12 no-waste Christmas cooking tips

Did you know it’s estimated that 14 million turkey legs go to waste each year? Or that you can use up leftover bread sauce to make pillowy rolls?

It’s easier than you think to keep your cooking savvy and eco-friendly amid all the Christmas abundance. Emily Gussin shares her tips for how to have a zero-waste Christmas, making your festive season as sustainable as it is wonderful…


12 no-waste Christmas cooking tips
A braised turkey legs casserole makes the most of this often-wasted cut

It’s possible to throw a magical and indulgent Christmas without creating loads of food waste – all it requires is some forethought and a little imagination. Follow our 12 tips for a zero-waste Christmas below and get ready for the best betwixtmas leftovers of your life. Plus, check out our closed-loop, zero-waste Christmas dinner menu – where all the ingredients get used in their entirety.

1. Make a hash of it

Having a restorative festive hash for breakfast is a great opportunity to use up leftover Christmas trimmings. Roughly chop roast potatoes and root veg, then fry in a big pan, adding shredded sprouts and greens a bit later. You could add bacon or chopped pigs in blankets too. Once everything is hot and toasty, scrape onto a plate, then fry eggs in the same pan to top. Serve your hash with any of the usual condiments and a cuppa.

2. Be savvy with party servings

When cooking for a crowd it’s tricky to quantify exactly how much food you’ll need. No one wants to be a scrooge but large platters can lead to a lot of leftovers. A simple remedy is to use smaller serving plates and not to put all the food out at once. Holding some back means you can keep it sealed and at a safe temperature for longer, then decide if the served food needs a top-up. If it doesn’t, you can either freeze it or keep it for another day.

3. Upgrade the Boxing Day sandwich

Think beyond piling up leftover meat with cranberry sauce and cheese. Sandwiches are an art form that can take more than you think. Creamy gratins or fried brussels sprouts are a perfect topping for ham. Fry roast potatoes, then squash in a pan for a hash brown-style crunch that’s brilliant with all kinds of fillings. And don’t forget that a well-stuffed sandwich doesn’t have to end there – there’s always the option to dip, maybe into a bowl of hot gravy.

And if that weren’t enough, there’s even a way to make magical use of any leftover bread sauce from the main meal to create our soft and pillowy bread sauce rolls. They’re the ideal vessel for your Christmas leftovers sandwich.

4. Save your scraps

When you’re cooking Christmas dinner (or any big meal), it’s the ideal time to make the most of things that are usually discarded. Gather together vegetable trimmings and meat bones in a bag in the freezer to use for stock, and think about how you can repurpose peelings. They can be great in stuffings and stews, or even tossed in oil and crisped up in a hot oven.

5. Don’t waste your cheese trimmings

Cheeseboard leftovers often don’t look quite as appetising after a few days. Scrape all your chunks of cheese into a container and keep them for cooking. Macaroni or cauliflower cheese, gratins, toasties and fondue will all forgive you for adding in pretty much whatever you have. If you’re sure you’ve had your fill of cheese for a while, put the container of scraps in the freezer for up to 3 months.

6. Go for the legs

Did you know it’s estimated that 14 million turkey legs go to waste each year? James Mansfield, co-founder of Field & Flower, an online shop that strives to create a more sustainable food chain with its free-range and grass-fed meat, explains: “Due to customer demand for the convenience of a turkey crown at Christmas, turkey legs are often undervalued and discarded, despite being probably the most versatile and economical cut of free-range meat you can buy. Support independent farmers by buying local and free-range, and by making the most of the whole bird to avoid food waste – turkey legs and all.”

If turkey is the centrepiece of your festive table this year but you usually buy a crown, buy a whole bird and make our comforting braised turkey legs with creamy madeira mushrooms, using either the cooked or uncooked legs.

7. Get creative with gravy

Leftover gravy is likely to be either a scarcity or abundant. If it’s the latter, there’s plenty to do with it beyond adding it to a plate of reheated roast. As with the turkey leg recipe above, you can easily swap gravy for stock in the base of a sauce, adding a bigger boost of flavour and richness. Diluted with water, it even makes a great broth for an inauthentic noodle soup supper. Or try reducing it down and stirring it into mayonnaise for a tasty chip dipper.

8. Think light

Christmas dinner is a heavy meal, but that doesn’t mean leftovers can’t be light, bringing freshness and vibrancy to your use-it-up dinners. Add cold meats and roasted root vegetables to a grain salad. Use cranberry sauce and citrus fruit to make a tart dressing. Shred leftover veg for a slaw dressed with soured cream and lemon juice. Spice, citrus and crunch are your best weapons against stodge!

9. Raid the fridge

Fridge-raid meals are the best way to use up odds and ends and can result in the most satisfying meals. Try this fridge-raid thoran recipe by sustainable South Asian meal delivery service DabbaDrop – a speedy spicy vegetable stir-fry that can take any veg you like…

10. Do the mince pie twist

Once you’re past eating mince pies as they come, transform them into another dessert. Break them up, then fold them into whipped cream along with crumbled leftover meringues for a mince pie Eton mess. Alternatively, stir crumbled mince pies into softened vanilla ice cream or bake them into brownie mixture.

11. Plan the great Christmas condiment clear up

Fridge shelves are often left overloaded with half-used jars at the end of Christmas, so get creative to use them up with these ideas. And don’t forget you can reuse the jars for preserving projects or simply as containers.

Onion marmalade
Make a cheat’s French onion soup, simmering onion marmalade with stock and cider, then top with cheesy croutons.

Quince paste
This cheeseboard favourite is wonderful in toasties or savoury pies. It’s also a great addition to breakfast yogurt and granola.

Add to slow-braised meat dishes for tangy sweet depth, or whizz with a little water until smooth and use as glaze for roast ham.

Mix into the fluffy filling of jacket potatoes or stir into mash for an instant upgrade to any potato dinner.

Cranberry sauce
For a sharp-sweet winter dressing: add white wine vinegar, olive oil and a little mustard to the cranberry jar and shake to combine any leftover sauce into the dressing.

Mint sauce
Make an easy raita to serve with curries by stirring mint sauce into yogurt; grated cucumber and crushed garlic are optional bonuses.

Chilli jam
Combine with soy sauce and sesame oil to make a stir-fry sauce with pep.

12. Whatever you do, go for it

Using up what you have in the fridge can feel daunting if you’re used to following recipes. Adding a bit of this and a bit of that and seeing what you end up with doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but that’s okay. You’ll never discover a brilliant new flavour pairing unless you try. Taste your dish at each stage to understand what it needs – sweetness, acidity, salt – and adjust accordingly. Worst case scenario is that you end up eating something you won’t make again! Best case, you’ve created a winner. Giving it a go is what counts.

Need more inspiration? Check out all our Boxing Day recipes and Christmas leftovers dishes.

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