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9 Ways to Make Your Thanksgiving Dinner More Eco-Friendly

Making your Thanksgiving dinner more sustainable is easy. From buying a local turkey to opting for cloth napkins, here are nine swaps to try.

Written by
Asha Swann

It's the holiday season, and you know what that means: planning your sustainable Thanksgiving dinner.

Preparing isn't easy. You need to plan the menu, grocery shop (the cost of Thanksgiving is at an all-time high!), and potentially make holiday travel plans. But in the end, it's all worth it because you get to spend time with the people you love—and enjoy all your favorite holiday recipes, too.

However, Thanksgiving comes with a large environmental impact. The holiday season usually sees an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and overall waste. TerraPass estimates that in the U.S. alone, the emissions produced from Thanksgiving waste are equivalent to driving 800,000 times from New York to San Francisco. From plastic food packaging to cooking high-emission foods, the holiday season certainly takes a toll on the environment.

The good news is there are several ways to decrease your carbon footprint while still having an amazing holiday with your friends and family, and you can start by making some eco-friendly meal swaps. Here are some sustainable Thanksgiving dinner tips to keep in mind this year.

9 Sustainable Thanksgiving Dinner Tips

1. Shop Local for Meats

Most Thanksgiving tables have a roasted turkey sitting in the center. And while it's true that meat-based dishes have a larger carbon footprint than plant-based ones, we certainly don't expect every family to swap turkey for vegetables or vegan turkey alternatives.

Instead, you can shop for an ethically-sourced turkey. One way to do that is by buying your meat from a local butcher or a local farm. Buying food locally has a lower carbon footprint because the food travels less distance to get to your home. Less travel means fewer emissions. Plus, you'll be supporting a local business.

2. Try a Meatless Dish

If your family is serving turkey as the main course, try swapping out a side that includes meat for a veggie-filled one. With vegan and vegetarian dishes available now more than ever before, there are tons of great options to add to your spread. Here are some vegan Thanksgiving recipes to try, including a shepherd's pie and a lentil meatloaf.

3. Swap in Vegan Butter

This is a simple swap that no one will notice. You can swap dairy butter for vegan butter in basically any dish, including mashed potatoes, pies, sauces—you name it.

Vegan butter has been around for years and is super similar in texture. Because it's so accessible, you can find it in most major grocery stores.

4. Try Non-Dairy Milk

Swapping out traditional dairy for a dairy-free alternative like oat milk is another easy eco-friendly change to make. Dairy production is one of the prime ways animal agriculture contributes to global warming.

But you don't have to give up dairy overnight (or at all, if you don't want to). Even making the swap in a couple of dishes can help decrease your overall carbon footprint.

5. Use Natural Decor

Switching out plastic decor for natural decor can give your Thanksgiving party a unique look. Adding some cedar branches, acorns, and pinecones to your table is better for the environment than buying plastic decor. Plus, who doesn't love the smell of fresh pine?

6. Cook Numerous Dishes at Once

Instead of cooking one dish at a time, you can conserve energy by putting multiple dishes in the oven at once. We recommend baking your dessert, like pie, before the main course. Once it's done, take it out and add your main course and sides to cook together.

Once everything is done, turn the oven off and quickly pop the pie back in to stay toasty warm until it's time for dessert. This way, you're able to make the most out of your electricity.

7. Minimize Single-Use Plastics

It's hard to completely avoid single-use plastics, but one surefire way to cut back? If you're having guests over for Thanksgiving, opt for reusable cutlery, plates, and glasses. While doing so means more clean-up afterward, you're keeping a lot of waste out of landfills.

8. Reduce Food Waste

Food waste is a huge issue: About 40% of food ends up in a landfill each year. One way to minimize food waste is by composting leftover scraps. You can also get creative by turning fruit peels like oranges into seasoning or leftover jam into delicious cocktails.

9. Try Cloth Napkins

Finally, make your table spread even more beautiful by eliminating single-use paper napkins. Instead, opt for cloth napkins, which can be tossed into the washing machine and used for years to come. Your local thrift store might even have some festive cloth napkins or other accessories for the table.