By Shannon McClain, Guest Columnist

The holiday season brings gifts, time with family and, of course, lots of food. Along with the season comes a prolific amount of waste.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, we generate an additional 5 million tons of household waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve in the United States.

Included in this figure is food waste, the amount of which equals three times that of what we waste during the rest of the year.

That is an enormous amount of food waste considering we waste an average of 34 million tons of food each year.

So this year, try some of these tips to reduce your food waste this holiday season in preparation, serving and cleanup.

1.      Be Realistic

Be realistic when planning the meals. Think about how much food will actually be needed or eaten during that specific meal.

Of course there may be the desire to have leftovers, but it becomes a problem when there is so much leftovers the food will go bad before it can all be eaten.

Don’t cook more than is necessary in fear there you will run out of food. Look to the past to determine which dishes served too much, too little and just enough.

Also, check the recipe to make sure the yield or quantity is right. You may make way more then you need on accident by just following a recipe that isn’t adjusted to your particular gathering.

2.      Plan Ahead

Plan out everything you will need for your meal at home. Then, bring your shopping list to the store with you.

In my family, before we shop for a holiday dinner like Thanksgiving, we make out lists of the ingredients we will need.

By making a shopping list at home, you can look in your pantry and fridge to see what ingredients you already have. This eliminates the problem of buying unnecessary multiples of certain ingredients. It also helps put a stop to impulse buys. Stores use the holidays to entice buyers to purchase things they don’t actually need.

3.    Reasonable Portions

“During holiday meals,” junior Meagan Schultz said, “my family commonly serves larger portions than they would at an everyday meal.”

Take portions of food that are reasonable for you. When you serve yourself, make sure that it is close to an amount you are able to eat.

If anything, err on the side of smaller, rather than larger. You can always go back for another serving, but you generally can’t give back food that has been half eaten.

To help encourage people to take smaller servings when you are hosting, use smaller plates and serving utensils.

4.      Encourage Self-Serve

By having guest serve themselves, each individual can choose an accurate serving for themselves.

This, coupled with smaller plates and serving utensils, can reduce the amount of food that gets left on plates uneaten.

5.      Leftovers

If you do have leftovers, make sure that they are properly and promptly stored after the meal. Generally, hot food should not sit out for more than two hours, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

After each individual dishes up his or her food in my house and before we begin eating, we try to put away as much food as we can. That way, we can enjoy our meal without worrying about food being left out.

In addition, if you have more leftovers than you can feasibly eat within the next few days, make sure that you send some home with your guests.

       Donate Food

If you do have a lot of extra canned foods, local food banks are always looking for donations. Donations can be in the form of canned or dried foods or money. This is not only great for preventing extra food from sitting in your pantry and spoiling, but it contributes to the thoughtful nature of Thanksgiving.

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