Giovanna Trabasso  /   11/16/2022

Sustainable Thanksgiving: How To Cut Down Food Waste

Planning a Thanksgiving meal is no small feat. With hours of planning, shopping, and cooking, adding another item to worry about can seem daunting. Unfortunately, food waste is no joke. Unfortunately, turkeys aren’t the most eco-friendly. Every Thanksgiving, the U.S. wastes about 6 million turkeys. According to the USDA, the average American family of four throws away $1,500 of uneaten food yearly. It’s time we start planning our sustainable Thanksgiving.

While the adjustment might scare you, we promise it will be worth it in the end. In just a few steps, you can better plan your meal. Yes, we are focused on sustainability, but we also want to help reduce stress! The most important part of planning is predicting and solving issues ahead of time. Here’s our guide to a sustainable Thanksgiving.

1. Plan Ahead

It almost feels like cheating recommending to plan your meal. Create a menu for your dinner with everything you plan to serve. Start by creating a list of your family’s favorites and must-haves. Once you have your list, write all ingredients you will need for each. With it, you’ll be able to cross-reference between dishes. 

While planning your menu, also consider the leftovers. Does your family have any favorite recipes you know you’ll need to make for lunch the next day? Planning leftovers is just as important! We have some more tips below on how to get creative and avoid wasting what you don’t eat at dinner.

Now it’s time to shop your pantry! Before even thinking about going to a grocery store,  look through your fridge and cupboards for ingredients you might already have. You’d be surprised by what’s hiding behind that 5-month-old bag of flour! By shopping your pantry and creating a menu that spreads out your ingredients, you’ll be able to shop smarter and save some money. A sustainable Thanksgiving should also promote sustainable spending.

We know Thanksgiving is all about tradition, but don’t get stuck to the ones you don’t like. If you know your loved ones will not eat that side of cranberry sauce, skip it! Don’t worry, don’t eliminate what’s not liked by everyone at your table. Portion your recipes considering who is going to eat what. Don’t be so quick to skip the cranberry sauce if only you like it! 

When planning, you can also brainstorm alternatives for your must-haves. For example, if a turkey is too big for your family, why not try a chicken? If the sides are always the favorites, skip the turkey altogether! Why not find new traditions and have a sustainable Thanksgiving every year?

2. Buy Smart

Now that you know what you need, let’s plan how and where to buy it! Buying from local suppliers is always the easiest way to stay sustainable and get the freshest ingredients. As a bonus, you’ll be supporting your community. Buying directly from local farmers also reduces your use of plastic packaging. Many local farmers are happy to deliver right to your door in their reusable packaging or allow you to bring yours.

A sustainable Thanksgiving celebrates all the best the season has to offer. This means buying fruits and vegetables that are in season! As the quintessential fall holiday, Thanksgiving is already very seasonal. Buying what’s in season is closely related to buying from local suppliers. What is in season in one location might not yet be available in others. Communicate with your local farmers. They’ll be happy to supply you with their best products!

We know that it’s not so easy to buy exclusively from local suppliers. Once you have to hit the big grocery stores, buy in bulk. A sustainable Thanksgiving can also help you plan for the rest of the year. When it comes to items that last longer, including potatoes, flour, nuts, and baking ingredients, buy as many as possible to stock up your pantry. Buying in bulk will also help you save a buck in the long run.

3. Reuse Scraps

The best way to keep your Thanksgiving sustainable is by using everything you buy. Those scraps are more valuable than you think! Keep your veggie scraps and turkey carcass for making stock. You can freeze your scraps and add them to strengthen your stock. Or you can batch-make your stock right when you’re cooking your Thanksgiving meal. That gravy made with stock from your turkey carcass will be the best you’ve ever had!

A fun way to use fruit scraps is to infuse alcohol, water, and syrups. Making an infused bourbon only requires your favorite bourbon and leftover fruit! To make simple syrup, all you need is equal parts water and sugar. Melt down the sugar and let it cool together with your chosen fruit. Now you can make your favorite flavored latte at home! By boiling water with fruit scraps, like lemon peels and orange peels, and your favorite spices in a pot, your house will smell cozy and warm for fall.

If you don’t want to add another to-do to your list, you can just compost your scraps. Follow our beginner’s guide on composting and get started today!

4. Reuse and Reduce Leftovers

Leftovers can be the most enjoyable part of the holiday. When planning a sustainable Thanksgiving, what you do with your leftovers is particularly important. Much like the main meal, always make your favorites. 

As we suggested above, plan your leftovers while planning the main menu. If you don’t know what to make with your leftovers and usually throw them out, we’re here to help! We have a detailed article with all of our favorite recipes to bring your leftovers back to life.

You can still have a sustainable Thanksgiving without forcing your family to eat everything you’ve made. Use your leftovers to make sandwiches for the homeless. You can even drop it all off at shelters that distribute it for you.

Today we focused on reducing food waste, but we have one last tip for your first sustainable Thanksgiving. Skip the single-use products! No paper napkins, paper plates, or plastic cutlery and cups. You can skip the serving dishes and serve in the pots and pans you cooked in for a buffet-style or rustic dinner. Check out our sustainable kitchen guide for even more tips. If you’re already planning your gifts for the holidays, we have eco-friendly suggestions.

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