Back to top

Holiday Dinner Planning

Make sure you don't end up with too many leftovers this holiday season by reviewing these planning tips from The Zero Waste Chef.

The Zero Waste Chef provides a detailed list of ways to prevent wasted food during these abundant holidays. We've put together some excerpts of her pre-Thanksgiving planning tips below (useful for any big meal-time gatherings). For additional waste-reducing tips on prepping and repurposing leftovers, visit her blog post from 2016, titled 18 Waste-Busting Ideas for Thanksgiving Dinner.

1. Keep it simple

There's no need to aspire to the 16-course gourmet meal shown in magazines. This often leads to a great deal of frustration, stress, and inevitably, food waste.

"If you enjoy cooking more complicated dishes, by all means you should do so but I think some of us feel pressured to live up to the impossible expectations set by these images of gorgeous spreads of food cooked by professional chefs, photographed by professional photographers. My food never looks like these pictures and that’s just fine because it does taste good. And it’s made with love..."

2. Clear it out

"For meals early in the week of Thanksgiving, don’t buy new ingredients for your weekday dinners (unless you have absolutely no food of course). If you can creatively use up what you have on hand, you’ll have the room you need in the refrigerator for the food you’ll buy, the food you’ll prep in advance and for all those delicious leftovers. If you plan to make stuffing and find stale bread, count your blessings. This is the one time of year I hope to have excess bread that has dried out."

3. Figure out who’s cooking

"Potlucks are a great way to reduce not only work, but also leftovers after dinner. Made one too many pumpkin pies? I’m sure your guests will be happy to take a couple of slices off your hands. Since they brought dishes to share, they will probably have a container to take some food home in and eliminate the need for plastic wrap. You could also remind people to bring a reusable container to take home food after dinner."

4. Eat more vegetables

"...when you waste animal products, you waste many more resources than you do when you waste vegetables since, per calorie, livestock require more resources than do crops—the water, the feed, the land, the labor. So, consider showcasing more of the fabulous vegetables in season this time of year—squash, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, brussels sprout, turnips…"

5. Plan your menu

When planning, take into consideration the number of guests and any dietary restrictions. Above all, keep your meal simple.

6. Edit your menu

"Do you have more dishes on your menu than you’ll realistically eat? If so, cut one (or two or three)."

7. Compose your shopping list

"I always shop with a list and I stick to it. This helps me avoid buying more than I need, which helps prevent food waste. At Thanksgiving, you’ll find more tantalizing food and impulse buys than usual. A list will help prevent you from giving into temptation."

8. Assemble your shopping gear

"Before I head to the store or farmer’s market I take a few minutes to gather up the requisite number of jars, shopping bags and cloth produce and bulk bags to fill with all the items on my list. This way, I’ll bring home my groceries waste-free."

Additional Planning Tips

Veggie Stock
Frozen Herbs
Prep Now, Eat Later
Citrus Juice Cubes
Shopping Tips
The Guest-imator
Food Donation