Healthy Holidays the Paleo Way

Paleo vegetable stuffingAsk The Nutritionist

by Melissa Diane Smith

What you need to know to keep following the Paleo diet from Thanksgiving through New Year’s.

Q: My husband and I have experienced amazing health transformations since we began eating a Paleolithic diet about six months ago. We have lost weight, have more energy and improved digestion, and have normalized our previously high blood sugar levels. We want to keep that good health going during the holidays, but we know there will be many temptations. Are there any tips you can give for going through the holidays the Paleo way?

– Amy T., Chicago, IL


The Paleo diet, often referred to as the “caveman diet,” advocates eating unprocessed foods that our ancestors would have eaten during the Paleolithic era – i.e., meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil – and on some versions of the diet, organic grass-fed butter – may also be included.

As you and your husband found out, eating Paleo food provides the body the foods it needs to thrive, stay healthy, and normalize weight. The key to continuing both the diet and the health benefits you’re experiencing is to plan ahead. Doing so is extra important during the holiday season when there are many more activities, food temptations, and social pressures than normal. It takes a little effort, but if you keep the following tips in mind, you can have healthy holidays the Paleo way:

  • Be prepared when traveling or shopping. If you’re heading out on a long holiday shopping spree – or taking a road or plane trip to visit family or friends – carry plenty of easily portable Paleo snacks. Think jerky, Paleo-friendly food bars, nuts, and apples. That way you won’t be stuck without a Paleo option when you’re hungry.
  • Bring your own food to a gathering. You can’t just show up to a holiday meal, pot luck, or party thinking there will be something for you to eat. The best strategy is to prepare one or two of your favorite Paleo recipes that you can indulge in that you know others will enjoy, and bring enough to share with them. For a Thanksgiving meal at someone else’s house, offer to bring a Paleo side dish and a Paleo dessert. It’s easy to combine what you brought with some turkey and vegetables to create a simple yet festive holiday meal. For parties, make Paleo versions of appetizers, side dishes, or traditional holiday baked goods like pumpkin pie sweetened with honey. If you don’t have much time before a party, keep it simple by bringing roasted nuts or homemade guacamole with veggie sticks, or toss together a flavorful Paleo salad.
  • Eat before you go. This is especially important when you can’t prepare much food before a party and you know the offerings there will not be Paleo friendly. Eat a Paleo meal or snack before leaving the house and take a spoonful of coconut oil for extra energy before heading out the door. A belly full of protein, good fats, and non-starchy vegetables provides slow-burning fuel that makes it far easier to stay away from carb-laden foods that throw you off your Paleo game.
  • Remind yourself of how bad you feel eating non-Paleo food. When you’re tempted to eat something you no longer eat, remember how awful you feel when you do and how poor your health was before you went Paleo. This can help the temptation to pass.
  • Play host. Volunteer to hold holiday gatherings at your house. When everything is in your control, you know you’ll have plenty of tasty seasonal Paleo foods to eat. With so many creative recipes now available online and in cookbooks, you can make foods that your guests may never know—or care—are Paleo! To minimize stress, make sure all your food is planned well in advance. Have some side dishes ready to cook or reheat, and dessert made ahead of time, so you can focus on preparing the main course.
  • Stock up on the foods you need. Make sure to have plenty of vegetables, meats and fish at your home in your refrigerator and freezer to get you through your everyday meals during the season. Buy the foods that you need for special dishes for holiday get-togethers well in advance. Also be sure to purchase enough Paleo snacks to sustain you (sometimes that means buying them by the case!) for the times you’re traveling, shopping, playing out in the snow, going to holiday light displays, and participating in other fun seasonal activities.
  • If you fall off the Paleo wagon, get right back on it at your very next meal or snack. Despite your best intentions, there may be times during the holidays when you knowingly or unknowingly eat a not-so-Paleo food—and you’ll feel uncomfortable effects from doing so. If that happens, don’t berate yourself. Realize you’re only human, carb-laden foods are at every turn, and it’s difficult to buck the status quo throughout the entire holiday season, especially if you’re under stress or socializing a lot. The important thing is to prevent a momentary dietary transgression from spiralling out of control and derailing all the progress you’ve made improving your health. Eat a Paleo meal or snack as quickly as you can afterwards. Even when you’re feeling rotten from eating the wrong foods, it’s amazing how quickly you can turn things around going back to the Paleo way.


paleo-stuffingThis all-vegetable stuffing is a wonderful accompaniment to roast turkey and a Paleo gravy (thickened with arrowroot and coconut milk).

Paleo Stovetop Vegetable Stuffing

¼ cup organic extra-virgin olive oil

1½ tsp. + 1½ tsp. organic virgin coconut oil, divided

¼ medium head of cauliflower, cut into small bite-size florets

4 small shallots, peeled and cut in half

6 small white pearl onions, peeled and cut in half

1 large fennel bulb (white part only), quartered, then cut lengthwise into ¼-inch-wide slices

¾ cup organic gluten-free or homemade chicken broth

1½ tsp. ground thyme

1 tsp. rubbed sage

½ cup chopped walnuts

8 ounces of whole baby bella mushrooms, ends trimmed, quartered, and cut into ½-inch-thick slices

Unrefined sea salt and black pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley leaves


Heat the olive oil and 1½ tsp. coconut oil in a 12-inch deep saute pan. Add the cauliflower, shallot, onion, and fennel pieces, and brown slightly on medium for 5-7 minutes, turning so vegetable pieces are well coated in oil.

Add the chicken broth, bring it to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and cover the pan. Let the ingredients simmer for 20 minutes. Season with thyme, sage, and ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper.

Add walnuts, cover, and continue to cook mixture, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Stir in the mushrooms, cover, and cook on medium, stirring occasionally, for another 10-12 minutes. Add an extra Tbsp. of broth if mixture becomes too dry. When mushrooms are cooked and walnuts are slightly softened, the stuffing is done. If there is extra liquid, cook uncovered to reduce, but leave some liquid for reheating. Add additional salt and pepper to taste, and mix in remaining coconut oil for a more decadent mouthfeel.

Serve warm, or refrigerate and reheat when ready to serve. When serving, sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley. Makes 6 generous servings.

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