How to cut down on food waste this holiday season

The holiday season can mean a long list of events that center around food. Between Thanksgiving and the December holidays, millions of pounds of uneaten turkey, green beans, and mashed potatoes end up in landfills.

One-third of all food in the United States goes uneaten, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The agency now has tips to keep your food fresher for longer.

Cutting down on food waste starts with storing your groceries correctly.

“We’ve probably all done this, where we come home with a bag of cilantro and it’s turned to mush within three days,” said Claudia Fabiano, a sustainable management food team member at EPA.

Most herbs should be taken out of the plastic bag and put standing up in a jar of water like cut flowers. The same goes for asparagus.

“That will extend the shelf life by a long time,” Fabiano said. “Potatoes and onions do not go in the fridge. Eggplant doesn’t go in the fridge. All those things should be stored in a dry, cool place. Bananas should go on your counter.”

You can also extend the life of other items in your pantry by using your freezer.

“You can freeze cheese. You can freeze cookies, baked goods, dairy, meat, vegetables,” said Fabiano.

When stocking up for your guests, shop your kitchen first to ensure you aren’t buying duplicates of items or more than you need.

Don’t go shopping too early; the food could go bad before the holiday party, especially if you buy lots of meat or fish.

“And then you’re just going to have to throw it out and go out and buy more about foods,” Fabiano said. “So think about the timing of your shopping.”

Fabiano also suggested to plan your portion sizes ahead of time.

“Remember that if you have several items, you’re going to need less of each. If you’re making, like, a meat main dish and six different sides, everyone’s not going to eat a quarter or a third of a pound of meat necessarily, right?” she said. “So you can cut down on those portion sizes.”

Fabiano also said to take into account how heavy the appetizers you’re serving will be: “If people fill up on those kinds of things, they will eat less at the main meal.”

If there will be a lot of kids at your holiday party, take that into account, too.

“Kids obviously are going to eat less than adults, and they’re probably only going to eat certain things and not others,” she said.

The timing of the meal is also important. If your party is between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., “you’re not expected to serve a whole entire lunch or dinner spread,” Fabiano said. Lighter snacks should be enough.

Fabiano also suggested keeping your food in the fridge until it needs to be served, rather than leaving it out for the whole party.

“There are many things you can also do after the event to avoid ending up throwing out a bunch of food,” she said.

If you cook for large crowds over the holidays, send any leftovers home with your guests. Be sure to provide takeout containers.

“If you send everyone home with a couple of portions of leftovers, that helps them out,” Fabiano said. “They won’t have to cook the next day, and it helps you out because you won’t have to store it all and potentially end up wasting some of it.”

If you’re attending someone else’s holiday party, bring along some to-go containers.

“When I go somewhere else, I just bring that stack of takeout containers that I don’t really have any other good use for anyway and share them with everybody and ask everyone to take some home, and people are usually really happy to do that,” Fabiano said.

Even offer extras to your neighbors.

“Let folks know, ‘Hey, I made way too many cookies’ or, ‘I made way too much pasta, and I’d love to share with some of you,’ and they’ll probably be happy to receive some delicious food,” Fabiano said.

For more tips on cutting down on food waste, visit the EPA website.

Heather Gustafson

Heather Gustafson is a Freelance Anchor/Reporter for WTOP, a DMV native and an Emmy award-winning journalist lauded for her 2020 Black Lives Matter protests coverage.

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