4 Ways to Waste Less and Get More Out of Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Tips, recipes and more from sustainability expert Thomas McQuillan of Baldor Specialty Foods.

By Ethan L. Johns
November 19, 2018

Thanksgiving was always about excess, and these days, what started out as a harvest celebration has inevitably become an unofficial eating contest.

Of course with feasting, there comes wasting. In a cultural and environmental moment when sustainability and responsible consumption are becoming more visible, many Americans may be considering what they can do to reduce their footprint during the holiday.

On the hunt for some tips, Genius Kitchen called up Thomas McQuillan, the Vice President of Strategy, Culture and Sustainability at the specialty foods and produce distribution company Baldor Specialty Foods.

Baldor knows a thing or two about food waste. Its Fresh Cuts arm, which supplies restaurants with over a million pounds of ingredients weekly, ranging from diced carrots to lemon wedges to shredded jicama, has been 100 percent waste-free since November 2016. Any food scraps that aren’t consumed are “captured” rather than sent to landfill, and are sold to chefs or to farmers as feed for hogs and poultry.

Why should you care about food waste? Aside from impacting the planet, food in the trash is simply costing you money. So how do we avoid these negative outcomes? Here are some ideas.

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Ask a Pro (Don’t worry, it’s easy!)

While it’s just part of tradition to have a beautiful turkey on the table, it’s important to buy only what you’re going to consume. Not sure how much you actually need? Talk to your local butcher for advice and a professional opinion. They might wield sharp knives all day, but they certainly don’t bite.

If you’re buying a fresh or frozen turkey from the supermarket, you can safely assume about two pounds of raw turkey per adult and about a half a pound per child if you want leftovers. Or you can just use Butterball’s handy dandy calculator.

If you do opt for the magnificent turkey that you might not really need, consider bringing some of it to your neighbors who might not have as much as you. After all, isn’t sharing what the holiday is all about?

Banish Your Peeler Forever

A lot of Thanksgiving waste is completely unnecessary, a problem which can be solved with a bit of knowledge and creativity.

“We need to better understand what’s edible and what’s not edible,” says McQuillan.

Carrot peels? Apple peels? Potato peels? Let’s not create the peel in the first place, he says. Carrots can be washed, chopped and eaten as-is, while your potatoes can be mashed with the skins on.

Save Your Scraps

If for some reason you can’t bear the thought of keeping those peels on, don’t throw them away.

“In the preparation of any of the vegetables for your Thanksgiving meal, I would argue that anything that you’re not going to consume—a tomato top, a peeling from a carrot, the bottom from a turnip—should go into a container and be put in your freezer,” says McQuillan. “You can pull that out at some later date—two days later, five days later—sauté them out, add a few quarts of water to them and make a delicious vegetable broth, which can become the base to a future meal.”

Making gravy for your turkey? Make that broth on Thanksgiving day and use it as a base, adding turkey drippings when the bird is cooked.

By saving these scraps, you’re “gleaning some additional nutrition from food products that you otherwise might have wasted.” And if you must get rid of scraps, the takeaway is that they should be returned to the soil, rather than be allowed to rot in a garbage dump.

“One hundred percent of all food items that we’re not going to consume for whatever reason have to go into compost. In no instance should we ever commingle food products with waste. That should never happen.”

Get Creative with Leftovers

Of course, the most obvious way to avoid wasting your Thanksgiving dinner is to eat them. Not so easy when you’re headed for day four and can’t stand the thought of eating another turkey sandwich.

To prevent this, they key is to be creative.

McQuillan recommends turning your leftovers into turkey fried rice, which is as easy as re-frying your turkey with some white rice, celery, onions, carrots, garlic and any other veggies you might have leftover. Add some soy sauce and sesame oil and you’ve got yourself a whole new dish.

He’s also a fan of turkey hash—flash-fried leftover mashed potatoes mixed with julienned turkey breast, sautéed onions, leftover veggies and herbs like thyme—for a weekend breakfast.

Prefer to follow recipes? Thankfully Genius Kitchen has a lot of those:

9 Ways to Eat Thanksgiving Leftovers for Breakfast
22 Day-After-Thanksgiving Casseroles
20 Leftover Turkey Recipes
20 Sandwiches Made with Thanksgiving Leftovers
19 Ways to Reimagine Thanksgiving Leftovers

In the end, preventing food waste comes back to the meaning of Thanksgiving.

“This is one attempt to reduce that food that’s going to waste in a delicious and nutritious way, which is good for our pocket books, good for the environment, says McQuillan. “Plus, we’re feeding and loving people, and that’s what the holiday should be all about.”

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns