9 Ideas for a Green Thanksgiving

Green Thanksgiving tips
Photo: Utopia / Binford

Celebrating a green Thanksgiving doesn’t necessarily mean raising your own organically-fed turkey in the backyard. But you can make small changes to your holiday routines in order to make your Thanksgiving more sustainable. Here’s how.

Thanksgiving is one of the most cherished North American holidays. From early childhood, this centuries-old celebration has taught us to be thankful for what and who we have around us. We look forward to bountiful feasts consisting of tasty turkey (including leftovers) or homemade (vegan) apple pie and get to spend quality time with those we hold dear.

You may have a pretty packed to-do list preparing for the traditional Thanksgiving celebration, but take a moment to consider: Thanksgiving is also a time of mass consumption. And of foodwaste. Every year, Americans waste around 170 million pounds of turkey. So, in the spirit of green Thanksgiving, how about making some small but sustainable changes to your traditions? Here are some helpful tips on sustainable practices you can incorporate into your Thanksgiving routine.

1. Plan Ahead

Green Thanksgiving locally grown food farmers market
Check out the selection at your local farmers’ market the weekend before Thanksgiving. (Photo: Utopia / Binford)

Planning an elaborate meal for more than five guests can be quite an ordeal. Keeping tabs on your guest list, menu preferences, and coordinating transportation alongside keeping up with your own life can leave little time for a thorough Thanksgiving preparation. This is one reason many people put Thanksgiving shopping off until the last day – and end up in long queues.

If you want to put the best quality food on the table, planning ahead is key. Scout out your local farmers’ market the weekend before for sustainable, all-natural organic ingredients for your green Thanksgiving dinner. Special Thanksgiving farmers’ markets are also held in some areas up until Tuesday or Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving Thursday – have a look around to see if there’s one near you.

2. Green Thanksgiving Shopping: Serve Organic Food

serve locally grown food
Your efforts in thinking global and buying local will not go unnoticed this Green Thanksgiving. (Photo: Utopia)

Some things you will need to buy at the store. Just try to be mindful of the quality and origin of the goods you buy by keeping your eyes peeled for the USDA organic seal on the goods in your basket. Also, practice plastic-free shopping wherever possible.

If you find yourself overwhelmed with the list of cooking duties ahead of you, delegate some to other members of the family to make things a bit more manageable. This also saves you the hassle of running back to the store on Thanksgiving for those one or two items you forgot.

Utopia’s tip: Gearing up for some heavy-duty Thanksgiving baking may involve giving your oven a scrub-down before or after: Try our own Homemade Oven Cleaner – it will save you money and is a much safer option than conventional chemical-based methods.

3. Green Thanksgiving: Choosing the Right Turkey

Green Thanksgiving tips USDA organic turkey
Be on the lookout for the USDA organic certification. (Photo: (L) Utopia; (R) CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Kirk Thornton)

Obviously, less meat is better for the planet. Should you still choose to prepare an actual turkey, however, it should meet some minimum requirements before making it onto your Green Thanksgiving table.

  • Firstly, check if the bird is organic: Turkeys also receive the USDA Organic certification when requirements are met.
  • Secondly, keep an eye out for Non GMO certifications and birds that have been raised “free-range” and “antibiotic free” – these will also have their own seals printed visibly on the packaging.
  • Thirdly, buy local if possible.
  • Try new things! How about a vegan alternative to the traditional Thanksgiving turkey?

4. Cook Healthy Dishes

tips cook healthy food
Cook healthy food – it will taste just as good. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Ella Olsson)

Apart from the green beans, a good deal of unhealthy foods end up on our Thanksgiving dinner tables every year. Some of them are guilty pleasures we may indulge in once a year. But others are simply not as nutritious as we may think. You’ll find some common Thanksgiving essentials you may want to reconsider putting on your table here: Healthy Grocery List: 6 Unhealthy Foods to Cross Out.

Here are some ideas for vegan and vegetarian seasonal dishes to try:

5. Thanksgiving Staple: Leftovers

Green Thanksgiving feast leftovers
Leftovers are great – but don’t let them go to waste! (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Christiann Koepke)

Leftovers have become a staple of a proper Thanksgiving meal in their own right. Everybody knows Thanksgiving gravy is even better the next day. But don’t leave leftovers on the counter, or they will quickly spoil. Put them in the fridge instead. And please be honest with yourself about how much you or your family can actually eat. Because nobody will want to eat leftovers for the week to come. The less leftover food you have, the less can end up in the garbage.

Divvying up the leftovers in reusable glass containers among your guests is one way you can reduce food waste and make your Thanksgiving a bit greener. This also leaves room in the fridge for sustainable culinary creations to come.

Also, try to reuse vegetable scraps left over from the evening’s prep. Where there’s a will to celebrate a green Thanksgiving, there’s a way to put veggie scraps back to use: Try your hand at our own homemade vegetable broth recipe, for example. Here are some more ideas for scraps and leftovers:

6. Green Thanksgiving Decorations

green thanksgiving decorations natural backyard items
Celebrate a Green Thanksgiving by filling your house with the best natural decorations. (Photo: Utopia/Binford)

Every year from around Halloween on, supermarkets will sell a flurry of Thanksgiving-related decorations in all shapes, sizes, and (fall) colors. Aside from life-size plastic turkeys on a stake, a lot of these decorations are made from things we can find right in our backyards. Gather together some pinecones, nuts of any kind, leaves, or branches and let your creativity take care of the rest: String them up around the house or arrange them neatly in one of your favorite seasonal bowls for all to admire.

If you don’t happen to have any cattails or stalks of wheat laying around the house, buying all-natural decorations from the supermarket or farmers’ market is a good alternative. Just make sure you avoid imitation materials and goods shipped in from out of state or even overseas.

Plastic turkeys and pilgrim hats may indeed be a cheap and easy way to amuse your kids. However, they are often imported from far away countries, contain harmful chemicals, and have absolutely nothing to do with a green Thanksgiving.

7. Black Friday: Not Green and Not Thanksgiving

 black friday rush
Black Friday doesn’t have all too much to do with a Green Thanksgiving. (Photo: Utopia / Binford)

While some Thanksgiving traditions involve exciting board games, nail-biting football matchups, and comforting company, others are all about heading to the closest store offering shelf-clearing prices. If this is engraved into your Thanksgiving tradition, talking your family out of it may take some effort. But you should try to do it anyway: Because Black Friday shopping has nothing to do with the spirit of Thanksgiving – namely giving thanks for what you have.

Instead, we’re just accumulating things we may never need or use in the future. This is why Black Friday Shopping is the opposite of sustainable consumption.

Tip: You want to avoid impulse buys, especially when it comes to clothes? Then create a minimalist wardrobe. Simply take inventory of the clothes you own, weed out your most fashionable and combinable favorites and stick to these. When you really do need a new piece, you’ll know exactly what to shop for.

8. Get Outside and Enjoy the Day

Go outside walk
Give yourself a break here and there, get outside, and joy the fall weather! (Photo: Utopia / Binford)

Holidays can be stressful and there is quite a lot to manage when it comes to Thanksgiving. You may need to host the evening’s festivities, organize an inter-family carpool to a faraway celebration destination or have exactly two hours to get the house looking spick and span before your guests arrive.

Don’t let the excitement of the day get the best of you! Remember to take it easy – even if your green Thanksgiving timetable says otherwise. Getting outside and enjoying the beautiful fall weather is a great way to reduce stress around this occasionally hectic holiday. Take your dog for a lengthy walk, go for a run or just relax outside on your balcony or at the park – in short: remember to enjoy your holiday!

9. Stay safe

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we may not all be able to spend Thanksgiving with our families this year.

If you are spending Thanksgiving on your own this year, do try to enjoy the day as much as you can. Watch your favorite movie, read a good book, make yourself a delicious meal – and stay in touch with your family via phone or video chat. Or maybe there’s a local charity, shelter, or soup kitchen that might appreciate you helping out?

Utopia wishes you and your family a wonderful Green Thanksgiving!

8 Tips for a Green Thanksgiving: How to Celebrate Sustainably
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