In a few week’s time, the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a wonderful holiday that brings family and friends together and kick off the holiday season in the States. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving happens to also be one of the most wasteful holidays out there. Isn’t it ironic that we celebrate and show gratitude for abundance with a lot of waste? This year will be my second year celebrating Thanksgiving with a zero waste mindset. What does this all mean, it means consciously consuming and ensuring that all of the food that you and millions of people have worked so very hard to put on the table does not go to waste. For me, a lot of living a zero waste lifestyle is preparation. Here’s my plan for this Thanksgiving. I know we will have dinner at my parents house so I will be encouraging family members to reduce as much waste consumption as possible.
This post contains affiliate links. See Disclosures for details.
Before beginning any type of shopping, take inventory. Take a look at the pantry, cupboards and china dressers to see if you can use up what you already have. This goes for food, plates, leftover containers, decorations, etc.
Food is many times how we show love and Thanksgiving is the number one holiday that uses food to share love with family. We may sometimes excessively cook things for this reason. Be aware of who will be attending your lunches and dinners and cook appropriately. Remember that buying from bulk stores like Costco, while tempting may not be the solution. Seriously, will you really need all 6 large cans of yams? If not, consider just buying one or two. The alternative is you forgetting about the rest of the cans and chucking them in the garbage two years later. Its waste, even if it’s deferred in the future. Full disclosure that this has happened to me a few times.
Experiment Ahead of Time in Small batches
Thanksgiving is also not the time to experiment in large batches. Do that a few weeks in advance so that you can perfect your recipes without needing to throw out larges amounts of inedible food for an experiment gone wrong. Go with the tried and true. Trust me, everyone will appreciate the comfort food.
For my family, we don’t eat turkey during Thanksgiving. It seems strange right, but my mom doesn’t like the smell and taste of it so instead we opt to go with ham and chicken. This has been our family tradition since I can remember, though a few Thanksgivings ago, my dad tried to sneak in a small turkey and that did not go over so well. He tried.
Coordinate the Menu
My sisters and I usually coordinate what to bring and cook. In the past, there has definitely been an over abundance of food. We are not a large family so 2-3 dishes per person definitely adds up. Keep this in mind with your guests as well, plan out who brings what if they are willing to cook. This reduces duplicates and excess food.
Use what's in season
Check out what’s growing in the season too. The bulk (non-packaged) section is a great place to buy only what you need especially when it comes to things that you may only use for that one recipe. It might also be helpful to ask an ingredient from a family member to supplement your list of other foods. Like cardamom for that one recipe that only uses a few pods.
Make from scratch
Opt to make things out of scratch to reduce packaging waste. Food to make from scratch: mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, salad, stuffing, bread, cornbread, pies, cakes, cookies, etc. Grab drinks in glass or refillable containers. There are so many places that that offer growlers and refills for beer, cider and wine. Yes, this does take time so we absolutely want to make sure both the food and the effort is appreciated and eaten by all. Here are some great resources on how to make, bake and cook foods with as little waste as possible:
Check out some more ideas here on this Pinterest board.
Empty Out the Fridge
A few weeks before Thanksgiving, start emptying out your fridge. Challenge yourself to zero out your fridge to make room for the things you need for Thanksgiving. This is a great way to use everything up and allows you to really take inventory of what’s needed. It will also give you the space to store leftovers later on.
Remember those nice dinnerware sets you got for your wedding that you save for special occassions, well bust them out. What better way to use them up that on a beautiful holiday meant to celebrate gratitude and family. If you don’t have enough, ask to borrow from family members especially if you are hosting it this year. This is a great way to reduce waste as you will be reusing plates and utensils. This is also a great way to show appreciation to beautiful objects instead of leaving them in stuffy boxes. Food will look better and taste amazing in actual dinner sets. I mean seriously, whenever I admire a set table, there's never a disposable in sight...including Rockwells. Guests will appreciate the thought of you using your best dinnerware. Best of all, you help reduce tons of disposable plastic from getting into the landfill. That’s definitely something to be grateful for.
As for us, since Thanksgiving is usually at my parents, my mom typically takes out her good china. She has multiple sets so sometimes I think they are new, but they are just in rotation. It’s a great feeling to be able to enjoy a meal on fine china.
If you absolutely need disposable dinnerware, consider non-plastic alternatives like bamboo or paper. Remember that most plastic does not get recycled especially when they are stuffed in large plastic trash bags. No one at the sorting facility opens these bags up to pick out the plastic items. Instead they go into one big pile to the landfill or incinerator.
Go natural, borrow, thrift or keep it simple. Just like at a wedding, sometimes guests barely remember the table centerpieces. A few key pieces put together can help provide a great tablescape. Here are some options that are low waste:
Use pumpkins, squashes for centerpieces. Can’t get anymore beautiful than natural colors.
Use pine cones, apples, twigs, corn, candles in large glass containers for centerpieces. Hint: I see lots of these at the thrift stores.
Use a natural neutral tablecloth like this burlap runner that goes with the fine china, but can be used again and again. Perhaps, stay away from tablecloth that have a Thanksgiving theme since the use is limited.
Think creatively when it comes to decorations. The more unique, the more memorable. Don’t discount re-purposing existing items in your home, heading to the thrift store for natural items or borrowing a few key items.
Today, start scouting, saving and collecting leftover containers. This is a great way to ensure guests can continue to enjoy a great meal and reduce food waste. Where can you find leftover containers? Take a look at what you are consuming. Save those jars. Ask co-workers if they can bring you their cleaned out jars. Ask family members to also start saving containers and request that they bring it to dinner so that they can use for bring back some yummy leftovers. Who refuses tasty leftovers?
For me, when I was in college, I would bring back so much leftovers back to school. It allowed me to save money since I could go a few days without buying food and I was able to savor Thanksgiving dishes way past that Thursday.
Invest in a water soluble wax pen to indicate food and dates on the containers ensuring it is seen and eaten.
Consider also how you will store food to eat over the next few days. Here are examples of how to store certain foods so they are fresher the next day or week. For all of these, make sure the food item has cooled down completely before freezing to ensure no condensation in the container. This also prevents your fridge from rising in temperature which could potentially spoil the other food.
Cookies. (My priority). Store in an airtight container separated by wax paper. Can be stacked or placed single layer. Make sure entire thing is cool and remove cookie one at a time and thaw or bake separately.
Chicken or Turkey. Shred ahead of time so that you can mix it in salads or make sandwiches easily. Divide into smaller quantities for easy use. Maybe it’s time to invest in stainless steel Ecolunchboxes.
Pumpkin and Squash decorations. Make soup out of them. Store them in the freezer in small batches that is easy to defrost for you to eat during the week.
Leftover bread. Cut into smaller pieces and freeze in a paper bag, then place inside a large containers to prevent the bread from absorbing any freezer smells.
Mashed Potatoes. Store in a glass container and freeze.
Cranberry Sauce. Store in a glass container.
Apple pie. Wait? You have leftover pie? Impossible, but I guess it happens. Wrap in a reusable bees wax cloth.
Wine. Transfer to a glass container that you can seal and then use again for future dishes.
Again, make sure to let things cool down completely. Write down dates and item on the containers themselves to make it easier to identify. Try to divide large items so it's easier to pull and thaw for consumption later on.