Holidays are often filled with excess, waste, and too much focus on things over people. Yet Thanksgiving, by its very nature, could very well be the greenest holiday of them all. All it takes is a little planning and a little awareness to make your Thanksgiving a fun-filled, family oriented, environmentally friendly holiday that everyone will enjoy.

Two Weeks Out: Food Planning

Traditionally, a Thanksgiving meal calls for a turkey, several side dishes, and of course, dessert! To green your meal, opt for a heritage and/or organic turkey. Many local farms and farmers markets have great options for organically raised and free-range turkeys. Not sure where to look? Find a local farmer here.

Looking to go meatless this year? Those same local farmers and farmers markets, as well as the local natural foods stores will have lots of great options for an organic, sustainable meatless main course, as well as sides, drinks, and dessert. Make your shopping list now to determine what needs to be ordered in advance and what can be bought closer to the big day. It also allows you to plan your shopping trips to buy as local as possible and avoid wasted time and gas.

One Week Out: Decorations

One of the fun ways to get the kids involved is to let them help with some of the craftier decorations. Acorns, gourds, fall leaves, pinecones, and more can make wonderful natural decorations, plus will keep the kids occupied while you are busy with your own preparations.

Use reusable items for your table setting. Look through your dishes, silverware, cloth napkins, tablecloths, and glasses to see if you what you have already is enough for your expected guests. If not, check out your local thrift shop. You may be pleasantly surprised what is available.

The Day Before: Green Cleaning

Whether you make your own, use a safe brand, or hire an eco-friendly cleaning service, using non-toxic cleaners will make your house sparkly clean without the toxic chemicals. Healthy for you and healthy for your guests. You also won’t mind getting those kids scrubbing for you knowing that they won’t be exposed to anything harmful.

The Big Day: Give Thanks

Sometimes in the rush of the holidays we lose a bit of the spirit they were intended for. Many families have traditions where everyone shares what they are thankful for that year. Others may use the day to remember those less fortunate and plan a way for the whole family to give back to the community. Whatever your tradition, it is a wonderful way to show your children what the meaning of the holiday should be about: family, kindness, sharing, and gratitude.

After The Meal: Cleaning Up

If you prepared to reduce the amount of disposable waste ahead of time, you will likely have a lot of washing of dishes and napkins to do. Again, stick with the eco-friendly cleaners to stay as green and healthy as possible and get your guests to pitch in. Perhaps they will learn an eco-friendly tip or two.

Any waste leftover should be recycled or composted. Recycle any packaging or beverage containers. It is helpful to know ahead of time what is accepted at your local recycling centers or curbside, if you have that option. Some cities are beginning to accept to compost curbside, but if yours isn’t yet, look into a backyard or indoor compost system for your leftover scraps.

Most of all, have a Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy this time with family and friends and know that attempting perfection with small children is wasted time.