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Dinner Waste?

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This morning and last night as I was cleaning dishes I noticed how muct food gets wasted after a big holiday feast. I don't know if this is just me but for big dinners like Christmas I always like to have an abundance of food - if anything runs out I feel bad- and the food is generally rich. But scraping the bits off the plates from 14 people, putting away left overs (some of which will just die in the frig then get tossed), I am struck by how wasteful it is. It is also expensive. I think that Christmas dinner cost me something like $500 ( including a $92 goose) to make and I really can't afford it. Plus all the work. I am not sure I actually sat down for than a few minutes the whole day Christmas Eve and Christmas.
Is it worth all of this to have a few days a year on which abundance and really good food are more important that budget, energy and good sense? Does anyone else feel like this? Is there a more sane way to have a feast?

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  1. I tried really hard to not make too much. I bought a small cabbage and we still only ate half of it, we had left over roast potatoes which is ok, the rib beef left overs I am going to cut up and make a stew with left over gravy and cabbage and extra veggies.
    However, I made way too many pince pies of which some went home with my daughter and we never even opened the Christmas pudding. My brie and cranberry puffs also went home with my daughter.
    the problem is you can't really count heads and make exactly the right number of items. I always make a bit extra for the people who might suddenly call and say their plans fell through and could they please come to eat.
    What to do?

    1. I can relate. The last couple of years I have pared it way down, which has helped a great deal, but it is still exhausting. I had family and friends in and out all day long for brunch and dinner. Last year and this year I did a very simple brunch menu that I can prepare ahead other than the actual cooking: sausage and egg casserole, brandied fruit, and home made cinnamon rolls. I cannot say enough good things about the cinnamon rolls. They are Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls at saveur.com. Much work, but totally worth it. If you make these, no one will care what else you serve. : )

      For dinner, we cooked a beef tenderloin with 2 sides, potato and vegetable, period, and rolls. No dessert, because there always seems to be a number of snacks and sweets that find there way into the house during the holidays. I love making a stunning dessert, but no one ever eats very much and it winds up in the trash. We could have seriously cut out more expense, by doing a less expensive meat. The leftovers are manageable and there was not a ton of waste like there usually is. But I really have to fight with myself not to go overboard.

      Part of the reason for simplifying things for me is that everyone is in my kitchen. It is a large kitchen, but when 15 people try to squeeze in, it is hard to think about what goes in the oven when, when it needs to come out, how you are going to get to the refrigerator, etc. It is just much easier and more fun for me if I only have to focus on 3 or 4 things.

      I have enjoyed it much more these last couple of years, although it is still crazy enough. Aside from the food, we have also pared the whole gift-giving insanity way down. We have 4 grown kids (18-23) and it was way out of control. Last year we sat down with them and said, 'we're done'. They want for nothing and I am tired of trying to run around spending tons of money and not really enjoying the holidays. We talked about what we really wanted to do as a family and have spent more time together decorating and even did a gingerbread house together this year, which was probably the highlight of the season. We buy each other small things, (books, kitchen gadgets, art supplies, etc) and for some reason it is a great deal more fun.

      You will enjoy it a great deal more if you can make it more reasonable for yourself. Good luck with finding your own personal ideal holiday!

      10 Replies
      1. re: agood

        Thanks for the advice and encouragement! I appreciate it.

        1. re: agood

          < I love making a stunning dessert, but no one ever eats very much and it winds up in the trash. >

          Throwing it out is a conscious decision to waste food, as is the OP's mention of putting leftovers in the refrigerator and later the garbage. You won't be arrested for serving the same food more than once. Tossing the uneaten food from people's plates is regrettable but mostly unavoidable (unless you have pets). There are exceptions, like using uneaten turkey and bones from a family dinner for the soup that only the family will eat. To some people that is fine, to others revolting - in fact since the leftovers are re-cooked the only reason not to include non-family's plates is psychological. Restaurants aren't supposed to do it, but I've heard that some do.

          If you are having guests for meals over several days, you can plan on menu items for the earlier meals which can be re-purposed in subsequent meals if left over. For example, the cinnamon rolls not eaten during the brunch could become bread pudding for dinner dessert the next day. Leftover vegetables can be mixed, a sauce added, or in some other way made over and served the next day. You just need to get out of the mindset of starting each meal from scratch with brand new ingredients. Recycling isn't just for empty cans and bottles!

          1. re: greygarious

            I'm with you on that; my kids used to tease me all the time saying that they never knew what was going to be for dinner because I'm the recycle Queen.

            After a meal with meat leftover, while cooking the next meal, one of them would ask.."wait a minute, what happened to the roast we had last night?' On the stove was a simmering pot of stew (lol).... What I couldn't use immediately (within 2-3 days) went into the freezer...years later, I still do it. They still talk about it....

            No way would I chuck out my food just because it wasn't all eaten in a couple of days and no way would I spend $500 for one dinner...maybe for a month of groceries in a holiday month...I'd re-think the menu for the next time and make it easier and less expensive for myself...maybe have a pot luck and being the host, provide the entree and ask everyone to bring something so you won't have a fridge full of leftovers...

            1. re: greygarious

              well put greygarious. and it doesn't even have to be that complicated. One of the best things about the days after christmas is just pulling the leftovers out of the fridge any time you feel like it and making a sandwich, or snack plate.

              My sis-in-law drives many of us crazy. She does not believe in leftovers. At the end of the meal everything used to go in the trash. She now allows it to remain in the fridge for a day, maybe too. It about kills her, and she thinks we are nuts for eating "old food." But she has discovered that none of us have dropped dead yet, and she puts up with this insanity for as long as she can.

              1. re: KaimukiMan

                This is completely incomprehensible to me. How anyone could throw out perfectly good food (sometimes better the next day!) just because it's "old" leaves me speechless. Seriously, what world did they grow up in? I grew up in the world where every penny mattered, and sometimes if there weren't leftovers it was crackers and peanut butter for dinner.

                And who doesn't love turkey sandwiches? Do they buy a whole new turkey when they want sandwiches? Cold dressing and cranberry sauce? The best!

                1. re: Parrotgal

                  she grew up in a world without reliable refrigeration. she only ate freshly prepared food. no matter what we say, leftovers do taste different.... for better or worse.

              2. re: greygarious

                We are big lovers of leftovers around here, so other than dessert, what is left gets eaten unless I cook way too much. Everyone wanted to take cinnamon rolls home, so I was lucky to have any left for us. It also helps that my daughter and her always-hungry roommates live close by. I'll call them in a bit to come and get what I know we won't be able to eat.

                1. re: greygarious

                  "Restaurants aren't supposed to do it, but I've heard that some do."

                  Wendy's is famous for recycling the last day's burgers into the next day's chili.

                  1. re: FrankD

                    Wendy's uses fresh ground meat , not frozen....if it wasn't cooked or served ....where's the problem?

                    1. re: FrankD

                      Even the ones that hit the floor. And break the Five Second Rule. My first job was at a Wendy's. It's been twenty-five years and I still won't eat at one because of what I saw.

                2. I've lived in developing countries over the past 35 years. My colleagues and I work on agricultural and environmental issues. Food waste in the US and northern/western Europe is part of a serious global problem. For holiday feasts (andyours sounds great!), we do as usual - eat what we take, and share and carefully manage and consume all leftovers.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    I've been sending leftovers out with my kids to their friends for the past week. Everything is getting eaten, and young ones struggling in these hideous economic times are getting fed. Makes me happy, Sam. Be well, and eat well!

                  2. "Is it worth all of this to have a few days a year on which abundance and really good food are more important that budget, energy and good sense? "

                    For us, I say quite strongly NO. I think if I step outside of who I really am, then I'm going to have regret and I try not to regret the things I do. I can't imagine our spending $500 on a meal - even in a restaurant much less at home. I'm speaking only for myself and not judging you or anyone. But here you are at the end of something that cost you money you couldn't afford and you're exhausted and feeling wasteful. There are a gazillion meals and a triple gazillion (!!!) ways to host that won't make you feel that way. Now you have 364 days to figure it out :) Go for it!!!

                    1. No disrespect from Jfood so please take this as input.

                      Jfood would never pay $500 for a dinner at his house and a $92 goose would cause jfood to cook his own goose. When people start spending this amount of money on one meal, they need to take a little walk aroundthe block, ask themselves what is important and the reconfigurethe menu. Yo can make a tremendous meal for family and friends for less than half of that and still havethe pleasure of their company.

                      As you now sit and reflect on these events, try to place in the long term versus the short term memory of the brain. Put a tickler on the calendar for next T'giving and Christmas so you remember.

                      It is what we learn from the mistakes that make us better.

                      Don;t beat yourself up too much but try to remember for the future.