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Tips for an eco-friendly Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving turkey and sides on a table

Thanksgiving is a delicious holiday. With meal planning and inspired hosting, you can have a fun, eco-friendly Thanksgiving. Here are some tips to waste less, save money, and be good to the environment. Enjoy!

Low-waste meal planning

Eat First! basket in fridge

Food Guest-Imator

It’s easy to overcook – especially when Thanksgiving is such a food-driven holiday. Prepare the right amount of your holiday favorites. How many people are you planning to have at your gathering? Here’s a tool to help you shop for just the right amount: Food Guest-Imator from

Think back, then plan ahead

A great place to start is thinking back to last year or the year before. Did you have far too many leftovers? Too much of one thing but not enough of another? Something you make because of tradition that only a few people actually eat? Don’t be afraid to simplify your menu, plan differently or switch things up. 

Take inventory and make a list

Before you head to the grocery store for Thanksgiving, check your fridge and pantry first. This simple step has three big advantages:

  1. Finding ingredients you already have that your recipe calls for
  2. Clearing out the refrigerator makes room for groceries and leftovers
  3. Saving food that’s about to expire so you can use it quickly or pop it in the freezer

Now that you see what you have, you’re more prepared to create a list of exactly what you need. This is where reducing food waste starts. 

Be ingredient minded

Next, be sure the ingredients you buy can be used in their entirety during the holiday or used up in other recipes shortly after that. For example, if a dish calls for buttermilk, plan to make pancakes on the weekend with leftover buttermilk. Or use any extra veggies and broth to make turkey soup.

Shop smart, shop local

The grocery store always presents the opportunity to be discerning about packaging – and this is especially true during the holidays. Wherever possible, make sure food items have minimal or compostable packaging. Or, ideally, no packaging at all. 

Shop local. Check with your grocery store for a turkey and sides that are sourced locally and sustainably raised. You would be surprised how competitively priced food from local farmers can be. 

Recycle and compost where possible 

Finally, get your family involved by encouraging them to separate food packaging and whatever food waste you have into compost, recycling and trash. This is an area where kids can be extremely helpful, and you can reward them for composting or recycling as much as possible. 

Inspired hosting

Image from above table where guests clink glasses

Whether you’re planning a gathering large or small, there are a variety of ways to pull off an incredible event that’s easy to manage, easy on your wallet and easy on the environment, too.

Skip the disposables

Let’s start with the big one. We know it’s tempting to buy disposable cups, plates, utensils, and napkins – especially when you’re the one hosting. They’re less work and more convenient.

But that ease comes at a price.

Most disposable tableware should go in the trash unless you look for and buy items that are BPI Certified compostable and you dispose of them in organics recycling. Because these items are readily available, we recommend you skip the disposables, use the dishes you already have and wash them after the meal.

Many hands make less work: Welcome help from guests to clean up. Drying dishes together at the holidays can be a lot of fun (and another chance to catch up).

Stretch what you have; buy secondhand for what you need

Don’t have enough dishes or tableware for everyone? You can get creative to repurpose what you already have. Or you can ask friends or family members if they have extras you can borrow (e.g., large platters and serving dishes).

This is a great way to keep costs low and stretch what you have.

If borrowing isn’t an option, you have another choice before you head out to buy new tableware. You can find nearly every hosting item imaginable secondhand, including:

  • Glassware
  • Bakeware
  • Wine accessories/glasses
  • Eating utensils
  • Cookware
  • Small kitchen appliances
  • Cookbooks
  • Cookie cutters
  • Decorative linens
  • Placemats
  • Cloth napkins

The best part of purchasing items secondhand is unique Thanksgiving table décor. Our friends at the Hopkins Antique Mall encourage mixing and matching different dishes to make your table more special. Check out Arc’s Value Village, Hopkins Antique Mall, and AbleLight Thrift Store for festive decorations for Thanksgiving. It’s a fun way to get holiday ideas without spending a ton of money. 

Send leftovers home sustainably

Who wants to waste all that good food? No one! Make sure to have take-home options ready for your guests.

Reusable container options include:

  • Glass jars
  • Stainless steel containers
  • Reusable/cloth bags
  • Deli and take out containers, washed and saved just for this purpose

Another option? Ask guests to bring their own reusable container if they’d like to take home some tasty leftovers. They will be grateful, and that’s what this holiday is all about.

Remember, waste less, live better. Gobble gobble, and enjoy!