No matter how you cook Thanksgiving dinner, if you’re hosting, it’s your nerves that end up fried. And that’s especially true if — you poor unsuspecting soul — it’s your first time. Never mind serving your immediate family or even your extended one. What about the inevitable, uninvited guests? So, it’s perfectly understandable why incorporating green alternatives to both the menu and decor may not be top of mind. But doing just that is actually simpler than you think.
From sourcing local food to choosing eco-conscious decorations, don’t let this milestone moment — hosting Thanksgiving is the pinnacle of holiday responsibilities, after all — dissuade you from embracing sustainability, too. Just remember to carve out some time for yourself when it’s all over.
Why being sustainable during Thanksgiving matters
From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, Americans generate 25% more waste than on average. We’re talking aluminum foil, plastic packaging, food waste, and paper towels choking landfills. So, by choosing a greener Thanksgiving dinner you’ll combat some of that waste.
A lot of people don’t realize the environmental impact of throwing out food. Food waste that goes to landfills creates methane gas — a greenhouse gas more potent than CO2 — that wreaks havoc on the environment. More facts to keep in mind? Each Thanksgiving, 200 million pounds of turkey finds its way to waste, accompanied by more than 150 million pounds of side dishes and 14 million pounds of dinner rolls.
The production of this surplus feast leads to the consumption of more than one billion gallons of water and the emission of more than 1.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. To put that number into perspective, it’s equivalent to the emissions of 169,000 standard cars during an average calendar year.
How to have a sustainable, stress-free Thanksgiving
Let’s clarify: a truly “stress-free” Thanksgiving is out of reach when planning, prepping, and pulling out the stops for your feast. But there are definitely ways to lower your stress level while embracing eco-friendly ideas.
Plan, plan, and then plan some more
Avoid the last-minute rush. Not only will it keep you from feeling swamped, but it will also let you choose your ingredients with care. This year, why not seek out locally sourced, organic options? Besides, organic tastes better, so your guests will appreciate the upgrade. Head to your local farmers market and stock up on what you need without overbuying. Alternatively, some grocery stores carry organic and local produce, so ask around if you need help finding the best Thanksgiving ingredients.
You may also consider incorporating plant-based options into your menu, which have a lower environmental impact compared to meat-centric dishes. Go for a vegan nut loaf for a meat-like alternative or keep it classic with veggie casseroles and homemade plant-based stuffing. One more tip toward your stress management? When you’re mapping out your menu, select dishes that can be made ahead of time.
Minimize your food waste
Try to get a head count in advance so you have a good idea of how much to buy and prepare for your sustainable Thanksgiving dinner. From there, plan portion sizes carefully to reduce waste and consider creative ways to repurpose leftovers.
You can encourage guests to bring reusable containers for leftovers, or consider donating excess food to local shelters or food banks wherever possible. Remember to compost any organic food waste such as eggshells, veggie scraps or bread for the most sustainable approach.
Set your eco-friendly table the night before
This will spare you having to juggle seating arrangements and arranging the décor while also cooking the food. That should also give you time to avoid the cheap plastic decorations you’ll find at the supermarket. Instead, embrace nature-inspired decor by using items like pinecones, gourds, and fallen leaves. If you are purchasing from a store, avoid single-use plastic decorations and choose reusable or biodegradable alternatives. However, you can find some awesome DIY crafts online using recycled materials for a personalized touch!
Think about sustainable beverages
Show your gratitude for your community by selecting locally-produced wines, beers, and spirits. You’ll be able to support nearby vineyards and breweries. Then, add non-alcoholic alternatives like homemade infused waters to cater to all guests.
Cook with sustainably in mind
Whenever possible, use energy-efficient appliances and cook multiple dishes simultaneously. For instance, using a convection oven can reduce cooking times and energy consumption. When defrosting items, use the refrigerator rather than running them under hot water. Remember: small adjustments can make a big difference.
Start early prepping your eco-conscious tableware
Double-check your serving dishes and silverware ahead of time. Make sure they’re washed and ready to use. Does your tablecloth need to be ironed? Don’t wait until the guests start ringing the doorbell. We understand Thanksgiving can be overwhelming and no one wants to stand at the sink washing dishes, but keep the number of disposable items to a minimum. If disposable tableware is necessary, choose compostable options made from sustainable materials like bamboo or recycled paper.
Choose eco-friendly cleaning solutions
After the final helping of seconds or thirds, it’s time to clean up. This can prove incredibly wasteful since, with the feast over, the temptation is to toss everything into the trash and quickly wipe surfaces with chemical cleaners.
So, when prepping your meal, set up specific bins for organic food waste — not including meat and bones — and lay down a reusable tablecloth ahead of time for an easier clean-up. We also recommend using cloth instead of paper towels, since paper towels can’t be composted. And when it does come time to wash your tablecloth and other reusable fabrics, choose SaltyLama laundry detergent sheets. Packaged in lightweight, biodegradable material, these plant-based sheets deliver a powerful clean without any of the harsh chemicals of traditional detergents.
And remember, Thanksgiving is a time for family and friendship, so don’t turn down help when it’s offered. Don’t be afraid to farm out chores that will reduce your stress. Working together, everyone can help make this Thanksgiving a memorable and responsible one. It may even inspire your guests to reconsider their own sustainable practices.