Dec. 22. 2017
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

File this under our 2018 goals.

A staggering statistic from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about the amount of waste produced during the holiday is often shared this time of year. The original 2006 report, though outdated now, warns us that the US usually increases 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day to 1 million tons. (1) It’s great to see an increase in awareness over the past decade since the holidays can easily be a time of excess of food preparation, paper, and packaging materials for all of us! Discover these 9 simple steps to begin to reduce holiday waste today.

Since NS is a resource that speaks about how food amounts to living well, we should uphold our environmental duties and give you more resources on how to utilize food beyond food storage and weekly batch cooking.

Consider A Plant-Based Menu

Plant-based meals promote fewer waste by-products than animal-based meals. (2) When you make a plant-based dish, you’re most likely using the entirety of its ingredients, instead of tossing half of it in the trash. Plant-based diets demand less land and energy resources than meat-based diets (3). Choosing a plant-based lifestyle can also be more cost-effective (4). Click here to discover the top 10 plant-based proteins.
Choose organic when you’re stocking up on vegetables and fruits as much as possible, but ideally, consider ways you can support locally grown produce through a membership to your local community supported agriculture program (CSA). If you opt to consume animal proteins or seafood this holiday season, educate yourself whether it was sustainably sourced — see if you can get animal proteins locally raised (humanely) and if it’s the highest quality that your body deserves and better practices for the animal.

Use Reusable, Dinnerware, Flatware, and Utensils 

Using disposable tableware is easy this time of year when you’re entertaining a big group may be tempting because you don’t have to do dishes, but what’s the true cost? On the other hand, holiday dishes like these ones, flatware like this gold set, and linens like these napkins are reusable, and they’re a festive, intentional addition to your spread that makes the experience more special. My tip for keeping the clean-up duty manageable: encourage loved ones to join in on the cleanup and crank the holiday tunes!

Serve Smaller Portions When Entertaining 

Our eyes are sometimes bigger than our stomachs; that’s something we’ve all learned from experience. Serving a buffet-style holiday spread means you’re running a higher risk of having food that’ll be left half-eaten by the end of the meal. Smaller portions, on the other hand, encourage more mindful eating habits. Smaller portions also mean your food budget can extend a bit further since holiday dishes typically make great leftovers. A few tips to encourage smaller portions include using smaller plates, plating meals before sitting down at the table, and immediately boxing up leftovers for additional meals for yourself and/or guests to enjoy later.

Send Leftover Food Home with Guests

I’m a big fan of this simple tip to lower holiday waste — and it’s a fun way to share the abundance of the holidays with loved ones. After entertaining, send guests home with leftovers from the meal, whether that’s the Vegetarian Nut LoafWild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash Bowls, or Black Sesame Cheesecake! Not entertaining at home? You can still share the goodness of home-cooked food by bringing leftovers in for coworkers, colleagues, classmates, etc.

Drop Off Food at a Local Food Bank

The holidays are an amazing time in that they remind us to give back others in the community. Giving back can be a great way to show up for yourself, and a way to connect with others. Food donations can be anything from leftovers to excess pantry items. Programs like Meal Connect through Feeding America can provide a list of nonprofits in your area that could benefit from your donations.


Meal Prep with Glass Containers

Batch cooking in order to meal prep is a helpful way to stay healthy during the holidays and well into the new year. When things are made ahead of time, it takes the guesswork out of what to eat and gives you more time to get other things done throughout the week. I always encourage using glass containers for batch cooked ingredients and meals, rather than plastic containers, disposable bags, and utensils that you’ll throw away after using. 

Use Your Own Travel Mug When Ordering at Your Favorite Coffee Shop or Brew Homemade

Last year, Huffington Post reported that 58 billion paper cups were thrown away in the US alone. (5) Combat this staggering statistic by brewing your favorite Matcha Tea LatteMint Mocha Steamer or Coffee, Elevated at home and using a travel mug—this one is a great option for brewing tea on the go, and this one is incredibly insulated to keep coffee hot and steamy.
If you’re visiting your favorite coffee shop, you can usually request to use your own travel mug instead of their paper cups. Not to mention, if you’re on-the-go, bringing your own mug to Starbucks will save you $0.10 on your order.

Reuse Gift Wrap when Possible and Save Ribbons, Paper, Bags for Next Year

Challenge yourself to rethink your waste potential when wrapping gifts this year. Can you use anything from last year to wrap your gifts, and can you save materials from the gifts you receive? I especially love to reuse holiday cloth ribbons when the holidays come around for another year; there’s no reason to not gift them again, and no one will be the wiser.

When you do need to purchase gift wrap and packaging materials, opt for a recycled paper when possible, and even consider reusable cloth tote bags and old materials like maps, posters, etc. when you can. Get creative!

Give loved ones the gift of experience instead of material items

Research shows that sharing experiences can foster deeper connection and stronger relationships than material gifts (6). In fact, spending money on experiences instead of material items can make us happier, not to mention produce less waste.

What do you think? Are these tips to reduce holiday waste doable? How will you help play your part in cutting back on the excess this holiday season? Connect with us on Instagram @NutritionStripped and #NutritionStripped. You can now “follow” hashtags on Instagram, making it a fun way to keep up with others in the NS community!


(1) Environmental Protection Agency (2016). Creative Ways to Cut Your Holiday Waste
(2) Jalava M, Kummu M, Porkka M, Siebert S, and Varis O (2014).  Diet Change–a solution to reduce water use? Environ. Res. lett. 9(7):1-14.(3)
And, D. P. (2003, September 01). David Pimentel.
(4) Tuso, P. J., Ismail, M. H., Ha, B. P., & Bartolotto, C. (2013). Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets.
(5) Thomson, J. R. (2016, July 22). Your To-Go Cups Are Killing The Planet. Use These Instead.
(6) University of Toronto. There’s A Science to Gift Giving: Experiences Are Better Than Material Items (2016).