Three Easy Steps to a Local and Natural Thanksgiving Dinner

Red berries on a dark background. cranberries in a bowl.
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Thanksgiving is coming up so fast this year; it’s just around the corner, so I thought I’d look at ways to make it a healthy, festive and local meal—with special consideration for sourcing items from the Pacific Northwest.

As I see it, there are three key components to a Thanksgiving meal: turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Here, I look at the best local sources for the key ingredients and how to make your own rather than buy packaged. You’ll have a delicious home-cooked meal with a low carbon footprint and less garbage to take out the next day!

Organic/Natural Turkey
You may have seen turkeys labeled “organic” and “natural” and wondered what the difference is. Here’s what those labels really mean:

Organic: This is the only claim that’s strictly regulated. If you see a bird marked “certified organic,” you can be sure that it was not given antibiotics, and had been fed an organic diet that did not include pesticides.
“Pastured”: This means the birds grew up in outdoors, with access to pasture and sunshine.
Natural: “Natural” can mean a range of things. Most “natural” turkeys are hormone-free and either free-run or free-range. But “natural” can mean a turkey was fed with additives-free feeds, or fed a vegetarian diet, or some combination of these. Then, some “natural” turkeys are essentially organic, but from suppliers that do not have organic certification. You should read the label, ask the butcher, or contact the company to find out exactly what their definition of natural means.

Many mainstream grocery stores carry free-range or organic turkeys now. Some specialty meat butchers carry heritage turkeys, too. If you’re interested in ordering your turkey from a local farm, enter your zip code on’s turkey resource page.

Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry sauce that comes in a tin is just not the same as the real thing made from scratch, which is surprisingly easy to make. Plus, Washington State is a major cranberry producer, ranking fifth in the U.S.! So for all of my fellow Evergreen Staters, you can have local cranberry sauce on your table and support local growers, without all the processing and high-fructose corn syrup—and no cans to throw away. Talk about eating clean!

It’s really very simple to make cranberry sauce. Follow this recipe!

Real Thanksgiving Cranberry Sauce

Recipe by Gloria Tsang, RD

4 cups of fresh cranberries
1 cup of orange juice or water
1 cup of sugar


  1. Bring the liquid and sugar to a boil to melt the sugar, then add the cranberries.
  2. Bring back up to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the cranberries start to pop, or until it reaches the thickness you like.
  3. Cool and serve.

Pumpkin Pie
Sure, you could head over to the grocery store and pick up a pre—made pumpkin pie or a can of pumpkin puree. But why not make your own puree from local pumpkins? The price for pumpkins usually comes down after Halloween, so it’s a great time to enjoy them fresh!

When you’re carving a jack ‘o lantern, go ahead and select the biggest pumpkin possible. But for baking, look for small ones with sweet flesh. In the grocery stores, choose sugar pie pumpkins or cheese pumpkins, which are sometimes called Cinderella pumpkins. Some stores may label them as “baking” pumpkins as well. You will need at least two sugar pie pumpkins for each pumpkin pie. Once you’ve got your pumpkins, you can make them into pumpkin puree by baking or boiling. No matter which you choose, start by cutting the pumpkin in half and removing the stringy insides and seeds. Don’t forget to save the pumpkin seeds for roasting!

To bake, place the halves face down in a shallow baking dish and cover with foil, then bake at 375 for about 1.5 hours. Let cool, then peel off the rind and mash.
To boil, peel the pumpkin, then cut into 1—inch square cubes and boil for about 15 minutes or until tender. Let cool and mash.

Once you’ve made your pumpkin puree, you can use your favourite pumpkin pie recipe, replacing the canned puree with your delicious fresh pumpkin! You can make your puree up to three days ahead and keep it in the fridge.

There you have it! A local, natural Thanksgiving dinner that’s healthy for the whole family.

Gloria Tsang, RD
Gloria Tsang RD, founder and editor-in-chief of