Tips to Reduce Food Waste at Thanksgiving

Each year, the average American family of four loses $1,500 to uneaten food — that’s about 1,160 pounds of food. With Thanksgiving around the corner, it is timely to think about how we can keep our household food waste in check. Here are a few tips that can help reduce food waste at holiday meals and save money; money that you may be able to use on holiday treats!

Plan your holiday meal

Before you go to the grocery store or order online, plan and make a list to reduce the chance that you’ll buy more than you need. Research shows that making a written list can help shoppers avoid impulse purchases, which may include foods they don’t need. For turkey, one rule of thumb is to plan for one pound per person, or a pound and a half if you want leftovers. For smaller-than-normal gatherings, consider preparing only the favorite family side dishes to go with the main course. You might serve one type of your favorite rolls or dessert instead of several. If you want to prepare all of your family’s traditional dishes, consider cutting recipes in half if you are cooking for fewer people this year. If you do have guests who want to bring a dish, coordinate in advance on who is cooking which dish.

While preparing dishes, save the scraps for future cooking

Freeze scraps like vegetable peelings and meat trimmings for your future culinary creations. Use them later in savory broths and hearty soups to provide comforting warmth on cold days. Or cook the scraps to make other foods or ingredients. You can season potato peelings and bake them into chips, or sauté extra chopped onions to make recipe-ready caramelized onions. Sauteed mushrooms frozen and frozen, grated cheese ready for your next omelet! Once you start this practice, you’ll be amazed at how easy future meal prep can be.

Store or give away leftovers

Place food in clear containers marked with the contents and date. That can increase the chances that the leftovers in the fridge will be remembered and actually eaten. If you have guests who want leftovers, let them choose their favorite dishes so that their take-away food containers match what they will really enjoy. For example, guests who only like white turkey meat would likely waste a leftover drumstick or wing.

Be creative with your leftovers

Consider all the ways that leftovers can be used; for example potatoes can be part of a breakfast dish, extra rolls and bread can be made into bread pudding. Try your hand at making homemade turkey stock with the bones, or make turkey chili with leftover meat. Whip extra buttermilk or cream into French toast batter. You could even start a new family tradition of serving a pot of turkey soup on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Wondering how long you can keep those leftovers?  Generally, food not eaten at the holiday meal should be refrigerated within two hours and used within 4-5 days.  A tool to help you remember the storage time for items is the FoodKeeper App, which provides guidance on storage (e.g., in a refrigerator or freezer) for more than 650 food and beverage items and helps you track storage times for different foods. For example, for freshness and quality, rotisserie chicken should be consumed within three to four days when stored in refrigerator or within four months if stored frozen. This app also provides guidance on safe handling and preparation with helpful cooking tips, such as how to thaw and roast a turkey by weight. FoodKeeper is available free as a mobile application for Android and Apple devices, or via desktop at

No matter how you celebrate the winter holidays this year, these tips and tools can help you reduce food waste while enjoying your holiday.