No Turkey Left Behind: Waste Less this Thanksgiving

No Turkey Left Behind: Waste Less this Thanksgiving

- in 2017 Editions, Featured, Food, Magazine, November 2017

Each year approximately 46 million turkeys are purchased at Thanksgiving. That’s nearly 700 million pounds of meat. Sadly, more than 30 percent of that will get thrown away this holiday season.

When you consider how much water, land and energy was required to produce those turkeys and that one in eight Americans struggle with hunger, it leaves you feeling a little less than thankful. Similar statistics hold true for all the vegetables required for our favorite side dishes, too. When you’re mashing up that huge pot of potatoes, think about the fact that it takes about 30 gallons of water to grow one pound of them. Now imagine throwing nearly half of that right into the garbage. It’s not far-fetched. The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that we are throwing away about 40 percent of the food we grow. Here are some ideas to gobble up those leftovers this Thanksgiving. Because one of the best ways to be thankful for what you have is to avoid wasting it.

Scale Back
We can’t help but want to prepare a bountiful buffet of all our favorite family holiday recipes. We wouldn’t want to offend grandma if we didn’t make her sweet potato casserole with marshmallows and pineapple. While some could do without the green bean casserole, others can’t live without it. We worry we won’t have enough rolls for all 14 people, so we double up. And we can’t remember if everyone likes pumpkin pie, so we make pecan pie, too.

Well, you know what ends up happening next. You spend an entire week preparing for the meal, an entire day (or two) cooking it and then everyone sits down to eat and after 20 minutes and three bites of each of the two dozen dishes, they are all completely stuffed. Meanwhile, the table is still brimming with beautiful foods which are now suddenly leftovers. You’ll eat turkey sandwiches for lunch the next day, reheat the casseroles the next night, and then you don’t want to see another bit of gravy until next year.

This Thanksgiving, resist the temptation to go overboard. Plan portion sizes carefully and pick your favorite dishes that you can’t imagine Thanksgiving without. If there aren’t any that you can cut off the menu, consider making a little less of each item.

Buy Canned Where You Can
I am huge fan of buying locally grown, fresh produce first, but there are some instances where it makes sense to substitute canned or frozen.

Canned or frozen green beans are a great way to save. This way if you decide not to make the green bean casserole, you can leave the canned green beans in the pantry for another night. Just try to select the brands with no added salt. Canned cranberries can be helpful, as well. If you’re using them to make a Jello salad, the canned variety can be an especially good choice since you’re likely combining them with a bunch of other ingredients.

Other Food Saving Tips

Leftover Buffet Bar
If you have a large group, stock up on take-out containers and before everyone heads home, set up an area for them all to divvy up the leftovers so you’re not stuck with all of them.

Freeze it Friday
Turkey dinner might not sound good right now, but a month from now on that busy night after a long day at work, it will sound wonderfully delicious. Package up leftovers in freezer safe, single serve containers (TV dinner style) and pull them out to warm up as needed.

Get Creative in the Kitchen
Some enjoy creating delicious dishes out of all their leftovers, like placing yesterday’s turkey in tomorrow’s soup. Or using cranberries on top of the next day’s pancakes in place of syrup. The possibilities are endless. When all else fails, put them all together in one dish.

Thanksgiving Leftover Lasagna
Breathe new life into leftovers with this family-friendly recipe


  • Butter
  • 2 tbsp. bread crumbs
  • 3 c. prepared mashed potatoes
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 c. leftover shredded turkey
  • 1 c. shredded cheese
  • 1 c. chopped cooked green beans (or other leftover green vegetables)
  • ½ c. cranberry sauce
  • ½ c. gravy


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease an 8”-x-8” baking pan with butter, then coat with breadcrumbs.

Mix together mashed potatoes and eggs until smooth. Spread about one third of the mashed potato mixture into the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with cheese then drizzle with gravy. Top with green beans, turkey, more gravy and cranberry sauce. Spread more mashed potatoes on top and sprinkle with more cheese. Top with stuffing then drizzle with gravy. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the lasagna is warmed through.

Let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve with more gravy, if desired.


Ashley Weingart is the Founder of Perfectly Imperfect Produce, a fruit and vegetable delivery service striving to reduce food waste while improving affordable, healthy food access.

About the author

Ashley Weingart is the mother of three young children and she's always running somewhere. Whether she's chasing after her two-year-old with her craft scissors in his hand, hurrying to get dinner on the table, rushing to finish yard work, or literally running for exercise, she's always on the go. Many of her favorite daily tasks have something else in common; scissors, or sKissors as her littlest one calls them. Garden scissors, kitchen scissors, craft scissors, children’s safety scissors, she's nearly always got one of them in hand. Her blog documents her adventures as a busy mom on the run making time to have her fun. Visit Ashley is on Twitter @RunningSkissors and Facebook at Running with Skissors.

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