How to Eat Sustainably this Holiday Season

Alex Knutte

Written by Alex Knutte | Edited by Carol Coutinho

Holiday season, or in other words, the best time of the year, is approaching rapidly. For me, the holidays are full of cheer, music, family time, and of course, food. My family has adopted many different traditions over the years regarding food, just as I am sure yours has. We look forward to Grandma’s stew for lunch on Thanksgiving day, fondue on Christmas Eve, and cheesy potatoes and brownie trifle on Christmas Day. 

With the chaos the holidays bring, many people overindulge on delicious food. From Christmas ham to Thanksgiving turkey, there is no shortage of mouthwatering food over the course of the holiday season, not to mention the plethora of scrumptious desserts like pumpkin pie, Christmas pudding, sugar cookies, and pumpkin spice cake. With food being at the center of these traditions, I decided to look into ways that I could be more sustainable this upcoming holiday season. 

According to the World Overshoot Day website, food makes up a whole 26% of humanity’s ecological footprint. With this statistic in mind, I knew that switching to a more sustainable way of eating this holiday season would be important. No matter what holiday you celebrate or what dietary restrictions you have, there are many easy ways to eat sustainably this holiday season. 

11 Tips for sustainable holiday eating

Marchan, Gabrielle. “11 Tips for Sustainable Eating.” 2020.

11 Tips for Sustainable Holiday Eating: 

1. Buy locally

Buying food locally means buying produce that was grown very close to the area as you live in. Farmers markets are a great way to ensure that you are buying locally, as opposed to grocery stores where much of the produce is shipped from overseas. Check out farmers markets near you here. I go to mine every Saturday morning for local honey, hummus, and fruits! Buying locally ensures that your food has not traveled thousands of miles using fossil fuels that produce large amounts of greenhouse gasses. Additionally, buying locally ensures that your food hasn’t been refrigerated for hours or even days, which also contributes to greenhouse gases.  Another added benefit of buying locally is that you are supporting local businesses in your community.

tips for sustainable holiday eating

Marchan, Gabrielle. “First tips.” 2020. 

Woman shopping fruits

2. Eat Seasonally

In addition to buying locally, try eating seasonally or choosing to buy food that was grown and harvested in its peak. Not only does this benefit the environment, but also ensures that your produce is the freshest and most flavorful. Eating seasonally is beneficial to our planet because it reduces the number of miles your food has to travel, which in turn helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Another pro of buying seasonal foods is that they are less likely to have pesticides, preservatives, and other chemicals to help them grow. Fruits and vegetables that are in season during the winter include: 

  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Tangerine 
  • Kale
  • Rashishes

Spring seasonal foods include: 

  • Avocado 
  • Mango 
  • Pineapple
  • Carrots 

Summer season peak foods are:

  • Watermelon
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini
  • Raspberries 
  • Tomatoes 

Fruits and vegetables in their peak during the fall include: 

  • Apples 
  • Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms
  • Potatoes 
  • Pumpkin 


Fresh Veggies

3. You can still eat sustainably, even without giving up meat

There’s a common misconception that you cannot eat sustainably if you still eat meat. However, this is the furthest thing from the truth. To start, the type of meat you are consuming has different environmental impacts. For example, eating beef has a bigger toll on the environment and our ecosystems than chicken does because cows require more water and land than chickens do. Additionally, beef production contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. Fun fact, lamb is actually the most taxing on the environment! Swapping to less environmentally harmful meats is a sustainable choice you can make, without completely giving up meat. 

Can’t bear the thought of swapping beef with chicken or turkey? No problem, just view these meats as a treat. Reducing the amount of meat you eat during this holiday season also can help eating during this time of the year be sustainable. If you typically eat beef or lamb 5 times a week during the holiday season, aim for four times. Just one meal can go a long way. 


4. Experiment with meat free meals 

Want to be challenged this holiday season? Try and make a meat free meal! According to Cimatenexus, “Animal agriculture is the second largest contributor to human-made greenhouse gas emissions after fossil fuels and is a leading cause of deforestation, water and air pollution, and biodiversity loss.” As meat is usually the staple of many holiday feasts, going meat-free for a meal will have great environmental benefits! There are many different ways to go about making a meatless meal, such as using a meat replacer such as tofu or simply making a vegetarian dish based off of plants. Try out recipes such as these: 

5. Reduce Your Food Waste

Raise your hand if you have ever had to throw out tons of leftovers and scraps of food during the holidays. You bet my hand is raised. According to the United States Department of Agriculture,  food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the global food supply. Not to mention, food waste seems to drastically increase over the course of the festive season. Not this year! Do your best to limit food waste with these three simple tricks.


Something I have gotten very into recently is composting, or the act of using food scraps and turning them into organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 28 percent of what we throw away.” Composting is an essential part of reducing household wastes, and many everyday foods can be composted including: 

  • Fruit scraps
  • Coffee grounds
  • Leaves and twigs
  • Vegetable waste
  • Grass clippings
  • Bread
  • Tea leaves

A general rule of thumb for composting is anything that did not come from an animal can be composted. 

Save Your Scraps 

Composting isn’t your thing? You can still reuse your food scraps! There are tons of recipes out there that call for the scraps of food. For example, don’t throw out your orange peels, use them for zest in baking! Try out these different recipes with your holiday food scraps: 

Only make as much food as you need

 It’s very easy to overshoot the amount of food you need when cooking for a large group of people. Take into consideration the number of kids versus adults, dietary restrictions, and dessert. I know I eat less at dinner during the holidays to make room for the best part of any meal… dessert! You can even try using this website to estimate how much food you need for any size party. 

more tips

Marchan, Gabrielle. “Next tips.” 2020. 

6. Boost the number of plants you consume 

Ditch the processed foods and aim to increase your plant intake! Because processed foods contain multiple chemicals and require lots of energy to process, they are more taxing to the environment than plants which, for the most part, do not require packaging and production. Not to mention, most of the packaging of processed foods ends up in landfill and can take thousands of years to break down. 

Try out new, fun flavors with different plants this holiday season. According to the Biodiversity Alliance, there are over 1,000 vegetable species. The possibilities are endless! Here are some recipes that incorporate plants to get you started: 


    Rainbow of fruit and veggies

    7. Get innovative with leftovers

    Holiday leftovers are always something I look forward to… for one more meal. Typically, I have enough leftovers in my fridge to feed an army, and after a day or two, I physically cannot eat any more stuffing or mashed potatoes. Luckily, there are tons of recipes out there that give you new, exciting, and innovative recipes using your holiday leftovers! Some include using leftover vegetables for salad toppings, leftover turkey for pinwheel sandwiches, and leftover squash for mini butternut squash pizzas. Here are some more ideas to spice up your leftovers: 

    8. Limit your single-use plastics

    If you are throwing a large holiday party, be sure to avoid plastic utensils, plates, cups, and straws. According to the World Wildlife Fund, Around 40% of plastics consumed are single-use. While they may be convenient and save you time on your dishes, single use plastics end up in landfills for thousands of years. A simple fix is to make sure to use reusable dishes. If you don’t have enough for your party, invite guests to bring their own reusables from home! 

    Additionally, you can aim to purchase foods that have the least amount of single use plastic packaging. For example, purchase whole fruits and vegetables instead of pre-cut ones in a plastic container. Furthermore, you can bring your own reusable grocery bags from home to transport your food. Take it a step further and use reusable bags for your produce to avoid using the plastic bags provided at your local supermarket. My favorite reusable produce bags are these by Earthling Company.


    9. Opt for sustainable seafood options

     Salmon, crab cakes, oysters, and shrimp cocktails can be popular holiday foods. You can eat more sustainably this holiday season by being conscious of your seafood consumption. Choose fish that are farmed in environments which do not harm marine environments. The most sustainable options according to The Spruce Eats include oysters, clams, and mussels. You can also look for food labels such as Ocean Wise at the fish counter to ensure its fished sustainably. Sustainable fisheries target plentiful species, including those smaller and lower on the food chain, because they can reproduce quickly to sustain their populations. Sustainable seafood is important to ensure healthy oceans. You can still enjoy your favorite seafood this season, just aim for a sustainable alternative or view seafood as a treat and consume less.


    10. Make the most out of every ingredient 

     Another great option this holiday season is to make the most out of your ingredients, or swap them for more sustainable options where you can. You won’t even notice a taste difference from changing just a few ingredients. Here are examples of easy ingredients to swap that can help you eat more sustainably:

    • Swap milk for a plant-based milk option such as almond or soy milk
    • Swap butter for a plant-based butter such as County Crock Plant Butter 
    • Swap eggs for bananas, applesauce, or flaxseeds.

    eco friendly bags

    11. Have fun with it! 

    For many people, the holidays can be a stressful time. You don’t need to go crazy trying to change everything about your recipes in order to eat more sustainably. Try incorporating one or two items from this list as a guide, and go from there. In the end, changing just a few things can go a long way. Not to mention, by eating a little more sustainably this holiday season, you can relax knowing that you did your part for the environment.

    last tips

    Marchan, Gabrielle “Final Tips” 2020.

    To sum up, there are many different ways to eat more sustainably during the festive season. You don’t need to go crazy and give up your favorite foods to make a difference. Changing an ingredient or two or going meat-free for a meal can have great environmental benefits while being an easy change. What tips will you try out this season?

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