Minimizing Holiday Food Waste: A Dairy-Inclusive Guide

The holiday season is synonymous with indulgent feasts and delightful gatherings. However, it's also a time when food waste tends to skyrocket. Every calendar year in the United States alone, an estimated 30%-40% of the food supply is wasted, which equates to roughly 119 billion pounds of food. During the holidays, this issue is intensified because we tend to prepare too much food for our loved ones to enjoy. In fact, research indicates that from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, Americans will toss about 5 million pounds of food – a large portion of the more than 34 million tons we waste every year.

Food waste is harmful to our environment, our communities and our health; it’s one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions in landfills. Simultaneously, hunger affects more than 44 million Americans, but reducing food waste by just 20% would feed half that population. How do we turn the tide? It all starts in our very own homes.

Reducing Waste With Dairy-Inclusive Meals

  • Plan Thoughtfully: Start by planning your meals. Incorporate dairy in recipes that are versatile and easily adaptable. Consider dishes like casseroles, where dairy can be incorporated in multiple ways. Planning ahead by taking note of existing pantry inventory can also prevent overspending!
  • Storage Solutions: Dairy products have an expiration date and need to be used wisely to avoid unnecessary waste. Ensure proper storage to maintain their freshness. For instance, cheese can be wrapped in wax paper or aluminum foil and stored in an airtight container to prevent drying out. Most other leftover foods can be wrapped and frozen. This will save you time on meal preparation when you don’t have time to cook later on.
  • Reimagine Leftovers: Embrace creativity with leftovers. Transform excess proteins and cheeses into new creations. For instance, leftover turkey can be used to make what might usually be chicken enchiladas or any other recipes that include chicken. For a creative charcuterie, use leftover meats and cheeses to craft the perfect after-holiday grazing board. Many families find it useful to plan for a “leftover night” weekly to intentionally use and enjoy leftovers before they must be thrown out. Don’t like leftovers? Plan meals so the leftovers can be repurposed (for example, use leftover pork tenderloin or roast to make this family-friendly pizza!) – leaving the next meal feeling less like leftovers and more like “planned-overs.” Pro tip: Extra cheese can be grated over various meals to add flavor!

Saving Money on Holiday Foods

  • Shop Smart: Look out for sales and buy in bulk when possible. Some stores offer discounts on larger quantities of dairy products, enabling savings while reducing the per-unit cost. Keep an eye on sales and discounts in the weeks leading up to a big holiday. Many stores offer promotions on holiday foods weeks before the actual holidays.
  • Use Coupons and Reward Programs: Many grocery stores offer loyalty programs or coupons. These can significantly reduce the cost of holiday meal ingredients, including dairy products. Did you know that milk is one of the most cost-effective sources of 13 essential nutrients? There is simply not an equivalent substitute and most people do not get enough dairy in their diet.

By implementing these strategies, you not only contribute to more sustainable holidays by minimizing food waste but also ensure that your family can enjoy the flavors of the season without breaking the bank.

Discover more fun ways to fight food waste and try out more of our favorite recipes! Or, check out some of our other blogs on sustainable nutrition:

By Rexanna deGruy, Ph.D.

Rexanna deGruy grew up raising chickens and Brahman cattle commercially, with a farming father and an agricultural-science teaching mother. Fascinated by the chance to communicate with people from all walks of life, she pursued a Bachelor and Master of Science in agricultural communications from Texas A&M and Texas Tech University, respectively, then earned her Doctor of Philosophy in AEEE (agricultural and extension education and evaluation) from Louisiana State University. She gained experience in research and marketing working for her alma maters and for Wiggins Farms, earning several publishing credits on topics including food labeling and activist marketing. As she looked for her next opportunity, Rexanna knew she wanted to work for an organization with great purpose – and she found that purpose at Dairy MAX in September 2022. She and her husband, Dylan, live in Baton Rouge.

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