Eco-friendly Thanksgiving feast

Oct 23, 2009 at 12:31 p.m. ET

Thanksgiving and the holidays that follow are filled with fun family time, tables full of food and splurge-fests. If you've adopted an eco-friendly lifestyle, maintaining a green approach to Thanksgiving may seem daunting, especially with the many hours you'll be in the kitchen and the extra guests who will be in and out of your home. We caught up with Sara Snow, green living expert, host of Discovery Channel's Get Fresh With Sara Snow and author of Sara Snow's Fresh Living, to glean her top eco-friendly Thanksgiving tips for a delicious, enjoyable holiday without unnecessary excess and waste.

Organic Thanksgiving meal

Why be green at Thanksgiving?

Sure, holidays are all about indulgence, but they don't have to about excess. In fact, you can use Thanksgiving to show others that being green fits seamlessly into holiday festivities. "Holidays are not a time to abandon [eco-friendly] ideals and standards; rather, they are a time to joyfully share them with friends and family," says Snow. "Holidays can still be celebratory occasions, full of good cheer, humor, gifts and lots of good food even when they are celebrated in a 'greener' fashion."

Don't miss: 12 Eco-friendly Thanksgiving kitchen tips

The worst holiday energy-wasters

From preparation to cleanup, kitchens around the country are in overdrive at Thanksgiving. Conventionally prepared Thanksgiving feasts can waste a great deal of energy and water. According to Snow, here are the worst holiday eco-offenders:

Leaving the fridge door open. Propping the refrigerator door open so you can have easier access to ingredients may keep you from expending a little less energy on opening the door, but it makes the refrigerator work harder and wastes energy. "It's so easy to get into the habit of leaving the refrigerator door open when grabbing the eggs and milk to bake that pumpkin pie, or leftover turkey and mustard for that day-after-Thanksgiving sandwich," says Snow. Kick the habit and keep the refrigerator door closed when you are not actively grabbing items out of it.

Running the dishwasher too often. Instead of washing dishes in a half-empty dishwasher just so you can use a clean pot and whisk for the next round of dishes you're making, hand-wash them and wait until the dishwasher is full to run a load. "You can save as much as 7,000 gallons of water over the course of a year by only running the dishwasher when it's full and by not pre-rinsing your dishes before you put them in," adds Snow.

Packing the refrigerator too full. "A fridge needs to be full, but not too full, to operate efficiently," explains the eco-living expert. "When this energy hog becomes over-stuffed, it goes into overdrive, working up a sweat cooling all that food." To make room for the holiday meal, clean out the fridge in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving to assure you'll have the space you need.

Running the furnace and the oven. How often have you wiped your brow during a marathon of cooking because you are burning up? "We all know what it feels like to slave over a hot stove all day: hot," says Snow. "When your oven and stove are working for you, turn down the furnace -- you'll save energy and save yourself from sweating through your holiday cashmere."

Leaving it all to the last minute. "While this might not waste electricity, it wastes plenty of your own energy," says Snow. She suggests planning your menus well in advance so you're not scanning cookbooks at the last minute. She also advises shopping weeks ahead for non-perishables to avoid long hours in overly crowded grocery stores, and baking certain freezable foods in advance. Do all you can ahead of time so that you can enjoy the holidays without feeling too overwhelmed to be eco-friendly.

eco-friendly Thanksgiving recipes

Making your Thanksgiving spread a green feast extends beyond saving energy and water in the kitchen. It starts with the food. Snow recommends filling your Turkey Day menu with organic, locally sourced fruits, vegetables, grain products and, of course, the holiday's star bird.

The perfect turkey

"Your best bet for a Thanksgiving turkey this year is an organically raised, free-range turkey from a local farmer ," Snow says. "Organic means it was fed an organic diet and wasn't given growth hormones or antibiotics; free range means it had the opportunity to run and ramble; and local means it's almost certainly fresher since it that it didn't have to travel miles and miles to get to your plate."

Great tasting turkey doesn't need a lot of extra ingredients to please your Thanksgiving guests. "Prepare it naturally," advises Snow. "Baste it with a little olive oil, tuck bits of garlic cloves and herbs into its skin, and then roast it in an oven for an afternoon, enjoying the aromas that seep from the kitchen."

Need an eco-friendly turkey recipe for a small-scale Thanksgiving crowd? Try this One-Pot Turkey Dinner.

A saucy side-dish

Partner the moist, mild-flavored white and dark turkey meat with a tasty, richly colored homemade cranberry sauce. "A tart yet sweet sauce from fresh -- locally grown, if possible -- cranberries will perfectly complement the tender turkey meat," says Snow.

Three easy yet scintillatingly delicious cranberry sauce recipes

Smashed potatoes

Local farmers at the farmers' market are offering the last of their potato harvests for the year, giving you the opportunity to give them thanks and serve a side of smashed potatoes. Snow's recipe: Quarter and boil potatoes with chopped onions and garlic. Then use a potato masher to "smash" them, with a little butter and milk. "No need for an electric hand mixer; the chunky form works well with gravy and looks more like the potato it came from," the eco-expert adds.

More tips to buy and prepare potatoes

eco-friendly cleanup

After the feast has been eaten and guests have retired to take a nap or gone outside to walk off their meal, it's time to clear the table and clean the kitchen. As tempting and convenient as paper towels are, Snow recommends using washable dishtowels. She explains, "Paper towels waste trees and space in landfills. Twist Sponges makes a fantastic paper towel alternative made from eco-friendly bamboo. They wash up nicely and can be used again and again."

In addition, aim to get the kitchen squeaky clean without polluting the air. "Nothing ruins a good meal like the smell of chemicals coming from the kitchen," says Snow. "Reach for cleaning products made from plant-based cleaners and scented with essential oils instead of synthetic fragrances."

everyday eco-friendliness

Practice eco-friendly cooking throughout the rest of the year, teaching your kids and even your guests how a few small changes in the kitchen can add up to save you money, bolster your budget and be good to the environment.

Be sure to visit our Thanksgiving Section for more holiday tips, Thanksgiving recipes and fun holiday activities for the whole family.