Clean your plate to save the planet

A cornucopia overflowing with the bountiful fall harvest is a traditional symbol of Thanksgiving. But, in many American households, that symbol should instead be an overflowing trashcan, with the average U.S. family now throwing away a reported 25 percent of its Thanksgiving Day dinner!

And that apparently doesn’t even include those reviled and usually discarded baggies of giblets found inside most turkeys. In fact, by my calculations, Americans throw away about $30 million worth of giblets every Thanksgiving, or enough calories to feed 55,000 people for an entire year (provided, of course, that you could find 55,000 people willing to eat nothing but giblets for 12 straight months).

Why We Should Care About Food Waste This Thanksgiving

Food waste — not just at Thanksgiving, but year-round — is a moral, environmental and economic tragedy of global proportions. Here in the U.S., which is not-so-proudly among the top food-wasting countries in world, we throw away almost 250 pounds of food per person, per year.

Most of that food is still perfectly edible, and according to a study by the University of Arizona, about 15 percent of all food we buy is actually thrown away unopened and ready to eat. Incredibly, almost 20 percent of all waste dumped in U.S. landfill is food scraps. And all of this in a time when, according to United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, about one out of every eight people in the world suffers from chronic undernourishment. Mom was right: Shut up about not liking Brussels sprouts and clean your plate.

Reducing food waste — and reducing your grocery bill as a result — is as simple and easy as being smarter about portion control and food storage. Thanksgiving and other holidays can be a challenge when it comes to portion control, particularly for amateur chefs who don’t know the difference between their anise seeds and a hole in the ground.

Fearful that they’ll cook too little for their hungry Thanksgiving dinner mob, they often err on the side of cooking way too much. There are some excellent portion guides available online specifically for the Thanksgiving, and this seems to be the consensus.

Correct Portions for Every Thanksgiving Food

  • Appetizers: Three to five “bites” per person. (Do you really need to serve appetizers with a meal that, according to the Calorie Control Council, contains an average of 4,500 calories per person?)
  • Turkey: 3/4 to 1.5 pounds per person, based on the weight of a whole bird
  • Vegetable side dishes: 3 to 4 ounces per dish, per person (less for creamed vegetable casseroles)
  • Gravy: 1/4 to 1/3 cups per person (tell that to my Uncle Ed)
  • Stuffing: Approximately 2 or 3 ounces per person
  • Cranberry sauce: About 2 ounces per person (or about a half inch slice if you use that canned stuff)
  • Potatoes/rice: 2 to 3 ounces per guest
  • Pie: A three-inch slice is a single serving, so a nine-inch pie should serve eight to 10 guests
  • Antacid: In this case, err on the side of having way too much on hand.

Of course even if you follow these guidelines, you’ll probably still have some leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner. If you do, treat them as what I call short-term “layovers,” vowing to eat them all up within the next day or two. Leftovers should be refrigerated within an hour after dinner, and if you cook stuffing inside your turkey, remove the stuffing from the cavity of the bird 20 minutes after taking it out of the oven to prevent dangerous bacteria from forming inside.

Any leftovers not consumed within three or four days should be frozen or otherwise appropriately stored for later use. Speaking of which, check out this episode of my weekly web show for more food storage tips, including some wacky tricks for making food last longer that you probably haven’t seen before.

When it comes to creatively using up Thanksgiving leftovers, my rule is “divide and conquer.” I’ve always found that if you use no more than one or two leftover ingredients in a new dish, it really tastes like a new dish, and not a plate of leftovers. So, leftover turkey — shredded and sautéed with fresh onion and celery – mixed with a little leftover mashed potatoes and topped with poached eggs becomes a delicious encore breakfast.

Pair that leftover bread dressing (maybe with some fresh, savory seasonings and a citrus garnish) with a small piece of roasted beef or pork, and you’ll forget all about that turkey it originally married. And take the cranberry sauce or even those leftover sweet potatoes and blend with some yogurt and ice for a simply sumptuous smoothie.

While you shouldn’t overcook for Thanksgiving, that doesn’t mean you can’t stock up on some deals at the supermarket right now that will save you some serious gravy in the winter months ahead. Buy an extra turkey to cook, cut up and freeze for a year’s worth of turkey lunchmeat. Freeze a couple of bags of fresh and healthy cranberries right in the bags they come in for a tasty treat you can rarely find any other time of year. And stock up on sweet potatoes and onions — often at their lowest price of the year right now — and store them in the pantry in worn out pairs of panty hose to increase air circulation and make them last longer.

Ah! Nothing says “happy holidays” like old panty hose filled with potatoes and onions, hung in the pantry with care. Have a great Thanksgiving, and clean your plate!

“The panty hose are hung in the pantry with care, with hopes that the Ultimate Cheapskate will soon be there.”

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