I talk a lot on here about how reducing single-use items at your party will have a huge impact on the amount of waste produced. But what about food waste!?! Did you know that if food waste were its own country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases??? Gross. One of the main reasons that there ends up being so much food waste after a party comes down to hosts not wanting to run out of food so end up supplying WAY too much. So I’m going to give you some tips to reduce food waste at your next party while still having plenty of food for your guests.
1 – Get the right amount of food for the TIME of your party. Is your party taking place between 5-8pm or is it taking place from 1-4pm? Those are both 3 hour windows but the amount of food required is drastically different. Between 5-8pm, guests will start getting hungry for dinner and will expect some kind of meal to be served. Between 1-4pm is between lunch and dinner time so a full meal is not required, and you can get away with snack platters or appetizers. If serving appetizers and the party is taking place at a venue, ask for items to be passed. This way food isn’t sitting out for as long and it is only replenished as guests finish each platter.
2 – Get the right amount of food for the NUMBER of guests. This one is tricky because you don’t know what food your guests LOVE or what they hate. On average each adult will consume 1 pound of food total when a meal is being served. (½ pound for children). You should have 5-6 appetizers per person if there is dinner afterwards or 5-6 appetizers per hour if it is strictly a cocktail party. These are great rules but how much of each food will they eat? This calculator is amazing! Input the number of guests and what type of meal you are serving and it will spit out how much you need.
The cheese display below looks like WAY too much food but pretty much every bit was gone because there were enough guests to finish what was here. So keep in mind how many people you are having and how many different types of food you have.
3 – Ensure your food isn’t sitting out too long. This is where we run into problems. Let’s say you are having a buffet outdoors and you set all your delicious foods out for your guests. Everyone eats and maybe comes back from seconds but by the time you get around to putting all the extra food away, it’s been sitting out in the sun for 4 hours. It now all needs to be thrown out because the food may not be safe to eat anymore. So what I recommend is to put out less food than you need and replenish as items become empty. This way items stay fresh and you never put out the food that wasn’t eaten so can be saved.
As a rule cooked meat and dairy should only be sitting out of the fridge for a maximum of 2 hours. All food should be kept out of direct sunlight or inside if it’s incredibly hot out. I have a trick for putting food out that needs to be kept cold. Place a marble cutting board into your freezer for a few hours and then serve the food on there like I did in the photo below. It will stay colder and fresher for a longer period of time.
4 – Think plant based – While a plant-based menu is better for the environment to begin with, plant based foods stay fresh out of the fridge for a longer period of time so will lead to less food waste.
5 – Have a plan for leftovers. Even after you use the food calculator and plan carefully, you are bound to still have some leftovers so make sure you have a plan. Can’t finish all the leftovers before they go bad? Send some home with your guests in reusable containers. You can also turn your leftovers into meals for the week or depending on the type of food, you can freeze it to eat later. With a plan, you can reduce food waste from your party and have easy meals for the next few days too.
6 – Don’t just have a spot for garbage, have a compost or green bin. For casual parties where guests are eating on their laps or standing, make sure there is a compost where they can discard any extra food from their plates. If guests have a clear spot for this they will instinctively do it, but they likely won’t seek out a compost if there is a garbage nearby.
7 – If this is a fancier party or a wedding with a caterer, ask them how they limit food waste. Ask them what they do with the leftovers and their food scraps. Choose a caterer who has an answer to these questions. A lot of caterers are including practices to be more eco-friendly so look for that. Sometimes you can have the leftovers packaged up for you to take home. There are also some awesome companies like Lift Overs coming onto the scene that will pick up the untouched leftovers and donate them to shelters.
8 – Say no to buffet style. Go with family-style (platters of food in the middle of the table) or a plated dinner instead. Buffet style meals always end up with more food waste because servers replenish the buffet constantly to ensure it always looks fresh and full for guests. It also ends up sitting out longer than if the food was plated so is often not salvageable after the event.