Thanksgiving Dinner Carbon Footprint Climate Friendly Foods

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. While the cost of your holiday meal may impact your wallet, what you’ll eat at your dining room table could affect the climate too. 

What You Need To Know

  • The highest producer of carbon dioxide of your meal is macaroni and cheese
  • Potatoes are the most climate friendly option
  • Vegetables also have a low climate impact

This blog is going to make you hungry.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for food. My favorite dishes are sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top, dressing and macaroni cheese.

Plus, my favorite holiday desserts are sweet potato pie and mom’s 7UP! pound cake.

So, I was curious about the impact some of my favorite dishes had on our environment. I looked over data from Our World in Data, a nonprofit that focus on global issues from the environment to agriculture.

So let’s discuss the environmental impact of your holiday feast.


The data classifies turkey as poultry meat. The main course of your meal will contribute about 21 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere.

Raising and the transport of turkeys from farms to processing is factored into the environmental impact of the main dish.

Mashed Potatoes

Now to some of your favorite sides during this festive feast.

Potatoes are climate friendly. I really enjoy mashed potatoes with gravy.

They produce about 1 lb of greenhouse emissions. Potatoes are the most climate friendly option because they are sustainably grown.

The starchy vegetable uses less water and land to grow. 

Macaroni Cheese

It’s a different story for macaroni cheese, which is a popular side dish during this time of year. The cheesy side contributes about 37 lbs of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Macaroni and cheese has a high climate compact because the milk needed to make the cheese comes from cows, goats and sheep.

Livestock from these animal groups creates and emits greenhouse gases.


Vegetables are also important for the Thanksgiving meal. Whether it’s asparagus, broccoli or peas, all of them have a lower climate impact.

All three vegetables contribute less than 2 lbs of greenhouse gases.

Just like potatoes, it takes less natural resources to grow these vegetables.


We cannot forget about those Thanksgiving biscuits. The buttery bread has a climate impact of 4 lbs of CO2.

The ingredients are key in determining the impact of this item. Flour, butter, salt, sugar and milk make up biscuits.

So, the study is taking in account the ingredients used to determine the impact of this flaky bread. 


Let’s discuss some deserts. Unfortunately, the study does not include pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie, but they list apple pie and carrot cake.

Apple pie contributes about 3 lbs of CO2 to the atmosphere, while carrot cake contributes 4 lbs of greenhouse emissions.

Like biscuits, the study took into account the ingredients to make the desserts.

No matter what you eat this Thanksgiving, enjoy it and be happy with your friends and family.

I know I am going to grab 2 to 3 plates myself.

There’s a lot to be thankful for this year, so enjoy and have a festive and safe holiday.

Our team of meteorologists dives deep into the science of weather and breaks down timely weather data and information. To view more weather and climate stories, check out our weather blogs section.

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