The holidays are here, and with that, a ton of food! With that come leftovers, but also a lot of waste.

Did you know that food waste is estimated at 30%-40% of the food supply, which equals about 133 billion pounds of food per year? Food waste comes from every stage of production, from farming, to processing, transportation, spoilage and disposal of prepared foods.

Why should we be concerned about food waste? There are a few reasons: food insecurity, resource conservation and methane gas emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in our atmosphere, which is a contributing factor to climate change. Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake; reports of reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food intake.

The USDA joined with the Environmental Protection Agency and set a goal to reduce food waste in the US by 50% by 2030. This may seem like a lot for one family to think about, but we can all do our part in several ways and by following a few simple guidelines, we can reach that goal.

Finding new recipes and fun ways to use leftovers will prevent throwing them out, which is one step towards reaching the goal. Only buying what we need and donating unused, unopened packaged goods to food banks is another great way to reduce food waste.

Some of the traditional holiday foods include turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, veggie trays and stuffing. Turkey sandwiches and reheating the sides are always easy, as are soups. While soups and sandwiches are favorites for a lot of us, being creative with leftovers and trying new recipes can brighten a meal for many families.

There are lots of great recipes at FoodHero.org to try out, including Sunshine Rollups, where turkey can be used in place of chicken. Superhero Shepherd’s Pie, using leftover veggies that you’ve diced, mashed potatoes on top and turkey in place of beef is a great way to use a large amount of leftovers for one delicious dish. Sweet Potato and Orange Muffins can use up some of those sweet potatoes for a healthy and quick breakfast, and Asian Turkey Lettuce Wraps will satisfy the pickiest of eaters with a delicious twist on turkey. Turkey Cranberry Quesadillas can be made with leftover spinach from a salad and some cranberries which give it a sweet and savory vibe, while the melty cheese will be hard for anyone to resist.

One thing to be aware of when storing leftovers is food safety and “the danger zone,” of temperatures at which food is stored. Food should be kept above 140 degrees or below 40 degrees. Anything in between is considered the “danger zone” and shouldn’t stay at those temperatures for more than two hours to avoid harmful bacteria from growing.

By following some of these Food Hero recipes and the food safety tips, you’ll be able to enjoy holiday foods for many meals, and contribute to a better environment for generations to come!

Erin Maidlow is a nutrition educator at Douglas County OSU Extension and encourages families to increase fruit and vegetable intake through the use of fun, and creative recipes that children and adults can prepare together.

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