landfills and underfed communities. As we move forward into the holiday season, let’s look for ways to reduce food waste in our own homes to make a positive impact on our communities.

When preparing for gatherings make a plan for your meals and shop in your own kitchen first. Use your creativity. Look around to see if you have canned goods, dry goods or fresh produce that could be incorporated into your holiday recipes. Determine the amount of people you are serving and scale the menu accordingly. If you’re serving five, no need to cook for 55.

When shopping, go in with a plan, and come out with only what you need. Once purchased, store perishable items properly to keep them from going to waste. Rule of thumb states that if produce is sold in a refrigerated state in the grocery store, it should be kept in your frig, and vice versa if the item is sold at room temperature.

During meal prep, save your scraps! Those turkey bones and some of your vegetable scraps can be used to create a tasty homemade stock. Recipes for making stock can be found at Making Homemade Stock. Also, while preparing menu items, only open cans and boxes of non-perishable items as needed. An unopened item can be donated or stored for later.

Your post meal options are endless. Leftover dinner rolls? Don’t let them mold. Cut them into to bite size pieces and create your own homemade croutons. Your hot main course and sides should be cooled to below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in less than 2 hours to assure safety. Using smaller, single serve containers for storage can help to chill leftovers faster, as well as make them easier to use for future meals and snacks. Date your leftovers so there is no question about the safety of the food. Use the free food safety app Is My Food Safe? by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for tips on how long certain items can be stored and the proper ways to reheat and serve.

Do you have three cans of unopened pumpkin puree for those pies you didn’t bake and an extra box of stuffing that just wouldn’t fit into that bird? Donate your unopened, non-perishable items to your local food pantry. The holidays are a tough time for many people and every donation can help someone feed their family, while reducing waste and environmental impact.
Small actions can make big changes in the amount of food waste that is produced this holiday season. As we give thanks for our beautiful environment and the wonderful people in our communities, let us each do our part to protect them.

Looking for your local food bank? Check out the food bank locator.