Tips and Tricks for Wasting Less Food This Holiday Season

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By now, you've probably already read one of our most popular posts ever: 13 Things to Motivate You to Cut Back on Food Waste and 6 Ways to Do it. In it, Kyle breaks down the topic of food waste, including its environmental, economic and even humanitarian effects.

Some tidbits that really struck me, especially as we come upon the holiday season:

  • Americans throw away more than 20 lbs of food each month.
  • If we wasted just 5 percent less food, it would be enough to feed 4 million Americans; 20 percent less waste could feed 25 million Americans annually!

Pretty sobering figures - but the the Worldwatch Institute says that we waste up to three times more food during the holidays than we do other times of the year! (That's a lot of good food going into our landfills.) With the holidays coming up, I'm going to be more mindful of wasting food and using up leftovers.

To that end, we've compiled this handy guide to help you reduce your holiday food waste, plus a couple of fun recipes for your leftovers! 

1. Plan, Plan, Plan

Really good meal planning can help you save money and reduce food waste. (Warning! This may require math!) Calculate exactly how much you'll need for each recipe per person instead of winging it. (Add a couple of people to your calculations if you want leftovers.) You'll likely save some money grocery shopping, and you'll end up with far less food wasted.

Find other great tips for reducing food waste before you cook your meal here.

2. Do it Buffet Style

Encouraging self-service for the meal (i.e., buffet style) ensures that your guests take only what they think they'll eat (give or take an extra scoop of mashed potatoes). This virtually guarantees that less food will get scraped off their plate and into the garbage at the end of the meal.

3. Compost Fruit and Vegetable Scraps

Cooking a large holiday meal can generate a lot of fruit and vegetable scraps. Consider starting a compost collection in your kitchen! I use a stainless steel container and keep food scraps on the counter (just for a day or two or until my husband complains), but you can freeze scraps, too. Here's a handy home compost guide if you have the room for a bin (we have a super small, NYC-sized rotating bin in our teeny backyard that makes awesome compost in five weeks).

If backyard composting isn't your bag, many municipalities have food scrap drop off programs - Google "compost drop off [your city]" or "food waste drop off [your city]" for locations.

4. Freeze It!

I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that the USDA says that you should only keep leftovers in the fridge for three or four days, or frozen for three to four months. Here is their guide to leftovers and food safety.

Freezing your holiday leftovers is probably the easiest way to avoid food waste. Lots of components of big meals can be frozen. Here are some tips:

  • Store meat and gravy together to keep the meat from drying out
  • To freeze gravy: whiz in food processor blender first to keep it from separating when you thaw it. (More excellent gravy-storage tips here.)
  • I've successfully frozen whole pies: wrap the entire pie tightly in plastic wrap, then foil. Freeze. To thaw, leave in the fridge for a day until entirely thawed out. (Don't thaw on the counter or the USDA will hunt me down.)
  • Did you make too much cookie dough? Freeze it for another time! Here's how

5.  Lots of Leftovers? Get Creative!

Pretend you're on Top Chef and you've been given a challenge to use up your leftovers. (That's what I do. Actually, I pretend I'm on Top Chef probably once a week. But I digress.) You can also check out Sherri Brooks Vinton's series, Taste It, Don't Waste It, on this here blog for tons of ideas on how to use up lots of different ingredients. Lastly, check out a few of our recipes at the bottom of this post!

Here are some fun ways to get Top Chef-y with your leftovers:

Turkey and Other Large Birds

  • Make turkey stock (using the turkey carcass) and freeze it for soup making when it gets really cold in January. Check out our recipe below! 
  • Whip up turkey, goose or capon hash for breakfast. Here's a video. (You're welcome.)
  • Make turkey soup with tarragon dumplings. Other birds would be just as delightful in this recipe, I'm sure.
  • My favorite, hands down, is turkey pot pie. You can throw in leftover green beans, carrots, herbs and other veggies. (Or sub in any other kind of meat.)

Potatoes

I usually think potato pancakes are the way to go, for both leftover raw potatoes and mashed, but these mashed potato biscuits look awesome, and would be killer with the turkey hash (above) topped with a poached egg. Just sayin'. Lots more ideas from food waste guru Sherri Brooks Vinton (potato samosas, anyone?) here

I know I've always got a ton of potato peels in my compost bin after a big holiday meal. Instead of tossing them, whip up potato peel chips as a quick and easy appetizer.

Recipe is below! 

Leftover Bread

Croutons! Or whiz leftover bread in the food processor to make fresh breadcrumbs. Use to coat all sorts of delicious things, like chicken cutlets or potato croquettes (bonus: these use mashed potatoes!). Or make a breakfast panade with all that leftover bread - recipe here

Herbs

I love to mince fresh herbs and toss them in everything and anything: eggs, biscuit dough, soup - you name it. Or another of my favorites: make herb butter and freeze it (thyme and sage are stars). Or make Kim's lentil pate with rosemary! Way more fun ideas from Sherri here

Wine

OK, OK - if your family is like mine, there won't be a whole lot of wine left. But in case there are a few drops here and there, we've got lots of ideas and tips: from wine syrup to wine granitas to homemade wine vinegar. Check 'em out here.  

Happy Holidays! 

Holiday Food Waste-Busting Recipes

Bone Broth

I promise you that if you make this broth from your leftover holiday bird, you won't be disapointed. Use it to make soups, pot pies and much more. This recipe is adapted from Sherri Brooks Vinton's master Bone Broth recipe, found here

Ingredients:
At least two pounds of bones from a leftover, cooked turkey or other large bird
Enough water to cover the bones
Vegetables such as onion, carrot, celery or garlic peels, ends and skins (optional)

Method:

1. Add enough cold water to the pot to cover the bones by two inches.

2. Slowly bring to a simmer, skimming any scum that forms in the first hour. Continue to simmer very gently for at least 2 and up to 24 hours.

3. Add any vegetables that you'd like in the last two hours of cooking (vegetables cooked for more than two hours will turn bitter).

4. Scoop out the bones or strain the broth through a colander into a large heatproof bowl. Strain again through a fine mesh sieve into a large heatproof bowl or container. 

5. Refrigerate for at least four and up to 24 hours, then ladle the fat off of the top of the chilled broth and reserve for another use.

Store the stock:

Refrigerate for up to five days. Freeze for up to six months. Pressure can and the stock will be shelf-stable for up to one year.

Potato Peel Chips

Nothing says "home economy" like making potato chips out of your potato peelings. But the results taste rich indeed! These are becoming so popular I expect you'll see them on a hipster restaurant menu any day now.

You can flavor these anyway you want - with chili or curry powder, your favorite rub or seafood seasoning, or just keep it simple with a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.

How you peel your potatoes matters here.  If you use a peeler, the skins will be thin and wispy - great on a salad or as a fun garnish. If you want a dipper kind of chip, it's best to peel your potatoes with a knife so you can keep the peels nice and wide and maybe even take the thinnest layer of potato flesh as well to give these snacks a little extra bite. 

This recipe by Sherri Brooks Vinton was originally posted here

3-4 cups of potato peels from well scrubbed potatoes, any variety
2 tablespoons of neutral oil such as organic canola, safflower or grape seed
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 teaspoons of any flavorful spice such as chili powder or curry powder (optional)

Preheat oven to 400.

Press peels between a couple sheets of paper towel to remove excess moisture.  Place on a cookie sheet and drizzle with oil.  Sprinkle with salt and spice, if using.  Toss to coat.  Bake until peels are crisp, about 30 minutes.  Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for up to two days.

Like the recipe? Love the video!

(Boozy) Pie Milkshake

Just in case you didn't get enough calories during the big holiday meal, we present to you: the pie milkshake. What's so great about a pie milkshake, you say? Well, it's a milkshake - with a slice of pie blended into it. Plus, bourbon. Need we say more?

What's even better is that you can use any kind of leftover pie you might happen to have on hand. I prefer vanilla ice cream as a vehicle for the favor of the pie and the (optional) bourbon. This recipe makes two milkshakes, but can easily be doubled, depending on the capacity of your blender. 

Ingredients:

1 pint vanilla ice cream, slighly softened
2 slices leftover pie (think pumpkin, apple, mincemeat)
1/4 cup whole milk
2 shots bourbon (optional)


Method:

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until fairly smooth, but with some chunks of pie still remaining. Pour into two tall glasses and serve immediately. 

A version of this post was originally published in November 2016. 

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