You don’t count calories at the holiday dinner table. But what about the carbon content? The fact is, there’s very little about the season that’s zero waste — from discarded packaging to plastic trinkets to all the food that ends up left to rot in landfills. Never mind the emissions created by transporting everything to your home in time for the big unwrapping. All of which, if you care about the environment at all, can definitely dim your festive spirits.
But what if you could serve up a feast that’s as sustainable as it is scrumptious? Mindful menu planning? Check. Planet-friendly décor? Check. So, read on for ways you can minimize your carbon footprint while embracing the holidays. Together, we can jingle all the way to a greener, more delightful celebration.
Prepare a mindful menu
Food is the cornerstone of any holiday dinner, so begin making sustainable choices even before the meal reaches the table. Start with where you get your ingredients. By choosing locally sourced, seasonal produce, you support local farmers and reduce your carbon footprint. Try to incorporate more plant-based dishes into your menu. Vegetarian and vegan options can be just as delicious and are generally more environmentally friendly. For meat-lovers, choose sustainably sourced options. And don’t overbuy! Instead, plan portion sizes carefully to avoid food waste. Even the right recipes and cooking methods can make a difference. Cook a homemade broth from veggie scraps, for example. Simple steps like these will go a long way in making your dinner menu more sustainable this holiday season.
Minimize packaging waste
When you’re grocery shopping, it’s not enough to focus on what you’re going to eat. You also have to think about how those items are packaged. Whenever possible, buy ingredients in bulk to reduce packaging waste. You can also select package-free items or ones that are boxed in paper instead of plastic. Of course, we all know that to shop sustainably, you’ll need to bring along reusable bags to cut down on single-use plastic waste. But the same goes for when you are ordering items online. Try to consolidate purchases to minimize packaging materials. You should then still prioritize products that are minimally packaged with eco-friendly materials.
Choose eco-friendly tableware
You sourced it sustainably. You choose the ingredients with eco-awareness in mind. So, the last thing you want to do is end up serving your responsibly-prepared meal on plastic plates. If dusting off the fine dinnerware isn’t an option, opt for reusable plates and cutlery. If you absolutely have to choose single use, seek out compostable alternatives made from bamboo, pasta noodles, or sugarcane. These will break down in the environment and, if composted, won’t needlessly pile up in your local landfill. For a final green-minded touch, hand out cloth napkins as a sustainable alternative to paper napkins. You can easily wash them with laundry detergent sheets and store them for future festivities.
Cook up sustainability
The kitchen is the heart of any home — and the headquarters for your holiday dinner. So, while making the magic happen, be sure to optimize your cooking practices and tools for maximum efficiency. Remember, while you’re burning energy cooking, your appliances are doing the same. So, start by plotting your cooking schedule to make the most use of your oven and stove. For example, make the most of preheating times by cooking multiple dishes at once. Likewise, be mindful of how much water you’re using. And while it may be too late for this season, ahead of next year, consider upgrading to modern appliances, which are more energy-efficient than older models.
Decorate with eco-conscious charm
The meal may be the main course, but your table setting also needs to be a feast for the eyes. So, why not infuse your holiday setting with sustainable charm? You can do this in several ways. The most effective is to repurpose items you already have or to get creative with natural elements. For example, consider decking the halls with homemade ornaments crafted from recycled materials, such as paper, fabric scraps, or even old holiday cards. Gather some eco-friendly holiday decorations ideas here.
Also, embrace the beauty of nature by incorporating pinecones, twigs, or dried flowers for picturesque centerpieces, tree ornaments, or wreaths. Then, for an extra festive touch, swap traditional plastic tinsel with biodegradable alternatives or DIY garlands made from dried citrus slices or popcorn strings.
And we don’t just mean how much you imbibe. What kind of beverages you serve can also make a difference. First, shop from nearby breweries and wineries since supporting local businesses reduces emissions. If you can, select organic options. And try to reduce how much packaging you’re purchasing. Glass bottles and aluminum cans are preferable, since they’re recyclable. You can also buy in bulk. And when it comes time to pour a cocktail or two, skip the single-use straws.
Encourage guests to reuse
Why should your guests enjoy the food you’ve prepared only once? Prompt them to take leftovers home by letting them know they should bring reusable containers. Not only will you reduce food waste, you’ll be ensuring the meal you worked so hard on will last a while longer. You can also consider donating excess food to local charities. Remember to place any organic food scraps that aren’t meat or bones into the compost. If you’re a beginner composter, read all about how to get started here.
Serving up a sustainable holiday dinner is a thoughtful, memorable way to show love for both your family and the planet. Better still, it can set an example that may inspire others to act and consider their own eco-conscious practices. Happy hosting!