Did you know that almost 40% of food is wasted from farm to fork, according to the National Resource Defense Council? This takes a big environmental toll, as agriculture uses 50% of U.S. land and consumes 80% of the freshwater consumed, while 1 in 6 Americans lacks food security.

Family meals are a wonderful way to celebrate and bring people together, but they are often lead to food waste. Follow these food waste-reduction tips for a greener Thanksgiving meal.

Thanksgiving meal
Image courtesy of Satya Murthy.

1. Inventory Your Refrigerator

Before heading to the store or farmers market, check your refrigerator and pantry for Thanksgiving ingredients. Advanced planning can help prevent making redundant purchases.

2. Get a Head Count

Find out how many guests to expect, and if they plan to bring food items. This helps prevent food waste by accurately planning the correct quantities to prepare.

3. Plan to Use Up Special Ingredients

Many holiday dishes call for specific herbs, cream, or half of a given vegetable. This can lead to waste, if you don’t plan other recipes that use up the remaining ingredients. Whenever possible, figure out what you plan to cook and the required special ingredients in advance, so you can plan ways to use them up before they spoil.

4. Encourage Portion Control

Thanksgiving guests will often take more food than they can actually eat. Using smaller plates and serving utensils encourages proper portions. Of course, guests can always come back for seconds.

5. Get Creative With Leftovers

Eating the same foods for days afterwards can get boring, so plan exciting meals around Thanksgiving leftovers. Although we typically think of cranberry sauce merely as a condiment for turkey for example, it can be used to flavor plain yogurt, as a jam on bread, or to add color to whip cream. Leftover mashed potatoes can be made into pancakes and turkey can be added to soup.

6. Give Expiration Dates a Second Thought

Although sell by, use by, and best before dates sound definitive, they often aren’t and can be misleading. In some cases the dates refer to when food is freshest, not when it is safe to consume. Use your best judgement to decide if food items are safe to eat.

7. Freeze Unused Leftovers

If you are unable to make use of leftovers in time, plan ahead and freeze whatever you think will spoil. According to the National Resource Defense Council, frozen food will remain unspoiled indefinitely.

8. Donate Unused Food

Unspoiled perishable food and nonperishable food can be donated to a local food pantry. Use this locator tool to find a local food bank.

9. Compost Scraps

Whenever possible, avoid putting organic waster in the garbage where it will undergo anaerobic decomposition (without oxygen). This produces methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. Start a compost pile if possible for kitchen scraps, plate waste, spoiled leftovers, and yard waste, which accounts for 20 to 30% of household waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. If you can’t start your own compost pile, there may be a composting facility in your area.

And there you have it, something else to be thankful for this year!

Have other tips? Share them with our readers by leaving a comment below.

Feature image courtesy of Megan

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.