Addressing the Holiday Excess: Four Steps to a Waste-Free Party

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Who doesn’t love the holidays?  Last holiday season, after sampling 13 different cookies at a cookie swap one day, I headed for sweet potato latkes the next, a Christmas Eve Crabfest to follow, and homemade-Kahlua White Russians to ring in the New Year. While my stomach was bursting out of both excitement and fear, my conscience knew how much of those feasts wouldn’t get eaten.

Wasting food is particularly ironic during the holiday season, when the food banks are as overflowing with volunteers as garbage cans are with food.

Planning is the key to a waste-free party, whether it’s during the holidays or not.No one wants to run out of food at a party, but neither do you want to end up with bag after bag of tortilla chips going stale in the pantry. Here are a few things to consider when planning your next fiesta.

  • Plan – Even for the non-planners among us, this is the time to break out a portion planner.  Note, however, that most portion planners do not assume that there will be eight other dishes available as well. Try knocking the number to ¾ of the actual number of people you expect.  If it’s a recipe you use often, take notes after the party to remind yourself how appropriate your multiplication was.
  • Pre-cook – If you’re not quite sure how much you’ll need, try to pre-cook some of your dishes and freeze.  When party time comes, reheat in batches as needed.
  • Coordinate –  Help your well-intentioned guests avoid feeling silly when they walk in with that third pasta salad that doesn’t go with the Indian curry sitting next to it.  First, start by providing a theme that will provide some guidance to your guests.  Then, don’t be afraid to give some direction.  In fact, get bold and assign!  And just like with your own portion planning, tell them to cook for ¾ of the guests you expect.  Ask those who aren’t big on cooking to bring the wine.
  • Containers - Because no matter how much you plan and coordinate you’re likely to have some food around at the end of the party, the cardinal rule of parties is to have containers on hand so that you can send your guests home with food. Old yogurt or take out containers work great, and if you only have your “good” containers, it’s up to you whether to risk sending it home with your friends. There’s also the option of including a little note in your invitation to ask people to bring their own containers. “Since I can’t help but cook for an army, bring a container so you can take some bounty home.”  And if all else fails, most anything can make it home in a plastic freezer bag.

Photo credit: pquinn via Flickr