While Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to spend catching up and making new memories with family and friends, someone always ends up with too much food. During such a giving and thankful time, it’s difficult to toss perfectly good food into the trash (or have it sit in the fridge long enough to warrant this response). Try a different approach this year; let’s brainstorm some ideas ahead of time so you aren’t stuck with it all!
When in Doubt, Soup it Out
Most families cook up a huge turkey or ham for family get-togethers and parties. Save all of the drippings from your meat and any bones that have been separated. It may seem like a lot of work the day of, but it will be much easier to remove the meat from the bones if the roast is still warm. Create your own stock base with the drippings, vegetables, water, and bones. Build a delicious soup from this stock – if you make too much, simply freeze it in two-serving portions!
Talk it Up
If you don’t want to take on the task of making soup this year, talk about this tradition over dinner. Someone will likely volunteer to take your leftover meat and bones so they can make their own soup!
Save the Scraps!
As you cook your Thanksgiving feast, think about all of the scrappings you’ll be chopping off veggies – this is technically food waste, too. Save all those bits and pieces to toss into your turkey or ham stock for your upcoming soup. Not only will these bits add a unique flavor profile to your soup, but they’ll also add extra nutrition and vitamins.
If you’re preparing for your family gathering, make sure to have some cheap meal prep containers on hand. You can find thin, plastic Tupperware online – these are the perfect size for reheating leftovers and much more appealing to your guests than plastic bags or containers they’ll have to return. Offer to send everyone home with lunch for the next day; most people will be grateful, especially if the container is easy for them to handle on their own.
If You’re Feeling Creative…
Some craftsy fanatics will print off adorable labels for DIY Thanksgiving goodie bags! You could even design your own fold-up takeaway boxes with tin handles – you know the ones! Take some time to decorate them any way you like – this will make your guests feel extra fancy and loved.
If you don’t think your guests will want leftovers even after it’s neatly portioned, consider adding a small treat. A small slice of leftover pie may help to sweeten the deal for each of them.
The easiest and simplest way to get caught with fewer leftovers is to know your crowd in advance. While getting caught with too little food can be a disaster, so is having too much. Plan your spread with everyone in mind, allowing for a slight margin. If you’re worried about having too little of the expensive dishes, make more mashed potatoes – or make a side of rice for picky eaters.
Cook Crowd-Pleasers in Disposable Tins
Sometimes people will decline to take leftovers because they don’t want to be a burden on your cookware supply. Eliminate this issue ahead of time by spending a little bit extra on disposable cookware. When dinner is over, simply offer the leftovers to the biggest fan – pop the lid on, and they’re ready to travel!
While we’re in the spirit of giving, we could mention how to manage your food so it can be eligible for donation. Only open cans, boxes, and bags of things you know you’ll use. For example, don’t empty out 6 cans of cranberry sauce when you might only serve 3. Keep those extra cans nearby, should you need them, but unopened so that you can donate them to a family in need.
Cooked Food and Opened Packages
Some food pantries and soup kitchens will take previously cooked food as well. In addition, some restaurants make nightly donations to these places. Call around and see if anyone would like your leftovers – it can’t hurt to ask, and it could be a huge blessing to someone in your community. It’s always best to use items cautiously, however, because organizations are much less likely to take leftovers as donations.
If there’s one thing in life everyone should do, it would have to be starting a compost bin. Food waste is one of the largest components of our trash bins today, and it’s a tremendously overlooked opportunity. Even if you don’t ever plan on starting a garden in your yard, it’s the single easiest thing you can do to reduce your use of plastic trash bags: less volume equals fewer bags. Additionally, well-rotted compost sells for a pretty penny in some parts of the country – consider it an investment into your future.
Bearing in mind what foods are toxic to your furry friends, offer up leftovers for even the pets of your guests! If you have fur babies of your own, save some leftovers to mix into their daily rations over the next 3 days; they’ll definitely thank you!
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember how fortunate we are to be able to prepare and eat such an amazing feast. Unfortunately, an enormous amount of food is wasted every year, and that statistic is not limited to the holidays. We can all play a part in reducing food waste, starting this Thanksgiving – now, get out there and dish out some leftovers!