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How to reduce food waste during the holiday season

Dinner Plate With Food (2)By Rita R. Robison

In the United States, five million tons of household waste is generated each year between Thanksgiving and New Year's. That’s three times as much food waste as at other times of the year.

The Worldwatch Institute offers 10 steps consumers can take to help make this season less wasteful:

Before the meal: Plan your menu and exactly how much food you'll need.

1. Be realistic: The fear of not providing enough to eat often causes hosts to cook too much. Instead, plan out how much food you and your guests will realistically need, and stock up accordingly.

2. Plan ahead: Create a shopping list before heading to the farmers' market or grocery store. Sticking to this list will reduce the risk of impulse buys or buying unnecessary quantities, particularly since stores typically use holiday sales to entice buyers into spending more.

During the meal: Control the amount on your plate to reduce the amount in the garbage.

3. Go small: The holiday season often promotes plates piled high with more food than can be eaten. Simple tricks of using smaller serving utensils or plates can encourage smaller portions, reducing the amount left on plates. Guests can always take second or third servings if they’re still hungry.

4. Encourage self-serve: Allow guests to serve themselves, choosing what and how much they would like to eat. This helps to make meals feel more familiar and also reduces the amount of unwanted food left on guests' plates.

After the meal: Make the most out of leftovers.

5. Store leftovers safely: Properly storing leftovers will preserve them safely for future meals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that hot foods be left out for no more than two hours. Store leftovers in smaller, individually sized containers, making them more convenient to grab for a quick meal rather than being passed over and eventually wasted.

6. Compost food scraps: Instead of throwing out the vegetable peels, eggshells, and other food scraps from making your meal, consider composting them. Individual composting systems can be easy and inexpensive and provide good material for garden soils.

7. Create new meals: If composting isn’t an option for you, check out Love Food Hate Waste's creative recipes to see if your food scraps can be used for new meals. Vegetable scraps and turkey carcasses can be easily boiled down for stock and soups, and bread crusts and ends can be used to make tasty homemade croutons.

8. Donate excess: Food banks and shelters gladly welcome donations of canned and dried foods, especially during the holiday season and colder months.

9. Support food-recovery programs: In some cases, food-recovery systems will come to you to collect your excess.

Throughout the holiday season: Consider what you're giving.

10. Give gifts with thought: When giving food as a gift, avoid highly perishable items and make an effort to select foods that you know the recipient will enjoy rather than waste.

The food wasted in the U.S. each year is enough to satisfy the hunger of the about one billion malnourished people worldwide, according to Tristram Stuart, a food waste specialist and contributing author to State of the World 2011.

The holiday season is a time for gifts, decorations, and lots of food. As a result, it's also a time of spectacular amounts of waste.

As consumers prepare for upcoming holiday celebrations, the simple changes they make, such as using food responsibly and donating excess to the hungry, can help make the holiday season more plentiful and hunger-free for all. 

Copyright 2011, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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