The holidays are here! Perhaps that fills your head with visions of sugar plums or maybe you can’t stop thinking about grandma’s cinnamon rolls.

Regardless of what delicious treats are dancing in your daydreams, the onset of the holidays always mean one thing: Food.

And lots of it.

While sharing tasty treats with those you love is always a recipe for happiness, more food often means more food waste. And that can make this festive time of year less merry and bright.

Walking in a winter wasteland

Food waste occurs when edible products are lost, damaged, or expire before being consumed, and in the United States food waste is particularly rampant.

Studies show that 30-40% of food is wasted in the U.S. In total, this represents 1.3 billion tons (2,600,000,000 pounds!) of food per year. Imagine eighteen million forty-foot semi trucks – that’s how many you would need to move that much food.

Or think of it this way: America’s yearly food waste equates to about one-and-a-half times the weight of The Golden Gate Bridge. Yikes!

If we reduce food waste by only 15%, we could feed 97,000 people for an entire year. That reduction would also lower detrimental byproducts of food waste, like greenhouse gas emissions.

With our global population growing and many of our resources becoming more scarce, it’s vital we uncover solutions to this prolific problem. The easiest place to start? In our homes.

By instituting better personal food processes and sharing actionable ideas, the greater the likelihood of decreasing overall food waste.

Here are some practical ways to reduce food waste during the holidays and beyond.

1. Savor your scraps

Scraps are one of the most unassuming treasures in our kitchens. Instead of placing the odds and ends from your cutting board directly into the trash, set your scraps aside and use them to fuel another delicious meal.

Roasting a turkey, chicken, or ham? Don’t toss the bones! Boil them with leftover carrot tops, onion skins, kale stalks, and celery greens to create a savory stock. Stick the stock in the fridge until you’re ready to add some veggies, noodles, or potatoes to make a delicious soup.

Excess citrus rinds can be transformed into mouthwatering syrups by boiling and straining the rinds, then reducing and adding sugar to taste. Store sealed in the fridge until you’re ready to jazz up holiday libations or ice cream.

Have leftover herb stems like rosemary or thyme? Make sure they’re dry and clean, then cut and toss them into salt at a ratio of about a teaspoon of herbs to a quarter cup of salt. Store your infused salt in an airtight container and add a pinch to your next sauce for next level yum.

Dry your stale bread overnight or in a warm oven, then cut it into bite-sized squares. Toss with olive oil and dried herbs of your choice, then bake it in a warm oven to create delicious homemade croutons a.k.a. the perfect salad topping.

2. Covertly encourage portion control

Prepare your guests to leave less on their plates by using smaller dishes and serving spoons. Empty space on large dinner plates begs to be filled, but often the meal ends with piles of uneaten servings. Use smaller plates to create more appropriate portion sizes. People can always go back for seconds if they don’t get enough the first time around.

Better yet, find creative ways to pre-portion your dishes like serving mashed potatoes in potato skins or salads in individual salad bowls.

3. Plan smart

During the holidays when dishes are made larger to accommodate for more guests, “winging it” during planning can result in much more waste than usual. Whether you’re serving your world famous mashed potatoes or looking to dazzle your guests with a medley of winter vegetables, divide your recipe servings by the number of expected guests and check your cupboards for duplicate ingredients before you shop.

4. Learn your labels

Buying food can feel like a gamble when you’re not sure what you’ll get when you open the package or crack the peel. Learning to navigate common labels ensures you’re not buying food that’s about to be past its prime.

The labels Use By and Best By suggest the end of the products quality lifetime. After the “use by” date, products might start to go bad, though there’s no guarantee.

The Sell By date is for retailers and does not mark the end of a product’s life. It is selected specifically to ensure consumers have time to enjoy their purchases.

Curious how long your produce will last? Check out this chart for helpful shelf life time frames as well as storage tips to maximize freshness.

5. Cut out food chain waste by buying local

A large portion of food waste occurs between the time produce is harvested and when it goes in your shopping cart. You can significantly reduce this by buying local. When you buy locally grown produce, you cut out an average of 1,300 miles in the back of a truck. That means less food waste and fresher, more delicious produce on your holiday table,

Want to buy local? Use a Google search or a map like this one to find farms and growers near you.

6. Donate what you don’t eat

Sam’s Club and Costco are great for buying bulk ingredients needed in holiday cooking, but often you’re left with an extra bag of this or clamshell of that. Instead of letting excess produce wilt or rot, put it to good use! Make friends with a local soup kitchen and drop off your excess food. Not only are you reducing food waste, you’re contributing to a hot meal for a the community.

You can easily find your local food bank using this handy site. Just be sure to understand drop off hours and any donation parameters before heading out.

7. Waste composting

One person’s trash is a plant’s treasure. All those veggie scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds that you’re sending to a landfill represent a wealth of nitrogen and other nutrients that your plants crave. Allowing the waste to breakdown in a compost pile provides a great cheap way to fertilize your garden.

Learn more about composting here.