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Enjoy Holiday Tastes Without the Waste!

Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist, NDSU Extension Service

Holidays often are a time to enjoy delicious food, but sometimes we have leftovers after holiday gatherings. About 1 of every 3 pounds of food is wasted in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The amount of food waste increases by 25 percent between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Throwing away food is throwing away money.

What can you do to avoid wasting food during the holidays?

Plan menus and the amount of food to prepare. Figure out how many guests will be at an event and plan the quantities to make. That might mean cutting some recipes to half size.

  • Create a grocery shopping list and refer to the sale flyers.
  • Avoid impulse buys as you shop. Avoid temptations and stick with your list.

Save cooking time and expense with a potluck. Invite guests to share in the fun of food preparation by bringing a part of the meal.

  • Set a theme, such as “healthful appetizers,” “Mexican fiesta” or “build your own pizza.”
  • At the end of meal, everyone takes his/her own food home or encourages guests to bring “to-go” containers to take home part of the food to enjoy in the next couple of days.

Help guests avoid waste. 

  • Provide smaller plates at buffets. The larger the plate, the more people serve themselves. People waste about 25 percent of the food on their plates.
  • Use smaller serving spoons. When large serving spoons are used, people serve themselves larger portions.
  • Consider providing “tasting spoons” so people take a small taste without a full portion.

Store leftovers safely in shallow containers within two hours. 

  • Label the containers with the contents and date you stored them. Consider adding “eat first” to the label or refrigerator shelf.
  • Serve leftovers within four days.
  • Reheat meat, casseroles and other main-dish foods to 165 F. 

Create tasty new meals from the leftovers. Your family might like “planned-overs” more than “leftovers.”

  • Use planned-over roast beef, chicken or turkey to make a stir-fry or a casserole.
  • Use extra mashed potatoes to make potato soup.
  • Learn to create your own casserole or soup with the “Pinchin’ Pennies in the Kitchen” handouts at Click on “Food Preparation.”

Freeze extra food in meal-sized portions. If you cannot use the food within four days, freeze it in meal-sized portions.

  • Label the container with the name of the food and the date you made it.
  • Keep a list of food that you put in the freezer so you do not forget it’s there.

See and click on “Recipes” for hundreds of recipe ideas.


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Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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