6 Zero Waste, Eco-Conscious Thanksgiving Prep Tips We're Grateful For

Thanksgiving is the holiday of gratitude, and it only seems right to practice gratitude for our scrumptious, and often bountiful, holiday meal. But how about taking that gratitude a level deeper by honoring our environment by avoiding food waste (which is so prevalent during the holidays!) and being kind to the planet by ditching single-use plastics? That's a holiday tradition I can really get behind. Looking for a more mindful Thanksgiving dinner? Here are my top ways to be more environmentally friendly this turkey (or tofurky) day.

Holiday decor

I made a commitment last holiday season to use more natural and eco-friendly decor for the holidays. Last Thanksgiving, for example, I created an elaborate tablescape using only seasonal food items, plants, and flowers that I could enjoy later, like a variety of colorful winter squash, apples, pears, pomegranates, pumpkins, fresh herbs that were part of the meal (like rosemary), and eucalyptus, and presented it all various platters, vases, and cutting boards I already owned. You can even use beautiful leaves and branches you find in your yard. 

For my table settings, I swap out disposables for reusable napkins, cutlery, and plates. Not only does it elevate the look and feel of the table, it also saves a whole bunch of waste.

Prepare food ahead of time

Preparation is the name of the game, and staggering your cooking will help with both time management as well as avoiding food spoilage. Depending on your menu, you may want to cook items in advance and freeze them in Stasher bags (soups and sauces work well), or use your time to prep ingredients before the big meal.

Similar to the way you freeze fruits or prep freezer meals, you can store cut up veggies in Stasher bags in the fridge, and even measure out things like grains into individual Stasher bags so you don’t need to do it day-of. Using Stasher bags for storage will help avoid using plastic baggies or plastic wrap, which isn’t good for your health, your wallet, or the planet.

Focus on low waste grocery shopping

Thanksgiving is such a perfect time to shop in the bulk section since many of our meals contain lots of nuts, seeds, and grains. Bring your Stasher bags to the bulk section (we have a handy guide to Stasher tare weights — which is the weight of the bag — on each product page!) and fill them up with the things you need, such as pecans for your pecan pie, rice, corn meal, quinoa or whatever you need for your menu. Just remind the cashier when you check out the weight of the bag so they can deduct it, so you only pay for what’s inside.

While shopping for produce, bring your reusable organic cotton produce bags for small, loose things like cherry tomatoes or spinach, and throw the rest, such as potatoes, squash, or really anything that won’t fall through the cracks of the shopping cart, directly in the cart. And if you're feeling up for an adventure, get your produce from the farmer’s market if yours is still operating in November, to help support local farmers. You can use the same BYO bag tactics there.

Related: 5 Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste 

Save your veggie scraps

As you are prepping away for your holiday meal, save the ends of your veggies, the peels, stems from greens and herbs, and whatever other odds and ends you have in a Stasher bag. You can throw the bag in the freezer, and once it’s full, use the scraps to make veggie stock after the holiday! I like to make a big batch of veggie stock and freeze it in ice cube trays or mason jars so I always have some on hand.

Compost instead of throwing food in the trash

Food is one of the biggest contributors to landfill, which leads to a host of environmental concerns. This year, why not turn your food scraps into something that replenishes our soil. If you have a home compost, great! And if not, check to see if your town or city offers one.

If you don’t have a chance to drop off your scraps until after the holiday, consider freezing the scraps until you’re ready to drop them off, which will give you all the time you need with none of the mess.

Connect more deeply to nature

One of the best ways to support the planet is to truly practice gratitude and connection for and with the planet. Our food is a gift from the earth, and in addition to doing all the wonderful things we can do to mitigate our waste, we also want to practice our connection to the earth itself.

Consider going on a Thanksgiving walk, or thanking the earth for the food it provided for your meal. The more we are connected to each other and to the planet, the kinder we will be to all.


This post was written by Sara Weinreb. She is the host of the Medium Well podcast, sustainability and design thinking consultant, contributor at Forbes, and shares it all on Instagram. 


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