Don’t Waste that Turkey: Tips to Save the Food this T-Day

You’re gearing up for Thanksgiving dinner. Assignments are out to various attendees for sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Now, it’s time to figure out what size turkey to buy.

Here’s a hint:  Buy less than you think. If you’re hosting anything like the average Thanksgiving dinner for ten, almost a third of that dinner will go to waste this year. And wasting food wastes everything—time, labor, money, water, and all the love that goes into that food from farm to fork.

In fact, across the nation, about 204 million pounds of turkey meat will get thrown away over this Thanksgiving. This costs us money—about $293 million as a nation.

It’s also a waste of all the natural resources it took to get that turkey to our table. Resources for which, in theory, we are supposed to be celebrating on this exact holiday! How many resources? Depending on which estimate you use, that amount of discarded turkey required over 100 billion gallons of water—enough to supply New York City for 100 days. And when it comes to climate pollution, it wasted emissions equivalent to driving a car across the country 800,000 times.

But not to worry! SaveTheFood.com is here to keep more in your bellies and your wallets this year. NRDC’s public service campaign with the Ad Council launched in April to help consumers reduce the amount of food and money they waste in their homes. Just in time for Thanksgiving, we’ve got new radio and video ads along with plenty of tips, tricks, and recipes to help you do just that.

You can find a full list of 10 tips for meal planning that will help you save more this Thanksgiving on the website. Here are just a few of my personal favorites:

  • Plan portions appropriately: Note for people that “there will be a lot of food” at the feast!  If ten people come for dinner, and they all bring a dish for ten, that’s ten servings each person has to eat. And for fear of running out, most of us usually bring even more than that. Giving your guests permission to bring just a little less—perhaps enough for eight—will cut down on the overall excess. Consider buying a slightly smaller turkey as well.
  • Plan for leftovers: Who wants to get up and go shopping in the post-T-Day coma? If you’re a turkey sandwich fan, make sure you have bread. Turkey soup? Get those ingredients. You can find lots of tips on efficient meal planning here.
  • Share the wealth: Tell your guests to bring containers or be sure you have ample supply on hand so that everyone can leave with a bit of the feast for the next day. If you’re a guest, you don’t have to “be polite” and insist on bringing nothing home. Think of it in a different way—perhaps, instead, it’s rude to leave your hosts with the burden of eating all those leftovers!
  • Cook creatively: There are plenty of recipes to help use up all that leftover turkey—everything from the standard turkey sandwich to turkey banh mi. Whatever your mood, there’s a way to wrap leftovers into it. Savethefood.com has a great “scraps falafel” recipe I love—perfect for the pile of potatoes in the fridge!
  • Don’t forget about your freezer: If all else fails, almost any extras you have can be popped into the freezer for enjoyment at a later time. Learn about the art of freezing here.

Join me in showing just how thankful you are this season by making the most of the food that has traveled so far to get to your table. And while you’re at it, adopt that waste-less-mindset year round. Then show it off by sharing and tagging #savethefood.

Your guests and your planet will thank you for it.

About the Authors

Dana Gunders

Senior Scientist, Food & Agriculture program

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