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Grocery shopping at the office potluck

How often does EVERYTHING at the holiday party get eaten? Leverage those leftovers to boost your food budget.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 16, 2011 11:21AM
Back when I had a day job, the holiday potlucks were huge, varied and impossible to finish. Even some of the desserts were left over -- and this was a sweets-loving crowd.

Those of us who stuck around to help clean up would urge the leftovers on co-workers. Stuffed to the gills, they usually declined. We'd flag down folks from other departments -- "Come on, take some cookies home to your kids" -- and put whatever remained out by the coffeepot for the night shift. Generally some of it was still by the coffeepot the next morning, fit only for the garbage can.

Here's a way to prevent food waste and boost your budget: Do a little grocery shopping at the potluck.

Seriously. If the food is going to be thrown out, why not put it to good use? Here are a few tips to get you started.

Offer to help clean up.
This positions you perfectly and will also help salve your conscience if necessary.

Bring containers.
Suggestions: A kitchen-trashcan-sized garbage bag (for a turkey carcass), Ziploc bags (for ham bones, leftover bread or cut-up vegetables), glass or plastic containers (for salads, side dishes and fruit), maybe a roll of aluminum foil and at least one sturdy reusable shopping bag to carry it all home.

Announce your intentions. State matter-of-factly that you can't stand to see perfectly good food being thrown away, so you intend to take some of the leftovers home with you. Emphasize "some," i.e., make it clear that others can do the same. Post continues below.

Cooks get dibs. If a co-worker wants to take home what's left of his famous Cajun battered deep-fried bacon, step aside. (Note: A co-worker of mine really did make this dish for a potluck. It was the saltiest food I have ever had in my mouth.)

Don't bogart the best stuff.
If you take the turkey carcass, pass on what's left of the ham (and the ham bone -- see below). Don't take all the cut-up pineapple or the best of the desserts. Begin with a few spoons of each side dish; you can always add more if it looks as though no one else is interested in a particular casserole.

Share your stuff.
If a cleanup buddy wishes she'd thought of leftovers, loan her a container or some foil.

Observe food safety rules.
Hours left in the workday still? Refrigerate the cooked stuff to avoid the chance of food poisoning. If you live in a cold climate, just put the stuff in your car.

Use your finds wisely.
Cut meat off the turkey for a second-day dinner. Chop up odd bits for turkey salad, turkey tetrazzini, turkey a la king or any other dish that stretches small pieces of meat. Boil the carcass for soup stock. Ditto with a ham bone that still has some meat on it --  and the bone itself makes a great pot of bean soup. Freeze leftover rolls. Load up on fruits and veggies if no one else wants them, since both are getting pricier by the minute.

In fact, food prices are rising overall. Do your grocery budget a favor by preventing post-potluck waste. 

More on MSN Money:

Jun 19, 2012 10:47AM

It's tacky, eh? What's the alternative? Throwing all the food away? That's just wasteful, which is a larger offense than (subjective) tackiness.

Jan 17, 2012 3:35AM


Where I come from food not made on premises is unsafe for public consumption unless stored at all times above 165 degrees or below 10 Degrees.  Rather than being fined most places will throw out the left overs for this reason or forbid potlucks at all.

Its also a good way to get fired from some places depending on policies like at my previous job and destroy your reputation (which could destroy your annual review AND your job)

Dec 16, 2011 5:21PM
Tacky! Unless the boss purchased a catered lunch, there are leftovers and the boss says it's okay to take something home.
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