5 Steps to Creating a Sustainably Healthy Thanksgiving

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5 Steps to Creating a Sustainably Healthy Thanksgiving

By Megan Faletra, MS, MPH, RDN

Who doesn't love the holiday season? It's such a fun and exciting time of year filled with food, friends and family, and is a great time to reflect and be thankful. But how often have you thought about whether or not your Thanksgiving meal is positively affecting the environment or the lives of the farmers who grew the food on your table? How often do you think about where your food comes from at all? Well, this year, we want to help you think a little bit more about your Thanksgiving meal and inspire you to create a sustainably healthy Thanksgiving with a few simple steps that will make you feel proud of the meal you create – from start to finish.

Shop at Your Local Farmers Market
Thanksgiving is one of the best holidays for sourcing locally grown items for your holiday meal. When you choose to shop local, you are choosing to support your local farmers, but you are also doing your part to encourage a healthier agricultural system in your region.

So, skip the crowded grocery store and head to your local farmers market or co-op...and make it a family experience! The process of choosing your vegetables yourself and connecting with the farmers who grew your food will be so much more rewarding than any trip to the supermarket.

Farmers markets or co-ops are also great places to find locally sourced specialty goods like honey, maple syrup, baked goods and pasture-raised poultry. This can help make your Thanksgiving meal more sustainably focused – from the ingredients in your baking to the vegetables and turkey on your Thanksgiving table.

Choose Sustainable (and Edible) Decorations
Everyone loves decorating for the holidays and a beautiful Thanksgiving table is a wonderful part of the holiday celebration. This year, instead of opting for fall flowers that were shipped long distances, try decorating for Thanksgiving with sustainably sourced pumpkins and gourds from your trip to the farmers market, and edible decorations that your guests can enjoy.

One of my favorite edible decorations is a side table filled with a display of sustainably sourced fruit and nuts. Apples and pears are great seasonal options that look beautiful on display and can easily be found at most farmers markets. We like to compliment them with Navitas Organics Seeds and Nuts placed in decorative bowls, which double as a healthy option for your guests to snack on while dinner is being prepared. Maca Maple Cashews are one of my seasonal favorites that have just a hint of maple and are sustainably sourced using methods that preserve the nutritional health benefits of the Cashews themselves.

Ditch the Disposables
We get it – preparing a big holiday meal can be overwhelming and the cleanup afterward can be the most stressful part, but that doesn't mean disposables are the best solution. Buying disposable cups, plates, napkins and silverware each year can really add up and make hosting Thanksgiving so much more expensive.

So, continue your sustainable Thanksgiving all the way to your dishware and napkins, and opt for reusable options that you can use year after year. We love it when extended family members decide to purchase a large set of holiday dishware together and share it between households as they swap holiday hosting. This results in so much less paper and plastic waste year after year, and saves everyone money in the long run.

Bake With Sustainable/Fair Trade Ingredients
Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving really does dessert well. While some may argue that Thanksgiving dinner is the main attraction, others will always be in it just for the dessert. So this year, while you are trying to one-up your sister's apple pie, think about including more sustainable ingredients into your baking that will not only make your baked goods taste amazing, but also incorporate ingredients you can feel good about. One of my favorite simple swaps is to choose sustainably sourced Coconut Palm Sugar, and fair trade certified Cacao Powder when baking this year.

Unfortunately, both white sugar and traditional cocoa powder are highly processed and typically produced in environments that pollute the communities where they are grown, and exploit laborers through poor working conditions. But instead of swearing off chocolate and sugar entirely, there is a better way to support a change in this food system. By switching your usual white sugar to Navitas Organics Coconut Palm Sugar, you are choosing to sweeten your baked goods with what the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has recognized as the most sustainable sweetener. It is sustainably harvested in Indonesia and provides a mineral-rich, low-glycemic alternative to traditional table sugar—and your guests will love it even more!

Similarly, Navitas Organics Cacao Powder is fair trade certified, and rich in minerals and antioxidants, making it a healthier and more sustainable alternative to traditional cocoa powder. You can use it as a 1:1 substitute for any recipe that calls for cocoa powder, and is a simple sustainable swap to incorporate into your holiday baking.

Reduce Your Food Waste
You can't talk about creating a sustainable Thanksgiving without talking about food waste. While the abundance of an overflowing Thanksgiving table is a wonderful tradition, the food waste that comes after is not. With 60 million tons of food wasted annually in the US alone, the holidays are a perfect time to think more about your personal food waste and how your family can make a difference.

So, this year make it a goal to create as little waste as possible. Get the whole family on board and plan a meal that won't result in an overwhelming amount of leftovers. Use the leftover turkey meat for homemade soups and the end pieces of vegetables for vegetable stock. Lastly, for all non-perishable items that went unused, see if there is a local food bank accepting donations and make a food-based donation on behalf of your entire family.

While the holiday season is, in many ways, about enjoying food and family, it also is about giving back to your community and the world around you. By bringing more sustainable practices into your holiday meal, you are choosing to think about the health and well being of your family, your community and people all over the world who help bring the traditional Thanksgiving foods you love into your home to enjoy each year.


About the author: Amy Pellegrini