How to Make a Whole30 Thanksgiving

A feast-worthy meal plan, from apps through dessert.

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Photo by: Christina Holmes ©2013

Christina Holmes , 2013

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There's no need to cheat on your Whole30 diet for the big meal. This quick reference will get you organized and ready to celebrate.

What is Whole30?

Founded by fitness buffs Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, Whole30 is a 30-day challenge of a restricted diet plus exercise regimen intended as a healthy-living reboot. The program makes many promises (improved digestion, skin health, metabolism and general sense of well-being), achieved in part by cutting out foods that contain sugar, grains, dairy, legumes (aka beans) and alcohol. It's intended to be a jump-start into a healthier long-term diet and is not meant to be followed forever. Certain food groups are gradually added back, though any overly processed foods are always to be avoided.

What's in?

Whole30 advocates three meals a day, made up of modest portions of fruits, vegetables, protein, nuts and seeds, and fats from oils, butters, coconut and olives. Snacking is discouraged except for pre- or post-workout snacks (which still need to be Whole30-approved). On this plan, the best foods are the kind with no ingredient label — in other words, you choose whole foods over processed foods. Here's what the diet encourages:

Meat

Seafood

Eggs

Vegetables

Fruit

Natural fats (those that come from nuts, seeds and olives)

Herbs (dried and fresh)

Spices

Seasoning

What's out?

Hold on tight; it's a lot:

No added sugar — none, nada, zilch. That means everything from honey to high-fructose corn syrup.

No alcohol

No grains

No legumes (that includes peanuts)

No dairy

Nothing that contains carrageenan, MSG or sulfites (check nutrition labels)

No processed junk food, even if made with Whole30-approved ingredients. If you need to remove a wrapper, then it’s probably not Whole30.

Exceptions

There are a few:

Ghee or clarified butter — the only dairy-based food allowed

100% fruit juice — the only acceptable sweetener for Whole30 (though it's not recommended to drink a whole glass)

Certain legumes — fresh ones like green beans and peas

Vinegar and botanical extracts — almond, lavender, orange, peppermint, vanilla, etc. extracts

Coconut aminos — a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce that is also low-glycemic and vegan

Salt

Thanksgiving menu ideas

Appetizers:

A little grazing before dinner is totally fine (it’s a holiday!).

Make coconut-crusted shrimp and serve them with a pineapple-chili sauce for dipping. Or platter up some bacon and egg cups for a two-bite nosh. Make spiced butternut squash pepitas for an addictive crunchy app. And you can’t go wrong with a platter of fresh vegetables served with a Whole30-friendly ranch dressing for dipping.

Dinner:

Overall, go heavy on the veggies.

Traditional turkey — with a few tweaks: Skip brining (because of the sugar), use ghee or clarified butter to brush your bird (they both are free of milk solids), and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Or go for your favorite spice rub — just make sure there's no added sugar in it.

A nontraditional main course: Try a mushroom-stuffed pork tenderloin instead of or in addition to turkey.

Soup: Make butternut squash soup and skip the optional Parmesan sprinkle.

Salad: Red wine vinegar and caraway seeds are the secret ingredients in this beet salad that's a Whole30 win. Or make this crunchy beet and apple salad with walnuts (just skip the sugar).

Sweet potatoes: That iconic marshmallow-topped casserole will have to wait. Try making twice-baked sweet potatoes with or without the fried eggs (a dish that's also perfect for breakfast, btw).

Carrots: Eat the rainbow with these colorful and simple roasted carrots (pictured).

Cauliflower: It’s so versatile that there are many options. Try a more modern dish like cauliflower rice, or go with a cauliflower mash and use ghee instead of butter.

Brussels sprouts: These lemon and garlic sprouts are packed with flavor, and they're broiled, so they can be made at the last minute without much fuss.

Hearty greens: Go big with sesame — both the oil and seeds — in sauteed Swiss chard. Pair collard greens with cubes of butternut squash (sub ghee for the butter) or make beet greens with a touch of heat.

Mushrooms: Not a vegetable we often think of for Thanksgiving — try these smoky roasted mushrooms and use ghee instead of butter. Or turn the humble button mushroom into something special with lemon zest and chives.

Dessert:

Put out platters of fruit. Go for quartered pomegranates (and have guests pull out the ruby-red seeds), clementines, navel and blood oranges, grapefruit, grapes and pineapple.

Spread your favorite nut butter (not peanut) on apple slices.

Buy whole nuts and pass around some nutcrackers for an interactive after-dinner treat.

Serve an interesting selection of regular and herbal teas.

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