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.
For a list of the fruits and vegetables which are currently in season in your area, visit our our co-op page, enter your zip in the location field, and check out the “What’s Fresh” box.. To see what will be in season in the future, visit Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) page on eating local.
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?