Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned veteran of the Paleo Diet, holiday meals and family members present a challenge. What foods should you eat? How do you respond to scrutiny over your food choices? How do you change time-honored recipes to fit your new Paleo lifestyle?
As Thanksgiving approaches, eating Paleo-style doesn’t have to add more stress to your plate. We’ve compiled a list of the best tips to not only survive the holiday, but conquer it! After all, when we consider the food available to both the Native Americans and Pilgrims on that first Thanksgiving, it resembled the Paleo Diet much more than our “traditional” Thanksgiving meal.
If you’re in control of food prep, you can easily change up your favorite recipes to make them Paleo friendly.
1. Keep the turkey! Changing a few small details during prep and roasting makes this an easy Paleo-friendly main course. Instead of butter, use duck fat, which is full of mono and polyunsaturated fats. Instead of bread, surround and stuff your bird with fruits and veggies. Carrots, celery, onions, and apples all pair well with turkey.
2. Afraid you (or your family!) will miss the mashed potatoes? Substitute cauliflower instead. This veggie mashes well once cooked and retains a similar color and consistency to mashed potatoes. To keep it dairy free, throw in some herbs for a subtle flavor boost and try using almond milk for a creamier texture.
3. Focus on fruits and vegetables as your side dishes. Forgo the traditional stuffing, rolls, and casseroles that are loaded with non-Paleo ingredients. Try steamed broccoli, baked butternut squash, or scoop up those veggies from your roasting pan and serve them mixed together. Try adding cider, nuts, bacon, or small amounts of raw honey to flavor your veggies. Cranberry sauce using fresh cranberries and chopped nuts can also be a Paleo-friendly option.
4. What about dessert? Paleo is largely a no-refined-sugar lifestyle. Unfortunately, most desserts come with their fair share of it. However, your favorite recipes can easily be tweaked to make them more Paleo-friendly. Instead of regular flour in pie crusts, try almond or arrowroot, or forgo flour altogether and use pecans as the crust instead. Make your own filling for pumpkin pie by using raw pumpkin and mixing in the spices.
If in doubt, a quick Internet search will yield you plenty of options that show you how to substitute dairy and sugar while preparing your favorite recipes. Dr. Cordain offers some of his post-Thanksgiving favorites here.
Handling Thanksgiving Away from Home
If you’re not the cook for your Thanksgiving meal, don’t despair. You can still dine at a family member’s home and stick to your Paleo diet.
1. If the cook is open and receptive to your diet, ask if they can prepare the turkey and/or a side dish that adhere to Paleo standards.
2. Take your own Paleo-friendly side dish.
3. Plan and prepare. Most likely, you know the foods you’ll find at the dinner table. Prepare yourself ahead of time to pass over those that aren’t Paleo friendly. Fill your plate with as much meat, fruits, and veggies as possible.
4. Understand “food-pushers,” as in, those who push you to eat their famous stuffing or give you the stink-eye for passing up grandma’s time-honored recipes. They are looking for emotional gratification through their food. Rejecting the food is like rejecting them. You can handle this a few different ways. Deflect by stating you’re too full, and that you’ll try it later. Give a firm, but polite “no, thank you” and then change the subject to something positive but non-food related. Take the food home as leftovers – but don’t eat them. You can still gratify the emotional needs of others without compromising your diet.
5. If all else fails, consider what a little “cheating” will do to you – both mentally and physically. If you’re able to indulge every now and then but don’t allow it to derail you entirely, then do so. If accepting a non-Paleo food option will cause physical discomfort, say so. Let them know that certain foods cause stomach aches, headaches, etc. No one wants you to feel ill.
Don’t Forget to Exercise
Sticking to an exercise plan or finding ways to add it to your holiday are important! Here are a few tips to keep you fit.
1. Make it part of your holiday routine. Invite your family members on a post-meal walk. Make time to fit in your own exercise routine at home, either before or after you see your family. Make exercise as important as the meal.
2. If you’re traveling and away from home, plan ahead. Most hotels will have a fitness center or a pool available. Use them! If you’re staying with a relative, look up some exercises you can do in the privacy of your bedroom. Be prepared by packing your swimsuit, workout gear, exercise videos, a jump rope, or resistance bands.
3. Overall, allow yourself to relax. If time doesn’t allow for intense workouts, do what you can and pick up your normal routine as soon as possible.
You can enjoy Thanksgiving and stick to your Paleo lifestyle! Consider where you’ll be and who you’ll be with during the holiday, then plan ahead. Control the elements that you can, but don’t forget to relax and enjoy this time with family and friends!