How to Plan a Green Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a fun holiday for getting together with family and eating a really impressive meal. But then you have all the leftovers and mess to clean up.


I suppose it’s a good thing that only the eating part is heavily commercialized. At least, I don’t know anyone who decorates for Thanksgiving the way people do for Halloween or Christmas.

Planning a green Thanksgiving isn’t too complex. It’s about thinking about your choices and not going overboard. Here are some of my ideas.

1. Decorate with things you have on hand.

Odds are you already have plenty of decorations that will make your table look nice for the holiday dinner. A tablecloth, your good dishes and so forth will make a very nice presentation.

If you haven’t started using cloth napkins, now is a great time to start. They look more elegant. Organic cloth napkins can be an excellent choice if you need to buy some. They really aren’t that much harder to deal with than disposables.

2. Add in natural decorations.

If you live in an area where the fall leaves have some great color, they can make wonderful Thanksgiving decorations. You’ll need to pick carefully for any that you put on the table, of course.

3. Think about your turkey.

If it fits in the budget, go for a free range or organic turkey. These cost more, so don’t feel too bad if you don’t feel up to buying one.

However, you can be sure to use up as much of the turkey as possible after the holiday. Yes, the turkey leftovers can get boring. However, you can freeze the excess to spread things out a little.

Don’t forget to really mix things up. In my family there’s a recipe we call Quitting Cold Turkey. It uses turmeric to help the flavor, along with various vegetables. Very simple to make.

And of course there’s turkey soup to be made from the bones and scraps. You can get a lot of soup from one turkey, and know that you aren’t wasting anything you can eat. I generally freeze my excess soup in batches so I can take out just enough for daily meals when we want it.

There’s also the option of having something other than turkey. Some families prefer something else for the main dish. Others cannot stand the thought of skipping their annual turkey. If you really aren’t that enthusiastic about turkey, what would you like?

4. Buy organic produce for side dishes.

Whether or not you were able to buy an organic or free range turkey, try to go organic or local for your side dishes. This will be more challenging in some areas than in others, but it’s a step worth taking.

5. Make less excess food.

Yes, people love to overeat on Thanksgiving. It’s one of those days that few people worry about their diet. But if every year your family is groaning about how long it’s going to take to finish the leftovers, you’re probably cooking way too much. Cut back a little.

6. Borrow rather than buy.

My sister called me the other day, and while we were talking she mentioned that she needed to get a new mixer before Thanksgiving. She always makes a lemon meringue pie, but her mixer doesn’t work anymore.

I pointed out to her that mine is just fine, and I am a very short detour on her way home from work (less than a half mile). She was quite delighted that I am willing to loan my mixer out. It saves her a bit of money and lets her get the job done.

7. Plan travel carefully.

This is a huge travel season. Many people will drive long distances to have a family Thanksgiving, and many will fly.

If you fly, consider buying carbon credits or even just planting a tree in your area. There’s not a lot you can do about the emissions created by airplanes otherwise. At least at this time of year you can be fairly certain of a full flight.

Driving is better. Check your tires, get your oil changed if it’s due, and be sure your car is overall in good working condition. Don’t pack more than you need to bring, as this will bring your mileage down.

If you have the time, there’s always the train. The time required can be a bit hard to deal with, but if it’s practical for you, trains aren’t a bad way to go.

8. Consider having Thanksgiving at home.

No, not as exciting as seeing all the family you get to see at the big gatherings, but sometimes celebrating Thanksgiving at home is plenty of fun too. You may be able to invite friends over who also aren’t traveling to see their families.

If your family has a strong tradition of getting together for Thanksgiving this can be a hard one to break. But it can also take a lot of stress out of the holiday.

9. Recycle and compost.

Do your best to keep the trash in the trash can and separate out all the stuff that can be recycled or composted. If you’re preparing fresh vegetables, there will probably be plenty of bits for the compost bin. You may also have cans and other containers for the recycle bin.

10. Be thankful.

If you have the money to celebrate as you like, if you have a roof over your head, even if you’re struggling financially, you’re doing much better than many others.

If you’re away from family, give them a call. Write a letter. Even just send an email to let those you love know how much they mean to you.

11. Give to the less fortunate.

No, nothing really green as such, just one of the best ways to show that you care about those who are less fortunate at this time of year. There are plenty of food drives going on at churches and even grocery stores. Our local Henry’s, for example, has pre-bagged foods for their food drive. You just pick the one that has the amount you’re willing to pay and they ring it up for you.

Don’t forget the food banks the rest of the year. Many of them struggle to provide food to needy families during other times of the year.

One reply

  1. Great post full of practical tips that I plan to incorporate into our family’s Thanksgiving. Thanks!

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