Thanksgiving for many families is all about the fest. From the turkey to all the sides and desserts, food is plentiful around this time of year. This year, my family and I are downsizing our meal and going back to basics. A great meal doesn’t mean you have to have six sides. We are still having a wonderful meal with eco-influences while keeping it simple.
Mother and daughter combo Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson have several things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Their coauthored book, “Celebrate Green,” has found success for its savvy, stylish advice on how to make every holiday of the year greener. Going green, which can be expensive, may be difficult this Thanksgiving, though. You’re already shelling out a lot of money for a big meal, and many people are feeling the recession’s pinch. There’s also a great deal of family ritual and custom attached to the day. “Thanksgiving is not the best holiday to go overboard on going green,” said Colwell. “People have strong feelings about tradition.”
Colwell and Colwell-Lipson know that it’s tough to splurge on expensive Thanksgiving foods, so they’ve offered up six ways to save money and food on turkey day that are both green and subtle.
Buy only key items organic: Some people balk at the cost of organic food because they think that it’s an all-or-nothing deal. Instead of looking at your whole shopping list as organic, purchase organic items only where it counts—meaning items most likely to transmit pesticides to you. These foods from the “Dirty Dozen” list (the 12 produce items most likely to carry pesticide residue) are the ones most likely to show up in your Thanksgiving feast: apples, celery, grapes, lettuce, pears, potatoes, spinach. But if asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, corn, eggplant, peas, or onions show up in any of your recipes, it’s OK to get these conventionally grown.
Host a potluck: Spreading the work out makes it easier and cheaper for the host family without lessening the food to share. Besides, you’ll have the added benefit of oohing and aahing over each other’s dishes and learning new recipes. “It brings meaning and input from the family,” said Colwell-Lipson. “The tradition will live on through several generations.” And you’ll have the anticipation of looking forward to Aunt Mary’s famous pumpkin pie each year.
Plan ahead: Buying a locally raised, organic turkey can definitely add to the price of your meal. That’s why Colwell and Colwell-Lipson advise planning ahead for next year. “In January, look ahead at your whole year and think about the holidays,” said Colwell. “If you’re interested in a 20-pound heritage turkey, you think, ‘I can’t spend that much on a turkey.’ But if you divide that by the number of expected guests and people put away $2 a month, you have your money. Panic causes us to spend more.”
Package leftovers in reusable containers: After a big Thanksgiving celebration, there may be more leftover turkey sandwiches and pie than any family can eat for lunch the following week. Colwell-Lipson sends leftovers home with guests, but not in Ziploc baggies or Saran-wrapped paper plates. “I save up glass jars from spaghetti sauce, and any leftovers get packed up and sent home in those, so they can be enjoyed later,” she said.
Buy less food: We waste so much of what we prepare for Thanksgiving—about a quarter of our food, said Colwell. To prevent food waste, the solution may simply be to cut back on things that aren’t as necessary. “If people just consider reducing 25 percent in their amount of food, or variety of food, they would save. Do we need both sweet and mashed potatoes—could we do without one?” she said. Both of the authors advise discretion here, though: “Saying ‘we’re not feeding you as much this year’ is not going to fly,” Colwell said.
Use smaller plates: Because of the size of some dinner plates, people often take more than they can—or should—eat. If you use smaller dinner plates, people often eat just what’s in front of them, and they can always come back for more if they are still hungry. This is an especially good idea for kids, who may take two bites of stuffing before abandoning the dinner table to go play with their cousins. “With children, people give them way too much on their plates,” said Colwell. “Ask Suzy what she likes. She’ll come back for more.”