Food Waste and the Holiday Season: Potato Edition

As we enter the holiday season, I am reminded that this year might be different than years past. It’s not likely that family gatherings will be as grand as they were, with extended family and friends all coming together to celebrate. It got me thinking about how to adapt one of my favorite holiday traditions: cooking – and the grocery shopping that precludes it.


The tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) version:

  • Make a shopping list and stick to it
  • Don’t buy more than you will need
  • Properly store fruits and veggies to prevent spoilage/prolong freshness
  • There is no waste with potatoes
  • Potatoes are a perfect food
  • I love potatoes
  • Potatoes


I used to do a “big shop” once every six weeks or so, and the resulting amount of fresh foods I was ultimately discarding was shocking. I now try to look at my week ahead and shop accordingly, and I have found this really helped me reduce food waste – especially when I make a list and stick to it strictly. However, like many of you, I’ve had to adjust my life to accommodate the special circumstances we are under this year, so I am not going out as often, relying more on frozen or canned foods. I’ve also learned how to better store fresh foods – like onions shouldn’t be kept in the fridge, and bananas should be kept away from apples, berries, and leafy greens because they are sensitive to ethylene, which is produced by aging bananas and will cause them to ripen/spoil faster.


But, getting back to the holiday cooking…

Few things in this crazy world make me happier than a huge bowl of steaming hot, homemade, fluffy, creamy, mashed potatoes adorning the dinner table. They make me melt like that little pat of butter slowly trailing across the top of them (I mean, LOOK at that!) If I could wish for one food item to be nutritionally complete, it would be a potato. I love them prepared in every way, from diced and fried to sliced and casseroled, and everything in between, but I digress...


I typically use an entire ten-pound bag of potatoes to contribute to the holiday feast and the resulting mound of mouth-watering tater-y goodness is always the perfect side dish.  


But, peeling ten pounds of potatoes 1. Is a lot of work 2. Creates a LOT of waste.                           Image source: Spend with Pennies


So what to do with all those peels? Composting is an option you can do on your own, or through a local program. I don’t “formally” compost, as I’m more of a lazy gardener person (I admit it), so I take my fruit/veggie scraps outside and broadcast them throughout my pollinator garden. But in most of my previous homes, composting was not an option. Food scraps ended up in the garbage where they were taken to a landfill and dumped to decompose in a very unnatural setting, releasing methane and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Ick. No thank you.


Option two: Leave the peels on and just mash them into the rest of the bowl. That one got a LOT of pushback from family, despite my pleading that they are helping to reduce waste and doing good for the planet. The scornful remarks and glaring side eye and from my beloved family was enough to only do that once. Change is hard. Don’t mess with the perfection that is mashed potatoes. Got it. Message received, loud and clear. (Maybe it will work for your family? Don’t try it during a big holiday meal, though. Trust me on that one.)


Ok, I can’t throw them out, mash them, or throw them outside this time of year because they won’t break down as quickly (and could attract unwanted visits from neighborhood wildlife). Now what? I have found a great solution – roast the peels! Heat your oven to 400 degrees, peel your potatoes, spread the peels on a baking sheet after tossing with a little oil and whatever seasonings you like. Bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring halfway through, and the result is a wonderfully delicious snack to fend off hungry family members while the rest of the meal is getting prepared. You get the healthy benefits of the peels (vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, among others) and are helping to reduce food waste.


                                                     Before and After


The Kitchn                   

                                          Image source: The Kitchn


With anywhere from 34 to 142 pounds of potatoes consumed per person per year (depends on the source), the amount of organic waste we can divert away from our landfills can really add up. Change is most effective when taken in smaller, manageable steps. What steps can you take to reduce your food waste this holiday season?


Though my family gathering this year will be reduced to just three of us, I’m still making the entire ten pound bag. And while my regrets for eating that much will be many, my potato waste will still be zero.


Showing 2 reactions

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  • Kristin Hall
    Great idea for potato skin reuse! Can’t wait to try it this Thanksgiving!
  • Patti Donnellan