How to Host a Sustainable Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Leftovers
Photo credit (Photo: happy_lark/Getty Images)

Thanksgiving is a perfect time to gather with family and friends to reflect on the past year and give thanks. Along with watching football, attending the Thanksgiving Parade, and sharing a delicious meal, many of us also express gratitude for our loved ones on this special day.

In celebrating everything we’re thankful for, it’s also important to honor the Earth. Our beautiful planet provides the food in our Thanksgiving feast and sustains us all in multiple ways. As you’re planning holiday festivities this year, be sure to follow these simple tips for hosting a sustainable Thanksgiving.

Display Natural Holiday Décor

During the fall, the trees burst with a rich display of gold, amber, and deep red leaves. You can bring some of that beauty indoors, by dressing up your Thanksgiving gathering with natural décor.

Instead of using plastic, paper, or synthetic decorations, spruce up your space with corn husks, colorful leaves, pumpkins, and gourds. Any or all of these items could make a gorgeous centerpiece on the table, create a cozy kitchen scene, or dress up your entryway.

Serve Dinner on Your Favorite Dishes

There’s no better time to use your favorite dishes and serving pieces than for Thanksgiving dinner. Using family heirlooms or your own china and stoneware makes the holiday a little more special. It’s also a sustainable alternative to serving food on disposable paper and plastic plates, bowls, and utensils. Taking this small step helps reduce landfill waste that can end up in the ocean and harm marine life.

Make Sustainable Menu Choices

Buying your Thanksgiving menu items from a local farm helps support rural communities and local agriculture. Plus, organic food is grown with less harmful pesticides, so it’s better for the planet.

If possible, visit your local farmers market to make organic menu selections. Popular Thanksgiving foods you can find at the market include corn, squash, potatoes, pumpkins and apples for pie, and more. 

If a farm is too far away or you plan to shop at the grocery store, be sure to look for organic labels and purchase accordingly.

Help Reduce Food Waste

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, about 1.3 billion tons of food for human consumption gets wasted each year.

To help combat this terrible loss, there are lots of ways to reduce waste at your Thanksgiving meal. For instance, as you make a shopping list, don’t over-buy items that can quickly spoil, like produce. Instead, follow recipes closely and buy just enough food and ingredients for the number of people you are hosting.

Furthermore, serve small amounts instead of large portions to your guests. Adopting a “less is more” rule helps ensure plates aren’t piled with uneaten food. After all, people can always go back for a second helping!

Properly Store, Eat and Share Leftovers

Most people look forward to a turkey sandwich or another delicious meal the day after Thanksgiving. Properly storing and eating as many leftovers as you can also help reduce waste.

When storing leftovers, plastic baggies, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil only add to overcrowded landfills. Therefore, packing food in washable, reusable storage containers is always the eco-friendliest option.

Furthermore, Food Network offers great food safety tips for storing, freezing and using leftover food. In general, you should pack up and refrigerate uneaten food within two hours after a meal and leftovers will stay good in the fridge for up to four days. Anything left past these timeframes should be tossed. 

Also, look online or check out cookbooks to find recipes that will help you enjoy Thanksgiving food in tasty new ways after the holiday. You can also share leftovers by giving extra portions to family and friends to take home.

Compost Food Scraps

Finally, be sure to compost any food scraps you have during meal prep or after your dinner. Composting not only helps enrich the soil, but it also limits greenhouse gas emissions, helps curb plant disease, limits fertilizer use, and reduces waste. Use this guide from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for helpful tips about composting food scraps at home.

By Lori Melton