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Thanksgiving Thoughts

November 12, 2013

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans throw away about 35 percent of the turkey purchased for Thanksgiving meals and that does not include bones. More than 200 million pounds of meat (of a total of some 730 million pounds of turkey purchased overall) will end up in the garbage after the holiday meal.

Apparently we buy too much and get tired of eating the leftovers.

 I offer the following tips for creating less waste and practicing better food management this holiday season:[1]

1)    Plan the meal, the menu, and consider the amount of food you and your holiday guests will realistically eat. The Love Food Hate Waste organization has a great website with tips on food waste reduction and also a handy “perfect portions” planner to calculate meal sizes for parties as well as everyday meals. Martha Stewart also provides advice on how much turkey is needed per person. Also, ask your butcher or meat department staff about the recommended size turkey, ham, and other meats for your guests. Effective planning can help save money and reduce food waste.

The National Turkey Federation has a ideas on how to reduce waste: purchase one-half to 1 pound of whole turkey per person (makes plenty of leftovers); if there's only a few guests, consider cooking a bone-in turkey breast or just turkey thighs and legs; ask a butcher to cut the whole turkey in half, freezing the second half for another meal; and, refrigerate leftover turkey safely for up to three or four days.

2)    Make a shopping list and try to resist stocking up on sale items that may end up as waste. Consider buying local during the holidays to support local farmers and the local economy.

3)    Setting up the holiday meal as a buffet encourages people to take less and eat everything on their plate. If buffet is not your style, allow guests to serve themselves. This encourages guests to only take what they want from foods they will actually enjoy. Plus, it creates a more “homey” feeling for the holiday.

4)    Using smaller plates also encourages guests to put smaller portions on their plate. Guests can always take seconds, if desired.

5)    BE PREPARED FOR LEFTOVERS. Ask guests to bring containers for leftovers or save up take-out containers, yogurt containers, etc. Using recommended guidelines for keeping food safe and properly stored will help ensure your leftovers remain safe and tasty. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that hot foods should not be left out for more than two hours. Storing leftovers in smaller, individually sized containers, will promote the convenient use of leftovers for lunch or a quick meal.

6)    GET CREATIVE WITH LEFTOVERS: Love Food Hate Waste’s creative recipes, Martha Stewart’s 36 Thanksgiving Leftovers, the Food Network’s Top Thanksgiving Leftovers, National Turkey Federation recipes, and of course the New York Times “Radical Rethinking of Thanksgiving Leftovers”—all have great recipes for using vegetable and turkey leftovers in soups, pot pies, and more.

7)    Consider freezing leftovers—consult the USDA Leftovers and Food Safety for more information. Pack meat and gravy together to keep the meat from drying out (hint – whip the gravy just prior to freezing to help keep it from separating when thawed). Make turkey stock (with the carcass) and freeze it. Stuffing can be frozen as well. Frozen turkey makes a great early spring pot pie. Again, planning is important—if it looks like there are too many leftovers to eat within three-four days, freeze appropriate items shortly after the meal is finished to ensure freshness.

8)    Remember your friends and neighbors; they may not have as much.

9)    In the spirit of Thanksgiving, consider donating canned and dried foods during the holiday season to a local food back or food recovery organization. The Feeding America website has a Food Bank Locator if you don’t know where your food bank is located. Also consider conducting a neighborhood food or clothing drive to help those in need.

I love turkey pot pies….hint….hint!

Happy Holidays! Athena Lee Bradley


[1] With thanks to World Watch’s Reducing Food Waste During the Holiday Season.

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