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10 Sustainable Practices to Reduce Waste and Embrace Thanks This Thanksgiving

Updated: Apr 2, 2021

Thanksgiving is a holiday many families cherish and look forward to every year. As one of the most celebrated holidays in America, Thanksgiving is also one of the most, if not the most, food-focused holidays. I love sitting down with loved ones for the big Thanksgiving feast – it’s a time to reflect, to show gratitude and generosity, to swap stories, and to make new memories over the course of a delicious meal.

But as much as I love Thanksgiving and all that is brings, I cannot get past one thing… the excessive amount of food waste. There is so much anticipation leading up to “Turkey Day,” but in the days following the feast the desire to eat leftovers meal after meal often dwindles.

A Day of Thanks or Extreme Waste?

According to the NRDC, about 200 million pounds of Thanksgiving turkey goes to waste each year. 200. MILLION. POUNDS. And that’s just turkey! Think about all the half cans of pumpkin puree, potato and carrot peels, pounds of desserts, and fall themed plates and napkins that end up in the garbage year after year, wasted and forgotten until next year. It’s truly ridiculous when you stop and think about it – totally extreme.

This year you can take steps to reduce waste and make this Thanksgiving a true day of thanks! I charge you to take some of the following steps toward a more sustainable holiday season.

10 Ways to Reduce Waste and Practice Thanks this Holiday Season

1. Make smaller portions

This year your Thanksgiving crowd may be a bit slim. Make smaller portions of side dishes to reduce leftovers and potential waste.

2. Ditch the paper plates and plastic cutlery

Disposable plates and utensils may make clean up easier, but it all eventually ends up in a landfill. Choose reusable dinnerware to reduce paper/plastic waste and help the environment.

3. Buy local if and when you can

Local produce is often more nutrient dense, sustainably grown, and cheaper compared to supermarket produce. Buying local is also a great way to support your community. For more info on the benefits of buying local, see here.

4. Serve more plant forward dishes

The meat industry contributes to climate change, and meat consumption plays a role in the depletion of natural resources. Help the environment by serving veggie-forward dishes like a kale salad or seasonal roasted veggies and choosing turkey or ham rather than both.

5. Save recipe remains

Don’t toss those potato peels, that leftover 1/2 onion, those celery tops, the lonesome carrot in the bag, and the turkey carcass; save them and make a flavorful, calcium rich turkey stock (see my Easy Chicken Stock Recipe here).

6. Choose recipes with overlapping ingredients

If you choose a recipe that calls for 1-1/2 containers of broth, pair with another that calls for the remaining 1/2 container to reduce. Need just 1-1/2 cans pumpkin puree for your pumpkin pie? Try adding the remaining half can to your sweet potato casserole, make pumpkin cookies or pancakes, or save it for my Autumn Chicken Taco Soup or vegan Curried Sweet Potato Squash Soup for Friday night dinner. Have extra apples? Make my seasonal Pear Apple Crumble with oats for Thanksgiving breakfast or as a better-for-you dessert. There are so many delicious ways that you can use up the little bits of extra ingredients to reduce waste.

7. Repurpose leftovers

You can get really creative with leftovers! Use leftover turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, and extra pie crust to make handpies; make a parfait with Greek yogurt, leftover cranberry sauce, and pecans; use extra rolls to make croutons or bread pudding; heat leftover sweet potato casserole, old fashioned oats, and milk to make a seasonal breakfast oat bowl; make a creamy potato soup with leftover mashed potatoes; or make Autumn Chicken Taco Soup with leftover turkey meat.

8. Stock up on reusable containers to divvy out leftovers

Package leftovers in reusable containers to give to family members and/or friends to take home after the feast is over. These are some of my favorite glass storage containers for leftovers. I also like to use these for extra chopped veggies, cookies, or soup.

9. Take a pre- or post-meal stroll

As long as it isn’t pouring, get outside, move your body, and enjoy the day (safely) with family and/or friends. Breathe in the fresh air, soak up some mood boosting vitamin D, and reflect on the things you’re thankful for.

10. Compost any uneaten leftovers

If you end up with uneaten leftovers and run out of freezer room, find a way to compost leftovers rather than tossing them in the garbage. For more info on composting, check out this page from the EPA.

The Bottom Line

Thanksgiving is holiday that celebrates family and friendship, gratitude, and good food. Make this “Turkey Day” better than ever by planning ahead, being fully present with your loved ones, and reducing waste. The list above is by no way comprehensive, but it’s a good place to start; I think you’ll find each of these tips rather easy to implement in your Thanksgiving day celebration.


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. When you make this recipe, tag me at @hope.for.balance and use the hashtag #hopeforbalance for a chance to be featured in my Facebook or IG stories. I LOVE seeing your creations!

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