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How to Have a Zero Waste Thanksgiving


Last Updated on January 23, 2024

Thanksgiving is going to be here before we know it! It’s probably my favorite holiday because it focuses on the most important things in life – friends, family, and food.

I know that Black Friday shortly follows kicking off the ultimate consumerism push, but in my mind there’s at least a brief moment of serenity and gratitude that takes place.

I’ve hosted Thanksgiving every year since moving to California. This year will be my 5th time hosting, and I LOVE it!

Yes, Justin and I, did Thanksgiving for two in the tiny home. We did the full spread and feasted on leftovers for a week. It was magical.

When we lived in larger spaces, we’ve on average hosted around 6 people, and I expect it to be about the same this year. So, I’m sharing all of my low waste secrets PLUS a handy Thanksgiving Guide with a printable menu for your table, a grocery shopping list, recipes, and timing. Be sure to snag a copy!

make a plan:

Pick out how many dishes you’d like to create and don’t go overboard! If you’re like me, you wind up with 15 different dishes you want to make. Scale it back.

I like to have four nibbles, one main, one starter, four sides, rolls, and two desserts. You can download my zero waste Thanksgiving cheat sheet below with all of my recipes and prep-tips!

prepare yourself:

It’s no surprise that grocery shopping can be one of the most wasteful aspects of putting on an event like this.

When you’re prepping food in a zero waste way, you don’t get very many shortcuts. Often you’re cooking from scratch. While that’s not a super big deal most meal nights, it can get a little out of hand at Thanksgiving.

I don’t mind cooking the meal from scratch because I think it tastes better and I’m confident in the food I’m eating. I know the ingredients because I put them there!

Growing up with an allergy, cooking (mostly) from scratch was pretty common place anyways.

And, don’t forget to prep for leftovers! Check out these 8 plastic-free ways of storing leftovers.

focus on simple:

In order to avoid being chained in the kitchen for 48 hours, I keep it very simple. I keep it to a 20% / 80% ratio – 20% WOW! and 80% simple, simple, simple.

Simple food is delicious food, but it relies heavily on amazing ingredients. As you’re creating your plan avoid getting carried away with elaborate recipes.

Pick one or two elaborate recipes, ideally things that can be prepped if not completed a day or two before.

Keep the other dishes to ones with few ingredients and few steps.

how much to serve:

Identify how many people are coming over and then make a shopping plan based on that number. This is an amazing illustration by Brittany Holland-Zeller and is a perfect guide! Although… I always eat more than one piece of pie.


hit up your farmers market:

Armed with a plan and an idea of how much you should buy, it’s time to start shopping.

I like to go to the farmers market to stock up on all of my favorite fall ingredients. The farmers market is where I do 90% of my shopping because produce is the STAR of the show.

Even though there’s a turkey on my table, I keep my Thanksgivings very plant forward.

the main:

Most of my family is omnivorous, so I still do a Turkey. But, I will be creating a few veggie show-stopping mains for you this month! I’ll be creating a whole roasted cauliflower and a stuffed acorn squash that’s almost too pretty eat.

I have yet to find a way to bring a whole turkey home without the plastic bag. This year, I’m trying a turkey breast for the first time. I ordered it from a local butcher shop that let’s me bring my own containers, so we’ll see if it works!

11/21 UPDATE: Successfully got a turkey to go in my own container. I brought my crock pot. Read more about how it went down on this Instagram post.

I have been able to get a whole chicken to-go in my own container before and I think that’d be a lovely center piece for a table. Especially when you’re hosting a smaller group, but my husband would not consider it.

other foods:

When it comes to the other ingredients, I hit up the bakery and the bulk bins for nibbles! Check out this blog post for the Ultimate Guide to Zero Waste Grocery Shopping. If you want my recipes and tips and tricks when it comes to preparing the meal make sure to check out my guide.


When it comes to drinks, I opt for local. That’s really easy for me to say though, because I live near Napa.

But, I try to offer white, red, and sparkling. I also pick up a growler or two for beer and then I like to have alcoholic beverages like iced-tea available.

Check out this blog post if you want to know how to make iced-tea for a party from loose leaf tea.

setting the table:

Thanksgiving and Christmas are two of the holidays where people typically break out the nice china and the cloth napkins.

Being a zero waster, this is an every day affair and shouldn’t come with any surprises. To make clean-up easier, try to start the meal with an empty dishwasher and an empty washing machine so everything can be loaded after dinner.

If you don’t have enough dishes, chairs, or anything else for your party be sure to call a friend or family member to see if they could bring any over.

serving and decor:

When it comes to serving dishes, I really like to serve in containers that have lids. It makes clean-up an absolute breeze! Make sure to check out my guide to storing leftovers where I cover this in more detail

As far as other decorations go, I find a few festive gourds, candles, and maybe even a vase with fresh autumnal flowers does the trick.

avoid food waste:

Thanksgiving can be a very wasteful holiday when it comes to food waste. So, make sure you’re not over buying food, and be prepared to send people home with leftovers.

Get my tips for utilizing your freezer to avoid food waste, and check out these six recipes to creatively repurpose your Thanksgiving leftovers!

Are you hosting Thanksgiving this year? Don’t forget to grab my guide, and let me know what some of your best zero waste tips and tricks are for Thanksgiving?

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  1. I love it! Thanks so much for including the vegetarian and vegan friendly options. Question on the dressing recipe — the instructions mention melting butter, but it doesn’t indicate how much and butter isn’t included on the ingredients list. Could you share the quantity needed?