How do I reduce food waste during the holidays?

Holiday feasts make delicious leftover meals, like this turkey and cranberry sandwich.

Q&A with Waste Management’s Karissa Jones

The holidays are a time to celebrate with loved ones and gather around the food you’ve been thinking about all year, whether it’s mom’s secret fudge recipe or aunt Billi’s mac and cheese. But the holidays can also mean a lot of food is wasted, and along with it, the natural resources, money, and love that went into growing and preparing that food. The good news is, wasting food can easily be prevented with a little planning.

Q: How can I plan ahead to reduce food waste later?

A: One of the easiest ways to prevent food from becoming waste is to make only what you need. When you’re planning a big family meal, decide ahead of time who will bring appetizers, main dishes, and desserts – so you’re not left with five vegetable trays. Another trick is to make a grocery list of required ingredients and stick to it. When preparing your dish, be sure to take note of ingredients you already have before going to the store. Avoid the temptation to impulse buy other foods that you didn’t plan for. And that often means not going to the store hungry! My favorite way to reduce food waste is to have everyone bring storage containers to bring home leftover food. That way, the host won’t be stuck with all the leftovers and guests won’t have to cook for a day or two.  

Q: How should I store food so it doesn’t go bad?

A: The key to extending the life of food is proper storage. Ensure those ingredients stay fresh by following WM’s food storage guide. Find it at and then print and post to the refrigerator for easy reference. For garlic and winter squash, keep them in the pantry or cupboard for optimal quality. You should keep onions and potatoes separate from one another in a cool, dark place because onions make potatoes sprout faster. But one surefire way to make sure food lasts longer is to freeze it before it goes bad. Many foods can be frozen and saved for another day when the craving hits. Check out to see what foods can go in the freezer for prolonged storage and to get more creative ideas.

Q: What should I do with all my leftovers?

A: Cooking with leftovers can be a fun way to try new dishes. Explore for creative recipe ideas based on ingredients you already have, or check out WM’s Scrap Happy recipe cards at for inspiration on how to make delicious meals with food that would otherwise be thrown away. Still, overwhelmed by leftover food? Prioritize what needs to be eaten first, and store in a clearly labeled bin at the front of the refrigerator. Involve your kids in creating a festive “Eat First” label for the box.

Want more tips to reduce food waste around the holidays and beyond? Visit for resources to help ring in the new year with a commitment to waste reduction.

Karissa Jones is Waste Management’s recycling education and outreach manager.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here