A Green Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. With it comes the start of the holiday season, full of gatherings with family and friends, beautiful décor, and fun gift shopping. As much as I love getting into the holiday spirit, I want to be sure to avoid those post-holiday blues that come from overeating and overspending. Plus, the holiday season is no friend to Mother Earth . . . from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day household waste increases by over 25%.

By taking just a few simple steps anyone can have a fun, budget-friendly, healthy and eco-friendly holiday season. Start by greening up your Thanksgiving traditions. Doing so will leave less of a dent on your diet and your wallet and may even make it more meaningful for you and your family.

First, let's consider travel – a major part of the holidays for many folks. Remember, buses and trains have less of an impact on your wallet and the environment than air travel. You could even avoid the travel crowds and forge a new tradition by celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends that live in your area rather than traveling far. If you are going to be traveling, remember to turn down the thermostat and turn off the lights to save energy while you’re gone.

If you are the brave soul hosting, start off on the right, green foot with your invitations. You can call to invite guests, use an online resource such as Evite or Facebook, or print invitations on recycled paper.

What's the first thought we have company coming? Gotta clean! If you haven't done so already, swap those expensive, smelly, chemical-laden cleaning products for cheap, non-toxic, earth-friendly solutions you can make right at home. With a few simple products, like vinegar, baking soda, and peroxide, you can get your house just as clean as with traditional cleaning products. You’ll save money, keep plastic bottles out of landfills, and avoid harsh chemicals that can cause eye, skin, and respiratory irritations. Click here for details.

For decoration, utilize materials you already have on hand or purchase items you can use again. Bringing the outside in (think pine cones, plant or flower clippings, gourds, leaves, and living plants) is a great way to decorate for little or no money. Plus, Thanksgiving craft making is a wonderful activity the whole family can do together.

Whatever décor you decide on, steer clear of traditional paraffin candles. Despite how nice they may look or smell, these candles and the smoke and soot they produce can contain harmful toxins. The American Lung Association and the EPA have warned consumers that using paraffin candles can decrease indoor air quality. Paraffin is the last petroleum byproduct removed in the refining process (right after asphalt). The fumes released by paraffin candles are comparable to those produced by burning diesel. For a healthier, greener alternative look for candles made from soy or beeswax, scented with essential oil, with non-lead wicks.

When it comes to the food opt for organic and local. Doing so helps ensure that you're getting the freshest, most nutritious food that hasn’t been chemically modified to keep its appearance after traveling half way around the world. Plus, you'll be supporting your local economy. You can find farmers’ markets, farms, and community-supported agriculture programs in your area at localharvest.org. For help planning your meal around what’s in season check out the seasonal produce guide available at sustainabletable.org.

You can make your meal healthier and less costly by swapping out meat with more veggies. Even a slight reduction in meat consumption can have a significant impact. Click here to learn more about how giving up meat just once a week can make a significant difference in your health and your carbon footprint.

Buying food in bulk will reduce packaging waste and save you money, but you don't want to overbuy and waste food. You can cut down on waste by planning ahead and calculating how much food you will actually need. This list of approximate food and drink portions should help:

Turkey - 1 pound per person
Stuffing - ¼ pound per person
Casserole (side dish) - ¼ pound per person
Green beans or Brussels sprouts - ¼ pound per person
Cranberry Sauce or Chutney - 3 tablespoons per person
Pie (9-inch) - 1/8 slice per person

Keeping track of how much was consumed can help you better plan for future holiday meals.

For drinks, consider serving biodynamic wine. Don't be thrown off by the label. Biodynamic , or sustainable, wine-making is nothing more than a return to European vineyard traditions like natural fertilizers and pest management and planting cover crops. Biodynamic wine is a better quality wine with higher levels of resveratrol, the heart-healthy antioxidant found in wine, making biodynamic wine better for your health as well as the planet. There is a growing number of biodynamic wines available and many are quite reasonably priced. Click here to learn more about biodynamic wine.

When it comes to any type of party, the worst environmental offender is usually all the disposable plates, cups, utensils, napkins, and tablecloths. Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks and spoons every year to circle the equator 300 times! Instead of buying paper or plastic tableware, offer reusable options. If you don't have enough at home, you can always check out thrift stores for an eclectic mix of tableware. Other options are reusable plastic cutlery and compostable paper plates.

When it's time to clean up, fill the dishwasher to capacity before running it and use unheated air to dry dishes to save electricity and water. Make sure to give away and/or freeze any leftovers, compost food scraps, and make recycling easy for guests by placing clearly labeled recycling bins in a convenient location everyone can reach.

Finally, no matter how inviting that couch may look after the big meal, don't just plop yourself down for the rest of the day. You'll feel so much better if you get outside for some fresh air and exercise. Go for a walk, play baseball or football, jump in the leaves, or hit the local park. You'll take full advantage of this precious time with family and friends, burn some calories, and cut down on home energy usage.

May you have a happy, healthy, and green holiday season!

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