How to Use Disposables for an Easy and Elegant Thanksgiving Dinner

turkey roasting in disposable aluminum pan

Picture this: At the end of a glorious Thanksgiving feast, instead of cleaning until bedtime, you just wash a few items and throw the rest away. We know, we know. You only get to use the good china a few times a year. And we don’t want you to miss that opportunity. But we’re not talking flimsy paper plates here, and we’re not suggesting you use disposable everything—instead use them judiciously behind the scenes, and later mix elegant (and even eco-friendly), disposable options with grandma’s heirlooms. You’ll set a beautiful tableand finish the day with cleanup that requires nothing more than a roll of paper towels and a bottle of dishwashing liquid.


Bear in mind: Disposable doesn’t have to mean ecological disaster. In addition to paper, you’ll find items made from sugarcane, bamboo, tapioca, grass, reeds, and leaves—many are compostable, and aluminum pans as well as many plastics are recyclable, too.

Start in the kitchen:

  • Use disposable baking pans for side dishes and dressing—transfer to pretty (and easy-to-clean) serving bowls, and toss the baked-on mess. That leaves room in the sink for the turkey’s non-disposable roasting pan; soak it in warm water and dishwashing liquid during the feast for easy clean-up later.
  • Instead of dirtying a mountain of dishtowels, use paper towels to wipe counters, clean spills, and dry dishes.
  • For dessert, look for oven-safe paper bakeware, which you’ll even find with holiday-themed decorations. And there’s always the good old aluminum pie pan.

For the main event:

  • Don’t hide a gorgeous dining table; skip the cloth and unroll brown kraft paper down the center as a runner—topped with flowers, seasonal do-dads, and candles, it’ll lend a bit of rustic-chic. (Put out some mason jars filled with crayons, and it’ll keep the kids busy, too!)
  • Stick with the good china and sterling silverware, but only for the main course. Cleaning just one set of dishes, forks, and knives will seem effortless, when you’re used to Thanksgiving meals that dirty an entire kitchen’s worth.
  • Use your finest crystal at the table, but for the pre-meal mingling, stock the bar with elegant-looking disposable glasses.
  • Pumpkin pie tastes just as good without fancy china. Go 100% disposable for dessert: dishes, cutlery, and napkins.

What disposables do you use to make special-event cleanup a breeze?

Debbie Koenig writes about family and food, and is the author of the cookbook Parents Need to Eat Too. Find her at

Image © Ingelhart

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