How To Have A Paleo Thanksgiving Dinner

By Marisa Ramiccio. May 7th 2016

Thanksgiving is the time of year when family and friends come together to give thanks, celebrate life and feast on the season's traditional foods. Of course, with issues of obesity and other related health problems, many people are turning toward fad diets and rapid weight loss plans to avoid packing on the pounds after the holiday season. Why not get a head start on your inevitable New Year’s resolution of losing a few pounds by kicking off the holiday season with a healthy Thanksgiving? Here, we’ve provided some tips on how to have a paleo Thanksgiving based on the caveman diet for a healthier Thanksgiving dinner.

What Is The Paleo Diet?

The paleolithic diet, also known as the paleo diet or caveman diet, consists of eating the way the cavemen did during the Paleolithic Era. People back then were hunters and gatherers and they lived off the land. The typical foods they ate were:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Seeds
  • Nuts

Because cavemen lived long before the agricultural and industrial eras, before grains were cooked and dairy was pasteurized, they did not eat key food groups such as:

  • Dairy
  • Legumes
  • Grains
  • Refined sugar
  • Processed foods

These days, living off  the land exactly as the cavemen did isn’t realistic, so modifications have been made to the modern day paleo diet. Paleo dieters may not be expected to hunt and gather their own food, but they should make every effort to eat grass-fed, hormone-free meats and organic fruits and vegetables.

How To Have A Paleo Thanksgiving Meal

So what does this mean for the Thanksgiving meal? While you don’t necessarily have to make the entire meal caveman-friendly, you’ll find that many common dishes are suitable for a paleo diet plan. Here’s a list of the classic Thanksgiving dishes and how to make them Paleo-friendly:

  • Turkey – Luckily, the star of the show is part of the Paleo diet. However, you should make an effort to find a turkey that’s been raised and fed properly and is hormone-free and antibiotic-free.
  • Gravy – The co-star of the show is the gravy, but the milk and the flour aren’t so Paleo-friendly. However, you can easily substitute them for other ingredients. For instance, the milk can be replaced with an egg yolk and the flour can be replaced with arrowroot, which is a gluten-free thickener.
  • Cranberry sauce – The stuff in a can won’t fly with the paleo diet, so if you typically serve canned cranberry sauce, you’ll have to make your own instead. The recipe is pretty simple, though: Just boil fresh or frozen cranberries in fresh-squeezed orange juice, which is more paleo-friendly than adding sugar. Once all of the cranberries have popped, take them off the heat and let them cool in the refrigerator.
  • Stuffing – This is the recipe that will have to be tweaked the most. Since paleo diets don’t include bread, you shouldn’t be serving a bread-based stuffing. However, you can substitute the bread for sausage or lean ground beef. Add in plenty of walnuts, apples and celery and you won’t even miss the bread-stuffing.
  • Mashed potatoes – Paleo dieters tend to skip the potatoes, but you can still make this side dish for the rest of your guests who aren’t interested in the paleo-diet. If you would like to make a substitute dish, combine mashed cauliflower and equal parts coconut milk and coconut oil for something more paleo-friendly.
  • Yams – Some paleo dieters don’t eat yams, so use sweet potatoes if you aren’t sure about your guests’ preferences. If you are going to make candied sweet potatoes, use maple syrup instead of sugar. As for the marshmallows, you may want to top half of the sweet potatoes with them and leave half of the sweet potatoes plain to give your guests options.
  • Green bean casserole – The traditional cream of mushroom soup is too processed for a paleo Thanksgiving, so substitute it with coconut milk. Instead of topping it with fried onion strings, try topping it with onion slivers. Or, instead of making a casserole, make a side of steamed green beans and garlic.
  • Hot buttered rolls –Thanksgiving Day wouldn’t be complete without leftover turkey and gravy smeared on top of a hot buttered roll. Be a hospitable host and serve some fresh rolls for your guests, or have someone bring them potluck-style if you can’t resist the urge of sneaking a roll or two while baking them.
  • Pumpkin pie – A traditional pumpkin pie is a no-no for a paleo Thanksgiving. However, you can make a paleo-diet-friendly version with a crust made of pecans and hazelnuts. You can roast your own pumpkin or use pumpkin puree, as long as pumpkin is the only ingredient (make sure there are no additives or sugar). Instead of sugar, use honey and instead of milk, use eggs. You could always just skip the pumpkin pie, but most people find this traditional dessert the hardest to let go of.

Extra Tips

Turning the Thanksgiving meal into a paleo-friendly meal isn’t so hard. It just takes a little bit of substitution and creativity on your part as you work from recipe to recipe. Here are some extra tips that should help you deal with every type of situation:

  • If you are hosting a group of all paleo-dieters, leave out the rolls and potatoes and replace them with vegetable-based sides.
  • If you are entertaining both paleo and non-paleo dieters, make sure you have both traditional and paleo-friendly sides to please both groups. To make it easier on yourself, get in touch with your paleo guests beforehand to find out what they can and cannot eat.
  • It never hurts to ask your guests to bring their own preferred side dishes. Take note of what people are bringing to help you balance the ratio of paleo and non-paleo dish options.

If you are actually the paleo dieter attending someone else’s Thanksgiving dinner, be mindful of prepared dishes like casseroles, pies and even sauces. You want to stick to basic meat and veggies. If you’re unsure about the menu, bring your own paleo-friendly dish as back-up. That way, you know you’ll have an extra something to snack on and you can show your fellow guests just how delicious and healthy the paleo diet can be.


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