Waste-Free Kitchen Holiday Tips

With the appropriate planning, you can save money this holiday season without throwing your food ethics out the window.  Forget canned green beans, factory farmed turkey and pre-packaged stuffing.  This year, serve your family a healthy, delicious holiday feast and avoid food waste.

The winter holidays are all about abundance—being surrounded by friends and family, feasting and gift-giving.  With so much planning, shopping, cooking, and social house calls to deal with, this time of merriment is also the time of year in which the largest amount of waste is generated.

As your wallet grows significantly thinner over the holiday season, you may find yourself compromising your values when it comes to food, going for the cheaper factory farmed turkey for instance, rather than the humanely raised one.  And when it comes to the clean-up after a holiday meal, who really wants to deal with packing up all of the leftovers when just the thought of the dishes is daunting?

About a third of all the food produced for human consumption each year – or roughly 1.3 billion tons – is lost or wasted, according to a new study commissioned by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Consumers and retailers in industrialized countries waste an estimated 222 million tons of food each year, mostly by throwing away perfectly edible food. Fruits and vegetables have the highest rates of wastage.

The average consumer in Europe and North America wastes 95 to 115 kilograms of food a year, while his or her counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia or South-East Asia wastes only six to 11 kilograms of food.

What you can do before the meal

Plan ahead.  It is easy to get enticed into impulse purchases, especially with so many sales targeting holiday shoppers.  Planning out your shopping list before going to the farmers market or grocery store can help prevent you from buying needlessly or in nonsensical quantities.

Get real. Although the holidays are often a time of overindulgence, plan your meal realistically.  Ask yourself, how much candied yam can you and your guests really eat and then plan your shopping list with this in mind.  Remember, creating a correctly portioned meal will save you money at the grocery store and cut back on waste after the meal.  You might love the first reheat of the leftovers, but after that they quickly become a burden.


According to the Love Food Hate Waste organization, food waste costs the average consumer around $80 (£50) a month.

Buy local. It has been calculated that the average length a meal travels to get from farm to table in the US is somewhere between 1200 to 1500 miles.  Buying from local producers not only supports your local economy and small-scale farmers, but also helps reduce the environmental impact of your meal.  After all, it takes a great deal of fuel to get that food 1500 miles to your plate.

To find local producers near you, refer to RealTimeFarms.com or EatLocalGrown.com if you are in the US or LocalFoodAdvisor.com in the United Kingdom.

Self-serve. By having your guests fill their plates themselves, they will be more likely to choose appropriate portions of the foods they know they’ll finish, thus reducing the amount of waste which will come from your diners’ plates.

After the meal: leftovers

The feast doesn’t need to end after the meal.  As a host, plan on having leftovers over the next several days after your holiday meal.  Don’t buy groceries for the week as your fridge will most likely be filled up with turkey, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes and the like.

Leftovers can be turned into a variety of new meals and accouterments (leftover bread makes excellent croutons!) while vegetable scraps and turkey bones can be used to create a rich and delicious stock.

Continue the spirit of giving. Food banks and homeless shelters gladly accept donations of unused food.  Although most organizations only accept canned or dry packaged goods, check in with those closest to you to figure out their donation requirements.

Try the food bank locator at FeedingAmerica.org or maps generated either by the Guardian or the Trussell Trust Foodbank Network, for food banks in the UK.

Compost food scraps.  Food scraps and even spoiled leftovers can be turned into a nutrient rich soil which is great for gardening and absolutely free.  Either start a compost bin in your household or look into municipal options for acquiring one to set up with your garbage and recycling.


In 2009, San Francisco became the first city in the US to pass a mandatory recycling and composting ordinance to further its goal of reaching zero waste city-wide by 2020.  As of 2012, the city reported it is successfully diverting 80% of its waste from landfills.