The holidays symbolize family, friends, food, festivities, and it is a season of caring and giving. This holiday season, you can give back to yourself, your community, and your environment with one small act – reducing the amount of food you waste.

Wasted food is the number one material that goes into municipal landfills and incinerators. All this wasted food generates methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 20 time more potent than carbon dioxide. Much of the “waste” is not waste at all, but is actually safe, wholesome food that could be donated and potentially feed millions of Americans.

And here’s the whipped cream on the pumpkin pie – by reducing the amount of food you waste, you’re ultimately giving a meaningful holiday gift to yourself, your family and your community. With this intangible gift of mindful action, you’ll do far more than simply reduce food waste; you’ll save money, protect the environment, and help neighbors in need. Now that’s a gift that packs a punch.

Take a stand and rethink your food. Take these 10 simple steps to make your holidays happier, your wallet fatter, and your environment cleaner.

  1. Shop your refrigerator first. Take a peek in your fridge and freezer before heading to the store, and plan a meal around what you already have before buying more. Presto- money saved without leaving the house!
  2. Take time to plan your menu before you go shopping. Once in the store, buy only items on your list. If it’s not on the menu, it either won’t get eaten or will replace something that’d been planned- either way will waste food and money. You’ll save money and waste less food by shopping smart.
  3. Buy only what you will realistically use. Buying in bulk only saves money if you can use the food before it spoils. Will you really use that industrial-sized cereal box or gallon jug of soy sauce? If not, return it to the shelf!
  4. Choose produce that may not be cosmetically perfect, but is perfectly edible. Seasoned cooks know that those slightly bruised apples taste just as yummy in that pie, and misshapen potatoes taste smashing when mashed. This sends signals to the grocer that cosmetic flaws are okay and means that blemished produce doesn’t need to get trashed before reaching store shelves.
  5. Know when food really goes bad- you may be surprised. Most food products indicate a “best by” date. This isn’t an expiration date, but a time in which the contents will be best to consume. Ask your grocer or contact the product manufacturer for more details before you toss out those canned goods, cake mixes or bottled condiments.
  6. Act like a top chef and use all the edible parts of the food. Stale bread can be used to make croutons, beet tops can be sautéed for an inventive side dish, and green onion tops make an even more flavorful broth.
  7. Freeze, can or preserve surplus fruits and vegetables. Don’t know what to do with all those apples? Homemade applesauce is a cinch to make. Plus, did you know the secret to freezing most vegetables is simply to blanch them in boiling water first?
  8. Eat or share all your leftovers. Put leftovers in reusable containers, and share with family, friends, neighbors. Everyone knows ham, turkey and cranberry sauce tastes even better the next day!
  9. Donate whole, untouched food from parties to your nearby food bank or homeless shelter. In fact, plan a get together with friends and neighbors for a food packing party the morning after that big event. Uneaten, nourishing food will go to a good cause, and it gives you yet another excuse to gather with friends and family in support of a meaningful cause.
  10. Compost food scraps rather than tossing them in the trash. Your garden will benefit from the added nutrients, and your kids will learn an invaluable lesson in environmental protection. Don’t know where to start? Check out EPA’s composting website for easy, quick tips.

This holiday season, and throughout the year, rethink your food and Feed Families, Not Landfills.