How To Cook An Eco-Friendly Christmas Dinner

christmas dinner
Credit: Stacy Spensley, FlickrCC

Ah, it’s that time of year again. Time to watch Lampoon’s National Christmas Vacation to get in the mood to see all of your extended family and give thanks for another great year. However, not only will you need extra chairs in the living room so that everyone can watch in awkward silence, but you’ll also have to decide what you’re going to eat.

How can you cook a big meal for all of those guests and still keep things green? It’s actually surprisingly easy if you plan ahead. Here are some tips for having a green Christmas before you start to prepare for a happy New Year:

Use Your Kitchen Wisely

It sounds like an energy nightmare: you’re going to cook all morning with the power on high on every burner. However, it doesn’t have to go that way. There are other methods for cooking the ham and your side dishes that can really save you energy, and there are a few other things you can do in the kitchen to cut down on your energy usage as well.

  • Grill or Smoke Your Ham: You can use wood or charcoal and your grill to smoke your ham outside, saving energy and avoiding overheating the kitchen.
  • Cook Sides on Your Outdoor Grill: If you have a gas grill, you can even carefully cook some of your sides and even dessert outside. There are a lot of recipes and advice online, so do your research.
  • Conserve Heat: If you do use the oven, keep the door closed. Every time you open it, you lose 25-50 degrees, and energy will be needed to bring it back up to temperature.
  • Use Regular Plates and Silverware: Yes, it will mean more dishes to wash, but it also leads to a lot less physical waste to send to the landfill.
  • Use the Dishwasher Wisely: Most of the time you can put in plates even if they are pretty dirty, and they will get clean. Don’t run the dishwasher until it is full.
  • Fill the Sink When You Wash Dishes: Avoid running the water all the time when you are doing dishes. Fill the sink with soapy water and only change it when you really need to.
  • Reuse Pans When Possible: If you can reuse pans for more than one dish without having to wash them in between, you save time, money, water, and waste.
  • Conserve Heat: If you do have to use the oven, keep it closed. Every time you open it to check on something, you lose 23-50 degrees, and the oven has to heat back up again, using more energy.

Consider alternate cooking methods if you can, and use your kitchen appliances wisely. Unplug the ones you are not using. That’s the first step to a green holiday.

Shop Local

One of the best ways to be eco-friendly year round is to shop local. This cuts down on the carbon footprint of your food, with less delivery impact. Food usually tastes better too, as it was picked when it was ripe and fresh rather than early so that it could ripen during shipment. These foods are generally healthier too, as fresher fruit is more nutritious.

In most areas you can find local farmers and butchers, whatever your chosen meat might be. If you plan ahead, you can purchase local veggies when they are in season and freeze or can them to be used later for holiday meals. Many local growers have greenhouse-grown veggies, and usually traditional Christmas veggies are in season anyway.

Source dairy products, if you use them, locally as well. Not only will your products be fresher and better tasting, but you will have a lower impact on the environment by purchasing close to home.

Go Meatless if You Can

One huge impact on the environment is the production of meat. Methane other gases, along with the production of feed and other pollutants from the production process, are directly related to the beef and poultry industries. There are many meatless alternatives for your Christmas dinner, including Tofurky and other meat alternatives.

Not only will this practice be more eco-friendly, but it can be better for your health as well. There are many nutrition advantages to going meatless without sacrificing getting the protein you need for energy and good health.

There are many great vegan and vegetarian Christmas recipes out there, so look around and pick the ones that will work best for you.

Buy Practically

The other important way to cook an eco-friendly holiday dinner is to buy practically. If you are cooking for a large crowd, buy in bulk. This saves waste and usually money as well. Buy for the size of crowd you expect, and remember, leftovers are eco-friendly as well, since you won’t be heating up the kitchen again to cook for the next few days. Also, soups and sandwiches make great portable meals for lunches, cutting down on eating out and other less eco-friendly options.

If you are only cooking for a few people, consider pre-packaged meals that are portion appropriate. This doesn’t mean frozen dinners, but pre-packaged prepared meals that are delivered to your home. These meals can be ordered a variety of places, and at a variety of price points. The good news is that these meals can be healthy as well. In fact, prepared meals are often used by those who are dieting to control both portions and calories.

Having an eco-friendly Christmas is not as hard as it sounds. Use your kitchen wisely, shop local, go meatless if you can, and buy practically. It will be a lot easier than explaining why that lamp your mother-in-law gave you is still in its box in the attic.