Planning an eco friendly Thanksgiving is not as hard as you might think—it just means asking a few questions that might slightly shift your traditions. Do you typically buy a cut flower arrangement for the table? Look for organic flowers or a beautiful living succulent arrangement. Is turkey your main course? Find a free range, organic, heritage bird—and add vegetarian and vegan side dishes that can combine to become a main course for those who avoid poultry. You can even shop your local farmer’s market for healthy vegetables and fruits for your feast, and find recycled elements for your holiday decor. Follow my countdown for tips on menu planning, decorating, shopping and cleaning—I’ve got your eco friendly Thanksgiving covered!
Check in with your guests to assess any special food needs your guests might have. Are they vegan? Vegetarian? Pescetarian? A turkey can translate to a poached or grilled whole salmon for a pescetarian meal, or tofurky or vegetarian casserole for vegans and vegetarians. If there are food allergies, for example, you want to clearly identify or eliminate those items from your table. Simple questions now can save you a world of last-minute hurt. Finally, if you’re including poultry—and you haven’t done it already: Call now to order your turkey! One-half pound is the recommended serving size of your main course—turkey or tofurky—plus another half-pound if you want leftovers.
Plan your meal with foods that are in season. A simple rule of thumb for a traditional Thanksgiving meal is to include a main course, four sides and dessert. Write down your selections, then make a shopping list separating it into items that you can shop for in advance, and those you need to buy the day before.
If possible, hit the farmer’s market to shop locally for seasonal produce, as well as specialty items like honey or beeswax candles.
Shop for perishables and pick up your turkey. Then orchestrate your symphony of tastes! Sit down with a pencil and paper and plot out your finish times so that you know when your dishes need to go into the over in order to come out at relatively the same time. But please don’t stress the timing too much: Thanksgiving is more about the experience of sharing a meal together, and less about that meal being piping hot.
Clean house. Maybe you’re doing it yourself; maybe you have help. Either way, non-toxic cleaners can make your house sparkle without chemicals. Run out of sink or tub scrub? Mix up some baking soda and water. Wondering how to get your windows squeaky clean? Try vinegar and newspaper. These household staples really work, and you won’t run the risk of inciting a synthetic-fragrance induced allergy attack in your guests.
Pre-fab your prep. If you’re making stuffing, mix it early. If you’re mashing potatoes, skin and quarter them (if you leave them in a tub of cool water, they’ll be fine overnight). Brine or prep your turkey with with olive oil, salt and pepper and leave it in the refrigerator until the next morning. Bake your pies and set them aside. The more you get done today, the less you’ll have to worry about on the big day.
Decorate! This is the fun part. Think outside the box when it comes to making your home beautiful. Create table arrangements from living succulents or organic flowers, or collect bouquets from your yard or neighborhood—adding herbs like rosemary and lavender for a gorgeous, fragrant scent. Got kids—or kids coming to the party? Enlist them to visit the day before to help decorate the table and place your candles.
Cook like you’ve never cooked before! But make sure you build in a little time to relax before your guests arrive. Light your candles. Sample the organic wine. Pat yourself on the back.
Give thanks. Many families say a traditional prayer led by the head of the table before eating. Some go around the table, with each member saying what he or she is giving thanks for this year. Whatever happens at your table, make sure you’re conscious of the religious considerations of your guests.
A quick note on safety: Salmonella affects 1.4 million people every year. Don’t let the bird sit on the counter: Once you’ve served it, refrigerate as soon as possible, and eat the leftovers within a few days.
Once the feast is over, dispose of the leftovers. Scrape the plates and suds up—but wait! Is that a leek you’re tossing in the trash? Even if you don’t have an outdoor compost pile, you can still separate the green scraps from the rest and toss them in your leaf bin.