food waste

Thanksgiving is the time of year when millions of Americans all over the country sit down at the table with family and friends to eat themselves into a food coma. Pie, cake, turkey, cranberries, green beans, stuffing — you name it, it’s on the table. When you put it in writing, the whole thing sounds excessive, but there’s nothing quite like turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.

But our stomachs are only so big, and when we get tired of eating delicious after-Thanksgiving leftovers, we often throw them in the garbage. Even if it’s your favorite food, sometimes when it comes to the holidays, you don’t have the space in your fridge to store all the leftovers that come from the dinners and parties you go to.

But before you throw out half a casserole, consider this: We waste 30 to 40 percent of all food in the United States — that’s equivalent to about 20 pounds per U.S. citizen in just one month. If more people were aware of this sobering stat, they might take a step back and reevaluate their eating habits.

Most of the food you toss — some 34 million tons — ends up in a landfill, which has a huge impact on CO2 emissions. Junk in landfills either stays there until it all decays, or gets burned to make room for more trash. Either way, the planet’s CO2 levels rise, which impacts our weather and the future of the earth.

Sometimes, all it takes to make a difference in the world is to start with the little things at home, and Thanksgiving is a great time to start. If you want to do your own part and scale back on food waste this Thanksgiving, consider the following six tips.

Plan Your Thanksgiving Menu

You may have to accept the fact that Aunt Mildred is going to bring her spicy deviled eggs, no matter what you say. You should plan the whole Thanksgiving menu with an accurate head count, so you can avoid making too much food and asking others to bring dishes nobody will eat.

A bonus to this method: You can make it swanky by printing menus for everyone’s seats. It’ll give your Thanksgiving a formal flair everyone will love — without leaving them feeling like stuffed birds when they leave. And, those who arrive with the intention to overindulge will love knowing what’s ahead, so they can plan accordingly for their second or even third course.

Do a Sweep of Your Pantry Before Shopping

Check your cupboards while you’re planning the meal, so you can avoid purchasing unnecessary items and emptying your bank account to purchase extra pumpkin pie filling. Make it a little fun and search for Thanksgiving recipes that use some of the newly discovered items in your pantry. Chances are good you’ll end up finding more food in your cabinets than you realized.

Leave Your Comfort Zone to Create Something Tasty

There’s nothing particularly appetizing about the turkey giblets that come in the little plastic bag inside frozen turkeys. If you remember the thick, delicious gravy you loved to put on your mashed potatoes as a kid, there’s a good chance your grandma made it from giblets — put them to good use and try your own.

Send Your Guests Home With a Plate

You can only eat leftovers for a few days in a row before you’re sick of cold turkey and cranberry sauce. Be proactive and send your guests home with a doggy bag of leftovers. If you spread the love of leftovers, you give everyone the option of enjoying round two of Thanksgiving on Friday — without growing tired of it.

Individual Impact on the Environment

 Take Leftovers to Your Local Food Bank

Not everyone enjoys a plentiful Thanksgiving where they sit around the table with loved ones. Instead of throwing away food you don’t use, consider donating it or making a special dish for your local food pantry or homeless shelter. You can do something good for the community and spread the love during the holiday season. Of all the holidays people celebrate, the one where we all give thanks for what we have is the best opportunity to give someone else the chance to be thankful, too.

Throw a Leftover Party

You don’t need an excuse to continue the Thanksgiving festivities into the weekend. To get rid of the leftovers in your fridge, plan your Friendsgiving or Thanksmas with friends. Think of it as an official kick-off to the holiday season. Invite everyone over and ask them to bring their leftovers to polish off. It’ll be fun, and there are delicious ways to turn turkey and stuffing into something tasty. Even if not all your guests end up having a lot of leftovers, everyone can bring a bit of food from their fridge so you can have one last big dinner party to usher in the Christmas season.

You can make the evening even more fun by having a dessert bake-off or even a group craft project everyone can sit down to make. Or, roll out sugar cookie dough, cut it into festive Thanksgiving or Christmas shapes, bake and decorate.

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint by Cutting Food Waste

However you decide to reduce your food waste this holiday season, remember it’s an important part of helping fight the impact of CO2 on climate change. The EPA even designed a toolkit to make it as simple as possible for every American to participate and get involved. If you’ve ever wanted to help make a difference to reduce the earth’s warming, you don’t have to feel the need to get a scientific degree to do it.

This Thanksgiving, eat great food with friends and family, then plan for what you can do with the leftovers. There are always better options than throwing away food to rot in a landfill. Plus, sharing food and fun times with the people you love is simply one of the best feelings around. There’s nothing you’ll regret about minimizing your food waste this Thanksgiving.