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Kate Geagan

Make it a Zero-Waste Holiday

10 no-fuss ideas to say goodbye to unnecessary food waste while savoring every morsel.

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Food does its best work for your health when it’s on your plate and ready to be relished with friends and family. Yet roughly one-third of all food globally goes uneaten each year, with tossed food constituting the single largest component in landfills. Beyond the added cost and environmental challenges of tossing so much perfectly good food, a new study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found another reason to make the most out of the groceries you buy. The study found that discarded food contains large amounts of key nutrients that people need to support their health journey, including vitamin D, fiber and potassium. For instance, the 6 grams of fiber per person per day that’s lost in food waste is 24% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for fiber for women, which could potentially close that nutrient gap for millions.

Want to make the most of your food dollars and the planet’s resources this holiday season? As you celebrate a season brimming with food-centric gatherings, here’s how to stress less, savor more and save money while you use up every last luscious bit of your holiday meals.

1. Shop from a list and plan proper portions

No one wants to run out of food in a house filled with hungry guests, but by carefully planning the amounts you will need, you reduce the risk of overbuying. As you are planning your meals, match portions with the number of guests you’re expecting.

2. Buy precut produce when it makes sense

If you don’t have a plan in place for composting food scraps, buying precut produce can actually be the greener choice as more and more produce companies are repurposing trimmings and creating other products (such as pressed juices) or have composting or animal feeding programs already in place.

3. Stock up on stock

Whether you buy or DIY, stock is the savior of many a leftover. You can easily transform standard holiday fixings, such as cooked turkey, veggies, herbs and onions, into a hearty soup. Simply toss all ingredients together and freeze. Of course, using peelings, herbs, scraps and bones to create a flavorful stock is a classic way to cut down on waste while boosting your nutrition.

4. Create a “zero-waste” fridge

Place a box front and center in your fridge to house highly delicate or perishable foods. Place your most perishable items such as lettuces, berries and fresh yogurts up front.

5. Choose recipes that work better together

Read ingredient lists and look for recipes that use the whole product (for example, one whole can of pumpkin purée or carton of low sodium broth). Or, if you’re making a dish that uses only a portion, find a recipe that uses the rest.

6. Devise a plan for “specialty” ingredients

Holiday menus can be filled with expensive splurges or rare food finds (like truffles, heavy cream or exotic produce). Bake and freeze a batch of cranberry scones with all that extra butter and heavy cream! In the dead of winter, they’ll be a welcome and tasty treat.

7. Have a tasty plan for leftovers

Even the most diehard enthusiasts can start to tire of reheated turkey after a meal or two. In my home, we love to fry quinoa patties with chopped roasted veggies and spices. We also love to make turkey stew with stuffing dumplings. For easy, creative leftover ideas, try these recipes.

8. Invite guests to bring a container for leftovers

Give your dinner guests the option of bringing a food container with them. After the meal, they can create mini-meals by packing up some of the leftovers to take home with them.

9. Support local food recovery programs

Contact your local food bank or homeless shelters ahead of time to learn their policies on donating whole foods or unopened holiday leftovers. A growing number of food banks are increasing their distribution beyond pantry nonperishables to include fresh foods such as vegetables and fruits.

10. Learn a few tried-and true chef tricks

What to do about that too-salty soup your aunt brought? A splash of fresh lemon juice or vinegar can often do the trick and help bring it back into balance. That droopy broccoli? Soaking wilted greens or veggies in an ice bath for 5 to 10 minutes can often help it re-crisp. Those overcooked veggies you forgot about in the oven? Purée them into a silky, comforting soup. You’d be surprised at what you can save. Even burnt items can be rescued by adding a sweet or spicy note, and stale items can often be saved by toasting them.