Master Thanksgiving Dinner Planning with New “Guest-imator”

We’ve all been there: hands on a full belly, eyes slightly drooping, debating one last helping of mashed potatoes from the mounds of food still on the table. As the cornucopia stares back at me, I can’t help but think it’s the ultimate paradox that we celebrate a time when there was barely enough food to make it through the winter by having a huge feast–and then chucking a big portion of it in the trash. 

Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful, yet it’s often unintentionally wasteful as well. Last year, about 200 million pounds of turkey meat were thrown out over the Thanksgiving holiday week. In doing that, we’re essentially throwing out enormous amounts of resources along with it—enough water to supply New York City for 100 days, and a carbon footprint equal to that of 800,000 cars driving from New York to San Francisco. Not to mention the nutritional value of all that turkey.

Hosts can have the best intentions, but planning a meal for a large group is still tricky. That’s why this year, Save the Food decided to build a nifty little dinner party planning calculator to help you figure out just how much to make. 

I know what you’re thinking—you don’t waste those leftovers, you eat them!  Good for you—this calculator can help you still prepare enough for as many turkey-cranberry sandwiches as you’d like the day after the feast, but avoid a stockpile of past-due leftovers a week later.

Meet the Guest-imator! This video says it all:

The absolute best way to stop food waste is to prevent it from the start, and that means proper portioning is essential—especially for such a large meal. But there’s lots more you can also do to keep good food on our plates and out of the trash. Here are a few more of my favorite holiday tips:

  • Prep for leftovers: If you love leftovers, make sure you have the other ingredients on-hand to make whatever it is you like out of them—whether it’s sliced bread for traditional leftover sandwiches, or baguettes for turkey banh mi! 
  • Share the wealth: Have containers on hand to send your guests home with some of the bounty—or even better, go really waste-free and ask them to bring their own. 
  • Use your freezer: The freezer is a magic pause button for your food—and almost anything can be frozen. If you don’t eat it within two days after the feast, freeze it and you’ll be excited to have another leftover sandwich a week, a month, two months later! (Find tips to master the art of freezing here.)
  • Salvage a kitchen crisis: Burned the stuffing? Over-salted the gravy? Potatoes too bland? Overcooked the green beans? There’s a fix for that so you don’t have to toss it!

And while Thanksgiving is perhaps the most wasteful day of the year, it’s a problem we need to tackle all year round. In the U.S., up to 40 percent of all food goes uneaten each year, at an annual cost of $218 billion. It’s a problem that costs the average family of four at least $1,500 per year. That results in massive amounts of wasted water, landfill use, climate pollution and other environmental damage.

Yet, at the same time, one in eight Americans—more than 40 million people—don’t have a reliable supply of food. A recent NRDC report outlined a way for cities to boost donations from consumer-facing businesses like grocery stores, restaurants, food service and convenience stores. Among other things, it found that more than 68 million meals a year could be donated in the three U.S. cities studied alone—pointing to enormous potential nationwide. In addition to doing what we can do reduce waste at our own tables, why not also mark the holiday this year by asking our local leaders to take steps to direct more surplus food to our neighbors who need it most?

Making the most of our food supply has wide-reaching benefits. Save The Food is here to help you reap some of them—and share the rest with all of us.

About the Authors

Dana Gunders

Senior Scientist, Food & Agriculture program

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