After big Thanksgiving gatherings, it's not unusual to finish eating and still find yourself surrounded by mountains of mashed potatoes, pots of gravy, and enough turkey for twelve sandwiches.
When people over-prepare holiday celebrations and end up with too many leftovers, food waste can be a big problem. According to Feeding America, 119 billion pounds of food — more than $408 billion in food — is wasted in the United States each year.
As nice as it sounds to give all that extra food away to people in need, food banks across the U.S. have strict health policies against receiving leftovers.
“To ensure the people they serve are safe, food banks can’t accept leftovers or anything made in personal kitchens because they aren’t individually sealed and the food bank can’t verify the ingredients or preparation process,” explained Feeding America’s senior content producer Paul Morello.
To keep that turkey and corn from ending up at the bottom of a trash can, there’s a few ways to preserve leftovers after the holidays.
Of course, you can send family members and friends home with leftovers, or portion out leftovers in sealed containers and freeze them for future meals.
If everyone has their doggie bags and you’re still left with extras, consider hosting a gathering with friends or neighbors to nosh on those leftovers throughout the weekend.
If food needs to be discarded, consider composting it. If you don’t have a compost bin in your home, you can still go on makesoil.org to see if there’s a community site near you. Although compost services used to be rare, local compost and soil sites across the country have increased by 65% in the last five years.
However, if you do want to donate to your local food banks and community fridges this holiday season, experts say that the best items to donate include non-perishable items and sealed cans with a long shelf life. That’s everything from soup cans, cranberry sauce, boxes of stuffing, instant meals, canned vegetables, dry noodles, canned pumpkin, and more.
Any leftover ingredients that were unneeded in your meal preparations make for great items to donate to community members in need.
But be sure to take notice of expiration dates. In an interview with Bon Appétit, chef and food welfare advocate Sophia Roe said that donating food should be more than just a pantry clean-out.
“The most important thing is, if you wouldn’t eat it, and you wouldn’t use it, don’t drop it off,” Roe said.
Food insecurity is a growing issue that affects everyone from unemployed individuals, low income families, and those experiencing homelessness.
“Holiday celebrations are often centered around food, and for families that struggle to afford groceries, it can be a very difficult time,” Villarreal explained.
And if you’re out of non-perishable food to spare, Villarreal said that the best way to give back to your community is to donate your time.
“We encourage people to call their food banks ahead of time and find out if they have volunteer slots available,” Villarreal urged.