Roughly 200 million pounds of turkey in the U.S. gets tossed out annually after Thanksgiving. And though dinners might be smaller this year, since massive family gatherings are a no-no, it’s inevitable that a lot of food is going to get wasted. That’s a tough fact to digest, given the long lines at food banks this year because of the economic consequences of the pandemic, to say nothing of food waste’s impact on the environment.
Much of food waste happens because it’s built into our food system, and fighting the problem at scale will require a massive effort from governments, businesses, and consumers alike. But you can still play your part during the 2020 holidays by taking steps to address your food waste or, better yet, prevent it from happening in the first place. Here are some useful tech tools that may come in handy.
Thorough meal planning that actually reduces food waste goes beyond deciding which side dishes to serve with the bird. The first step is to “think beyond the recipe,” as NRDC puts it. If you’re buying onions to add to a stuffing dish, research recipes that also call for onions you could make in the days following the holiday. Ditto for something like parsley, which few folks tend to eat in bulk. Also scan the pantry before you ever set foot in a grocery store (or open a grocery app) to see what you already have, so you don’t buy repeats of, say, baking soda.
Fortunately, there are a lot of apps and online tools out there nowadays that can help consumers with this planning. While we at The Spoon have mixed feelings about these apps (most still require quite a bit of manual inventory entry), they can at the very least make the food planning and buying process more organized.
For example, Meal Prep Mate, made by the Save the Food Campaign, has a bunch of planning features, including a calculator that estimates how much food you need based on your guest list, a tool to help you create your shopping list, and a recipe guide. Similarly, the Meal Hero app, from the Kraft-Heinz Evolv group, includes an interactive shopping list feature the app generates based on the recipes you give it and can even arrange to get your groceries delivered via AmazonFresh and Instacart. No Waste’s app, which also helps users create meal plans and shopping lists comes with a built-in food waste tracker and can be shared across multiple users — a bonus if there are multiple cooks in the kitchen.
As mentioned above, the big downside to most meal planning apps right now is that they can’t automatically scan your fridge or pantry to tell you what you already have; the user has to manually input that information. No, that’s not a real problem to have compared to everything else going on this year, but it is something to think about as you choose your food waste tools for the holidays.
My crystal ball tells me that despite planning, a lot of us will still wind up with leftover food come Thursday night. If you plan to store it, place the food in clear containers marked with the contents inside and the date you first stored them. The USDA notes that doing this “can increase the chances that the leftovers in the fridge will be remembered and actually eaten.”
There are some options for smart food storage systems available that can simplify the process of keeping leftovers and remind you when food is about to go bad. A company called Lasting Freshness uses a vacuum-seal container system and is available in the lower 48. At the moment, though, systems from the likes of Ovie and Silo are still only available for pre-order.
For tips on how to best store certain types of food, check Save The Food’s comprehensive guide on the topic.
You could also donate leftover ingredients to those in need. A food-sharing app such as OLIO lets neighbors and communities share excess food. Users can list pretty much anything that is edible, such as a leftover carton of eggs or an extra loaf of bread. For restaurants and grocery stores, apps like Too Good To Go and Imperfect Foods offer a way to donate excess ingredients that are then sold to customers at a discount price.
At the moment, those apps have no options for the average U.S. household to donate excess food. They do, however, let you order a box of “imperfect” groceries, which means you could craft a Thanksgiving meal out of rescued food items and contribute to the food redistribution concept in that way. Imperfect Foods, for example, lets you pick groceries online and get them delivered to your doorstep.