As a child, what got me excited about the holidays was presents. Now, thankfully other things come to mind first (a few ‘f’ words actually, but not the naughty kind) – family, festivities and food. Holiday parties are typically known for an abundance of food. Having a French-Canadian background, our family Christmas meals consist of plenty of meat – tourtière (meat pie), boulettes (meat balls) and chicken – as well as mashed potatoes, carrots and peas, salad, and deserts like tarte au sucre (sugar pie) and of course, chocolate. Making you hungry? This abundance of food could result in some serious food waste. Surprisingly, according to the Institution of Mechanical Engineer’s report (p. 23), 30-50% of food that we purchase gets thrown out. A lot of resources are used to get our food to our plates – water, fossil fuels and land to name a few. To reduce your environmental impact, you can start with trying to avoid food waste.
If you are receiving guests and preparing holiday meals, the following tips and facts can help you avoid throwing away food.
Plan your meal: When preparing dinner for guests, meal planning is a must. You want to have the balance of enough food but not too much. The challenge is it’s hard 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 overestimate, like I usually do, have a plan for how to deal with those leftovers.
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 Food 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, yogourt and mayonnaise.
Preparing your meal: Over the years, my mom has taught me little tricks to not waste food. Here are a few that might be new to you.
- Reviving limp veggies: Perhaps you’ve bought carrots and they’ve gone limp. You certainly don’t want to serve limp carrots to your guests. Why not revive them? It’s easy! Immerse your limp carrots in a bowl of water and place in a fridge for a while. They will soak up the water and become crunchy again. This also works well with other veggies like leafy produce and broccoli.
- The vinegar trick: Most people I know won’t use every last drop of ketchup or salad dressing as, let’s be honest, it’s difficult to get all of it out of the container. To loosen off those stubborn remains, you can simply add vinegar in the container to liquefy the contents. This will help it flow easier and while it will tasty slightly vinegary, it still tastes good.
Choose buffet-style: 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 hopefully prevents waste.
Be creative with leftovers: 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. Don’t have time to bake in the next few days? You can always freeze the sauce for later use.
Give it away: Ask your guests if they want to bring some food home with them. This way you won’t have to worry about not being able to eat all the leftovers yourself and your guests leave not having to cook another meal.
Compost it: You can certainly compost food scraps in winter if you’ve got a compost bin in your backyard or a vermicomposting bin inside. 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.
As part of my New Years’ resolutions, I want to reduce my food waste. Sometimes, I put food in the fridge thinking that I’ll get around to eating it. However, I might forget about it and it spoils. I’m certainly not proud of this. My co-worker, Becky, told me that she started putting a “Eat this first” bowl in her fridge, a tip she discovered watching the Just Eat It documentary. This basically involves putting food items that could spoil soon in a bowl in your fridge so that you are reminded to eat them promptly. I have just started doing this week and we’ll see if it helps me attain my goal.
Also, occasionally my produce goes bad before I get around to eating them. To help prevent this, I’ve put David Suzuki’s Queen of Green End Food Waste tip sheet on my fridge to remind me of what produce should be kept in the fridge and what should not. I invite you to do the same if your produce tends to spoil.
Do you have a New Year’s resolution to reduce your food waste? If yes, please add a comment on this blog, we’d love to hear from you!