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An Organic Journey: Thanksgiving Without The Cans

Written by Southern Savers .
It's the perfect time to rethink all of the canned foods we use. These ideas will help update recipes so we can treat the environment (and our bodies!) better this holiday season.

Amy Sanders is a long time behind-the-scenes contributor to She currently writes the Organic Living Journey Series following her family's steps toward healthy and sustainable living on a budget. Striving for a diet comprised of whole foods instead of packaged/processed foods not only helps reduce your energy consumption and the use of pesticides and waste — it is also great for your waistline!

Thanksgiving is almost here, and when I pulled out my go-to recipe for our family's Broccoli Casserole, I realized it desperately needed revamping. For so many of the ingredients, I normally turned to canned soups and processed cheese out of habit and tradition. As it turns out, there are a myriad of other options – from fresh, to organic to minimally-processed – all of which are better for the environment and our health.

Most of us think about cans as being highly recyclable, and in fact 67% of cans were recycled in 2010.1 While that might sound like good news, the ones that weren't recycled still made up almost 7% of solid waste in the US.2 On average, Americans use about 200 million metal cans per day3, and I can imagine a big portion are used for the Thanksgiving holiday.

In an effort to make Thanksgiving a little healthier and more earth-friendly, join me as I kick the cans this holiday season. We'll start by re-working my family's favorite Broccoli Cheese Rice Casserole recipe and then tackle some other Fall favorites.

Based on what I've learned in my organic journey so far, I opted for conventionally grown broccoli and onions (part of the "Clean 15") and made sure my celery was organic (it's the worst offender on the "Dirty Dozen" list). I also chose organic cage free eggs . The remainder of my ingredients were standard grocery store fare.

  • Can-Free Broccoli Cheese Rice Casserole
  • 2 tbs butter
  • ½ cup organic celery, diced
  • ½ onion, petitely diced
  • 1 large garlic clove (or 2 small), minced
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cage free egg
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded and divided
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan, divided
  • 1.5 tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper (or to taste)
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • 2 heads broccoli (or 1 frozen 10.5 oz packaged), chopped and steamed

  • Preheat oven to 350º and grease 8x8 square baking dish. In a saute pan over med-low heat, melt butter. Add diced celery, onion and garlic and saute until onion is translucent. Turn off heat and leave in pan. Meanwhile, combine cream cheese, ricotta and egg in large bowl. Once well combined, add half the cheddar and parmesan. Then, stir in onion mixture and add salt and pepper. In another large bowl, combine broccoli and rice and then fold in cheese mixture. Transfer mixture to greased baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. Add remaining cheddar and parmesan to top and bake until melted and bubbly (approximately 8 minutes).

Keep in mind as you take a look at traditional recipes that a long list of processed ingredients means a lot of energy went into getting it on our table. Every extra step — from added pesticides, to refining and packaging — has an environmental impact. Now, we'll look at a few other Thanksgiving staples that can be remade using fresh and organic ingredients. Taking even a few steps toward organic, minimally processed foods can go a long way toward our impact on the planet.

Cranberry Sauce
Cranberries' harvest season is late fall, so the process of canning to preserve them really isn't necessary. You can easily make delicious cranberry sauce with water, the sweetener of your choice, and fresh cranberries. I think you'll also find that homemade cranberry sauce is much more enjoyable because you can control the sweetness to your taste. Eliminating additives such as high fructose corn syrup and unneeded packaging are two small changes you can feel good about.

Green Bean Casserole
Organic green beans are widely available and they actually don't cost much more than conventional green beans. Plan ahead and freeze some extra from the summer crop or opt for fresh if you can find them. My girls love to sit and snap them with me, plus it makes them more excited to eat their veggies Either way your casserole will benefit over using sodium-laden canned beans. The typical fried onion topping contains palm oil (the number one ingredient), which is a saturated fat and doesn't break down quickly — a good thing if you want food to last a long time, a bad thing if your body is attempting to process it. If you are feeling ambitious you can make your own topping with this recipe:

  • Homemade Fried Onions
  • 3 sweet onions
  • ½ cup milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 ½ cups flour (or gluten-free flour, any type will work)
  • oil for frying (walnut or sunflower oil being the healthiest)

  • Slice the onions into rings or sticks, separate them, and soak them in milk for a few minutes. Heat oil about an inch deep in frying pan. Coat the onions in flour, and then place into the oil. Once the onions float, turn them over and continue cooking until they are golden brown. Drain onto a paper towel-lined pan.

"Cream Of" Soups
These are a primary ingredient in many popular Thanksgiving casseroles, and most of the canned cream soups are high in sodium, contain MSG and a host of other unpronounceable ingredients, but are super easy to make from scratch. Make a cream soup using a base of flour, butter, milk and broth, and then just add mushrooms, celery, cheese or any other flavor you are trying to achieve. If you are worried about how much time your can-free Thanksgiving will take, you can easily make this ahead and freeze, to pull out later!

Pie Crust
I had always bought ready-to-roll pie crusts, but this year, after discovering that a host of processed ingredients including partially hydrogenated lard are on the ingredients list of my favorite kind, I attempted to make my own. There are lots of recipes out there, but most call for a simple mix of flour, butter, salt and cold water. Overall, I was amazed at how easy it was to make my own crust, and I always have these ingredients on hand. No extra trip to the store required!

Deciding to make your Thanksgiving favorites from scratch may mean eliminating some shortcuts with prepackaged foods. Putting in the extra effort to use fresh and organic ingredients is not only good for your body, it also reduces the packaging used. Another win for the planet... even if you go back for that second slice of pie.

What food are you going to try to make can-free this holiday-season? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

References - More

Southern Savers is one of the leading frugal living websites in the South with the goal of teaching a purposeful, relaxed approach to saving money on almost everything you buy. Anyone can coupon, and Southern Savers tries to make it as easy as possible to save your family money! Their focus is on finding ways to coupon, deal hunt and shop in the quickest, most time conserving manner – that way you can get back to what's truly important, like playing games and coloring with the kids!

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