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6 Tips for a Greener Thanksgiving

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A little advance planning can not only make your Turkey Day meal go a little smoother, but also help the planet. Find out what you can do to go green this Thanksgiving.
UPDATED: 10/28/11 | Originally Published: 11/04/09

Thanksgiving is only a few short weeks away, and it's always been my favorite holiday. As one of the biggest, most involved meals you're likely to cook all year, a little advance planning can go a long way in making sure that your meal is as eco-friendly as it can be. These tips will help you plan a responsible Turkey Day.

  1. Order a heritage turkey.
  2. Stop reading the rest of this article for a minute, hop over to Local Harvest, and pre-order a heritage turkey before it's too late (farms generally need a few weeks or longer to process the order). Buying a heritage turkey instead of a factory-raised one from your supermarket is beneficial in several ways: You're helping to preserve endangered American breeds from extinction, you're buying a turkey that was raised humanely (and allowed to live a longer life), and you're supporting small farmers whose operations are usually reliably more environmentally-friendly. Plus, heritage turkeys' meat is richer and more flavorful than the Broad Breasted White breed that comprises most of the supermarket turkey offerings.

  3. Stock up gradually.
  4. Plan your menu and shopping list now, and you can gradually stock up on nonperishable items. By buying in advance, you'll have a better selection and can keep a closer watch on sales and coupons. Plus, your expenses will be a little more spread out- so you won't have that sticker shock of one massive shopping trip. Don't forget to take your reusable bags to the supermarket. Not only will you reduce your use of disposable bags, but the sturdy canvas or nylon totes are easier to carry heavy goods in than the flimsy paper or plastic bags are.

  5. Supplement your side dishes at the farmer's market.
  6. Hit your farmer's market a week early to get the best selection of locally grown and/or organic produce. Look for leafy greens for a sautéed side dish, root vegetables to roast, or even beautiful fall fruit (like apples or pears) to either use as a centerpiece, or to bake into a pie or a tart. Supporting local farmers is always an earth-friendly move, and having food from your foodshed on Thanksgiving can really help reinforce the message of the holiday.

  7. Don't use disposables for the table...
  8. Naturally you want to make clean-up easy, but try to avoid throwaway plates, cups, utensils and napkins — no matter how many people you are expecting. Now's the time to bring out that wedding china you never use. If you don't have enough of one pattern, feel free to mix and match (I like to alternate place settings of different patterns so that it looks intentional), and borrow what you don't have from one of your guests. Use cloth napkins, too. Not only do they add elegance to the table, but they're better for the environment than paper ones because they have a longer lifecycle.

  9. ...or for the leftovers.
  10. I've always been amazed at the yards and yards of plastic wrap and aluminum foil that you can waste when wrapping up the leftovers. Instead, a week or two before Thanksgiving, sort through all of your reusable plastic food storage containers, match lids and bases, and put them somewhere accessible on the big day. If you plan on sharing leftovers with your guests, ask them to bring a couple of their own plastic food storage containers; this way, you're sure to have enough and you won't risk losing any of your own containers.

  11. Decorate with nature.
  12. While you're busy in the kitchen on Thanksgiving morning, send the rest of the family out to the yard or a local park to search for table decorations. Pine cones, Osage oranges, or beautiful Fall leaves piled in a bowl or on a platter can make a lovely centerpiece, and they're much more environmentally-friendly than store bought decorations.

Any of these steps, however small, will not only help you host a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, but will also help the environment.

What are your tips for greener entertaining? Share them by commenting below.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.