Here’s how you can avoid wasting so much food during the holidays

Yes, you CAN make a difference right in the kitchen. Here's how.

What better time to pig out than the holidays, right? There are so many delicious foods to enjoy at this time of year that, quite frankly, it can be hard to choose which favorite dishes to cook. So why not make them all? It’s a natural response to cook a lot of different dishes and end up with a mountain of leftovers…which, after trying to get creative with some leftover meals, usually end up getting thrown in the trash. 

The American Food Waste Problem

If this is your reality, don’t worry! You’re definitely not the only one. Food waste is a worldwide problem that companies, labs, even parts of the government, are continually working to improve. According to the National Resource Defense Council, 40 percent of food produced in the United States goes uneaten. Jonathan Bloom, a journalist who authored the book American Wasteland, wrote that Americans waste up to 160 billion pounds of food in a year—enough to fill the entire Rose Bowl and then some. That’s an awful lot to waste, given that it takes 10 percent of the U.S. energy budget to produce the food, 50 percent of the land to grow it, and 80 percent of the freshwater to cultivate it. This means that almost a third of the water used is wasted on food that is never eaten.

Our world faces a huge food waste dilemma, and trying to tackle the issue can feel like a pretty overwhelming feat. However, numerous experts believe that we can start to solve the food waste problem right in our kitchens—especially around the holidays. Here’s what you can do this holiday season to make a difference in this wasteful crisis. 

How to Make the Most of Your Leftovers
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How to Make the Most of Your Leftovers

A great way to save money is to utilize leftovers. We offer fun ways to transform them into something fresh and delicious.

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Leftover Steak

Bring leftover steak back to life by slicing it thin and giving it a quick sauté in butter. Then stuff slices in flatbread with diced tomatoes, Romaine lettuce, red onions, olives and feta cheese for a delicious steak pita pocket. Or, grab two tortillas and make a steak quesadilla with plenty of shredded cheese, diced tomatoes, green onions and cilantro.

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Leftover Pizza

We have nothing against eating cold pizza the next day, but leftover pie can be used in many creative ways. Try chopping pizza slices up and adding them in frittatas, omelets or quiche. You can even toast pizza squares to make cheesy croutons perfect for soups!

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Leftover Roast Chicken

Whole roast chicken can last several meals, and there are many ways you can use the leftovers. Fix up a chicken salad the next day by topping your greens with sliced breast meat. Shred up leftover chicken and toss in barbecue sauce to make easy pulled chicken. Don't toss the bones! Slow-simmer them in water with vegetables for homemade stock to make delicious soups.

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Leftover Rice

Plain cooked rice is the perfect base for quick fried rice. Just heat it up with your favorite cooked vegetables and proteins and douse with sauce to make this easy and satisfying dinner.

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Leftover Pasta

For a quick pasta salad, add a can of tuna (or choose your favorite cooked vegetables or proteins) to plain cooked pasta. Leftover pasta also makes an excellent base for baked casseroles, which is a great way to use up all your other leftovers. Mix pasta with chopped vegetables, minced onions, canned beans and generous amounts of cheese, toss with your favorite herbs and spices and bake for a crisp, cheesy crust.

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Leftover Baked Ham

Ham is a perfect addition to an egg-based recipe, like quiche or omelets, but it can also make other breakfast foods like muffins even tastier. To make a savory ham and cheese muffin, dice leftover ham and add it to a basic muffin batter with shredded cheese.

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Leftover Roast Turkey

Sandwich slices of turkey breast with stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce to recreate the holiday meal. We also love the idea of a shortcut turkey pot pie. Just add chunks of leftover turkey in ramekins, fill with broth and chopped vegetables, top with a ready-made pastry crust and bake golden brown.

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Leftover Soup

Alternatively, you can whip up an easy pot pie using leftover soup, thickened with potato flakes, as the filling. Soups, especially tomato-based ones, can flavor rice and pasta. Change the flavor profile with a bit of hot sauce or salsa. We also love the idea of turning soups into dips by thickening them in the food processor with more solid ingredients.

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Leftover Mashed Potatoes

Got spare spuds? A shepherd's pie is the ultimate recipe for leftovers. Line a pie dish with any leftover meat and vegetables, and then top with mashed potatoes and bake. You can also use mashed potatoes to thicken your soups and stew. Freshly mashed potatoes can also work wonders in baking rich, dense bread, and the cooking water can be reserved for the liquid for yeast breads.

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Leftover Burger Patties

Whether you've got too many patties or buns, there's plenty of ways to make burger leftovers fun to eat. Freeze crumbled hamburger patties for a quick and easy topping for tacos, soups, cheese dips and spaghetti sauce. We also love to beef up our favorite chili with crumbled leftover burger patties.

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Leftover Hamburger Buns

Besides croutons and bread crumbs, hamburger buns make an excellent base for sweet or savory bread budding. Drizzle melted butter over cubed buns, sprinkle with rum-soaked raisins and pour egg, milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon over the bread in baking dish to let soak. The wafting smells of this bread pudding as it bakes will start your morning right!

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Leftover Spaghetti

Spaghetti tastes great cooked in a light, fluffy frittata the next day. In an oven-proof pan, cook chopped spaghetti with your favorite fixings like onions or mushrooms, add beaten egg and let it cook on the stovetop before finishing it off it in the oven. Another creative take on this comfort classic is spaghetti pie, a wonderful concoction of a noodle-y crust topped with layers of cheese,vegetables, tomato sauce and more cheese.

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Leftover Pasta Sauce

Pasta sauce doesn't last for very long in the refrigerator, so once a jar's been opened we're left trying to find new ways to use it throughout the week. Try diluting sauce with water to make the base for minestrone soup, or whip up a quickie salsa by adding corn, red onion, cilantro, a dash of hot sauce and a squeeze of lime juice. Mix in sour cream, cheese and spices for an easy chip dip.

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Leftover French Bread

Day-old French bread easily lends itself to croutons. Cut bread into cubes and crisp in the oven on a baking sheet, and then brown with a bit of butter in a pan. Slice baguettes for an easy bruschetta appetizer; easy toppings include chopped tomatoes and olives or basil pesto and white beans. We also love tossing greens with crispy seasoned pieces of bread in a vinegar-based dressing for a hearty panzanella salad

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Leftover Egg Yolks

If you're making a recipe that calls for egg whites, there's plenty you can do with leftover egg yolks. Put their rich, thickening properties to good use in homemade mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, puddings and custards.

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Leftover Egg Whites

Besides cooking an egg white omelet, leftover egg whites are perfect for light and fluffy desserts! Treat yourself to macarons, meringue cookies, sweet souffles and angel food cake. When whipping up meringue buttercream frosting, the secret to silky, glossy peaks is to make sure the whites are at room temperature.

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Leftover Cake

For some of us, leftover cake isn't really a problem. But for the rest of us, there are several ways to transform it into something new. Pan-fry egg-soaked birthday cake for decadent French toast, or bake cubed cake in egg batter for a sweet bread pudding. You can always crumble cake, mix it with extra frosting and shape them into balls for crowd-pleasing cake balls.

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Think About Portions 

Thomas McQuillan, vice president of corporate strategy, culture and sustainability at Baldor Specialty Foods Inc., is convinced that home cooks can make changes that will make a great impact on food waste. The first step, he says, is to consider portions before even shopping for groceries. 

“The most significant contribution we can all make to reducing food waste is to not create it in the first place,” says McQuillan. “And the way we do that is we buy the appropriate amount of food.” 

Although having a full-size turkey, roast beef or ham looks picturesque on a holiday table, consider if your group will really be able to eat it all.  

“Know what the palate of your audience is,” he says. “If you know that your children don’t eat leftovers, then you’d want to buy a bird that’s appropriate for that number of people and the amount of food you anticipate having the day after.” 

Store Produce at the Proper Temperature 

Storing food at the proper temperature is essential to avoid food spoilage. (Here’s a guide to storing some common holiday foods.) It’s important within your kitchen, but it’s also important at grocery stores. Kevin Payne, vice president of marketing at Zest Labs, points out how stores will place good-looking produce in the front of the store to entice people to buy, leaving that produce at too warm a temperature—leading to faster spoilage. Proper storing temperature is even an issue when products are traveling to retailers. 

“Most of the cause of waste occurs within the first 24 to 48 hours after product is harvested,” says Payne. “And it’s due to temperature implications.” 

Zest Labs is a freshness management system that works with analytics and artificial intelligence to determine the remaining shelf life of an item. It ensures that items being sold at the store have enough of a shelf life to last the few days until the product is eaten. They’ve partnered with popular grocery stores like Costco and Hy-Vee, along with many growers, to provide customers with the freshest ingredients. Their technology can reduce waste at the retail level by 50 percent or more. 

Storing food properly at home is also an important step to avoid spoilage. Here are 13 common foods you’ve probably been storing wrong

Wait to Wash Ingredients 

Now that you have the perfect amount of food that’s being stored at the proper temperature, the next thing to do is wait before washing your products. According to Payne, washing the product can leave it moist, which can lead to bacterial growth. He recommends washing produce right before you eat it. 

“A lot of these types of products—things like berries and lettuces, cauliflower and stuff like that—are what we call field packed,” says Payne. The product is cut, packaged, cooled and shipped—but never washed. 

When you wash your products, make sure to not cross-contaminate the food products. Doing so can spread toxic bacteria. (This is why you should never wash your Thanksgiving turkey.)

5 Recipes for Your Thanksgiving Leftovers
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5 Recipes for Your Thanksgiving Leftovers

Read on to discover 5 recipes for your Thanksgiving leftovers.

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Turkey Struedel
Courtesy of chefs Eduard Frauender & Wolfgang Ban, Edi & the Wolf (

5oz unsalted butter
2 leeks thinly sliced
2 shallots, very finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped tarragon
1lb leftover potato peeled, coarsely shredded
0.7 lb leftover Turkey, diced in cubes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 leaves strudel dough 7
3oz bread crumbs
4oz shredded Emmenthal Cheese
3 tbsp heavy cream
6 oz Sour Cream
Lemon, Salt
bunch of watercress


  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
  2. Melt about a third of the butter in a frying pan over a low-­‐medium heat then add the leeks and shallots and fry gently for 5-­‐6 minutes or until softened and translucent. Stir in the parsley and tarragon, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then remove from the heat and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, place shredded potatoes in a bowl, combine, leek – shallot mixture, breadcrumbs, cheese and heavy cream, mix carefully and season with salt and black pepper.
  4. Melt the remaining butter. Lay a clean, damp tea towel on the work surface and place two sheets of filo pastry on top.
  5. Spread the filling over two thirds of the pastry, leaving a clear border of pastry along one long edge.
  6. Using the tea towel to support the strudel, roll up the strudel towards the clear border of pastry to form a long sausage shape. Transfer to the baking sheet, seam-­‐side-­‐down, and brush the top with the remaining butter and sprinkle over any remaining breadcrumbs. Bake in the oven for 40-­‐50 minutes, or until crisp and golden-­‐brown.
  7. Put sour cream, water cress, lemon and salt into food processor, blend until smooth.
  8. To serve, cut into generous slices and arrange on serving plates garnished with watercress sauce.

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Contributed by Chef Matthew Walker of Great Performances

8 egg yolks
½ cup + 1 Tbs. sugar
1 pint whole milk
1 pint heavy cream
8 oz. spiced rum
1 t. nutmeg
3 white cardamom seeds
Pinch of salt
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
6 egg whites
Leftover corn bread cut into ½ inch cubes


  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, over high heat, combine the milk, heavy cream, and spices , bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for ten minutes stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and strain. Gradually temper the hot mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Pour into a medium mixing bowl, and set in the refrigerator to chill. Add the spiced rum once chilled.
  3. In the stand mixer, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. With the mixer running gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk the egg whites into the chilled mixture.
  4. In a large mixing bowl add just enough of the egg nog to the corn bread so that it is fully absorbed.(about 10 minutes or so.)
  5. Transfer the cornbread mixture to a lightly greased and parchment lined glass baking dish.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for roughly 20 to 25 minutes or until you can place a tooth pick in the center and it comes out clean.

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Smokey Turkey Tortilla Soup

Serves 6-­‐8

1 medium onion, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
6 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
½ can chipotle chiles en adobo
1 teaspoon dried oregano, rubbed gently between the palms
6 cups turkey broth
4 ounces tortilla chips, crumbled
2 cups cooked turkey, diced into ½ inch cubes
1/3 cup cilantro, finely chopped
4 ounces tortilla strips for garnish
½ cup grated chihuahua cheese (Monterey jack can be substituted)
1 avocado, sliced into sixths lengthwise


  1. Combine onion, and garlic with 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium saucepan and cook over medium-­‐high heat until translucent.
  2. Add tomatoes, jalapeno, chipotles, and oregano and cook 10 minutes more.
  3. Add turkey broth and simmer an additional 30 minutes. Remove from heat, add tortilla chips and puree in small batches in a blender until smooth. Season with salt to taste and strain through a fine strainer.
  4. Serve by dividing the warm cooked turkey into six soup bowls, topping with Chihuahua cheese, tortilla strips, cilantro, and avocado slice.
  5. Pour the hot broth over the garnish and serve immediately.

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Contributed by Chef Matthew Walker of Great Performances

2 large sweet potatoes pureed
1-­3/4 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup Devonshire cream
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups whipping cream
1 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon vanilla
12 egg yolks


  1. Combine sweet potato puree, 1/4 cup sugar, Devonshire cream and lemon juice,mix well.
  2. Butter ramekins. Spoon 1/4-­‐inch layer of sweet potato mixture (about 3 tablespoons) into ramekins. Set ramekins in 9 x 13 x 2-­‐inch baking dish and set aside.
  3. In saucepan, combine whipping cream, 3/4 cup sugar and vanilla bean. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.. Mix egg yolks with remaining 3/4 cup sugar.Slowly blend hot cream into egg yolk mixture.
  4. Fill ramekins with egg mixture. Place in center of oven at 325º F. Pour enough hot water into baking dish to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake 55 minutes or until knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Remove ramekins from water to a wire rack and cool.
  5. At serving time, sprinkle ramekins with sugar, place under broiler to brown or use a torch if you have one.

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Turkey Enchiladas Suizas

Serves 6-8

1 pound tomatillos
1 medium white onion, halved
4 cloves garlic
4 jalapenos
1 bunch cilantro
1 cups heavy cream
1 cup sour cream
Salt to taste
12 corn tortillas
1⁄2 cup olive oil
1 pound cooked turkey
2 cups grated Chihuahua cheese (Monterey jack may be substituted) Chopped white onion for garnish
Chopped cilantro for garnish


  1. Heat oven to 400°. Place tomatillos, onion, garlic, jalapeno and cilantro in a blender and puree until smooth. Heat 1⁄2 cup olive oil in a large sauté pan and add the tomatillo mixture. Simmer for 30 minutes.
  2. Add heavy cream and sour cream and simmer an additional 15 minutes, season with salt to taste.
  3. Heat another 1⁄2 cup olive oil in a frying pan, pass each tortilla through the oil briefly, just until it is soft. Set on paper towels to drain excess oil.
  4. Fill each tortilla with 1⁄4 cup of the chicken and a little Chihuahua cheese. Place in a large casserole. Repeat with remaining tortillas, turkey and Chihuahua cheese.
  5. Cover the tortillas with the tomatillo sauce, and remaining Chihuahua cheese and place in the oven for 15 minutes until cheese is melted.
  6. Remove from oven and top with onion and cilantro. Serve warm.

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Use the Whole Vegetable 

“Most fruits and vegetables are 95-percent consumable, but we waste so much of them,” says McQuillan.  

Using up the entire food product is a passion of Baldor Specialty Foods, McQuillan’s place of employment. Baldor is a food distribution company with a commitment of zero organics to landfill. Their Fresh Cuts production processes a million plus pounds of produce a week, using their products to the absolute entirety. Whatever extra they have is sent to the local partner farms, where it’s fed to animals.  

“We need to think about ways to utilize food products that we’ve already cooked, like leftover produce items that we choose to discard,” says McQuillan. “So I think the challenge at home is, whatever produce item that we’re going to cook, that we make a commitment to eating all of it.” 

So if a company like Baldor can do it, is it really that hard to do at home? There are a lot of ways you can use those leftover food scraps—like these 13 food scraps you never knew you could eat

Try Composting 

Not every home has a nifty partnership with a local farm like Baldor does, but composting is an easy, environmentally friendly alternative. This can be as easy as starting a pile in your own backyard or finding a compost collection service if you live in an urban environment. Here’s how to start composting at home

“These food products are going to provide our future soils, and the home cook needs to understand that they have an impact on that just as much as everyone else,” says McQuillan.  

Garbage disposals may seem like the perfect way to avoid starting a compost pile. But be wary; plumbers advise you to avoid these 12 things you should never throw in your garbage disposal.  

“A lot of people have a garbage disposal that grinds everything up. They think that as long as it makes it through it’s good to go,” says Doyle James, president of Mr. Rooter Plumbing. He points out that potato peels, in particular, cause serious issues and are one of the top reasons plumbers get so many service calls the day after Thanksgiving. (The other cause is grease-clogged drains.)

“We recommend people put potatoes and potato peels, vegetable peelings and things like that, into a compost pile,” says James. “Eventually they will biodegrade and go back into the earth.” 

Don’t Fill the Fridge 

How many times have you found food in the fridge that you didn’t even know was in there anymore? Since refrigerators have a lot of storage space, many people try to fill it all up. But McQuillan has a brilliant solution that will help you stop that leftover food waste from occurring: Stop filling the fridge! 

“Try to use half of your refrigerator or freezer space,” he says. 

McQuillan points out that having a full fridge means you probably have at least five days of meals in there, maybe seven. He doesn’t recommend eating food that far out. Instead, evaluate what you already have in the fridge, plan meals around that and buy only what you need.

“The other thing I like to encourage home chefs to do is to try and almost eat completely all of the food you have in the refrigerator or freezer,” says McQuillan. “That means pairing foods together in order to eliminate that food product. That may require you to go to the grocery store a little more often. But the food will be [fresher]. And if your goal is to eliminate waste, you absolutely will achieve that.” 


It’s the holidays, after all. One of the sweetest ways to use up the food you have is to donate it to the immediate community members in need around you. Remember, donating food doesn’t have to look so corporate—like giving canned foods for a drive, or giving food to a soup kitchen. Donating food can be as simple as sitting together at your table or handing a platter to someone next door. 

“I do think we have homes among us that need food,” says McQuillan. “Think about who those people are and invite them over to your holiday meal, or let them know that you’re making food at 4 and could make a platter to bring over at 6 when you’re done eating.” 

If you’re not sure where to donate in your community, he recommends asking a local pastor or rabbi. They may be able to point you in the right direction, or even coordinate a donation to keep the family’s identity confidential. 

“There [are] lots of people in our community in need,” McQuillan says. “Share food, share love, and that’s what the holidays should be all about.” 

Try out these tips this holiday

Top 10 Butterball turkey tips for Thanksgiving
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Top 10 Butterball turkey tips for Thanksgiving
10. Butterball recommends the Open Pan Roasting Method to consistently create a tender, juicy and golden
brown turkey. Use a shallow pan about 2 to 2 1/2 inches deep, and always use a flat rack so the turkey cooks
9. Use the stuffing calculator on to figure out the right amount to make everyone at your table
8. Prepare stuffing just before placing in the turkey, using only cooked ingredients. Loosely stuff neck and body
cavities of completely thawed turkey and do not tightly pack stuffing into turkey.
7. Before roasting, turn the turkey’s wings back to hold the neck skin in place. This levels the turkey in the
roasting pan to encourage even cooking, and with the wings out of the way, makes carving easier.

6. Remember home food safety tips when handling turkey

  • Wash hands often
  • Keep raw turkey and ready-to-eat foods separated
  • Cook to proper temperature (see tip 13)
  • Refrigerate cooked turkey promptly to reduce temperature to below 40 degrees Fahrenheit
5. What size bird to buy? Allow 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person for generous servings and leftovers.
4. Quick and easy. Butterball offers fully cooked turkeys. Already seasoned and roasted, just throw them in a
shallow pan and warm in the oven according to package instructions for a no-mess, no-fuss way to delight
3. No time to thaw? Try thawing more quickly by submerging the turkey in cold water. Leave the bird in the
wrapper, place it in a tub or sink of cold water and allow 30 minutes of thaw time for every pound of turkey.
2. Butterball recommends refrigerator thawing. For every four pounds of turkey, allow at least one day of
thawing in the refrigerator.
1. Fresh or frozen turkey? Fresh turkeys need no thawing and are ready to cook. Frozen turkeys can be purchased
weeks in advance, but require several days of thawing before roasting. Fresh Butterball turkeys are all natural and
contain no additional ingredients. Frozen Butterball turkeys are deep basted to be extra tender and juicy.
You can find more life-saving tips from Butterball here

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