Planning dinner for a crowd? You don't have to spend a lot or make it complicated to create a delicious and environmentally friendly meal your guests will love. Whether you're throwing a summer barbecue for co-workers or hosting a holiday celebration for extended family, a sustainable menu can offer up big flavor and low costs.
Some sustainable eating tips
Celebrate local and in-season
Highlight fresh, in-season, local fare. Ingredients that are in season and local tend to be fresher and more flavorful, and in-season typically means a better price for you, too. Browse your cookbook collection for recipes using the best of the season and make these ingredients the focus on your meal plan. Visit your co-op for ideas. If you're planning ahead (good for you!), talk with the co-op staff about what will be fresh and available when your event is happening.
To see a list of fruits and vegetables that are or will be in season in your state, visit Seasonal Food Guide, powered by the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC).
Your co-op can point you to local meats, cheese and other local favorites. If seafood is on the menu, be sure to look for sustainable choices; Seafood Watch offers a handy pocket guide.
And, be sure to look for the Fair Trade label when choosing party favorites like chocolate, coffee, tea and spices (Fair Trade is a great conversation topic, too!).
Keep an eye on value
To make a great party more expensive doesn't mean better. There's no need to blow your budget—even when serving a sustainable menu. To save:
- Rely on inexpensive staples like grains and beans.
- Buy in bulk for best economy.
- Check out your co-op's sales flyer and coupons for upcoming specials that you can incorporate into your plans.
Aim for zero waste:
- Cook the right amount of food. If you overdo, arrange for guests to bring home leftovers.
- Choose reusable plates, linens, and utensils. If you don't own enough dinnerware to go around, consider borrowing a set from a friend. Or if you go with disposable dinnerware, choose biodegradable products.
- Provide clearly-marked recycling and compost bins for guests.
- Use live plants or food (like a parade of baby squash or a wooden bowl of green apples) for the table decor.
- Print your invites on recycled paper, or, better yet, send e-vites.
Read about earth-friendly celebrations. What's your favorite sustainable party menu?