How to make the most of your Christmas leftovers

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After surviving year two of the pandemic, many of us wanted to celebrate in style yesterday, and that means big Christmas feasts and big food waste.

According to OzHarvest, households lose between $2000 to $2500 each year due to food waste, with food waste costing our economy $36.6 billion a year. Yet, at the same time, more than five million Australians experience food insecurity each year.

The food waste problem is exacerbated at Christmas.

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Ronni Kahn AO, OzHarvest founder and CEO, says the festive season is a time of abundance and celebration, which inevitably leads to vast amounts of food waste.

"From prawns to panettone and puddings - we waste 30% more food over the holidays, and this comes at a huge cost to our pocket and our planet," she says.

"But the good news is that food waste at home is mostly avoidable; it's all about getting into good habits."

Here are some strategies for being mindful about food over Christmas.

1. Pack and freeze

Start the pack up as soon as Christmas lunch (or dinner) is over. Make decisions about what you are going to be able to eat in the next few days.

You might have another Christmas event or be going away and might not be eating much over the next few days.

Immediately freeze what you don't think you will eat. You can slice ham and turkey, for instance, and freeze portions that can be defrosted and used for lunches.

2. Seafood

Seafood is often an essential part of an Aussie Christmas Day. But no one wants to be sick from buying too many prawns that become unsafe during hot weather.

So avoid leaving seafood out of the fridge for long periods if it's a hot day.

Seafood doesn't always freeze or refreeze well, so plan to eat leftovers the next day.

3. Make soup stock with leftovers

My father-in-law saves the bone from his Christmas leg of ham each year, freezes it and makes pea and ham soup as soon as the cooler weather arrives in autumn. It's become a change of seasons ritual, and I'm noticing more and more people doing it.

You can also freeze a turkey carcass, although it is easiest to carve the bird while still warm and put the bones straight into a slow cooker.  The broth can then be used as a soup or frozen for future use.

4. Plan for ham

If you are a small household, consider buying a smaller ham.  You could also go gourmet and have a variety of quality smoked meats, antipasto style.

But if you are investing in a large ham, consider buying a shoulder (which is cheaper).

And above all, have a plan to use up the ham. A large ham means dinners of cold ham and salad, potato salad with ham, ham and pineapple pizzas, toasted ham and cheese croissants, fried rice with ham and ham sandwiches - for weeks. Include ham in your Boxing Day and New Year's Eve menus.

And if you don't want to be eating ham for weeks, don't buy a large ham next year.

5. Reduce the sugar

Do you need the plum pudding, trifle, pavlova, mince pies, shortbread, panforte and Christmas cake? Pick one and make it memorable. But if you do want to feature many desserts, treat it like a tasting plate experience.

"Don't think everyone wants a full slice of pie if you have several other options because they don't," says Aranka.

6. Mark items that need to be used up

Using up food is a family responsibility - not just mum's responsibility.

Help stop fridge blindness by marking things that need to be used up, or placing them on a specific shelf or area.  OzHarvest has a  Use It Up tape, which you can stick on food to identify what needs to be eaten first.

The tape is free and can be ordered from the OzHarvest website.

While Christmas is a time when many of us want to be generous, we don't need a table groaning with more food than anyone will ever eat to show our love. Connection is deeper: it's about shared in-jokes, Christmas karaoke, the game of backyard cricket, fun in the pool and people in the kitchen preparing salads or doing the dishes after the event.

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Serina Bird is a proud frugalista who has amassed more than a million dollars through frugal living. She is the author of The Joyful Frugalista and The Joyful Startup Guide. Serina blogs at The Joyful Frugalista, and her podcast is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. She is also the founder of the The Joyful Business Club.