How to Stay Paleo on Thanksgiving
Think of it as Hunter-Gatherersgiving.
Eat like your ancestors — that's the basic principle of the paleo diet. How, though, does that translate when you'd like to stay paleo for Thanksgiving? Here's a quick present-day primer on how to eat like it's 10,000 years ago, and how to stock your Thanksgiving paleo pantry.
What is the paleo diet? There was no modern agriculture during the Paleolithic period. Accordingly, adhering to the paleo diet today means avoiding processed foods (including refined sugars, grains and dairy) and loading up on vegetables, (some) fruit, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, healthy fats and meat from ethically raised animals.
What are the supposed health benefits? Paleo advocates claim that the diet cuts out foods that can contribute to weight gain, heart disease and diabetes. It can be rich in foods high in soluble fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats — all of which hopefully contribute to better health.
What's out? Foods that are highly processed: white or whole-grain flour, processed sugar (think high-fructose corn syrup), grains, pulses (lentils), legumes (beans and even peanuts), artificial sweeteners and overly salted food.
What's in? Grass-fed beef and organic, pasture-raised poultry, wild-caught fish and seafood, organic eggs, healthy fats (olive and avocado), indulgent fats (ghee, grass-fed butter, duck fat), dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, fruits* (apples, berries, citrus, melon, peaches, plums), nuts, seeds, herbs, spices and sea salt.
*Bananas are controversial — some say yes, while others say no.
Thanksgiving paleo pantry
Go gather these at your local supermarket (hunting not required):
Organic, pasture-raised turkey or chicken
Avocado, olive and/or walnut oils
Fruits: apples, berries, citrus fruits
Vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, spinach, sweet potatoes
Nuts: any of your favorites
Seeds: any of your favorites
Note that there are other seasonal paleo-approved fruits and vegetables; the ones listed here are the most-Thanksgiving-friendly.
Thanksgiving menu ideas
Turkey: Organic and pasture raised. No stuffing (sorry), and avoid brining (because of the sugar and salt). If you plan to rub it down with butter, make sure the butter was made with milk from grass-fed cows.
Salmon: Try a new main-course tradition, or go "surf and turf" and serve salmon alongside your bird. Try a Simple Lemon-Herb Roasted Salmon or a showstopping whole roasted side of salmon with walnut-pepper relish (skip the honey).
Liver: Serve chopped liver as an appetizer with fresh veggies for dipping and spreading.
Eggs: These prosciutto and egg cups would be great next to a mountain of salad.
Salad: Load your salad with toasted nuts, apple and citrus, and toss with a simple dressing of oil and lemon juice. Season to taste with sea salt.
Cabbage: Instead of making coleslaw, roast cabbage in duck fat; it's crispy, tender and will probably be the crowd favorite (no, seriously). You can also roast cabbage with butter and thyme for a vegetarian version.
Collard greens: Hearty and with a pleasant leathery chew, this collard green recipe is super-simple.
Spinach: The Georgian (as in the country, not the state) combo of walnuts, cilantro, tarragon and dill is dazzling in a vegetarian and paleo-friendly Spinach-Walnut Pate.
Dessert: Is not really a big paleo thing — all those potential refined sugars. But for the rogue sweet tooth, here are a few ideas:
- Put out platters of fresh, seasonal fruit and nuts after dinner.
- Section citrus fruits like blood and navel oranges, clementines and pink, ruby and white grapefruit— or peel and slice them into rounds and toss with the seeds scraped from fresh vanilla beans or a splash of pure vanilla extract.
- Cut apples into thick slices (scoop out the core with a melon baller), slather each piece with your favorite nut or seed butter, and sprinkle with sunflower and chia seeds.
- Toss fresh berries with chopped fresh mint and the smallest pinch of dried culinary lavender.
- Make a fresh fruit salad and top with a grating of fresh nutmeg right before serving.
- If you consider bananas paleo appropriate, then go for a magical 1-ingredient (plus vanilla) banana ice cream (aka nice cream) — there's no added sugar. It can be whipped up in a food processor and frozen a couple of days ahead.