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Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing—’tis the season for indulgence!

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, many Americans are creating their grocery lists and planning their table decor for a big feast. As one of the only holidays that’s solely centered around eating, Thanksgiving is also a day that sees the most food waste during the year. Annually, American households will throw away over 305 million pounds of food from Thanksgiving dinner, which is nearly triple the average amount of food wasted daily. To put into perspective, consider that food waste is not distributed evenly and 12.8% of American homes are food-insecure. The amount of food waste seen from Thanksgiving alone could provide 6-7 meals each for the 38.3 million people within these homes. And don’t forget, this waste doesn’t reflect the resources spent on the growing process, transportation, packaging, or the consequences of food being sent to the landfill.

On this day of counting our blessings, how can we show thanks for the abundance of resources that our natural environment provides everyday of the year? Keep reading for tips on how to reduce the waste from what we consume this week and make the most out of what we have.

Calculate Ahead & Communicate

One of the easiest ways to reduce your waste is to only buy what you need. In a way, this already puts you ‘ahead’ of the waste game because you can’t waste what you don’t buy! Make a full plan of what dishes you’ll be making, what they require, and what ingredients you’re missing to avoid buying unnecessary duplicates or the wrong items. Communicate with guests to ensure that no one is bringing the same item, or to clarify that they do/don’t need to bring extra food.

Unsure about how much you’ll need? Try this dinner party calculator! This quick quiz calculates guest count, ‘big’ and ‘small’ eaters, types of meals, leftover needs, and more, to give you a solid estimate on how much food your table needs to comfortably feed everyone.

Prepare Your Freezer

If you properly store or freeze leftover food, it will stay edible for much longer and give you more time to eat it. Is your freezer currently full of past dinners? Clean out the shelves in advance to make room for any expected Thanksgiving leftovers. You can also make sure to have reusable containers on hand, or ask guests to bring their own, in order to send leftovers home with others.

Save Scraps For Future-Use

Many food scraps can be frozen for use in other dishes, such as broth or soup. While cooking, save your veggie peels, bones, meat trimmings, bread heels, potato skin, etc. and research recipes that incorporate them into future meals.

Choose Reusable Place Settings

When celebrating with a big group, it can be tempting to purchase paper plates or themed paper napkins to make the cleanup easy. Many factors go into whether hand-washing dishes or using paper products is more eco-friendly, making the more eco-friendly choice somewhat case-by-case. A fully-loaded modern dishwasher, though, will undeniably use less water and power than what is needed to produce paper plates or hand-wash dishes. If this option is available in your home, this may be a choice you’re interested in this year.

Reinvent Your Leftovers

Get creative! Turn your leftover turkey and stuffing into a new pot pie, or dip leftover-stuffed empanadas in gravy! There are no limits and your little ones might even get a kick out of the new dish—mashed potato pizza versus regular old pizza? Way more fun!

Check out more recipe ideas through the link!

Donate Or Compost 

If you’re unlikely to finish Thanksgiving leftovers, consider donating any extra, safe food to local food pantries to help those in need. Typically, only unopened food items will be accepted; be sure to read through any posted guidelines about the donation process and what is acceptable. 

The ACTS Hunger Prevention Center, located in Dumfries, is one local example of where you can donate canned goods, refrigerated and frozen items, produce, dairy, and other non-perishable items to those in need. Visit the link below to find their open hours and guidelines.

Do you compost at home? Or know a friend who does? The best place for our food to go once we’re done with it, is back into the planet! Composting combines oxygen, water, earthy matter (like leaves), and organic matter (food scraps) into a broken-down, nutrient-rich fertilizer. Spreading compost throughout your garden or plants is extremely beneficial for plant and soil health. Any food waste that goes to the landfill is not being composted, as decomposition can only occur when solely organic materials are present. Instead, food waste in the landfill rots and produces methane, a greenhouse gas that traps more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide does, contributing to climate change.

Composting your scraps this Thanksgiving enables all of those nutrients to be returned to the earth. If you don’t compost at home, consider bringing your scraps to a community compost collection point, such as the Prince William County Compost Facility. Visit the link to learn more about composting and their public services.

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