5 Tips for a Green Thanksgiving Dinner

free range turkey photo

Photo: Noel Hendrickson/Getty Images

Thanksgiving is, hands down, my favorite holiday. For me it means family and friends, warm homes and good, good food. By Thursday afternoon kitchens everywhere will be wafting aromas of pumpkin pies and roasted turkeys. The wine glasses will come out, the sparkling cider will be poured, and families will gather to laugh and visit and (let's be honest) stuff their bellies beyond the point of full.

So how can you have a green Thanksgiving while still paying tribute to the holiday's origins of giving thanks and celebrating the harvest?

1. Go Local and Organic

You're probably already doing it to some degree in your everyday lives, and special occasions should be no exception. If you're planning to roast a turkey, find one that was raised locally and, preferably, organically. Most small farmers require turkey reservations made well ahead of time (you can do this through local farmers' markets or participating grocery stores): So if you haven't done this already, you may be out of luck this year. Local Harvest, a Web site focused on local foods and local farmers, can also help.
Find other ways to involve local foods as well. Instead of stuffing, serve a creamy polenta made from local, organic corn meal. Mash your own potatoes from locally grown spuds. Toss a salad with greens grown within miles of your home. Many people are engaging in the TreeHugger 100-mile diet challenge or similar eat local challenges.

organic honey comb photo

Photo: Rob Melnychuk/Getty Images

2. Say No to Refined White Sugar

Instead of using refined white sugar in your Thanksgiving desserts this year, try natural sweeteners. Jessie Hawkins Family Herbalist Course has a great section on sugar substitutes. Honey has a glycemic index that is lower than white sugar, plus it contains healthy antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that white sugar lacks. You can use honey in place of white sugar in your pies and custards at a ratio of ¾ : 1, and reduce other liquids by a quarter of a cup.Sucanat is simply ground up sugar cane. Because it hasn’t been processed or cooked in any way it still has many naturally occurring vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, B1, B6, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and others. It is also naturally low on the glycemic index.Agave nectar, maple syrup, and molasses are other great sugar alternatives.
fresh cranberries photo

Martin Hospach/Getty Images

Sugar-free Cranberry Sauce Recipe
Here's a quick recipe for chunky cranberry sauce using sucanat instead of sugar.Boil together 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sucanat in a medium sized sauce pan until sucanat has dissolved completely. Lower the heat to a gentle boil and pour in 3 cups of rinsed, organic cranberries. Add 1 teaspoon of dried grated orange peel. Allow the cranberries to cook on a low boil for 10 minutes.Refrigerate until cool and serve.

3. Limit Disposables

Even if you don't have enough matching dishes to serve all of your Thanksgiving guests, avoid the temptation to use disposables. Instead, shop a local thrift store for enough place settings to make up the difference or ask your guests to bring a few of their own.

4. Eat Your Leftovers

The best part about a Thanksgiving feast is the leftovers. Turkey soup has always been a Thanksgiving leftover favorite in my home. Partially because it's easy to make (who wants to sweat over the stove the day after?).
Simple, Healthy Turkey Soup Recipe Reserve the bone and a bit of the meat from the Thanksgiving roast. Boil that in a pot of water (8-12 cups) for an hour. Remove the bone and the meat from it. Return that (and additional meat, cut into small cubes) to the pot. Add ¾ to 1 cup of long grain brown rice, along with the following chopped vegetables: one onion, three cloves of garlic, five carrots and three stalks of celery. Add 2 teaspoons of thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let the soup simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Then enjoy!

5. Donate Canned Food

Even if your home is filled to the brim with family and food, there are many people who won't enjoy these luxuries this year. Before you shop for your own Thanksgiving foods, call your local food bank to find out what they are in need of. Most prefer canned food items but every organization is different. If you want to donate your time, call ahead to find out when they need people. Most soup kitchens have too many volunteers on Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings, but not nearly enough the other 363 days of the year.You might consider giving your Thanksgiving guests the opportunity to reach out and give back. Think about setting out a bin for non-perishable foods. Perhaps set it on your front step so neighbors can get involved as well. Or hold a fund drive (something even the kids can get in on) for a local or other worthy charity. Second Harvest (providing food to the hungry) and Habitat for Humanity (proving homes to the needy) seem to make a lot of sense this time of year. Take a look at Charity Navigator for some good tips on giving.In all that you do -- on Thanksgiving and the other days of the year -- remember to be thankful and generous. 'Tis the season, after all.
5 Tips for a Green Thanksgiving Dinner
How can you have a green Thanksgiving while still paying tribute to the holiday's origins of giving thanks and celebrating the harvest?

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