Thankfully, celebrations this year will look more normal for the Thanksgiving holiday. Whether you’re only serving members of your household or inviting some additional guests, the focal point of the holiday is the feast. Like other gatherings though, Thanksgiving has the potential to give the environment less to be thankful for. The planet works hard to provide an ecosystem where food can grow, animals can graze and humans can consume, so when planning your Thanksgiving feast, honor Earth by making use of every morsel.
Plan out your meal
The number one way to avoid food waste is to properly plan the meal. Think about each dish and make a list of ingredients. If the recipe you have in mind requires a small amount of an ingredient you don’t have on hand or don’t normally use, either find another recipe to use the rest of the item or find a recipe with other ingredients. For example, if a recipe requires half a can of tomato sauce, find another recipe for the other half of the can rather than throwing it out. Same goes for broth, sauces, spices, etc.
Related: 12 easy vegetarian and vegan potluck dishes for Thanksgiving
The amount of food you make is also a crucial consideration in reducing food waste. Leftovers are nice, as long as it’s not too much. Everyone tires of the same flavors day after day, so while you may enjoy a turkey sandwich, make sure you don’t have enough for 10 turkey sandwiches. When purchasing your turkey, plan one pound per person and go up from there to provide a bit of extra. Remember: You’ll have a variety of foods on the table, so you don’t need enough of each dish to feed everyone, just enough for everyone to have a serving.
Better yet, plan a vegetarian or vegan Thanksgiving. If your entire meal is plant-based, all food scraps will be compostable without food waste going into the garbage can.
When shopping for your Thanksgiving dinner, go local. Most farmer’s markets and butcher shops avoid the packaging you’ll find at the supermarket. In addition, their foods will support the local economy and be fresh.
If you don’t have access to these sources, bring your own containers for bulk foods, reusable shopping bags and reusable produce bags.
And make sure to buy in quantities that make sense. Just because you need spinach for a recipe doesn’t mean you need three pounds of it. Only buy what you’ll use.
Plan for leftovers
Plan to share leftovers with guests. Ask them to bring containers or start saving up before the event. Reuse those hard-to-recycle containers the ricotta and olives came in. That goes for jars too.
If your leftovers will remain in-house, have a plan for how to use them up in creative ways. Make a stock with the turkey carcass. Make turkey and dumplings or turkey enchiladas. Fry up mashed potatoes into crispy potato cakes. Make a stir fry out of leftover vegetables. Be sure to use up the herbs, sauces and gravy too.
Store leftovers for later use
Sometimes even the best plans leave us with more food than expected. If guests fail to show up, or you accept invitations and end up out of the home in the days after your feast, preserve your food instead of letting it go to waste. Slice and freeze turkey to use for sandwiches later on, or cube it so it’s prepped for soup on a cold winter night. You can also freeze mashed potatoes. Herbs can go into ice trays. Once frozen, put into a freezer-safe container to use later in stews, casseroles, soups and sauces.
Compost food scraps
If the fresh fruits and veggies get away from you, you can at least feel good about composting them, giving back to the soil they came from. This is also true for things like peelings and apple cores during dinner prep and the food scraps on plates at the end of the meal.
All plant-based foods can go into the compost. If you don’t have a compost pile, it’s easy to start one. However, an increasing number of local industrial compost processing plants are encouraging customers to mingle compostable food waste with other yard debris such as leaves, grass clippings and small branches. Check with your waste management company to see if this is the case in your area.
Make all foods from scratch
Having a waste-free Thanksgiving is about more than just the potential food waste. Look around at other areas that may create waste and find an alternative. Make your decorations from natural materials like leaves and pinecones. Use a gourd, pumpkin or flowers as your centerpiece. Encourage guests to carpool. Use real, washable plates, cups and silverware instead of disposable options. Make whipped cream from scratch instead of buying an aerosol can. In fact, make all foods from scratch as much as possible. For example, skip the plastic containers of hummus and salsa and make your own instead.
Having a big family meal can be overwhelming if you try to do it all by yourself. However, it should be an opportunity to engage with your guests, so feel free to ask them to bring a dish or have them in the kitchen with you as part of your holiday celebration. You’ll all walk away with more memories and feel better about working towards a common goal of a nearly zero-waste occasion that celebrates the holiday and the environment.