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 Thanksgiving 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 leftover turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pie!
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. For the turkey, I usually calculate 1.5 lb per person (this includes room for some leftovers). Here's a genius tip from Martha Stewart: the smaller the bird (12 lbs or less), the lower the meat-to-bone ratio, so you'll need more like 2 lbs per person.
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 meal like Thanksgiving dinner 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 them, 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 Thanksgiving day leftovers is probably the easiest way to avoid food waste. Lots of components of the traditional Thanksgiving meal 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.)
- Freeze stuffing in plastic freezer bags. Sprinkle with a little broth or water before re-heating to avoid the dry-out factor.
- Freeze cranberry sauce. (Then make fancy grilled cheeses by spreading a little thawed cranberry sauce on crusty bread before adding your cheese of choice and grilling.)
- I've successfully frozen whole pumpkin 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.)
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 specific components of your meal, like wine, potatoes, bread and much more. 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:
- 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 hash for breakfast. Here's a video. (You're welcome.)
- Make turkey soup with tarragon dumplings.
- My favorite, hands down, is turkey pot pie. You can throw in leftover green beans, carrots, herbs and other veggies.
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'.
Here's my favorite cornbread recipe that includes fresh corn - just sub equal amounts of the already-cooked corn you have on hand for the kernels called for in the recipe. Or just toss leftover corn kernels into the turkey pot pie that I know you're going to whip up.
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!).
I guess I dig the idea of hash. Here's another hash recipe: Stuffing Hash with Eggs and Arugula. Another great idea I saw somewhere: use stuffing as the crust for a quiche. And we've got a recipe for Stuffin' Muffins (yes, you heard that right) at the bottom of this post.
- Use as a chutney alongside hard cheeses like cheddar.
- Add a teaspoon of cranberry sauce to pancakes as they're cooking - check out our recipe, below!
- For leftover fresh cranberries, make cranberry pie!
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!
For more creative leftover ideas, check out Mark Bittman's guide with lots more fun ideas to use up your Thanksgiving leftovers.
Happy Thanksgiving, all!
Recipes for Thanksgiving Leftovers
Turkey Bone Broth
I promise you that if you make this turkey broth from your leftover bird, you won't be disapointed. Use it to make soups, turkey pot pies and much more. This recipe is adapted from Sherri Brooks Vinton's master Bone Broth recipe, found here.
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.
A version of this post was originally published November 2015.