Sustainable Thanksgiving: How to throw an eco-friendly feast

Sustainable Thanksgiving: How to throw an eco-friendly feast

by Frederikke Bøcker
thanksgiving

Food waste is a serious problem that gets worse during the holidays. Here’s how to have a sustainable Thanksgiving to enjoy time with friends and family while reducing your carbon footprint.

8 tips to help create a sustainable Thanksgiving with your guests

A sustainable, eco-friendly holiday spread requires serious forethought, coordination, and communication with your guests. Here are some planning tips for a green Thanksgiving.

1. Coordinate with attendees to avoid too much food

If you have guests contributing dishes to the feast, keep tabs on what everyone’s bringing so you can plan accordingly and avoid making too much food — or duplicating a guest’s dish.

2. Make a green Thanksgiving a group effort

Engage your family and friends in a quest for a more sustainable holiday. If they’re contributing to the feast, ask them to bring food in reusable dishes rather than disposable ones.

Challenge guests to eat everything on their plates to cut down on wasted food. And make sure everyone knows where the recycling and compost bins are.

3. Make things from scratch when possible

Around 83 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from food come from its production. The less prepared and packaged food you buy, the lower your carbon footprint. 

Try your hand at baking dinner rolls, pies, and other items you might otherwise buy pre-made.

4. Take stock of ingredients you already have

Early November is a good time to clean out your cupboards — chances are, some of the ingredients on your list are hiding in the back.

5. Choose recipes that will use up leftover ingredients

If one recipe calls for a half container of broth, find another recipe that will use the rest — it could be something you’ll make a few days later.

6. Leave dishes that are proven duds off the menu

If no one ever touches the jello-carrot salad besides Uncle Don, save yourself time and skip it — or make a much smaller dish of it. 

Similarly, if past years have found you up to your ears in leftover mashed potatoes, make a smaller batch this year. Portion control isn’t a bad thing … even on Thanksgiving.

7. Plan ahead for food storage options

Resist the temptation to buy disposable plastic containers for leftovers. Instead, figure out what you’re going to need to store, and choose the appropriate eco-friendly solutions — which we’ll describe more later on.

8. Clean out the freezer and fridge before you shop

Make room for groceries and leftovers in the freezer and fridge so that you can find what you need quickly when it’s go-time — plus your leftovers won’t be as likely to get lost and forgotten.

Don’t forget to double-check your grocery list too. Make sure everything you need is on your list to avoid extra trips to the store.


Is eating turkey bad for the environment?

Animal products require 4 to 40 times the calories in crops to produce than they provide in nutrition. To sustain a global, largely meat-dependent population, food production will need to increase by 70 percent by 2050 — one reason why so many people across the world are turning to a meatless diet.

Granted, going totally meatless isn’t for everyone, but even reducing your meat and dairy consumption can make a difference in the environment — and it’s been shown to improve your health, including substantially lowering your risk for heart disease.

Here are 4 options that are more eco-friendly than cooking a giant turkey this year.

  • Consider going meatless. The internet is a massive repository for delicious vegetarian and vegan main-dish recipes.
  • If skipping the turkey isn’t an option, choose a heritage breed or cage-free turkey — ideally from a local farmer.
  • If you need a smaller bird for a tiny crowd, there’s nothing wrong with opting for a cage-free chicken.
  • Choose recipes that call for little or no dairy and eggs. If you do use dairy or eggs, choose organic and cruelty-free brands.

3 ways to serve food sustainably

When it’s time to gather ‘round and pile the food up on those plates, don’t undo your sustainable gains.

1. Use washable or compostable dishes

Avoid using plastic disposable dishes, cups, and utensils. If you’re having more guests than you have dishes, see if you can borrow some place settings. If yours will be a large affair, you can rent dishes from a party supply store for not much more than it would cost to go disposable. 

If you use disposable plates, silverware, or cups, opt for compostable or biodegradable.

2. Use cloth napkins and reusable paper towels

Cloth napkins and reusable paper towels result in zero waste, and you can use them throughout the holidays and beyond.

They’re inexpensive to buy, or if you’re crafty, you can make them yourself.

3. Set out smaller serving spoons

It’s tempting to fill up your plate at any feast, but eyes are often bigger than stomachs. To encourage guests to take less at the outset, put smaller serving spoons in each dish.

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