5@5 - Get the most out of your Thanksgiving meal
November 19th, 2012
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Editor's Note: Dana Gunders is a food and agriculture-focused project scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. She recently authored "Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill" and blogs regularly about food waste here.

Once a year, we feast to celebrate that our ancestors had enough food to survive their first winter, acknowledging that once upon a time food was something to be grateful for. Then the next day, we throw half of it away.

This Thanksgiving, Americans will trash a whopping $282 million of uneaten turkey, contributing to the 40 percent of food that goes uneaten every year. That’s enough turkey to provide each American household that is food insecure (17.9 million American households suffer from food insecurity) with more than 11 additional servings.

Along with throwing away the turkey itself, all the resources it took to get that bird to the table will have gone for naught. For instance, it takes 105 billion gallons of water to produce that much turkey - enough to supply New York City for more than 100 days.

This year, give gratitude for food and waste less of it by following these five tips to make the best use of your feast.

Five Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Thanksgiving Feast: Dana Gunders

dana gunders

1. Tone down the tryptophan
That is, buy smaller turkeys. Seriously, when’s the last time you ran out of turkey at your Thanksgiving feast? Knocking a pound or two off the turkey will likely go unnoticed amidst the heaps of sweet potatoes, green beans and stuffing. And don’t worry, there will still be plenty for sandwiches the next day.

2. Send guests home with leftovers
It’s a sad moment when you’re trying to send your college-student nephew home with a mini-feast and can’t find enough containers to do so. This year, make sure you have enough containers around so that all of your guests can relive Thanksgiving over the weekend. Or better yet, ask them to bring some tubs themselves.

3. Cook à la king
When you can’t imagine eating another turkey-cranberry sandwich, fear not! Just about every cooking site out there has creative recipes for bringing new life to our Thanksgiving leftovers. Recipes are getting a little more global and a little more edgy every year. Turkey Banh-Mi anyone? Or do you prefer Turkey Chilaquiles?

4. Freeze up
If even with all those creative recipes you’ve reached your limit on eating leftovers, why not just pop them in the freezer?  This magic trick isn’t limited to just turkey. We often forget that just about any food can be frozen and remain good to eat almost indefinitely. A week or two later, you’ll have your own frozen feast awaiting you.

5. Give thanks
You can be sure that those pilgrims were truly grateful for the food before them. This Thanksgiving, I invite you to do the same. Stop for a moment and imagine everything it takes to bring that brilliant feast to your table - the grains that were grown to feed your turkey, the bog that nurtured your cranberries, the land that allowed your pumpkin to spread its big leaves all over and the hands that worked tirelessly to grow our food. Then, go ahead and dig in!

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

Got a Thanksgiving question? We've probably got an answer right here.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Holidays • Thanksgiving • Think

soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Sandy

    Laziness is more to blame than poor planning, unless you just lack freezer space. One idea that has helped me is to immediately put the turkey carcass and any parts that you don't want into a large slow cooker with the usual suspects (water, carrots, celery, onion, pepper corns, and salt) immediately after storing leftovers. Cook it on low for at least 10 hours or overnight. You end up with great stock that can be frozen or used to make pot pies, soups, casseroles, etc.,, and turkey disposal is a compact bag of bones.

    November 18, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  2. camd

    The turkey in the photo is overdone. The wrinkles in the skin from the breast down to the thigh are caused by shrinkage of the white meat as it dried out.

    November 21, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      That's what she said.

      November 21, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  3. whitepine

    In America ...Thanksgiving has become a time to eat in excess and shop in excess. And, we complain about our nation debt when all we think about is spending money!!

    November 21, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      You're free to donate to the Debt Relief Fund

      November 21, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫


        November 21, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  4. wendles

    And exactly how many turkeys were raised in abusive "factory farming" sites; and then killed ....and then thrown out in the garbage because they could not all be consumed by humans????????????

    November 20, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • ™©JbJiNg!eŚ®™

      OK, I'll bite...how many??

      November 20, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
      • Orfelinda

        I make mine easy like this too and everyone loves it. some times I put biustics on top. that's good also!!Hope you are having a great weekend Tammy!Jackie:-)

        December 25, 2012 at 6:40 am |
    • Shawn


      November 20, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      3? OK, I give up. How many?

      November 21, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  5. GiGi Eats Celebrities

    NO WAY! I will continue to buy a 20 pound turkey and eat the entire thing! I love turkey so much! :) Paired with butternut squash, brussels sprouts and chestnuts = dream come true! Actually celebrating Thanksgiving TODAY :)

    November 20, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Andrew

      You're fat, fatty.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  6. t3chsupport

    Pot pies! Perfect use for leftover turkey, and you can make a bunch and freeze them, they freeze and cook from frozen just fine.

    Just cook your turkey down, get the stock, get the meat off the bones. Use the stock to make a bunch of gravy. Simmer that meat with some veggies, carrots, celery, onion, potatoes, until all fairly soft. Drain it, and then dump it in the gravy. You get those little tiny desert tins with the clear plastic lids in the baking isle, they come 3 or 5 in a pack, they work perfectly. Get some pre-made pie crusts, and use those. Works best if you pre-bake the bottom crust for a few minutes before you add the filling, otherwise it can get soggy. Then I usually double the top crust, because I love a nice crispy flaky crust in my pot pie. Once they're filled, just stick them in the freezer uncooked until you're ready for them, and then stick them in the oven. I think I usually do 375 for about 30 or 40 minutes, or until they look done. The insides are already cooked, so you just have to worry about the crust. Then you have several delicious emergency dinners in the freezer.

    November 20, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • ™©JbJiNg!eŚ®™

      That's my go to leftover dish, pot pies! Kids also like turkey taquitos, but the pot pies are way easier.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • luckyponytoo

      Pot pies are my favorite as well. When I was a kid, I thought it was gross that my mom cooked down the turkey carcass. She just did it to get the meat off, but I season it and make stock. The bits of meat that come off are sooo tender and delicious for the pies, and I get great stock to boot.

      Also, if you've never used parsnips in a pot pie...definitely try it. Make parsnips and carrots for thanksgiving and either save a few for the pies, or just throw the leftovers in. You don't need much (I usually do 1 parsnip to 2 carrots), but it adds a great old-fashioned flavor that is sadly missing from modern cooking. It especially tastes great if you use sage to season your turkey. Yum.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
      • ™©JbJiNg!eŚ®™

        Now I have to try that! I've only tried parnips once and they were OK roasted, but I still prefer carrots. Now I have another reason to try them!

        November 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  7. Truth™


    November 20, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      Wondered where that was yesterday. I figured you left work early to go watch the Bears get molly-whopped

      November 20, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  8. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    I could live off Turkey. Turkey gizzards are so much tastier than chicken ones.

    November 20, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  9. Pete

    GMO Turkeys...Just yummy,most people in America that the turkeys they eat are the wild Toms seen as cardboard characters,when in fact their buying GMOs grown with hormones and their the sh i t t i n i s e birds you ever saw,thats all they do is eat and s h e e t and walk around in it.

    November 19, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • VladT

      (Realistic probable depiction of Thanksgiving with Pete)

      Mom: "Turkey's done"
      Family: "Oooooo! Aaaaaaa!"
      Pete: "That better not be GMO. GMO Turkeys are blah blah blah"
      Family: (Eyes rolling, ingoring Pete, enjoying dinner)

      November 20, 2012 at 7:41 am |
      • SteveDave

        Pete does sound like an incessant bore. His family probably dreads the idea of him coming for Thanksgiving.

        November 20, 2012 at 10:53 am |
        • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

          Dave's not here.

          November 20, 2012 at 11:13 am |
      • Sir Biddle

        Wait until some random date in January to come out of the closet Pete, that way you won't ruin Thanksgiving for the rest of your family.

        November 20, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  10. ManTex

    Joanmarie ... go girl. Whoever wrote this story has never been around a household full of turkey junkies. Reach for a leg ... draw back a nub .... lol

    Same goes for pumpkin and pecan pie and candied sweet potatos.

    November 19, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  11. Joanmarie

    This is cost-wise the BEST week to buy turkey all year. I purchase five or six turkeys on sale, then roast them one each day this week. After cooling off, I strip all the meat and put it in freezer bags for use in family meals throughout the next year. I put the pan drippings in the fridge, skim off the fat the next morning and also freeze the rest of the broth for soups, cassaroles, etc. Turkey is lean meat, it freezes beautifully, and I always have a quick meal starter when I need one!

    November 19, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • you

      Know you eat all that turkey in one sitting fatty.

      November 20, 2012 at 6:10 am |
    • Jerv@Joanmarie

      Thanks for the idea. I'm gonna try that this year. Oh, and ignore the stupid, lame troll.

      November 20, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • me


      November 20, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      Good plan, although I usually just buy a couple of already frozen birds and chuck 'em straight in the freezer.

      Just another note: once you've stripped the meat, chop up the bones and make stock, which also freezes extremely well.

      November 21, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
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