So, you're doing a Whole30 over Thanksgiving? You've probably had friends and family tell you that you're a little nuts — but as someone who's done it, I'm here to tell you not to be discouraged. It's tough, but manageable.
While this may be one of the hardest times of the year to stick to a strict eating protocol of any kind, it can also be one of the best times to do it. Yes, really. Basically, if you can do a Whole30 despite all of the sugary, carby, pumpkin-spiced, whipped cream-laden temptations, then it's probably going to have a pretty transformative effect on your eating habits and help you navigate any future temptation with relative ease.
Plus, if you think about the basics of a Thanksgiving dinner — turkey, potatoes, green beans, squash — it's really not that unreasonable to achieve a delicious Whole30 Thanksgiving. Sure, you'll need to make some of your own side dishes and hopefully have a somewhat supportive family, but you won't be sitting in the corner nibbling celery and dodging judgmental glances from Aunt Barb.
Here are my top tips for navigating Thanksgiving while doing a Whole30.
1. Consider hosting.
Hosting Thanksgiving at your place is one of the best ways to ensure you have plenty of Whole30-compliant apps and sides to nosh on. Plus, you won't feel like you're putting someone out by asking if there's flour in the gravy, and countless other questions about a dish's ingredient list.
The other beauty of hosting: People always ask what they can bring! So you'll have plenty of opportunities to assign out some of the easier Whole30-friendly recipes (like these cumin roasted carrots, root veggie mash, or a shaved Brussels sprout salad) so you can focus on some of the more labor-intensive fare at home — i.e., the turkey and stuffing.
Of course, you won't always be in the position to host; and in that case, you'll want to see what's already being offered and volunteer to bring a couple Whole30 sides or appetizers so you can get your fill without veering off course.
2. Hone in on these appetizers.
You might not be able to nosh on baked brie, spinach and artichoke dip, and stuffed mushroom caps, but you can certainly eat many things that are typically offered at Thanksgiving like crudité, guacamole, nuts, and olives, to name a few.
If you're up for making something that requires a bit more preparation, consider these pecan-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates (which are also good enough for dessert), prosciutto-wrapped arugula (add a pear slice in there to take it over the top), or chorizo-stuffed mushrooms.
3. Go nuts on veggie-based sides.
One of the main reasons you're doing Whole30 in the first place is to reduce your intake of empty calories and up your intake of nutrient-rich vegetables, so veggies are exactly what should take up space on your plate.
For an ideal combination of nutrients and textures, I like to go for at least three veg-based sides — usually something roasted, something green, and something mashed. Here are some awesome picks for each category.
4. Make your own cranberry sauce.
I consider cranberry sauce to be the glue that holds everything together on Thanksgiving. So going without it isn't an option. The problem: Traditional canned cranberry sauce is just about the least Whole30 thing out there, as it's absolutely packed with sugar (24 grams in just 1/4 cup!).
Luckily, it's pretty easy to make your own — and it can be done well in advance of the big day. This Whole30 ginger spiced cranberry sauce features fresh cranberries that are simmered down with naturally sweet ingredients like apples and orange juice, eliminating the need for added sugars. The addition of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger give this sauce a festive kick that makes you want to slather it on just about everything.
5. Use fresh herbs to make a drool-worthy stuffing.
Thanksgiving really isn't Thanksgiving without stuffing. And until recently, I thought stuffing was all about the bread. But then I made this caramelized onion and sausage stuffing featuring pork sausage, caramelized onions, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, pecans, egg, rosemary, and thyme, among other ingredients — and guess what? It tasted remarkably like stuffing. That's when I realized it's all about the herbs (thyme and rosemary are key), along with having ingredients that create a great texture.
The recipe mentioned above, while delicious, is a little heavy — it could be a meal in and of itself. So if you're looking for something lighter, I'd opt for a cauliflower-based stuffing like this one.
6. Make yourself a festive kombucha mocktail.
The tangy-sweet flavor of kombucha tastes kind of like a hybrid of booze and soda, while somehow managing to be healthier than both. So my go-to mocktail during the holidays typically consists of GT's Cosmic Cranberry kombucha on ice with a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Plain kombucha (or even plain seltzer) with a splash of unsweetened cranberry juice will do the trick too.
Just be careful with what brand of kombucha you buy. All kombucha requires the addition of some sugar prior to fermentation, or else fermentation can't occur — and that's fine, since most of it gets eaten up by the SCOBY. But some brands, like Kevita, add sugars after fermentation, and these are a no-go. Of course, you could always make your own kombucha, just to be safe.
7. Rethink Dessert
One of my favorite things to do for "dessert" on a Whole30 is to simply sauté a bunch of sliced apples and pears in coconut oil, add a little cinnamon, and top it off with a sprinkling of toasted walnuts or pecans (and, if I'm feeling really ambitious, this whipped coconut cream — without the honey). Cooking the fruit brings out its natural sweetness, eliminating the need for added sugars and making it taste like the inside of a delicious pie.
The best part: Your family will love it too, if you present it as a "deconstructed apple pie" that they can then top with things like granola and vanilla ice cream, if they choose.