Food waste is a problem year-round, but Americans are especially wasteful around one particular holiday: Thanksgiving.

In 2021, about 305 million pounds of food valued at $400 million, went to waste on Thanksgiving alone, according to ReFED, a non-profit working to end food loss.

It seems that no matter how much you eat on Turkey Day or save for leftovers, a lot of that Thanksgiving meal inevitably ends up in the trash or garbage disposal.

“We may not need the turkey that serves 12 people when we have only six at the table, the USDA suggests. “While many of us like turkey sandwiches the next day with a slice of pumpkin pie, we may waste a lot of perfectly good food if we overprepare and don’t take steps to freeze or store leftovers properly until they can be eaten.”

As you prepare your Thanksgiving dinner, experts from the USDA recommend these tips to help you save money and food this holiday season.

Plan your Thanksgiving meal wisely

Make a list of the ingredients you will need to cook Thanksgiving dishes. Research shows that creating a list can help shoppers resist impulse buys. For turkey, one rule of thumb is to plan for one pound per person, or a pound and a half if you want leftovers, the USDA says.

Save food for future dishes

Californians can use food scraps like vegetable peelings, chopped onions, or meat trimmings for future meals like soups or broths.

Donate food

If you have extra cans of vegetables, pie filling, or cranberry sauce, that food can be donated to a local food bank.

Here is a list of food banks across California.

Turn leftovers into creative dishes

Turning your Thanksgiving leftovers into new dishes can give the illusion that you are eating a fresh meal.

That day-old turkey can be turned into a turkey sandwich, extra bread and rolls can be transformed into bread pudding, and leftover stuffing can be molded into bite-size portions and deep-fried.


If you grow tired of Thanksgiving leftovers quickly, the extra food can be donated to your local composting bin. Places like Farmer’s Markets and community gardens will take compose donations.