Green(er) Gobblin’

11 ways to avoid making food waste a side dish at your Thanksgiving dinner 

Credit: New York Public Library Collection

Certain things just have to be part of Thanksgiving Day, from the stuffing and football to the pies and family Zoom sessions. Unfortunately, another American dinner tradition thrives: Virtually all of those feasts will generate a supersized portion of needless food waste and trash.  

According to a recent Stanford University study, Americans send 25% more waste to landfills in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas than during any other time of year. In 2021 alone, about 305 million pounds of food was thrown out, according to food insecurity nonprofit ReFED.  

In other words, besides all the non recyclable packaging, we are trashing endless heaping platters of still-edible food we paid for and shipping it off to produce atmosphere-damaging methane in the landfill. Food waste is a top contributor to global climate change. 

According to veteran Boulder chef and culinary instructor Bob Scherner, there are some simple things you can do to cut Thanksgiving food waste and save money. It starts with thoughtful planning.  

Consider serving less food. “The first rule is that less is best at Thanksgiving,” says Scherner, the former Executive Chef and Director of Education at Boulder’s Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. He also cooked in local eateries ranging from the Flagstaff House to Chautauqua Dining Hall.

“People tend to make way too much food,” Scherner says. “You don’t have to make mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and three kinds of vegetables. Nobody even looks at the bread and salad. Be realistic about how much people are going to eat.”  

Besides saving money and cutting waste, serving a modest menu has other benefits. “You can really lower the stress level for yourself as host,” he says. “The meal won’t be so overwhelming to pull it together, and you’re not stuck in the kitchen.” 

Let’s talk turkey. Since you may only roast one turkey a year, Scherner recommends buying an organic or heirloom variety turkey from a local farm. Buying local cuts transportation impacts. 

“The birds are on the smaller side and more expensive per pound, but the flavor is second to none,” Scherner says. “The commercially raised birds do not come from a happy place. I don’t feel good about supporting that kind of industrial animal life.” 

You can also forget about the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving carving presentation. “I don’t roast an entire bird, because the breast meat will be overcooked and tough by the time the legs are done,” he says. “That’s why I break the bird down into pieces to roast and leave the legs in longer.”

Make turkey broth. “You have this beautiful bird, and you want to utilize it completely.” Scherner’s recommendation? “First take the white and dark meat off the bones and freeze it. Roast the bones and fat in a pan for thirty minutes or so at 350 degrees. They caramelize and give your turkey stock more flavor and a nice color.” 

To make turkey stock, submerge the roasted bones in water in a big pot with a few vegetables. Simmer it on low for at least three hours, strain it, skim the fat after it cools and freeze the stock in small containers or use an ice cube tray.  

Use the innards. Turkeys come with a paper-wrapped package that includes a turkey neck, heart and liver. The neck and heart can go in a pot with some celery and onions for turkey broth another way. Saute the livers in turkey or bacon fat to make a snack or puree it to make a little pate for crackers.   

Get on the gravy train. “You pull the bird out of the pan to carve, and what’s left are the crispy bits that would be criminal to waste in the bottom of the roasting pan,” he says.  

Scherner advises adding water, broth or white wine to the roasting pan and heating a little to loosen those flavor bits and pieces. Sprinkle in flour and stir. Season gravy to taste and thin with more stock, if needed. 

Leftovers reimagined. “The biggest source of waste at homes is not dealing with the leftovers in a timely fashion,” Scherner says. Before you get tired of them, freeze those tasty leftovers in meal-sized portions. You’ll appreciate them for dinner some frigid December night.   

Leftover gravy can become a sauce for pasta. Saute some onions, garlic and mushrooms with a little wine and gravy to make a sauce. Process it if you like a smooth sauce.  

Make turkey pot pie. Fill two buttery crusts with gravy, turkey and vegetables to make turkey pot pie, or bake a cottage pie using mashed yams or potatoes as a topping. 

Make croutons and crumbs. It’s silly to throw away buns, bread, croissants or any bread products. Cut it into cubes and toast as croutons or process into bread crumbs for everything from meatloaf to fried chicken.  

Save leftover wine and beer. Don’t empty pricey bottles of wine into the sink. “Don’t waste it,” Scherner says. “If you’re super ambitious, you could use wine to start making your own vinegar. You can also use it to deglaze the pan for gravy.” Save leftover beer to make bread, marinade beef, or to cook bratwurst.   

Cook from scratch. Using fresh vegetables like sweet potatoes (instead of pre-cooked, processed ingredients) improves the flavor and nutrition and cuts trash. “If you get fresh carrots with tops on, save the tops for making carrot top pesto. Beet tops can be chopped, tossed with oil, salt and pepper, and roasted in a low oven until they become a crispy snack,” he says.  

Make great compost. When you prepare the meal and when you clear the feast table, recycle and compost what you can’t reuse, including table scraps and vegetable peelings. “Coffee grounds are a wonderful soil addition for plants and gardens,” Scherner says. 

The Good Waste News: A 2022 Innova survey revealed that half of Americans surveyed said they were throwing away less food. The reasons consumers are choosing to reduce food waste, according to a recent national study by Kerry Corp., include wasting less money (70%), environmental concerns (59%), guilt over world hunger (52%), with 46% saying that cutting food waste reflects how they were raised.  

Local Food News: Bike-Thru Coffee Window 

  • Coffee Ride has opened a window to serve freshly made coffee drinks at 2516 49th St. The Boulder-based 10-year veteran of coffee roasting delivers roasted beans by bicycle to cafes, businesses and homes.
  • Boulder County Farmers Markets is offering weekly Winter Market Share boxes of local produce, meats, and food products for eight weeks, starting Nov. 27. (Order by Nov. 20) Details:
  • Alfred Eames Cellars Carmena 2019 was named the best wine produced in Colorado at the 2023 Governor’s Cup.  

Culinary Calendar: Gingerbread Competition 

  • The inaugural Gingerbread Contest is Nov. 19 on 4th Avenue in Longmont. Entrants — amateur kids to professionals — decorate gingerbread houses or people, vying to win $100. Attendees vote for the people’s choice. Details:
  • Boulder’s Community Fruit Rescue is requesting your favorite fruit recipes for its upcoming “Rescued Fruits Recipe Book.” Details: 

Words to Chew On: America’s Bird  

“I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country. … The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.” – Benjamin Franklin 

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:20 a.m. Thursday streaming at Comments: [email protected]  


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