12 eco-friendly Thanksgiving kitchen tips

Oct 24, 2009 at 7:40 a.m. ET

No need to toss your eco-friendly lifestyle to the side just because the holiday season has arrived. Sure, Thanksgiving and other holidays are often synonymous with splurging and excess, but following your green living agenda can easily fit into the holiday gatherings and feasts. Eco-living expert Sara Snow, author of Sara Snow's Fresh Living and host of Discovery Channel's Get Fresh with Sara Snow, shares 12 eco-friendly Thanksgiving cooking tips to help you feed your Turkey Day guests a scrumptious spread while conserving energy, water and time.

Free Range Turkey for Thanksgiving

12 eco-friendly Thanksgiving tips for the cook

As you are readying yourself to get the Thanksgiving spread on the table, Sara Snow, whose eco-show is featured as one of Discovery Channel's FitTV series, recommends the following 12 food shopping and cooking tips to green your Thanksgiving holiday.

(More tips to cook an eco-friendly Thanksgiving feast)

1. Rely on local foods

Foods travel on average 1,500 miles to get from where they are produced to your kitchen table. Buying local foods ensures less petroleum and freshness are wasted in transportation, and it almost always means better tasting and healthier food. Shop your local farmers markets, grocers and co-ops to design your Thanksgiving menu around locally-sourced ingredients.

2. Opt for organic foods

Organic foods tend to be 25 to 30 percent higher in antioxidants and key nutrients. Plus, eating organic means you're avoiding harmful pesticides and other chemical sprays. Nearly every traditional Thanksgiving food is available as organically-grown. If not, make your own using organic locally-grown ingredients.

3. Compost

The sheer volume of food during Thanksgiving and other holidays gives you the opportunity to start composting. Composting is a way of turning kitchen scraps like apple peels, egg shells, and coffee grounds, into nutrient-dense soil for your garden, landscaping, or a nearby park. It also means less overly-full plastic bags in the landfill. Get your kids involved in starting a compost pile and let them literally give thanks back to the earth.

4. Conserve water

Rather than letting the water run down the drain while you're waiting for hot water, fill your big pasta and soup pots with it. You can boil this water and use it to make tea, cook potatoes, or unmold grandma's Jello mold. Save even more water by foregoing the pre-rinse and sticking your dishes straight into the dishwasher. Be sure to always run a full dishwasher as a half-full load wastes water (and opt for the air-dry option instead of heat-dry option to save energy).

5. Pick the right pot

As you are gathering your Thanksgiving recipes, check to see if you have the appropriately-sized cookware. Even more important, when you start cooking, make sure the pot, pan or skillet you are using is on the right-sized burner. A small burner will take forever to bring a large pot to a boil and it will unevenly cook a large skillet of food. A large burner will waste a lot of energy while heating up a small pan or skillet.

6. Minimize clean up with aluminum foil

Line your roasting pans and baking sheets with aluminum foil. Place a foil-lined baking sheet under your baking pies to catch those drips and spills. Be sure to use aluminum foil made from recycled content like Reynolds Wrap made from 100% Recycled Aluminum.

7. Set out reusable napkins

Forget the paper napkins this year and set out nice cloth napkins for your guests. They will feel special and you'll feel good about the fact that you're not wasting trees or filling up the dump. Cloth napkins can be washed with your tablecloth or other laundry (in a full load, of course).

8. Go for recyclable disposables

Recycling is half the battle, but to truly close the loop we must also get in the habit of buying goods made from recycled content like aluminum foil, or paper plates and napkins made from recycled paper, if you must use disposables.

9. Pack healthier leftovers

Instead of packing up leftovers in disposable plastic containers and bags, use bowls, casserole dishes and anything else you can find around your kitchen. You can even ask your Thanksgiving guests to bring their own containers for leftovers.

10. Use the stove for reheating

It's too easy to pop made-ahead dishes and leftovers into the microwave to heat. A healthier way to reheat food is in the oven or on the stove. Make it extra efficient by reheating as you are cooking other dishes.

11. Forget the canned pumpkin

Scooping out the center of a fresh pumpkin isn't nearly as much work as the pumpkin canners would have you believe. Cook your own sugar pumpkins (or other winter squash) to use for baking or other Thanksgiving recipes. Your Turkey Day dishes will taste fresher and you'll have the satisfaction and peace of mind from knowing exactly where your food came from.

12. Let food taste like food!

Sweet potato casseroles loaded with sugar, whipped potatoes loaded with cream, pumpkin from cans, cranberry jelly from cans, and turkeys that no longer resemble a turkey -- not only do these Thanksgiving recipes put thousands of extra calories on the Turkey Day table, they taste far from authentic. Take a little extra time this year in the kitchen, forget the fancy recipes, work with real, fresh, healthy ingredients, and let food taste like food again!

More tips for a thankful Thanksgiving