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Cut food waste this holiday season

Prairie Fare: The first step is minimizing leftovers with proper planning and meal preparation

A good way to minimize food waste this Christmas is concentrating on a few family favourites that always go over well.

As I peered in our refrigerator the other day, I noticed some small containers with dabs of leftovers that had just reached their “time to toss” phase. I always feel guilty when we throw away food in our home.

To help use any extra servings, I eat left­overs almost every day at work. Unfortunately, sometimes a few odds and ends of food hide behind the milk carton and eventually need to be discarded.

Illness-causing micro-organisms such as bacteria and mould can grow and/or produce toxins in leftover food. Unfortunately, you cannot see, smell or taste most micro-organisms. We have to be guided by storage time and temperature to help avoid foodborne illness.

I am sure we do not toss one-third of our food in my house. That’s the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In Canada, the numbers are similar.

Unfortunately, we are now in the prime food-wasting season: the holiday season. During this time, the amount of food wasted increases by 25 per cent. We all can take steps to avoid food waste.

During the holiday season, we might want to embark on some early resolutions that can prevent excess food waste and save us some money in the process. We also might preserve our waistlines with some of the strategies.

If you plan to have guests during the holidays, simplify your menu and the number of different cookies, dips and side dishes that you make. Focus on your family’s favourite recipes instead of making a large number.

Perhaps a full batch of casserole is too much. You might need to trim the size of your recipes. Many recipes are easy to cut in half.

Think about potential food waste as you shop at the grocery store. You might be tempted to buy the bargain-size container of mayonnaise because it has a lower price per ounce. However, if you only need a cup of mayonnaise to make your famous artichoke dip, the remaining mayonnaise eventually outlives its shelf life. It’s not a bargain after all.

As you plan meals, spread the effort. Make holiday meals an opportunity for sharing food. Try a “theme potluck,” such as all healthy appetizers, build your own meal in a bowl or make a personalized pizza buffet. Everyone could bring a part of the menu. At the end of the meal, your guests can share the leftover food and have easy meal preparation the next day.

You can help your guests maintain their weight with a few savvy serving ideas. Use smaller plates and provide smaller serving spoons in the containers. People take less food on a smaller plate, and they serve themselves less food with a smaller serving spoon, according to researchers.

You might even want to try a little trick someone mentioned to me recently: Put a stack of “tasting spoons” on the buffet (along with a container to discard the used ones). Allow people to try the food before serving themselves a full portion.

Keep food temperature controlled during service, or replenish containers regularly. If the party will go on more than two hours, set out smaller amounts of food and keep the rest in the refrigerator. Replace the serving containers as needed. Keep salads, cut fruit and vegetables, and meat and cheese trays cold by nesting the bowls or platters in containers of ice.

Keep warm foods, such as hot wings and warm dips, in slow cookers. If you do not have small slow cookers, set out a smaller amount of food and keep the remaining food warm in the oven or on the stove.

If you know you are not going to be able to use the refrigerated leftovers within three to four days, freeze immediately in meal-sized amounts. Be sure to use appropriate freezer containers and label with the contents and date. Keep an inventory of food that’s in your freezer so you do not forget that it’s there.

If the idea of “leftovers” is not appetizing, create something completely new. How about using leftover turkey in soup, stir-fry, casseroles or sandwiches? Extra mashed potatoes can become potato soup.

Learn to create your own casserole or soup with the “Pinchin’ Pennies in the Kitchen” handouts at Click on “Food Preparation.” Also click on “The Family Table” for dozens of ways to savour family mealtimes during the holidays and any day.

Here’s a tasty way to use leftover roasted turkey courtesy of the Midwest Dairy Association.

Cranberry Turkey Wrap

  • 4 (7-inch) whole wheat flour tortillas
  • 8 slices turkey breast (about 1-1/2 oz. per serving)
  • 4 slices cheddar cheese (4 oz.), cut into thirds
  • 1/3 c. dried cranberries
  • 8 leaves parsley or fresh basil (optional)

Alternate a slice of turkey, one-third of a slice of cheddar cheese and another slice of turkey breast down the centre. Sprinkle one-fourth of the dried cranberries on top of turkey and top with cheese. Fold tortilla into thirds. Place seam-side down on microwave-safe serving plate. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Place a piece of cheese on top of each sandwich and microwave each tortilla on high for 30 seconds to one minute (until cheese melts). Cool slightly and slice in half. Place two or three dried cranberries and a sprig of parsley or basil on both halves.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 330 calories, 13 grams (g) fat, 18 g protein, 33 g carbohydrate, 3 g fibre and 750 milligrams sodium.

This cranberry turkey wrap is a good way to use leftover turkey. photo: Midwest Dairy Council

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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