Holiday parties are typically known for an abundance of food, but with that abundance comes a lot of food and plastic waste. 30-50% of food that we purchase gets thrown out. A lot of resources are used to get food to our plates – water, fossil fuels and land to name a few. If you are receiving guests and preparing holiday meals, the following tips and facts can help you reduce your waste.

1) PLAN YOUR MEAL: When preparing dinner for guests, meal planning is a must. It’s trying to find a balance based on the approximate number of guests you’re anticipating. We know it can be challenging to estimate how much food to buy and prepare. The Love Food Hate Waste website has a neat portion planner that can help you with that task. If you’re planning for a larger group (and it’s safe to gather, or you have a bigger family), the Save the Food “Guestimator” is a helpful meal-size planning tool also. If you overestimate, like many of us do, have a plan for those leftovers.

TIP: Use the Flashfood app when shopping to find major discounts on food items nearing their best before date, resulting in money saved and food waste reduced!

2) UNDERSTAND FOOD LABELS: Did you know that the “best before date” does not indicate food safety, but rather, peak quality of the food, taking in consideration factors such as taste and nutritional value? Surprisingly, there are no standards for it. So how do you know if the sour cream in your fridge that is past the “best before date”, should be served to your guests? Turns out there are many factors to consider but Getty Stewart, founder of Fruit Share in Manitoba, explains nuances of “best before dates” and has researched those specifics for some of those question mark items such as sour cream, tuna, yogurt and mayonnaise.

TIP: If you’re trying a new recipe for the first time and it is going to use a small amount of ingredients that you don’t normally use, search for additional recipes in advance that will help you to use them up (think salad dressings, pesto, pasta sauces, etc.), or see if you can substitute for something you already have.

3) BUFFET-STYLE MEAL: Let your guests choose how much food and what foods they want to eat – it increases the chances that everything on their plate will be eaten. This is especially important for children as it’s good to teach them how to judge for themselves how much they can consume. This gives them the responsibility for eating all their food, which helps prevents waste (at least in the long term).

TIP: Immerse veggies like carrots, broccoli, celery, lettuce, etc. that have gone limp in a bowl of cold water and place in the fridge for ~15-30 minutes. They will soak up the water and become crunchy again. Carrots do well stored in water, too!

4) POTLUCK: In a normal year, potlucks are a great way to reduce the costs of hosting a dinner! While gathering with others isn’t an option in 2020, this tip can help you for the future. Have people sign up in advance to bring specific dishes and make sure you note how many people will be attending so they can prepare the right amount of food. Once everything is accounted for, encourage those guests who didn’t get a chance to sign-up to bring something else for the evening instead, like a playlist, board game, etc. (so no one feels left out!).

TIP: Put a food waste guide (ex: David Suzuki’s Queen of Green) as a reminder of what produce should be kept in the fridge and what should not. Check out Getty Stewart’s Holiday Leftovers guide to find out what you can freeze for later!

5) GET CREATIVE WITH LEFTOVERS: Ask your guests to bring reusable containers to your party/dinner so they can take leftovers home with them (be sure to ask them not to bring ziplock/ plastic bags!). If you still have additional leftovers after that, the internet is your friend when it comes to being creative with leftovers. For example, the web has many recipes on how to make muffins with remaining cranberry sauce. Freeze all other food items that can be stored and consumed at a later date. You can also reach out to local shelters and resource centres to see what kind of food items they can take (i.e. baking).

TIP: Cut and prep all your fruits and vegetables to make them more accessible. Anything you don’t serve to guests is more likely to be snacked on by you and your family in the coming week, or added to a smoothie, stir fry, salad, omelette, etc.

6) COMPOSTING: You can compost food scraps in winter if you’ve got a compost bin in your backyard or a vermicomposting bin inside. Compost Winnipeg makes it even easier to compost year-round, if you’re in one of our service areas in Winnipeg! In your backyard bin, you can even compost cooked veggies even if there is sauce or butter, rice and half eaten dinner rolls. Visit our basic composting page to find out what you can and can’t compost at home.

TIP: put a “eat this first” bowl in the front of your fridge with foods and snacks to avoid forgetting them (tip from the Just Eat It documentary).

7) GREEN EVENT PLANNING: See our blog post on greening your upcoming event, and reduce ALL waste related to holiday parties and gatherings. Serve dinner using your regular plates, cutlery, cups, and reusable napkins in place of disposable items. Store leftovers in reusable containers over plastic ziplock bags and use beeswax wraps over plastic wrap.
Note: Please follow public health guidelines when it comes to social gatherings and events. During this time of Code Red in Manitoba for Christmas 2020, social gatherings are currently banned with those outside of your households. Stay safe everybody – we’ll see you on the other side!

TIP: food items make for a great gifts (chocolate = AWESOME stocking stuffer!), but think about the products you’re buying. Consider locally-made food items, and/or items that are organic or fair trade.