Plan ahead to reduce holiday food waste | Skagit

Holiday gatherings may look different this year, but they don’t have to be without thoughtful preparation and planning.

Planning ahead is beneficial in many realms of life, but it is especially useful when used to target food waste. Embrace these three, simple mealtime routines to keep your belly full and your trash can empty.

Plan meals

One of the best things about holiday meals is that they serve as a main event, so it’s natural to plan meals that build on one another.

n Look through your pantry and take inventory of what you have. Maybe there is a big bag of quinoa, lentils or walnuts collecting dust. Pull those out and find delicious ways to build several side dishes.

n Build meals around foods you love to eat. Everyone has at least one holiday favorite. Don’t be afraid to go with tradition and cook it several times. By doing so, no ingredients will go to waste, and by the end of the day you won’t have anything left over but clean plates.

n Set up a menu. Begin with a main meal and two side dishes. What ingredients do you need? What ingredients do you already have? Build additional recipes off of these main entrees, using items their recipes already call for.

n Prep your ingredients. Chop, slice, roast and portion bulk ingredients to add to main recipes. When you are pressed for time later your meal will be halfway prepared, taking stress and food waste levels way down.

n Have a specific recipe in mind that you know you’ll need to shop for? Look for more than one recipe so you can use up the ingredients you buy or be sure to purchase only what is needed to cook.

The zero-waste lifestyle term for this is called “completing,” and the goal is to eat the whole ingredient or food. Often times, foods like fresh produce can only be bought as set amounts.

For example, after half a cabbage or squash is used, the other half is pushed to the back of the fridge. This year, if you know you’ll have extra, double the recipe to feed a friend, or find another delicious way to use the whole item.

Plan leftovers

Right as the cool weather sets in, and snow promises us good days in the mountains, come our first winter feasts. For some of us, the days following feel even more abundant than the day-of as we get to pack our lunch boxes, full of the best leftovers we’ve enjoyed all year.

n Leftovers are delicious in and of themselves, but on occasion it’s fun to take leftovers to the next level. Have a big pot of carrot soup in the fridge? Add leftover vegetables, or extras that didn’t get used. Cheese plate still full? Melt them in a sandwich or add them to morning breakfast over eggs.

n Freezing temperatures call for freezing, ready-made meals. Leftover turkey? Make a batch of turkey enchiladas, or turkey soup and freeze them. You can do the same with fruits and veggies you think you may not get around to eating before they go bad. Frozen foods hold the same amount of nutrients, with the benefit of an extended shelf life.

n Learn to store food efficiently. There are so many interesting tricks to storing food well in order to lengthen shelf life. Learn more at

n Box up leftovers, mark them with a date, and pack them into lunches. Leftovers can serve as a huge relief on those days when you don’t want to take the time to pack a lunch, worry about growing hungry in the middle of the day, or pulling out your wallet to fork over money for take-out.

Plan a place for compost

Inevitably, some food goes bad. Rather than throw it in the garbage can, take an extra step this holiday season and give your food waste a new life by returning it to the soil.

n Do you have a green-waste curbside cart at your house? Did you know that in Skagit County you can place all food waste into this container?

You can place everything from melty spinach to moldy yogurt to chicken bones in your cart. Food scraps, along with yard waste will be turned into compost through a hot compost process at our local industrial composting facility in Mount Vernon, Skagit Soils.

Be sure to remove produce from plastic bags and containers, and peel off produce stickers, rubber bands and wire wraps from food.

Interested in signing up for a green-waste cart? If you live in city limits, you can do so by calling your city’s Utility Billing Department. Live outside of town? Visit to sign up with Waste Management. All households west of Highway 9 can receive service.

n Composting food waste in an open pile can draw rodents if you live in a residential area. However, there are still great options to use your food waste for backyard composting.

One popular method is called a “food digester,” which mixes leaves and food scraps into a closed and aerated container to create nutrient rich soil. Maybe you have always wanted to try vermicomposting, a closed composting method that breaks down food scraps via the help of red worms.

Skagit County offers a variety of online classes and information about best practices for composting food waste in your backyard. For more information, visit

n Waiting to take the compost out and don’t want those stinky odors to start developing in your compost catchment container? Consider placing your compostable food scraps in the freezer until they can be placed on the curbside for pickup or put into your outside compost bin.

The last place for food waste is in the trash. It’s worth making every effort to reduce the amount that goes bad and funnel the scraps that do rot to a place where they can return their energy to the soil.

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