How to Host a Sustainable Holiday Dinner

‘Tis (almost) the season for entertaining! But as fun and festive as all the decorations, appetizers, meals and cocktails can be, the holiday season can also create a fair amount of waste and lead to some non-environmentally friendly practices.

Change things up this year by taking a sustainable approach to your festivities, and host your first fun and eco-friendly holiday party!

Stay Local

The Worldwatch Institute estimates that the food most hosts will serve for Thanksgiving in the U.S. this year will have traveled between 1,500 and 2,500 miles from farm to table.

“We are spending far more energy to get food to the table than the energy we get from eating the food. A head of lettuce grown in the Salinas Valley of California and shipped nearly 3,000 miles to Washington, D.C., requires about 36 times as much fossil fuel energy in transport as it provides in food energy when it arrives”

Buying local, on the other hand, not only supports local businesses, farmers, and their families, but a “typical meal — some meat, grain, fruits, and vegetables — using local ingredients uses 4 to 17 times less petroleum consumption in transport than the same meal bought from the conventional food chain.”

Figure from WorldWatch Institute

Spend a fun weekend morning checking out your local farmers’ market, or, if you live in an area where local farms are easily accessible, do some research as to which are open to the public and head straight to the source. Buying local not only reduces the amount of energy required to put food on the table, but it’s also a great way to get to know your local businesses and farmers and support the economy where you live.

Limit Your Waste

You can do make some great progress by buying local, but it’s all for naught if it just goes to waste. Collect all your food scraps (potato peelings, unusable ends of produce, rinds, plate scrapings) for compost, and save useable leftovers (like leftover carrots, potatoes, turkey bones and meat) to make soup that you can freeze for cozy dinners during the winter months. It’s also a smart idea to have your guests each bring a reusable container with them, that they can fill up with leftovers and eat for lunch the next day.

Cook smart in general: if you’re hosting a dinner party for 4, do you really need to cook enough mashed potatoes for 10? Do you really need that 20lb turkey? Try to buy only what you will really consume, and have a plan to use the leftovers and scraps in an environmentally friendly way.

Decor? Look Outside!

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where there are trees shedding their branches and leaves for the winter, you can collect some beautiful (and free!) table decor right off your street. Douglas Fir branches, pinecones, beautiful orange or red leaves…all can be collected as they’ve fallen on the ground to create a classic tablescape for your holiday party.

If this isn’t an option, then perhaps when you’re checking out farmers’ markets or local farms for your holiday ingredients, you can also keep an eye out for locally grown flowers or succulents that you can use to adorn your table as well.

Flower and branches can be composted once they’ve wilted, and you can reuse succulents as decor throughout your house long after your party is over.

Roll Up Those Sleeves

With all the sweat and hard work that goes into shopping, preparing and cooking a multi-course meal, it’s tempting to look for shortcuts — such as using paper plates or plastic forks that you can just throw away after the meal is done. But you’ve spent all that time slaving away over a lovely, home-cooked meal, and it deserves to be showcased on real dinnerware. Not only is it classy to serve your dinner on real plates, but it’s also much more eco-friendly than paper and plastic that will just end up in the landfill.

If you’re hosting a big party and don’t have enough dinnerware in your cupboard to accommodate all those people, try checking out a local thrift store. The usually have some matching options for you to buy as a set, or you could buy a number of mismatched pieces, which is actually quite trendy and may end up being a great conversation piece for your dinner guests.

And another bonus: your guests will probably be so blown away by your hospitality and lovely meal that they’ll be happy to roll up their own sleeves and get to work cleaning up the dirty dishes. So you can sit and relax, and know you’ve made a sustainable choice in your dinnerware.

Tell Your Guests

If you’re going to be passionate about hosting a sustainable holiday party, then you should get your guests on board too. If they usually bring a host/hostess gift, ask them to bring something locally or organically made. If they want to bring a bottle of wine or case of beer, suggest they check out local breweries or wineries to stay on theme with the rest of the evening.

Chances are that your initiative will help to spark or raise awareness of the importance of sustainability in your guests as well, and this may help to encourage them to carry forward eco-friendly practices in their own party hosting or meal planning.

Get everyone involved and spread the word!

You can still be festive and celebrate family, friends and abundance while also supporting eco-friendly practices…and the best part? You can help yourself to that second slice of pumpkin pie without the guilt, since you’ve done your part to contribute to a sustainable future!


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