In the heart of the Thanksgiving season, as families across the United States prepare to gather around tables with an abundance of dishes, let’s reflect on the reality that unfolds during this time of gratitude. According to ReFED, a food-waste research organization, American households discarded approximately 305 million pounds of food during Thanksgiving 2022.
The food wasted during this holiday could provide 6.5 meals to each of the 38.3 million food-insecure individuals in the country. Equally concerning is the environmental footprint: Thanksgiving food waste generates emissions equivalent to 1.1 million metric tons of CO2. It’s the emissions produced by 170,000 cars driving for an entire year.
This Thanksgiving, let’s make choices that not only reflect gratitude but also demonstrate a commitment to responsible consumption and mindful celebration.
To know more about sustainable living, read our articles The Best Eco-Friendly & Sustainable Alternatives to Plastic, or Decorating A Living Room With Plants.
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Table of Contents
1. Sustainable Thanksgiving Food Tips
The choices you make regarding the food you prepare and serve can have a significant impact. Embracing seasonal ingredients and crafting a customized menu inspired by local produce not only enhances the flavor of your feast but also supports your community and reduces environmental damage.
Here are some key considerations for a conscious and eco-friendly Thanksgiving meal:
Opt for seasonal ingredients that are readily available in your region during the fall. Seasonal foods not only taste better but also require fewer resources for production and transportation. Some excellent choices for a sustainable Thanksgiving include:
- Squash: Varieties like butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash are abundant during the fall and can be used in various dishes, from soups to roasted sides.
- Brussels Sprouts: These hearty little cabbages are at their best in the autumn months, making them a perfect addition to your Thanksgiving spread.
- Cauliflower: This versatile vegetable can be used in a range of dishes, from mashed cauliflower as a potato substitute to roasted cauliflower steaks.
- Apples: Fall is apple season, and you can incorporate them into both savory and sweet dishes, such as apple stuffing or apple pie.
- Carrots: Freshly harvested carrots are sweet and vibrant, making them an ideal choice for sides, roasts, or even carrot-based soups.
- Cranberries: A quintessential Thanksgiving ingredient, cranberries add a burst of color and tangy flavor to sauces, stuffings, and desserts.
- Pumpkin: Instead of canned pumpkin puree, consider using fresh pumpkin for your pies, soups, and other dishes.
- Pomegranates: These jewel-like fruits can be used to garnish salads, desserts, and cocktails, adding a delightful burst of flavor.
Support Organic or Local Farmers
Celebrating a sustainable Thanksgiving involves making conscious choices when it comes to sourcing your food.
Supporting organic or local farmers is an excellent way to ensure that your Thanksgiving meal is environmentally friendly and contributes to your local community. Here are some helpful resources according to Farm Aid:
- Eat Well Guide is a free online directory that connects you with family farms, restaurants, markets, and other outlets offering fresh, locally-grown food in the United States and Canada.
- Local Harvest is a valuable resource for finding farmers markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area.
- Red Tomato food hub works with trusted farmers, distributors, and grocers throughout the Northeast to support regional food systems, local farms, and a more equitable supply chain.
- USDA Farmers Market Search offers a national directory that allows you to search for farmers markets by state and city. This tool helps you find the closest markets where you can buy fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.
Also consider these options to access high-quality, locally-sourced food for your Thanksgiving meal:
- Farmers Markets: Shop at farmers markets to access fresh, local foods that support your community’s economy.
- CSAs (Community-Supported Agriculture): Join a CSA program to receive seasonal fruits and vegetables directly from a local farm.
- U-Pick/Pick-Your-Own Farms: Visit U-Pick and Pick-Your-Own farms to gather your own fruits and vegetables.
If you’re not in the mood for cooking or simply looking to simplify your meal preparation, you might want to explore the convenience of produce and meal delivery services.
- Hungry Harvest offers waste-free produce delivery services, starting at $15, in select areas, rescuing fresh fruits and vegetables from farmers to prevent food waste and provide customers with fresh produce along with helpful tips and recipes.
- Purple Carrot, Purple Carrot specializes in plant-based and vegan meal kits and frozen meals, using vegan, non-GMO, and organic ingredients when possible, with prices starting at $13.25 per serving; their eco-friendly deliveries come in recyclable insulated boxes and include tips for upcycling packaging and composting plant waste.
- Territory, locally crafts meals using Real Food Certified ingredients, free of dairy, gluten, and refined sugars. These seasonally-inspired menus suit diverse preferences and dietary requirements, including vegetarian, Keto, paleo, making it an inclusive and adaptable meal delivery service.
- Hungryroot offers a unique combination of personalized grocery recommendations and chef-crafted 10-minute recipes, tailored to your dietary preferences, featuring whole ingredients free of artificial additives, with prices starting at $65 per delivery; their eco-friendly approach includes recyclable boxes, biodegradable ice packs, and a commitment to donating excess food stock to local food banks,
Waste-Reducing Cooking Techniques
When striving for a sustainable Thanksgiving celebration, it’s essential not only to select the right ingredients but also to employ waste-reducing cooking techniques. By making conscious choices in the kitchen, you can minimize food waste and the environmental impact of your meal. Here are some valuable tips to help you cook with sustainability in mind:
Inventory Your Kitchen and Create a Detailed Shopping List
Before heading to the grocery store for your Thanksgiving preparations, it’s wise to start by taking inventory of your kitchen. Check for existing ingredients and food items that you may already have on hand. This simple step not only helps prevent duplicate purchases but also ensures that you utilize what’s already available.
Next, assess the size of your gathering and carefully plan your menu accordingly. Opting to roast a massive turkey for a small group or when several guests are vegetarian may not be the most efficient choice. Therefore, it’s essential to plan your Thanksgiving menu and create a shopping list that includes quantities for each ingredient.
To help streamline your Thanksgiving meal planning and minimize food waste, consider using the Save The Food Guestimator, a useful online tool designed to calculate the quantity of each dish you’ll need based on the types of food and the number of guests. This tool ensures that you purchase just the right amount of ingredients, avoiding overbuying and excess food, contributing to a more sustainable celebration.
Homemade and DIY Cooking
Consider preparing homemade dishes and DIY recipes for your Thanksgiving feast. Cooking from scratch allows you to control portion sizes, use ingredients efficiently, and avoid excess packaging associated with pre-packaged foods.
Cook Your Favorite Dishes
To reduce food waste, focus on cooking your family’s favorite Thanksgiving dishes rather than an extensive spread of options. By preparing dishes you know will be enjoyed, you’re more likely to consume leftovers, minimizing waste.
Incorporating vegetarian and plant-based dishes not only caters to the preferences of your guests but also aligns with eco-conscious values.
Explore this curated selection of the “Best Vegetarian Thanksgiving Recipes” provided by The New York Times: Vegetarian Thanksgiving Recipes.
Sustainability doesn’t stop when the Thanksgiving feast is over. How you handle leftovers is also important in reducing waste and making your celebration more eco-friendly. Here are some ways to manage Thanksgiving leftovers:
- Get Creative with Leftovers
Leftovers offer an opportunity to get creative in the kitchen. Transform uneaten dishes into new and exciting recipes that your family will enjoy. Explore these inventive Thanksgiving leftover recipes for inspiration: Thanksgiving Leftovers Recipes.
- Share with Neighbors or Donate
Instead of letting leftovers go to waste, consider sharing them with your neighbors or donating them to a local homeless shelter or food bank. This not only reduces food waste but also contributes to the sustainability of your community.
- Composting Kitchen Scraps
Composting is an eco-friendly way to manage kitchen scraps, including vegetable peels, fruit cores, and other organic waste. Create a compost pile or use a composting bin to turn these scraps into nutrient-rich soil for your garden.
- Infuse Oils with Leftover Herbs
Don’t let leftover herbs go to waste. Use them to infuse oils, adding flavor to your future culinary creations. Infused oils can be a delightful addition to salad dressings, marinades, or drizzled over roasted vegetables.
- Upcycling Empty Containers
Rather than discarding empty food containers, upcycle them for other purposes. Clean and repurpose glass jars or cans to store pantry items, or create decorative vases.
2. Eco-Friendly Thanksgiving Decorations
When setting the table for a sustainable and eco-friendly Thanksgiving, consider these mindful and planet-friendly decoration ideas:
Sustainable Tableware and Glassware
Opt for dinnerware, glassware, and utensils that are made from sustainable and durable materials, such as ceramic, glass, or porcelain. These choices reduce the environmental impact associated with single-use or disposable tableware.
Here are some sustainable dinnerware sets:
Non-Toxic Materials | Stoneware
Product Range | Dinner plates, salad plates, bowls, mugs
Stone Lain is a brand that offers contemporary and chic dinnerware sets that are made from stoneware, which means it’s free from any heavy metals like cadmium or lead.
They are microwave and dishwasher safe, but not oven safe. The set comes in eight colors.
Non-Toxic Materials | Stoneware
Product Range | Dinner plates, dessert plates, bowls
Gibson Home is an industry-leading brand that’s been family-owned for over 4 decades. They produce stylish and functional dinnerware sets made from stoneware — a material that’s free from lead, cadmium, and other toxins.
They are microwave and dishwasher safe, and oven safe up to 300°F. The set comes in six colors: gray, blue, green, teal, burgundy, and yellow.
Non-Toxic Materials | Stoneware
Product Range | Plates, bowls
Etsy is an online marketplace that connects buyers and sellers of handmade, vintage, and custom goods. The non-toxic dinnerware is handmade of stone clay, with a certified eco glaze (lead-free) — making the set safe for food and daily use.
The set features stoneware plates and bowls with hand-painted faces in black and white or colorful glazes. The pieces are microwave and dishwasher safe, and can be used as decorative wall art as well.
For more dinnerware ideas, read our article
Reusable Tablecloths and Napkins
Choose reusable tablecloths and cloth napkins over disposable options. Not only do they add an elegant touch to your table setting, but they also help reduce waste.
Upcycled & Natural Decorations
Embrace your creativity by crafting upcycled decorations from repurposed materials, breathing new life into old items and infusing your table with a distinctive charm.
You can repurpose mason jars into charming centerpieces, filling them with seasonal accents and tea light candles, which adds a rustic touch to your table. Consider creating a natural table runner from burlap or muslin cloth, adorning it with fallen leaves or eucalyptus for a seasonal flourish.
Explore creative no-carve pumpkin decorating ideas and use pressed leaves as personalized place cards. Opt for sustainable fabric napkins and illuminate your space with candles nestled in recycled jars or even hollowed-out fruit. String pinecones into rustic garlands and craft nature-inspired wreaths to adorn your home.
Incorporating reusable decor pieces like candles will provide a warm and inviting ambiance.
3. The True Spirit of Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is an ideal time to share your abundance with those in need. Consider volunteering at a local food bank, shelter, or community organization.
By lending a helping hand, you contribute to making the holiday season brighter for those less fortunate. The act of giving your time and energy is a profound expression of gratitude and embodies the spirit of Thanksgiving.
Teach Gratitude to the Kids
Thanksgiving offers a valuable opportunity to instill the virtue of gratitude in children. Engage them in discussions about the meaning of the holiday, its history, and the importance of appreciating what they have.
Encourage them to create handmade thank-you cards for family members, friends, or even local heroes, like healthcare workers or first responders. Such activities not only educate but also reinforce the spirit of giving thanks.
Extend your Thanksgiving celebration beyond the dining table by embracing outdoor adventures. Whether it’s a post-meal hike, a friendly game of touch football, or a leisurely nature walk, spending time in the great outdoors allows you to connect with loved ones and appreciate the beauty of the season.
These activities promote physical well-being and provide an opportunity to reflect on the blessings of nature.
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