How I Fight Food Waste At Thanksgiving And Beyond

Fall wins

Fall wins

October to January is easily my favorite time of year. It’s fall, it’s gorgeous, and it’s when all the best holidays happen. Nestled in the middle is Thanksgiving, which I consider a uniquely frugal occasion.

Thanksgiving doesn’t encourage excessive spending, it traditionally has no gifts, there’s little commercialism associated with it (aside from the Thanksgiving Day Parade, which I got so fired up about last year that I wrote this), and it enjoys a cult of personality around leftovers. What it does promote is essentially the time honored frugal agenda: cooking a meal at home and spending time with family and friends.

Mr. Frugalwoods and I are hosting my mother-in-law, father-in-law, and sister-in-law this year–as we’ve done a number of times before–and we are thrilled. I love to host, Mr. FW loves to cook, and I’m delighted they’re here for our first Thanksgiving on the homestead! Not to mention Babywoods’ very first turkey day!

Imagine All The Thanksgivings

Fall colors in our yard

Fall colors in our yard

Imagine if we lived every day like Thanksgiving. Ok maybe not with quite so much eating, but definitely with all the other stuff (+ the stuffing, I love that stuff. Especially Mr. FW’s homemade version, which has sausage in it).

The Mindset

Thanksgiving is all about gratitude. It’s an opportunity to literally list our blessings. Unlike New Year’s, which makes us resolve to do better and more, Thanksgiving allows us the space to reflect on what’s already wonderful in our lives. It’s a day when we can feel that we have enough. Enough material possessions. Enough food. Enough money. Recognizing that we have enough is the first step on the road to an earnestly frugal life. Once we acknowledge that we don’t need more, we’re freed from overspending and we’re liberated from the tyranny of being owned by our possessions.

The People

Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s ideally shared with people we care about. Whether we celebrate with family or friends, it’s a time of coming together. Thanksgiving values relationships. Other than cook and eat, there’s no central activity of Thanksgiving beyond simply spending time with other people. My in-laws and I will certainly throw down a few Canasta games in between hassling Mr. FW while he cooks up the feast, but I like the absence of pressure that Thanksgiving facilitates.

The Food

My pecan pies!

My homemade pecan pies!

Of course the meal itself is amazing–what’s not to love about turkey and cranberry sauce and rolls????!!! Not to mention pumpkin pie… but the food I really want to talk about today are the leftovers. Eating Thanksgiving leftovers is practically a national pastime. The turkey trots out for sandwiches and stews. Mashed potatoes are reconfigured in every possible way. There are entire recipe sets devoted to the repurposing of Thanksgiving leftovers. It would be weird not to eat them.

Leftover Nation

So why don’t we apply this leftover-loving mentality to our food the rest of the year? Sadly we don’t as a nation and, as a result, a massive amount of food goes to waste every single year. I’m always astonished when I hear statistics surrounding this waste, because it’s positively epic. According to The Atlantic (which is my favorite magazine, by the way, and the only one I read cover-to-cover), “Wasted food is… the single biggest occupant in American landfills.” That’s disturbing and deeply depressing. The grand total of food wasted each year in the US alone, according to Bloomberg.com, is 130 billion pounds.

Mr. FW displaying the turkey bird

Mr. FW displaying the turkey bird

Beyond being a personal inconvenience, food waste on this scale is detrimental to our planet. Bloomberg again: “… food that ends up in landfills contributes to the release of methane, a major contributor to global warming.” And unlike many other factors of global warming, food waste is something that we as individuals have the ability to decrease.

Food waste is also an expensive proposition. The Atlantic notes that, “For an American family of four, the average value of discarded produce is nearly $1,600 annually.” That’s not an insignificant amount of money, folks.

Over the years, I’ve railed against food waste and outlined all the reasons why it’s abominable. This year, in a continuation of my food waste fight, I want to share the ways in which I avoid wasting food and then open it up to you all to share your methods.

How I Avoid Food Waste

1) Don’t overbuy.

My plate last Thanksgiving. Epic yums.

My plate on a previous Thanksgiving. Epic yums.

This is the deceptively easy, but in practice quite difficult, process of not purchasing too much food at the grocery store. Food waste starts with what we bring into our homes.

Since Mr. FW and I live in the woods a good 45 minutes from the grocery store and since it’s not unheard of to be snowed in for some period of time, we strike an interesting balance with food purchasing.

We do have a robust pantry to ensure we won’t be found without food in the event of a major snowstorm. But the key with these pantry items is that they’re non-perishable. Beans, rice, oats, pasta, olive oil, nuts–these are the types of things we buy in bulk. We also make sure to cycle through them over the years since they do have expiration dates. My method for ensuring we eat the oldest stuff first is pretty simple: I stack it on top.

Additionally, we keep a fairly deep bench of items in our chest freezer: everything from berries and rhubarb from our garden to chilis and stews Mr. FW has cooked up. I date everything that goes into the freezer and we grab the oldest items first for consumption. So far–knock on wood–we’ve never had any of our longterm food go bad.

For perishable foods, however, I try not to buy more than we can eat in a week’s time (based on the fact that I go to the grocery store once a week). When making our grocery list, we have an “eyes on” rule, which means you have to physically put eyes on the refrigerator/freezer/pantry to confirm that we are really and truly in need of more. Plus, I’d rather run out of bananas or avocados than buy too many and waste them. Being honest about how much we eat in a week was a learning curve, but once we figured it out, we were able to start saving serious money.

2) If I buy it, I gotta eat it.

Mr. FW's sage sausage Thanksgiving stuffing. Yum.

Mr. FW’s sage sausage Thanksgiving stuffing. Yum.

This is admittedly a close relative to #1, but it’s more of a personal discipline exercise. I used to be guilty of buying things because they seemed nice in theory–produce was especially a victim. As in, “oh eggplants! They look so lovely! So purple!” And then, two days later, “why did I buy four freaking eggplants!!! We don’t even like eggplant!” And then two weeks later, “What is this horrendous mess in the produce drawer?! Eggplant remains. Blerg.” I had to get my idealistic grocery shopping self in alignment with my reality-of-what-we-eat self.

3) Conduct periodic fridge search and rescue missions.

To stave off the danger of forgotten food, I conduct frequent scavenges through both the fridge and the pantry to see if any food is on life support. Anytime I spy a dying foodstuff, we incorporate it into a meal that day. This prevents against our previous bad behavior of tossing food into our snazzy glass tupperware and then shoving it to the back of the fridge. By continually pawing through everything in there, we’re on top of the leftover situation.

4) Learn to love the leftover.

There’s no excuse for not eating leftovers–I’m not a hardliner on many things, but this is one of them. It’s food you’ve already made and your diligent culinary efforts shouldn’t go down the  drain! I am a leftovers devotee–it’s frugal take-out! There’s no work involved, no mess to clean-up, and dinner is served in minutes flat. Perfection in my book. If you’re not keen on eating the same meal countless nights in a row, fear not, for the solution is to…

5) Freeze it, don’t trash it.

Our Thanksgiving feast a few years ago

Our Thanksgiving feast a few years ago

Freezing food works remarkably well. Mr. FW and I were not practitioners of the freezing method until Babywoods was born. Prior to her birth, in anticipation of the harried frenzy that is early parenthood, Mr. FW cooked up batch after batch of freezable meals: stews, chilis, chicken tikka masala, and more. We then portioned these feasts into quart-size ziplock bags and labeled them with the contents and date.

I find that a food funnel is a worthy tool in the effort to avoid spilling. It also works best to freeze the bags flat. We’ve continued the practice of cooking huge batches and freezing largely because it’s so darn efficient. If Mr. FW is going to make soup, he might as well make a gigantic pot of it–that way, we can use bulk ingredients and enjoy his labors over the course of many a meal. Plus, it is soooooo handy to simply pull food out of the freezer on busy nights–it’s the perfect antidote to ordering take-out (not that anywhere would deliver to us out here… ).

6) Expiration dates are mostly a myth.

FH in festive Thanksgiving coat

FH in festive Thanksgiving coat

Food expiration dates are notoriously conservative. According to The Washington Post, “… date labels rarely indicate the actual safety of a food product — rather, they tend to reflect estimates of when it will be at its peak quality or taste its best. This means that large volumes of safe food are being needlessly thrown away each year.”

If that weren’t enough, the Post goes on to explain, “Currently, with the exception of baby formula, the date labels on food products are not federally regulated.” Hence, food expiration dates are determined and applied by the manufacturers of the foods themselves.

The simple way to combat these dates is to ignore them and instead perform the sight and smell taste. If food looks and smells fine, then it probably is fine. Don’t toss food based solely on its arbitrary expiration date!

7) Re-feed kids.

Although barely a year old, Babywoods is not exempt from our food waste avoidance strategies. She feeds herself these days (being such a big baby and all), which entails her flinging food haphazardly from her high chair tray in the vague direction of her very small mouth. Some of the food even goes in. A lot of the food goes into her lap and her bib (we have this silicon version with a little pouch, which I highly recommend). In light of this eating “style,” when she’s finished, I scoop up all the food remaining on her tray, in her bib pouch, and on her seat. I then dump it into a tupperware and serve it to her for her next meal. Very little food goes to waste despite her thoroughly messy method of consumption.

8) Compost.

Frugal Hound (a turkey freak) sniffs out the bird

Frugal Hound (a turkey freak) sniffs out the bird

And finally, I’ve discovered the miracle that is composting. Rather than throw out banana peels? Into the compost pile! Instead of tossing carrot shavings? To the compost, my friends! Since we have the space out here in the country, we compost in an actual factual pile. But, for folks with less space, there are supremely handy dandy compost bins available. I was always daunted by composting–I don’t know why, but it sounded difficult. It is decidedly not. We have this compost bucket on the counter in our kitchen and we toss in all of our produce refuse (plus coffee grounds!). Then, each week (or sometimes twice a week), we walk the bucket out to the pile and dump it on. Sidenote: there are a few other steps to composting, so make sure to do your research before starting your own compost pile.

Waste Less, Want Less

Although some food waste is bound to happen, we all have the power to exert greater control over the food we bring into our homes and the food we toss into the trash. Since most of us will judiciously savor our Thanksgiving leftovers, let’s consider this holiday the starting point for embracing a leftover-loving, food waste-hating life. At this time when our abundance is greatest, let’s commit ourselves to permanently decreasing the amount of food we throw away, both for our own financial wellbeing, but more importantly, for the benefit of our environment.

Ok, your turn! What are your strategies for not wasting food?

Never Miss A Story

Sign up to get new Frugalwoods stories in your email inbox.

We're not fans of spam, canned or not. None of that here. Powered by ConvertKit

You may also like...

98 Responses

  1. American food waste is astonishing. I must point out, though, that the majority of it happens before it reaches the consumer’s home. A lot of food is left to rot in the fields because it doesn’t meet “Grade A” standards that grocery stores (and consumers) want. Then, a lot gets wasted through the transportation process and at the grocery store level. I agree that expiry dates are mostly wrong, but grocery stores can’t sell it so they have to pitch those things that “expire.”

    That said, wasting food in my home irks me a lot. I can’t say I never do it. Especially when the kids get sick in the winter and I can’t save (or eat) their leftovers. But leftovers are definitely my favorite meal–it’s nearly my only chance to get out of cooking! One thing we do is cook with whole chickens and bone-in chicken pieces, then make stock from the bones. That reduces waste and is frugal and nutritious. “Bone broth” is all the rage and goes for the same price as organic chicken some places! But I can make it for a few cents and include it in lots of homemade soups and meals.

    • Christine K says:

      You beat me to it. The really worrysome food waste is happening way before it gets to your home. Watch some freegan videos on Youtube and you’ll see the absolute horror of this first-hand. Dive! is a movie made about just this topic. It’s just so depressing.

      We try not to waste food at home and that’s a great policy, but we as a nation we really need to do something about stores throwing away perfectly edible, in-date food.

      • Marisa Stone says:

        It just occurred to me that food dates, at least on canned goods could be a way for a consumers to buy more food from a particular company. If you have to throw it out, you would then have to purchase that item again, right?

        The reason I say this is that I recently purchased some pasta from Italy and noticed that the expiration date is for May 2019. I have never seen an American Pasta sauce that had an expiration date that far out. Plus the pasta sauce has zero preservatives…anyway interesting.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      You are absolutely right that a great deal of food waste stems from grocery stores, restaurants, etc. But, individual households are responsible for a certain amount of waste too and, it’s a change we can all make on our own for the good. I liken it to driving a fuel efficient car–I figure I might as well do what I can in my own little corner of the world.

    • julie says:

      In Boston, there is a store called the Daily Table (started by the guy who used to run Trader Joe’s). He takes expired or nearly expired food (food perfectly still good) and sells it at a discounted rate. He also repurposes food to make premade foods. I hope they expand.

    • Patricia says:

      I really hate food waste. If produce needs to be used quickly I will make a soup or muffins so that it is not wasted. I am glad that at our local grocery store they put meat, produce, bread etc on 50% off for quick sale a few days before the best before date. I often buy these products and have never had a problem with them. They also sell a line of produce called naturally imperfect. (Various sizes in the bag)

    • thefrugalchick says:

      We have a great gleaning program in our area. We harvest all kinds of vegetables from the fields throughout the growing season. It’s free, and we donate at least half to the foodbank. It’s a win, win, win, for the farmer (tax deduction), food bank and pickers (free food).
      We also have an awesome salvage grocery store, With great deals on items that are expired or almost expired.

  2. I love our compost bin. I still remember the first time I opened it. I asked my husband why he put dirt in it. His reply, “That’s the compost!” I couldn’t believe it was so simple that it actually worked for me!

    Since we started keeping less food in our cabinets and our fridge, we have a lot less food waste. I can see everything that I have, and I know exactly what I need to buy to round out recipes. I also have a local grocer that sells “after” items – produce that it getting wrinkly and crackers that are past the sell-by date. I’m not sure how they get away with it (though food outlets used to be huge in the Midwest for a while!), but I’m happy to oblige. 49 cent/lb organic green peppers and gluten free rice crackers for less than $1 were my most recent finds!

    Thanks for the reminder to be diligent about this when entertaining as well! I always tend to overdo the portions, but I love repurposing food. And I could eat re-heated green bean casserole until summer!

  3. Kate says:

    Great reminders! We are always learning more and honing our leftovers game. An easily organized fridge and freezer do help us a lot, but we still find ourselves tossing out forgotten leftovers all too often. Can’t wait for all the Thanksgiving feasting to begin!

  4. I do like the message of Thanksgiving, but it can definitely be expensive! I spent $200 one year for the Thanksgiving dinner. Not that I minded; it was nice to see everyone. But I do feel like there’s commercial pressure to make certain dishes, even if you can’t afford it. I always have to make a turkey and a ham, since we have some hardcore turkey-haters (myself included), so the costs stack up, unfortunately.

    But I love the idea of Thanksgiving leftovers! There’s zero sense in wasting perfectly delicious food. We recently got a gigantinormous chest freezer, which means we can do a LOT more bulk freezing and cooking. That means we can save more food than ever before. 🙂

    Mr. Picky Pincher built three composting bins in our back yard when we first moved in. We thought it would take months to fill up with veggie/fruit scraps, but it filled awfully fast! That’s probably not a good sign, but at least we’re being more mindful of our scraps and using them for good!

    • S.G. says:

      Leftover turkey and ham freeze really well. While $200 is a lot, you should get a lot for that amount of money that will then result in NOT buying food as you eat through the leftovers. Or you should be feeding a lot of people.

      I always buy an extra turkey and it feeds us for another random week in the year.

  5. Amen on the expiration dates! If I store my milk jug in the back of the fridge, it usually lasts for two weeks past its “best by” date. Of course, we are such milk fiends that it usually doesn’t survive for that long anyway.

  6. Indeed, Thanksgiving is a great holiday and one of my favorites. I completely avoid Black Friday, what craziness. The stories and internet videos are enough for me to rather sleep in…

    Have a great holiday, Frugalwoods!

  7. Emily says:

    Don’t forget your dog! I give my dogs healthy food waste as treats – ends of various vegetables, meat scraps . . . The dogs love them and keeps my compostables low.

    • Danielle MacAulay says:

      I was coming here to say this, too. My dog loves bites of fruits and veggies, and I also save him the skin from any fish I cook – it’s great for his coat!

  8. Generally we don’t have a lot of food waste as leftovers go with me to work and we have a chest freezer as well. I think the worst culprit in our case is sometimes we buy seconds on fruit, items that are closer to expiry that’s a better deal. Sometimes a bit of it expires before we get to it. By expiry I mean truly inedible. Composting or similar is then key. We pseudo compost as ultimately we rotation it into the garden come fall after it sits on the edge in a pile. Not the most efficient composting, but it works.

  9. Rachelle says:

    Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.
    Thanks for another great post–proving, once again, that we probably don’t need all of the stuff that we think we need!
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  10. Great message heading into the holidays (also my favorite time of the year!).

    My wife just purchased one of those vacuum sealer freezer thingamabobs, and we LOVE it. Lengthens freezer life, eliminates frost burn! Something to consider before Thursday! (Or, perhaps, on Black Friday!).

    Love your writing, keep up the good work!

  11. April says:

    I work in food service at a college, there is so much they throw away each night!! So i take food home to feed my family. It saves me money on food, and helps avoid some of the waste.

  12. Holly says:

    Chickens are also great at leftovers:)

    • Sue says:

      This! And rabbits too. Our rabbits get leftover greens and such. Chickens will eat almost anything we eat and some things we won’t (mice and toads) so they get meaty bits leftover from making stock, scraps from plates that we won’t reuse, etc. Veggie waste that the rabbits can’t eat, like banana peels go into the compost pile.

  13. I can eat leftover turkey ’til the cows come home. Mmmm…. cows.

    I eat the same thing for lunch nearly every day, which is actually a different thing, because my lunch almost always consists of leftovers. While not every food heats up to taste as it good a day or two earlier, pretty much any meal can be enjoyed either in original form or reimagined. Crock pot chicken becomes chicken curry. Steak cut into strips and enjoyed cold, or pan tossed and thrown into a korean taco.

    Is it lunchtime yet?

    Best,
    -POF

  14. Justin says:

    I miss the post-Thanksgiving mash ups I used to make for my littlest one. It was always a game of “let’s mash up whatever tiny portions remain from these different dishes and see if the little dude likes it”. He usually did. 🙂 I wish I could mash up veggies and get him to eat them with the same gusto of years past.

    Enjoy your upcoming holidays! And see if you can keep all of that cold air up there where you are. We had some frost on the ground and it was below freezing here this morning. Not fun! 😉

  15. Debbi says:

    Kalie mentioned the food you have to throw away when the kids are sick, which can last quite a while when school is in session and the germs keep recirculating. I have a method with mine that cuts down on leftovers on the plate whether they are sick or healthy. When they were really tiny, I gave teeny tiny portions of everything and seconds (and thirds, etc.) were always available. Once my children got to be around 4, they served themselves (with advice from me when they were really little). They have to take some of everything and finish what they take. This is a little like the old “clean your plate” rule but, since the children determine their portion sizes, it (hopefully) avoids all of the food issues surrounding the clean your plate rule. My 10 year old, the one who is still at home, knows that she can have as many bowls of soup or whatever that she wants so she does not feel like she has to take a huge portion in the beginning. When she is sick, I remind her that a few bites at a time may be all she can manage and encourage really small portions. I also do let her choose whether or not she takes a little bit of everything because sometimes I get super picky when I am not feeling well and, as long as all the choices are healthy ones, I figure she can eat what she thinks will work for her out of that evening’s offerings when sick. This has worked really well. Once in a while, my daughter will take a little more than she actually wants and she has to finish it. This happens rarely and, since she has always been encouraged to avoid overloading her plate the first time, usually involves a few bites more than she wants. I stick with the rule so it is reinforced and, since it is not a ridiculous amount of food that is left, she can finish it without it being a truly terrible experience. I am guessing there are other ways to manage this that are at least as effective as mine, but this has worked really well for our family.

    • frugal world says:

      My mom did something similar with me, and I developed huge food insecurities later in life. It’s taken some time to be able to enjoy a meal, instead of focusing on how many bites I’ve taken or if my food is clean yet.

    • katscratch says:

      My parents also were, like you Debbi, fantastic at helping me learn to listen to my body when it came to portions. My brother and I had very different appetites and I’m so grateful they helped me portion my food for *me* rather than just heap on what everyone else was having. The few times I ended up with too much food (at large gatherings or friends’ houses) weren’t so much fun, because every parent I knew had a finish-your-food rule and I ran out of stomach long before other kids 🙂 ….it also wasn’t acceptable to read my book at the table, the horror! 😉

      I love, too, that you are aware of what works for *your* family. That’s one of my favorite things about sharing little parenting tidbits with my friends – taking ideas from things that work for them and adapting them for my circumstances/family personalities and vice versa.

      Happy Thanksgiving!

  16. Josh says:

    It’s amazing how many people we know that think leftovers are “gross.” Not to mention those with eyes bigger than their stomachs. Yes, there’s food waste in our house too.

    We made a food donation to our local food bank this past weekend and they said their pantries were nearly empty and praying for an abundance of donations. I have read from others that their local pantries are having similar experiences. This fact makes food waste even more ugly, and that’s just in the U.S. where we have an overabundance of food.

  17. Jennifer says:

    I live in Portland, Oregon (land of recycling) several years ago our city decided that we were to compost our food scraps (which I was not overwhelmed about). Fast forward…. It’s amazing. Having a “visual” of our food waste really opened my eyes. We are a family of 5 and waste nearly nothing now….. Except for that darn lettuce that mistakenly was put in the meat drawer and froze. 😉

  18. Mitch says:

    If you cook a turkey, you will have a carcass. Use it to make bone broth.

    • Leah says:

      My fav thing ever! Same for a chicken carcass. Do you use a big stockpot for the turkey? I do chicken scraps (plus veggie scraps — all those carrot/celery tops and onion skins) in the crock pot. So delicious.

      We don’t have room for a chest freezer but wish we did, as we would do even more.

    • Mrs PoP says:

      This even works with just vegetables! I make vegetable broth out of vegetable scraps leftover after cooking meals. I just accumulate them in a gallon-sized bag in the freezer until it’s full then cook them in the pressure cooker with a bunch of water for a while. The flavor varies a little based on what veggies I had a lot of in the bag, but it’s all basically the same. Then the remnants can make their way to the compost pile…

      • Kristin says:

        I started this same habit this year. It is seriously THE best tip I ever read on the internet! It flavors up our meals for cheap and ensures we get triple use out of our veggies – a regular meal, scraps in broth, then broth remains in conpost! I especially love when we have some hot pepper scraps in there for a spicy broth. You can use anything, even onion peels!

  19. Ms. Montana says:

    With 5 little kids, we rarely have leftovers. And if we manage a small amount, they don’t stretch a full second meal. But I survive on them for lunch. I hate cooking in the middle of the day, so it there wasn’t a small container of something in the fridge I would just resort to tea and cookies for lunch. We kind of compost. I throw all the scraps into a big pile in the duck cage and they pick at it. Maybe a bit does compost, but I think the ducks generally clean up the good stuff rather fast!

  20. Chris says:

    I love what you say about expiration dates! People recommend throwing away that food, so often, on things I read and watch on the web.

  21. Leah says:

    Meal planning really helps us. We have a calendar white board on our fridge, and we try to figure out the week’s meals every weekend (works well except when we go away for the weekend). We also note busy nights and plan for leftovers then, which helps us save. We are still not great with leftovers due to my husband. I used to be pretty darn good before I met him, but he doesn’t love leftovers, so we’ve been working on learning how to reconfigure things. We often cook up a big bunch of whatever meat is on sale and then switch out sides and veggies.

    When I took a lunch to work, I found packaging leftovers for lunch sized portions immediately was really helpful. My work provides lunch now, so I don’t have to do that, but I sometimes miss getting to enjoy a good dinner a second time.

    I hear you on being less ambitious with grocery shopping. Avocados are my big issue. I love them, but I struggle to eat through a whole one in a week. I need to get more diligent when I do eat avocados.

    Compost is also fabulous and can be done anywhere! The metro Seattle area requires composting (via municipal waste pickup), and I don’t know why more cities and even rural areas don’t require that. I think it might be cheaper than requiring recycling.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s awesome that Seattle requires composting! What a forward thinking idea.

    • Here in Toronto we require composting too. You will get fined in most residential areas if food waste is found in your trash. The city has also made compost and recylcing pick-up weekly, but garbage only bi-weekly, thus further encouraging you to compost and recycle so you don’t get the smellies. Next step is to enforce it in our plethora of sky-scraper condo buildings…. I get it’s more difficult to enforce it here due to retrofitting the garbage chutes but I hope the city begins to mandate this as we have a high condo living population.

    • Amkasada86 says:

      I don’t know if you are a fan of mixing up foods but an ALMOST to-far-gone avocado makes a mean ” green eggs and ham” sandwich. I take the super soft avocado, mix in a hard boiled egg (or two) and some left over ham until it is the consistency of egg salad and spread between two pieces of bread!!!!! Soooooo good and super nutritious!

  22. Leah says:

    Oh, another one I thought of — learn to make your own things like salad dressing. That’s what I find sits and rots in my fridge the most. I’ve not bought salad dressing for years and make my own now. My favorite is white wine vinegar with some dijon mustard and olive oil, but there are so many combos.

  23. Thanksgiving leftover are my favorite. Luckily NYC collects the food waste in my neighborhood for composting, which is nice because I used to freeze it and drag it to my farmers market once a week for drop off. I have always struggled with food waste because sometimes I get home from work and I just. can’t. cook. I finally accepted that I need to make lots of little trips to the store because it is just too hard to plan three or more days ahead for my dinnertime state of mind. Sometimes I get home and there is nothing for dinner and I am secretly happy we can all just eat grilled cheese!

  24. Did the article mention how much of that food comes from homes vs grocery stores?
    Our grocery store has a produce clearance section with bananas that are perfect for bread-making and apples that are slightly bruised. They’re a smokin-hot deal, so even if you have to cut off a few pieces here and there it’s still a great way to avoid waste.
    They also deeply discount things like eggs that are nearing their sell-by date. Cage-free organic brown eggs were 99 cents/dozen this morning! Even though they must be sold this week, they’ll still be good for quite some time.

  25. john says:

    I want to thank you for your wonderful blog, as I have learned so much! I especially like that you state most things as a philosophy and as a way of life. One thing I do is to watch what gets put in the garbage can, as all waste usually goes out in the garbage. I also record all waste in my journal because that is where I place my goals and aspirations. I have found that I can reach my goals in life faster when I am not wasteful and I believe that if people wasted less and took care of what the already had, they would be able to do some (more) amazing things. Thanks again!

  26. Great tips for reducing food waste and eating those leftovers Mrs. Frugalwoods!

    With the holiday’s now in full swing, I feel like eating is all everyone does — Stuff their faces until their bellies hurt.

    Maybe everyone can adopt a day of fasting on black friday….to balance out the…. Oh wait, this is America I’m thinking about. Land of excess.

    Moderation and self deprivation just aren’t going to happen! It’s just not built into the culture.

  27. SharonW says:

    Planning to use up bigger items over the week works for me. If I want to make cabbage soup, I also plan a stir fry with cabbage and spicy cabbage as a side dish for a fish meal. Otherwise we can’t finish off some things with just two of us…. planning a week of meals makes a big difference.

  28. Jonathan says:

    Can you just make banana bread when the bananas start to go bad?

    Actually, I wonder the same thing with avocados. Avocado bread sounds amazing.

    Does your husband have a chicken tikka masala recipe he uses most often? I would love to see it.

  29. Elise says:

    There are NEVER holiday leftovers sitting in my fridge. We have a small family but I cook as if I planned on having a meal for 6-8 people. Leftovers from holiday or special meals are immediately portioned into single serving sized “tv dinner” styled portions and frozen. The only thing I like to see in my fridge after a holiday is a small portion of meat for sandwiches and an errant bit of cranberry sauce. I have cut way back on the pies because they do not freeze well and make very small portions of items that do not keep such as jello salad. My fridge looks pretty much the same whether it be the day after Thanksgiving or the week before pay day. By consistently doing this I am able to maintain an inventory of 40-70 quality meal portions in the freezer. Food waste, almost non existent.

  30. Alison says:

    Out of curiosity, do you have a generator? Asking because I’ve thought about getting a chest freezer on top of our extra fridge/freezer, but the prospect of losing all the stuff to an extended power outage (especially in the summer) worries me a little. We live in an area with underground power lines but lots of wind storms…

  31. Laurel says:

    We have chickens and so nothing goes to waste at our house. They adore people food and will eat practically anything. Love that.

  32. SisterX says:

    We buy apple “seconds” (those that don’t meet grocery store standards) from a farmer who sets up on weekends just outside our neighborhood. When we move I’ll probably seek out other farmers from whom to buy seconds.

    It’s also easy to freeze small amounts of stuff. I don’t know why most people don’t think of this, and it took me a long time too. For instance, if we have some berries about to go bad I put them in a big bag and freeze them, slowly adding to the bag as we get more fruit. Sometimes they could be for jam, sometimes they could be for topping bulk oatmeal on cold mornings. It works out really well, just a few berries at a time, and it’s incredible to look at it at the end of one fruit’s season with an eye toward what we would have otherwise thrown away. Pounds of fruit!

    Freezing leftovers when there’s not enough for everyone to have lunch or dinner or whatever is also great because then whoever needs to grab a quick lunch on a day when we, again, don’t have enough leftovers can grab a container out of the freezer, conveniently located right next to our bikes (which we commute with). Suuuper easy to avoid buying lunch that way.

  33. Leigh says:

    One of my favorite recent discoveries in the battle against food waste is to freeze milk that’s past it’s prime to cook with later (I freeze the milk that’s begun to sour but definitely not the stuff that’s a scary, lumpy, spoiled mess). Opting for 1/2c. portions makes it easy to defrost and use for baking, making white sauces, and more. Waste not, want not!

  34. It helps if you don’t mind eating the same thing for several days. My freezer space is limited. The week: Red beans and rice. Every day till it’s gone! I am feeding only myself and 2 little boys half the time, so anything that starts with a pound of beans and a pound of sausage is going to make KILLER leftovers. Yum.

    Totally random: I thought of you guys this week when I bought my first electric blanket, to keep my single self warm at night. Especially when the boys aren’t home and I have only my own preferences to consult. You had talked about how you got a full-size for a king bed, so I got just a throw size for my twin daybed. Less extra blanket to worry about tucking in, and it was (a) cheaper and (b) on the shelf at Costco, which doesn’t carry twin size. (It helps that I am very short, so length is not a problem.) Bonus: I can also use it for reading in a chair or snuggling with my little boys.

  35. Sandee says:

    My grocery store in NYC usually has a special offer of a free turkey with a $150.00 purchase. We start clearing our pantry of canned goods, rice, pasta and our fridge of frozen meats and vegetables in October so we can take advantage of the offer (and we’ve restocked said pantry and fridge with foods that are fresh). We also petitioned for composting in our apartment building and won so wasted food will be used to fertilize the nearby farms. City Harvest is an organization that collects excess food from restaurants and feeds the homeless. I also hate food waste but each of these things help the problem.

  36. Suze Wannabe says:

    When ,I cook a meal for the 2 of us, I pay attention to how much we really eat. Meatballs for example, ,I eat 4, Wannabe eats 6. So I make our meatball freezer packs in 10. We waste very little, knowing what we will really eat and what we won’t.

  37. Joanne says:

    Jonathan – banana bread needs those brown bananas, they mush up much easier than ripe ones! I buy 7 bananas each week (they’re sold like that I don’t specifically pick a bunch of 7 that would be crazy mad!) as I know 1 banana won’t be eaten, that gets tossed into the freezer either peeled and chopped or just bunged in there skin and all then when there are 3 or 4 of those babies in there it’s banana bread baking time!!
    Mrs FW – we don’t have Thanksgiving here in the U.K. but I do so love the whole concept and whilst we can’t have a Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday – eldest son is at his fencing class and youngest is at a birthday party – we will definitely let each other know what we are thankful for when we have breakfast before school and work!! Wish I had some of your Thanksgiving decorations too!! What’s a good Thanksgiving breakfast I wonder???

  38. Amanda says:

    I work long hours, so I pretty much just cook on the weekends and exclusively eat leftovers. I love them! And if I’m not totally loving something for days on end, I freeze a couple of portions a day or two in. I often use those frozen portions for lunches when I’ve slacked on lunch making — I love when past me looks out for future me! My partner and I also live in a triplex with his family, and we often pass things back and forth so as not to waste food. I also live in a city that has city composting. We put it out for collection in a bin just like trash and recycling. It’s amazing, and because it’s processed differently, we can compost practically anything organic, including yard waste, meat, bones, waxed containers like milk cartons, and salons even compost hair! And for food that I buy or make and just don’t think I’m going to use, I often bring it to my office. Leftovers left on the free table in the kitchen usually get eaten, and packaged or produce go home with people. I work at a non-profit and there is zero stigma associated with sharing food or eating others’ leftovers (and sadly, I think that in some circles, there would be.)

  39. Another great article. We don’t have Thanksgiving in Australia, but it sounds like our kind of frugal holiday!

    We too have started composting. We have a compost bowl on our bench and toss our scraps in. It’s great and we produce so much less rubbish because our bin isn’t getting smelly with food scraps, prompting us to empty it. We now throw out maybe one garbage bag a week- it’s definitely a win-win situation.

    Happy Thanksgiving to the Frugalwoods family!

  40. Mary Ann Cauthen says:

    SOmething I have done for years it to save even tiny bits of food – slice of tomato, onion, small amounts of limas, peas, corn, even pasta & put it in a jar in freezer. When jar is full, put in crock pot, add some canned tomatoes, frozen okra, broth, any other things you like & you have “free” soup. Make corn bread muffins & you have a good, cheap meal! Mary Ann

  41. Ellie says:

    I love the idea of Thanksgiving and really wish we’d imported that to the UK rather than Black Friday.

    We do have a movement over here devoted to intercepting food waste from farms, manufacturers and supermarkets. Annoyingly for this post I’ve completely forgotten the name of it, helpful! They’ve just opened a pay as you feel supermarket which, amongst other things, includes food that’s been cosmetically damaged, eg the labels have been stuck on wonky or upside down or whatever.

    It feels like there’s a real momentum gathering around this issue which can only be a good thing

  42. Vicki says:

    Wow – $1600 waste a year in produce? We definitely don’t waste that because we follow many of your points here. I think we have to make more trips to the grocery store because of a fear of wasting a ton of food – but I’d rather do that than waste. We are huge left-over eaters though too. We might not eat them the night after we make something, but after a couple of nights of dinners – everyone can pick what leftovers they would like, which helps. We compost too – it cuts down on garbage tremendously!

  43. katscratch says:

    Last year was the first it was just the two of us, and I made WAY too much food — the leftovers were most excellent but lasted about a month, ha!!

    This year it’s just me, so I’m forgoing the usual repertoire and making a turkey pot pie and a 1/4 recipe for green bean casserole. The mashed potatoes, with cream cheese, a stick of butter, and heavy cream, however, will stay the same portion size as they are my hands down favorite!

  44. Kim from+Philadelphia says:

    I just love the fact you “refeed” Babywoods her previously unfinished meal…why not?!!

    I actively use our freezer for anything that can’t be readily eaten. Two bananas that are too brown to enjoyably eat? Toss ’em in the freezer and use for banana bread once the bananas reach a critical mass. A cup of white wine that’s a few days too old to enjoy in its own, but still viable? Pour it into a small container in the freezer and add to a pasta sauce or stew. I’ll even freeze milk if we are clearly not going to finish it before it heads south. If I didn’t capture the milk in time, I use sour milk for baking or biscuits.

  45. Sandra & the 2 Spaniels says:

    I rarely cook a turkey since I am single now. But ham and chicken also go on sale and are easily stretched into multiple meals. You are so right about buying “fashionable” veggies. While I love eggplant -especially grilled and then stacked with cheese and roasted red peppers! -I purchased an entire bag of yellow squash, on sale. God! I thought that I would never get through it!! I have done the same thing with avocados: it’s 5 for $3 but then 2 go bad because I can’t eat them fast enough!! So, honesty about you and your famiy’s eating habits will save you money. Throwing food away is tantamount to tossing $20 bills out the car window. It gripes me no end to toss food that I paid good money for. Buy what you eat & eat what you buy. I adore the Snapware that you recommended!! Best stuff ever!! And the dogs only get leftovers that are good for them.

  46. Having three boys (one of whom is a teenager) we rarely have much food waste anymore. We’ve also been able to get much better about food waste over the years, after seeing what goes to waste and how much gets eaten in a week. Like you, we keep a fully stocked pantry and chest freezer, and only buy what we need once a week. Recently we purchased a large amount of meat from a local butcher, which is frozen, so that’s helped to cut down on the weekly perishables.

    Unfortunately my toddler has learned that when he’s done eating, the dog loves it when he tosses his food over! I hate to see all that food wasted, so we’re trying to teach him to stop that, but he’s a fast little guy.

    P.S. I saw the best leftover Thanksgiving food method on one of The Great British Bakeoff’s Christmas specials. Make some bread dough for buns (like you were making cinnamon rolls). Roll it out, spread it with cranberry sauce, put on some shredded turkey and stuffing, and roll it up. Slice it into rolls and bake it, and you have leftover rolls! It sounds delicious and I can’t wait to try it.

  47. Danielle says:

    Another thing I do is keep a jar in the fridge, and I let any condiments at the bottom of various containers drip into it. I’ll also add sliced ginger and spices that are getting to their expiration date or that we just have laying around. That becomes a great marinade!

  48. Ilene Anna says:

    We were guilty of great waste until I realized the root of our mistake. We wanted to be great chefs like we watched on TV…who had just about every food at their fingertips. Yes, we enjoyed being creative but we were still very wrong. My past boss told me that she plans a week’s meal menus and shops only the menu items. I am forcing myself to do this and saving huge as well as finding I have practically nothing to discard. Anything edible left over is frozen or incorporated into another dish.

  49. Ilene Anna says:

    And remember, frugal community: “Enough is as good as a feast!” A very happy and blessed Thanksgiving to you all!

  50. Jackie says:

    I have a 16 month old I make him what my husband calls “trash can smoothies”. Anything that would good is fair game; from the last of the cottage cheese to some butternut squash, wilted kale, or bruised apple. I blend it up with peanut butter for protein and fat and my son loves it! It saves a lot of random bits of food from being wasted.

  51. Marisa Stone says:

    I have been reading your articles and comments about food waste. It really hit home to me recently when throwing out a avocado. Definitely planning on upping my non-waste food game. I really need to not over -buy for the household. We have 3 kids, two are teenagers and it sometimes hard to gauge how much they will eat…but we can work on improving.

  52. FrugalFox says:

    Whilst I do agree on the food expiration dates a note of caution should be taken. I work as an auditor on food manufacturers. I complete audits all around the world including Asia, South America and Europe. In my experience most of the decent manufacturers are completing micro testing (testing for mircobiological growth) on their finished products up to shelf life and beyond. Generally the shelf life given is fairly close to when you can sensibly still eat the product.
    That being said I would generally eat most things past their use by date with the exception of seafood and possibly pork and chicken.

  53. Ruth Black says:

    Highly recommend reading “Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash” by Edward Humes. Great history of waste management in America, plus super overwhelming facts and figures that will make you think! Helpful tips for reducing our individual waste contributions, too.

  54. Becky says:

    I’m a devoted fan of leftovers. I do the bulk of the cooking in our house and it’s not something I enjoy, so anything we can eat for an extra meal or two is a-ok with me! We follow food rules very similar to yours and have recently added a new one – chickens! Our chickens love our household scraps and in return we get delicious eggs with minimal additionally purchased inputs!

  55. GarageGal says:

    Our strategy for reducing food waste has been two-fold: 1 – be realistic about how much we will eat (it’s less than we think) and 2 – whenever we notice an excess of food accumulating, we play a game of ‘Chopped’ in our own kitchen. Basically we force ourselves to cook only with what is there (with the possible addition of some basic perishable staples) . The meals certainly aren’t gourmet, but they’re tasty, fun and frugal!

    I also have a frugal hack for a food funnel – simply a yogurt container with the bottom cut out. Plop it in a ziploc, fill the yogurt container, remove yogurt container. Works great for portioning as well!

  56. anna says:

    food waste is a huge issue for our household too, we always end up throwing good food because nobody will eat it for 3rd time, and moldy produce cause we forgot about it or we had too much of it..I try to focus on buying less, and eating what we already have in our pantry/fridge first…Regarding baby food ,maybe its just me , but I find it extreme to re feed the kid with food form their tray and bib, and also here they tell us to throw any pureed food away after feeding the kid, cause it loses nutrients etc…

  57. Ilene Anna says:

    I do want to also commend you, Mrs. Frugalwoods, on your wonderful spirit of hospitality! You are always reaching out to others and sharing. You have done a great job of erasing the idea that a frugal person is a Scrooge…eating a small bowl of gruel in a cold bedroom and never giving anything away. Frugal friends share!

  58. jennifer kellogg says:

    I struggle with how to go about sending home leftovers with Family. Do you send your own containers or ask them to bring their own. This year I bought recyclable bento boxes for each person to fill and take home but there must be a frugal way!!

    • Marla says:

      Last year I gave everyone leftovers layered in wide-mouthed mason jars. They helped themselves to what they liked and could return the jars later (or not, I have lots).

  59. Iris says:

    While composting is a valuable addition if you’re gardening, it really isn’t a part of preventing food waste.

    One thing I don’t see mentioned here with regard to leftovers, is PIZZA! Small amounts of leftover almost-anything are particularly suitable for a pizza concoction. And since you’re likely to top the whole thing with sauce and perhaps cheese, you can amalgamate a surprising collection of leftovers.

    I haven’t cooked for Thanksgiving for years. A friend of mine, whose motto is “everything to excess” always has us over. Our daughters were in the same grade in school, and we’ve known them for far longer than that. She makes so much food that even her mother (also there) looks at the quantity and inquires when the local National Guard unit is arriving for their dinner. We certainly pack up all her leftovers for their use, and she’d be more than happy for me to take stuff home, but we keep a kosher kitchen, and I don’t take food from her house.

    We have smorgasbord at our house about once a week. We pull all of the containers out of the fridge, and we each create our own plates, from whatever is there. There are only 2 of us at home now, but this way even small amounts of food, if they haven’t been taken for lunches, get eaten.

    My sister-in-law tosses an absolutely horrifying amount of food. When she does this, she says her family doesn’t eat leftovers. Excuse me? Absolutely not true, but that is what she says as she’s dumping food in the trash. She makes a turkey about once a week, since her husband loves it. What do you mean you don’t eat leftovers? And her fridge is always crammed with stuff when we’re there, which is admittedly usually a holiday of some sort, but if there are a few grapes left, or just a couple of spoonfuls of corn, out it goes.

  60. ShaviSnax says:

    Haven’t read all the comments, forgive me if this is a repeat. You can also save certain food scraps for broth making. Carrot shavings (& tops or greens), bell pepper seeds & inner skins, all kinds of veggie ends & tops cut off. I simply stash them in a ziplock bag & save in the freezer until I need more broth. Not a meat eater, but I am sure the same can be said for meat stuffs…..

  61. Sally Kanter says:

    My husband and I grew up very poor-he in the city and I in the country. We eat leftovers every day and have found a lot of ways to re-invent the leftovers. Since there are only two of us I’ve been making smaller amounts, and those leftovers still happen! Beef rib meat becomes chopped up for stir fry (where our leftover veggies sometimes end up); sliced thinly into small pieces and used in onion soup; chopped finely and used for sloppy joes; and just sliced up for hot beef sandwiches. I put a fair amount of left over veggies into the blender and use as sauces or chopped and put into meatloaf. I really enjoy reading your articles and feedback from others, please keep up the good work, Mrs. FW! Have a wonderful holiday!

  62. Maria says:

    Please may we have your recipe for chicken tikka masala? You’ve mentioned it before and I would love to know how you guys make it (especially since you eat healthily and most recipes I’ve seen for tikka masala are a calorific bomb!).
    Thank you.
    Otherwise yeah – food waste is a big, serious and endemic problem. I work in the environmental field, and just thinking about the associated emissions makes me very passionate about this!

  63. Grace says:

    Frugalwoods, I second your point on loving and repurposing leftovers. Sounds like you have it down already, but for the rest of the community looking for inspiration, I recommend the book An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Alder. This book gives techniques and tips for making tasty food easily and then continually repurposing leftovers and maximizing all of your food pieces. AND she writes with such passion and love for food, you can’t help but get swept away.

    One example of this would be roasting a chicken for a meal. If you cook the chicken on a bed of potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, etc., you have a full meal there, plus ‘leftovers for a second roasted chicken and veggies meal.’ You can pick off the leftover chicken and shred it and portion it in the freezer for adding chicken to all kinds of meals later, e.g. stirfry, chicken pot pie, topping pasta. If you have ‘leftovers’ for that stirfry, you can start a frittata or omelette or burrito. Then you use the chicken carcass for chicken broth, which turns into chicken noodle soup. Side note – as you are preparing the veggies, the ‘leftover’ veggie ends you don’t want can go into broth. If you have ‘leftover’ soup, use it as the base for another sauce or broth. By the end of this you have very little waste and maximum taste/meals. This is just one example of many that Tamar’s book recommends.

  64. Lynn says:

    Oh, man. Food waste is a huge deal to me. One thing I do is buy frozen vegetables instead of fresh. (Except for leafy greens, which I only buy fresh, but I eat a ton of spinach so it never goes bad.) It’s just me and two young children, so buying fresh means it goes bad too quickly. I buy peas, carrots, and green beans frozen in bags, take out exactly what I need and steam them in one of those awesome microwave steamers, seal the bag and return it to the freezer. They are just as healthy as fresh, and there’s no waste.

  65. Diane says:

    I have a wonderful little cookbook called “Extending the Table: A World Community Cookbook” that has recipes gathered by missionaries from all over the world, traditional recipes from communities who don’t have a lot to cook with. They tend to use very little meat and a variety of spices to make odd bits of vegetables and starch into a meal. If you don’t have all the listed ingredients, you can leave one out or add others. I had a bit of red cabbage and a couple of small red potatoes I hadn’t used, and found a Nepali recipe for a cabbage and potato curry that is now one of my favorites.

    I also freeze liquid ingredients like juices so I don’t have to keep buying bottles and jugs. We don’t drink juices because they’re mostly sugar, but sometimes I need cider or orange juice for a recipe, so I freeze portions that I always have, rather than going to the store to buy a half gallon when I need half a cup.

    (Also in the freezer are all the nuts I buy, so that they won’t turn into bugs or go rancid. Nuts are expensive.)

    And, if you can take it–many people can’t–use powdered milk for some things. I wouldn’t drink it straight, but it’s fine for moistening cereal, putting in coffee, making a quiche. I loathe buttermilk, so I keep the powdered version on hand for pancake or cornbread recipes. It saves buying a jug and pouring the rest down the drain, and doesn’t take up space in the freezer.

  66. Besides freezing, composting, and learning to love leftovers, I’ve found the power of cheese to make almost any combo of fridge dwelling food palatable. I find that whatever tidbits we have in the fridge – meat, veg, pasta, rice, beans – whatever it might be, layered in between two tortillas or big leafy lettuce leaves and smothered with melted cheese makes a delicious “quesidilla” out of anything. We rarely have food waste becasue of this little hack.

  67. Jana Colgin says:

    I think I’m going to need you to write a post on composting! I am thankful for your blog. 🙂

  68. Emmy says:

    I have a dedicated fridge shelf for leftovers and other things that need using asap.

    Every breakfast since Thanksgiving has been an omelet made of leftover wild rice & roasted brussels sprouts, with additions that also needed using. This morning’s omelet included the last of the T-Day wild rice, leftover buttered broccoli, a small leek that needed using, a few baby bella mushrooms likewise, a couple slices deli ham on the verge, and a little bit of wensleydale cheese left over from Thanksgiving. It was scrumptious!

  69. One way we make sure we are not wasting food is by planning leftover days. We only plan meals for the weekdays and enjoy leftovers on the weekends.

  70. FrugalCat says:

    Several years ago I started a Thanksgiving tradition. Mid-November, I went through my cabinet of plastic containers and got rid of (in the recycling bin!) anything that did not have a lid. Then I separated the “good” containers (glass, or lid-locks, basically anything I had bought) from the crappy ones (margarine tubs, cool-whip containers, etc.) On Thanksgiving, I would bring all the crappy containers to my sister-in-law’s house, where she hosted a HUGE dinner for dozens of people. Every guest was welcome to take home leftovers in the “leftover” containers, no worrying about returning them.

  71. Bethany says:

    Love this and all your other posts… Whenever I notice I’m getting off track with my own life goals (which happens much more frequently than I’d like to admit), I check out your latest post for a quick reminder of the important things to get motivated all over again.

    And on a slightly off-topic note, did you happen to catch the dog show again this year? The greyhound took it all!!

  72. Sherikr says:

    This post inspired me today. I found a bag of clementine oranges in the bottom of my fridge. They didn’t look terrible, but they didn’t look fresh and awesome either. I pulled out my juicer and juiced all this cuties. My son loved it! Food waster tragedy averted! 😀

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *