If you're trying to be a little greener when entertaining this year, move your party out of the dining room into nature. Serve breakfast on the patio, or host a candlelit dinner party at twilight under the pergola. A picnic at the park or nearby beach is fun for kids, and when you pack a meal and snack, you can make it an afternoon adventure. Unlike dining indoors, dining al fresco gives you a chance to be surrounded by nature and see trees and flowers from a new perspective.
Be inspired by natural fibers when setting the table. Tablecloths or placemats aren't necessary (especially if you have to worry about a stronger breeze blowing things away). But if you want to dress up the table, look for products that are reusable and made of natural materials, like these durable reed and rattan placemats that can also double as a trivet. Choose vintage linens, like old flour sack towels or bandannas for napkins as they are absorbent, soft, and can be reused over and over again (after laundering, of course).
Instead of cut flowers that will only last a couple of days before dying, instead make potted herbs and edible flowers the focus of your table. Mix and match different plants together; arrange individual pots of basil, mint, rosemary, chives, and dill down the center of the table, or pot nasturtiums, begonias, violets, and cornflowers together in a long planter. Once you’re done with the party, the plants can be transplanted into your windowbox or garden.
If you’re having less than 16 over, opt for real flatware and dishes to keep from creating unnecessary waste. For something different than your plain-Jane, everyday dishware, set the table using vintage plates and silverware (mix and match patterns for an eclectic look) that you can buy for very little at a flea market.
Entertaining a crowd? Disposable plates and utensils are OK in this case (imagine how many dishwasher loads you’d be running otherwise), but look for products that are biodegradable. There are a few brands on the market that are excellent; we like these plates made from fallen leaves and water that decompose in only two months; they’re sturdy enough to stand up to even the hottest soups and stews. Of course, you will need some compostable utensils for eating, too.
Don’t have enough wine glasses for your table of ten? Forget stemware all together and raid your pantry for jars of all shapes and sizes to serve water and/or cocktails in (there is something wonderful about a cucumber mint mojito served in a Ball jar). The jars add a relaxed feel to the gathering, and you don’t have to worry if someone drops theirs and it breaks.
Entertaining more people that you can find jars and other vintage vessels for? Opt for biodegradable cups made of PLA, or polylactic acid derived from corn — they’re just like Solo cups, but better for the environment.
Send Evites, not invites!
Save a tree (or two) by emailing the invitations or using the phone. If you have a creative side, like we do, re-use the front flap of old cards (the side with the pretty picture) or photographs and casually write the event details on the back. Hand-deliver the cards to your guests (by bike or foot, of course) for a thoughtful touch.
When serving beverages, use pitchers or old wine bottles for water and opt for cocktails that can be created in large amounts to reduce the waste generated by soda cans or juice boxes.
Looking for a recipe for a warm-weather cocktail? Make a large batch of Cucumber Mint Mojitos for the adults, and some ice-cold lemonade for the kids. Of course, Michele's Killer Margaritas are a favorite if you're looking for something stronger.
When planning the menu for your gathering, choose local, organic, and seasonal ingredients when you can. If you have a garden, use fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are grown at home. Your local farmers market is another excellent resource for your shopping needs. Limit the number of processed foods served, instead opting for lots of vegetable-based salads and grains. Of course, you can serve meat, but look for products that are raised naturally and locally to mimimize detrimental environmental impacts.