Every November, the fourth Thursday of the month finds many people throughout the country gathering together to give thanks for family, friends, and – perhaps what the day is best known for – a seasonal feast of delicious food.
With traditional favorites like turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potato pie, and more, Thanksgiving is a holiday whose focus on food reminds us to be grateful for a plentiful harvest. But unfortunately, it’s also a holiday that wastes an enormous amount of food.
The National Resources Defense Council estimated that in 2016, Americans sent the equivalent of six million Thanksgiving turkeys to the landfill,1 joining other leftovers from a holiday that is notorious for overeating.2
In a country where 40 million Americans struggle with hunger,3 preventing food waste means devoting more food to nourishing those who need it most.
Each and every person can do their part to reduce food waste, during the holidays and throughout the year. An easy way to lower the amount of food you’re throwing away this Thanksgiving is to find a way to use your leftovers once the holiday is over.
Check out our top three suggestions for what to do with Thanksgiving leftovers:
It might be tempting to leave food sitting out for guests to enjoy during commercial breaks from the big game and throughout the day, but by doing so, you run the risk of a very unhappy ending to the holiday. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the bacteria that results in food poisoning grows faster at room temperature, which is why it’s important to put cold foods in the refrigerator, keep hot foods above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and not leave food sitting out for more than two hours.4 Then you can safely enjoy leftovers later!
If you’ve been diligent with food safety and storage during the day, consider finding a nearby soup kitchen, shelter or pantry that can put your leftovers to good use! Make sure to call ahead, as many organizations have regulations for whether or not they can accept pre-cooked meals. To find a Food Bank member agency near you, click here.
By repurposing your leftovers into new culinary creations, you can enjoy the flavors of Thanksgiving longer! Our personal favorite is Chef Jen’s recipe for Thanksgiving meatloaf, which reuses turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. Websites like Bon Appetit and Food Network are also great resources for finding different and interesting recipes to try, from turkey meatballs to Thanksgiving breakfast casserole.
(1) November 01, 2017 New York. “New Dinner Party Planning Calculator Can Help Hosts Waste Less Food This Thanksgiving.” NRDC, 1 Nov. 2017.
(2) Organization. “Impact of Overeating on Thanksgiving.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 23 Nov. 2016.
(3) “Facts About Hunger and Poverty in America.” Feeding America.
(4) “FSIS.” Ham and Food Safety.