Here at the Party Kit Network we are passionate about helping to make celebrations a little more eco-friendly. This means tackling waste and unnecessary waste from food is one of the main offenders.
Around 70% of the food waste in the UK is wasted at home. In 2018 we threw away a staggering 6.6 million tonnes of household food waste. And to make matters worse, it is estimated that 4.5 millions tonnes (68%) of that food could still have been eaten. [Source: WRAP.org.uk]
This is hugely wasteful but it doesn't have to be like this. Here's our guide to catering for a party with less waste.
Why do we end up with too much food?
The top reason we end up with too much food is the fear of under-catering. This fear is real! It can strike down even the most experienced party organiser and is the quickest way to end up with an overwhelming amount of leftovers. The panic of not having enough food is most likely to strike mid-shop leading to us simply buying too much.
Another reason is over-estimating the appetites of guests. Not everyone has the same appetite as a teenager with seemingly hollow legs.
And finally, any last minute changes to guest numbers can impact even the most diligent party planner. But there are things you can do to help reduce the chance of leftovers.
Tips for planning food for a party
1. Create a menu plan
The simplest way to avoid over-catering is to write a menu plan. Take a bit of time to think about what food is most suitable and try to be realistic about how much guests might actually eat. This is especially relevant if your celebration isn’t being held during a regular mealtime.
Keep the selection small, especially if catering for a number of dietary requirements. Try to pick a few things everyone will / can eat rather than offering lots of options.
Try to limit the amount of perishable foods you need, instead opting for foods which if uneaten could be frozen or go in your store cupboard for a later date. Consider how easy it will be to keep food cool at the party and limit the amount of food like cheeses or dips which spoil more quickly when left out.
Another option is to ask guests to contribute a dish. This way there will be at least one dish they like and they can take any leftovers home with them.
It's not just food where there can be wastage at parties. By limiting the different drink options and not putting out all the drink at the start of the party can help reduce the amount of bottles opened.
Some bottle shops and supermarkets will refund for unopened cases of wine, beef and cans of soft drinks which is a great option when catering for a large number of people.
3. Planning quantities
If you guest list is large don’t simply multiply up the portion quantities. The more people going the bit less per person you will actually need.
For kids, use the concept of planning a packed lunch or food box to help you work out how much food each child will likely eat. It doesn't have to be served in this way but can help you to visualise how much food is really necessary per child.
4. Write a shopping list
The best way to only buy what you need is to write a shopping list based on your menu plan. This helps to avoid any supermarket panic buying and coming home with more than you need.
Shopping in local markets and zero waste stores where you can buy just the quantity you need will also help reduce waste.
5. Accept that the sandwiches won't get eaten
If planning a kids party, especially for younger kids, avoid making too many sandwiches. There will always be some who use the opportunity of unsupervised access to a buffet to pile their plates high with just crisps and sweets! So rather than slog away to make plates of sandwiches accept that some kids just won't eat them.
Being realistic about what most kids will likely eat will help reduce waste, and probably leave you with a lot less salad to eat after the party!
6. Plan ahead for leftovers
Even with the most diligent planning, it's still a good idea to plan for leftovers. Think about what containers you might need to store any uneaten food.
Ask guests to bring a food container with them to the party. This makes it easy for guests to take home any leftovers at the end. Or consider providing old takeaway containers or similar for guests to use.
Provide a food scraps bin so that uneaten food that can't be eaten later or shared can be composted.
7. At the party
When at the party, avoid putting out all the food at once. Rather than opening everything, see how to food goes down and only offer more food if it really is needed. This way you can avoid opening packets which will last longer unopened or be easier to give away later if they go unused.
Consider handing out food to younger children or suggesting a limit to the number of items each child takes from the buffet to avoid people going mad.
What to do if you have surplus food
When we have surplus food sometimes it can be difficult to know what to do with it and all too often it is destined for the bin.
Here's some ways in which uneaten food can be shared:
1. Encourage guests to help out
If you're hosting a kids party, encourage any parents or venue staff to grab a plate after the kids have finished. Make sure guests know they can take home any leftovers.
2. Embrace your freezer
Did you know you can freeze cake and even crisps! Many foods can be frozen straight after the party for use another day.
For cakes, remove any fondant icing and defrost later to eat with ice cream or custard - yum! There's a guide to foods which can be frozen and how to freeze them here:
3. Share food with your neighbourhood
If you don't have room in your freezer, sharing food locally is a good way to re-home surplus food.
You can offer leftover food via food sharing platforms, such as the Olio app or local Facebook groups or neighbourhood groups. Simply add a new post with what's on offer. Be clear about if items have been opened and any use by dates.
4. Donate to food banks
Any unopened dried or tinned items can be donated to a local food bank.
The items each food bank will accept differs so please check before making a donation. Some larger supermarkets have collection points for local food banks with a list of items they will accept.
Find your local food bank:
In the UK, The Trussell Trust run one of the largest networks of food banks: https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/find-a-foodbank/
In Australia, find your local food bank: https://www.foodbank.org.au/
5. Donate to a community fridge
Community fridges are a local public space where people can take perishable food (like fruit and veg and dairy products) to be shared. The fridges bring people together providing access to healthy food and the opportunity to save money, try something new and reduce waste. The idea started in Germany and community fridges can now be found in communities all over the world.
In the UK, Hubbub run a network of over 100 community fridges:
6. Donate to a local night shelter
Some local night shelters and other community projects may accept donations of opened or perishable food.
If you plan to do this it's a good idea to contact your local shelter ahead of the party to check what they will accept. They will likely want to know how the food will be prepared and stored to ensure it can be shared safely.
For food scraps or should you later find something tucked at the back of the fridge that is just too old to safely eat, the best option is to compost the food waste.
If you don’t have access to a compost bin or food waste collection, search for a local compost bin accepting food waste via Share Waste.
If you run a food business in the UK, surplus food can be donated via FareShare:https://fareshare.org.uk/what-we-do/
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