Dear Mark: Primal Wedding Menu

A couple weeks ago, I received an interesting request from a reader:

Hi Mark – first, I know you’ve got a gob of emails beckoning you….I just hope that you can get back to me at some point 🙂 I love reading your blog, so much so that I’ve decided I would like to pursue a career as a nutrition consultant – in natural health of course. I’m so glad there is such an option! Perhaps some of my friends and family would pay a bit more attention if I study & earn a certificate instead of my continual praises of your site and how it’s changed my life. To you and your Bees, my gratitude!

Now, the reason I am messaging you:

I’m soon to be planning my wedding! Excitement in itself, of course. While trying to plan a menu chock full of primal food (and not have the guests even realize they are eating healthy ‘gasp!’), it’s a bit daunting. So far, I love the Chicken Poppers as an offering. I want to do mostly appetizers, less waste of food. Anyway, I have searched your posts to see if there were any suggestions for such an event, and I couldn’t find any. So if I have overlooked one, my apologizes! If you could point me in a direction of a blog that might have such a post, I would be delighted! Or if you have time to offer some other ideas, great! If not, then once I scour the ‘net for hours and days and weeks in search of such items, I’d be happy to share with you here so that other couples will have to do less work.

Any help you can give, I would be oh so happy! Thanks again, Mark!


I already responded to Jennifer (good luck with the wedding!), but I figured expanding my response into a full-fledged post on Primal wedding fare might help others with impending nuptials.

Before I discuss the food, let’s dig into other considerations. Every aspect of the wedding matters, not just whether you replace the mashed potatoes with mashed cauliflower or turnips.

First of all, get the proper Primal dress code established. Shoes? Not allowed. And that goes for bride, groom, and guest alike. No one is exempt, not even grandpa with his Velcro orthopedics. Sorry. This will be new ground for most people, though, so be sure to give advanced warning of the shoe ban on the wedding invitations. A combination of comic sans, bolding, and underlining should get the point across. Vibrams are acceptable, of course.

Don’t walk down the aisle at a steady pace. Instead, make it fractal! Run, stop, sprint for a bit, slow to a crawl. Alternatively, you can make it a full-blown sprint to the altar. Whatever you do, do not jog at a steady pace with an elevated heart rate.

Also: no chairs, pews, benches, or other sitting contraptions. Some ceremonies last upwards of two hours, and that’s plenty of time for the negative metabolic effects and muscle lengthening caused by excessive sitting to manifest. Just have them all stand.

When you toss the bouquet, make sure to propel the flowers with a snap of your hips, as if you were performing a kettlebell swing. Most wedding planners will tell you differently, but the bouquet toss is not about your arms at all – it’s all in the hips

Of course, I’m being playful here, but upon rereading this I’d say these and other novel Primal wedding ideas (shaman, anyone?) would make for a riot of a ceremony. But enough with Primal daydreaming. Let’s move on to the food.

The classic wedding main courses are actually pretty Primal, tending to revolve around large chunks of animal flesh. You’ve got your prime rib, your salmon, your rack of lamb, your steak, or your roasted chicken, and I highly doubt any of my readers would object to any of those dishes. Sides generally include a garden salad or perhaps a soup, along with veggies and a starch. Bread is served, but that can easily be ditched altogether and I doubt they’d even notice. All in all, the standard wedding menu works pretty well so long as you stick to hunks of meat and vegetables, skip the bread, and moderate the starch.

If you’re going with outside catering (as most people do), you’ll just have to be vigilant about the preparation methods they use. Since you’re paying good money for their service – and it’s your day – insist that butter and olive oil, rather than “cooking oil,” be used to cook. Tell them wheat is to be avoided, and if they balk, pull the celiac card (it works every single time). The better catering companies will fulfill every request you make of them – they’ll do the cauliflower gratin, the pureed butternut squash, the olive oil mayo – but you will have to pay for it. If you go with the in-house fixed menu that comes with the venue you may be able to get some extra vegetables instead of those French fries along with your butter/olive oil request fulfilled, but don’t expect any massive substitutions.

But that’s not what Jennifer wanted. No, she wanted to wow her guests. She wants to “trick” them into eating “that fad diet” for a day – and she doesn’t want them to know it. Your standard plate of meat and vegetables isn’t going to convince anyone of the efficacy of eating Primal, but a reception filled with Primal appetizers will reach even the most jaded and skeptical taste buds.

New takes on classic finger foods are my personal favorite.

Primal Chicken Poppers – Don’t forget to make the ranch.

Coconut Shrimp with Chive Mayo

Peppers of all kinds

Sunflower Sesame Crackers

Cheese! For those that can tolerate dairy it has a place in the Primal eating plan. On top of that everyone loves it. But how can we get guests to eat a wedge of brie without a wheat-based cracker to go with it? Here are a few ideas.

Fruit, especially grapes, apples, pears, and figs, is excellent with cheese (and prosciutto).

You know how when you sauté a cheeseburger in your cast iron pan and the cheese oozes off the burger and onto the pan and gets all crispy? If you were to engineer that process, perfect it, and expand it on an industrial scale, you’d get Joyful Abode’s Baked Cheese Crisps.

Meatza, or some other pizza replacement.

Salads are perfect, actually. Make a big batch and serve in small bowls with forks, or make it truly finger-friendly by providing fresh lettuce or cabbage as edible middlemen.

Your choice of ten dressings.

Curried Chicken Salad

Bacon, Chicken, and Avocado Salad

Make a seaweed salad.

Summer makes for beautiful weddings and sweaty pits. Beat the heat as you bask in it with:

Halibut, Snapper and Shrimp Ceviche

Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

Paleo Shrimp Cocktail (with sauce)

Short ribs are short in stature, but not in flavor or tenderness. These delectable morsels of cow flesh make excellent appetizers. Some of them have even got handles! I’ve really been digging in lately. Here are a few ideas:

Primal Braised

Korean-Style (go for the blackberry version, and serve with lettuce wraps, AKA beef-n-leaf)

Beef Candy

Appetizers, tapas, finger foods, small plates – whatever phrase you use to describe it, food variety is insanely popular. When people eat small plates, and lots of them, conversation is stimulated. People are mobile and more social, rather than locked into a seating arrangement and awkward silence. The food gives them something to talk about. “Did you try the…?” You’ll never hear that one when everyone has the same roasted chicken, carrots, and rice. Plus, as Jennifer points out, an appetizer-based wedding reception means less waste. For the most part, you’re just popping these dishes into your mouth, or taking at most two bites to finish the job. If you don’t like it? Tough, because it’s already in your stomach.

People like finger food. They like eating with their hands. Perhaps they crave that visceral connection with their food, or maybe they just want to get messy in a socially-acceptable manner. Either way, a room with a steadily replenishing supply of Primal finger food will be the perfect spot to launch a successful, lasting marriage between two Primal people.

I didn’t intend for this to be the definitive guide to wedding food or anything, so if you need more ideas, do some snooping. Both Joyful Abode and Girl Gone Primal produce some incredible recipes; visit both and get inspired. Free the Animal’s “Food Porn” section is a go-to source for full-fledged Primal meals, if you decide to go the more traditional route. There are dozens of other resources out there, of course, on the slim chance that the aforementioned don’t satisfy your needs.

If you don’t have it already, I also recommend both the Primal Blueprint Cookbook, which is chock full of great recipe ideas, and the newly minted PB Recipe index, which contains pretty much every recipe we’ve ever posted. Between all that, you should be covered and your reception should be a smashing success.

Hit me up with your Primal wedding menu ideas and links in the comment board. Thanks, everyone, and Grok on!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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55 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Primal Wedding Menu”

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  1. Mark, this post is great, and would work well for any large gathering’s menu. Thanks so much for including several of my recipes, too!

    Kebabs are also great (or mini kebabs if it’s not a sit-down type thing) and can be customized to any style of food. Mmm…

  2. Mark – thanks for posting my email and doing a wonderful post! I love it!! I’ll be sure to keep you updated on the menu when I get it put together. Thanks for putting up some other wonderful ideas to help me – and I do hope this helps others who are planning an upcoming wedding (or other event)! And I’ll also let you know how my ‘trickery’ works out 🙂

    Joyful Abode – I have checked your site and found some awesome recipes as well! I love the kebabs idea – I am going to have a delicious menu to offer our guests on our special day – thanks to you and Mark (and other sites I find).

    Thanks again!!

    1. Oh, and Mark – you totally got the vibe I was seeking for having people mingle and eat with their hands as opposed to a sit down dinner. More mingling, more socializing, a more relaxed atmosphere is exactly what I was shooting for!

      (Also loved the idea of NO SHOES on the invites) 🙂

    2. Jen, whatever happened to that update? Did everything go over the way it was planned? any complaints?

  3. Jen, do you mind sharing how you’re going about this?

    “I’ve decided I would like to pursue a career as a nutrition consultant – in natural health of course.”

    I’m very interested in studying/teaching nutrition a la the primal style, not so much conventional wisdom. I’ve had a hard time finding reputable education/certification programs. Any help would be appreciated! Thanks!

    1. Me too! Most of my life I’ve picked up information about health and nutrition pretty easily. I retain it and can share it, and that’s the exciting part. I’d love to join in this effort also. Let me know what you find. I’ll keep my eyes peeled also. 😀

    2. Hrm, sorry if this is a double-post; not sure if my original reply went thru! I’m curious about this program too; not sure what the rules are about this field here in MD, but I came across a school called Bauman College and I think they look pretty progressive & they offer Distance Learning if anyone wants to check em out!

      1. I was also going to recommend Bauman College. Having lived in the Bay Area at one time, I’ve been to one of their seminars and have eaten the food. Absolutely fantastic!

  4. You know what Mark?

    Sure, you were playful in the beginning of this post and somewhat kidding. However, I am going to do just as you described. Not exactly, but I will no doubt have as primal wedding as a possible.

    I am not getting married anytime soon as I am 22 and have been single my whole life and have no plans on dating anytime soon. But, when that special day comes which will probably happen before I hit 30, I will be going crazy with it. I will without a doubt be marrying a primal women I may add and it will be one hell of a celebration!

    Great recipes within this post as well!

    1. I totally agree, barefoot with lots of meat and fire (tiki torches anyone?), maybe even on a beach. Let the primal daydreams begin. lol

    1. I bet a very nice cake could be made with almond flour, and it could be sprinkled with coconut…or maybe butter, vanilla and crystalized honey.

      1. I agree! Or make mini-cakes or cupcakes with almond flour and stack them.

  5. Great Suggestions, Mark!
    I was at a wedding last night and enjoyed tri tip, grilled chicken and steamed veggies, all primally acceptable. Passed on the bread, mashed potatoes and gravy and pasta, but watched in horror as people went back for second helpings of all the same!

    1. Jenny – that sounds fantastic! I’ve been trying to decide what to do about the cake, and this is perfect!! Many thanks!

      1. I think you’ll like it – we’ve made it for birthday cake too so you don’t need to put it in a madeleine tin unless you reall want to. It tastes like yellow cake (or … what I remember yellow cake tasting like).

  6. It’s funny last week I was thinking that there is no way I would put shoes on for my wedding. You want to stay true to your values, especially on that day.

    I think it’s sad that my relative get frustrated when I refuse to eat cake on special occasions, even my own birthday.

    They probably think that deep down I really want to have it and that I work hard to supress the urge. It’s actually the opposite.

    Anyway, I wish Jen a very happy wedding!

    1. I had a friend who HATED cake. I always theorized it was because she grew up on nasty boxed mixes and such nonsense. she always asked for birthday cheesecake, which can be pretty primal if you tolerate dairy. I’d ask for a crustless or almond-crusted cheesecake if I were you. (for me, I’ll have a small slice and call it my 20% for the day)

  7. This is a good post not just for weddings but any other party involving food.

    Love the idea of a barefoot wedding.

  8. i wish i had a no shoes rule at my wedding. though, it was near impossible–and unsuccessful–just to get the entire wedding party to wear chucks instead of heels and dress shoes.

    my wedding wasn’t entirely primal, but i think we did ok. the centerpieces were just baskets of apples, and the whole dinner was pot luck finger where i assigned recipes to our guests. a couple for your consideration:

    grilled meat skewers (big hit–we had steak and chicken just seasoned, as well as mini-shish kabobs loaded w/ veggies
    fresh mozz, grape tomatoes and basil on a toothpick
    stuffed mushrooms were popular
    fruit salad on a stick

    i had several others too, but nobody had the guts to make them

  9. I would not force a no non primal food option on anyone at a wedding. It’s not the time nor the place to change people. It can get people on a conventional diet cranky( as in it’s impossible to get full without bread if you’re used to bread) and you will be remembered as the one who didn’t have any bread at her wedding. A day of frustration won’t make anyone happier.

    So I suggest you pick your battles( no soda for example) and have additional food that’s not primal( like bread, baked potatoes). You could make a statement and print on the menu which food is primal and which is not, but I wouldn’t go for a 100% primal menu.

    Nobody mentioned eggs so I will. I’m sure you can offer them in a way that’s very primal.

    1. good idea, i’ve never seen devilled eggs left sitting. i think you have a point there on the bread. what if she has some there but not that appealing…hard wheat rolls as opposed to warm fresh sourdough? then no one can whine that there wasn’t bread but it won’t be the star of the show

      1. A fair compromise, since the bride and groom have decided this is indeed important for them on their special day, they could always provide a BYOB option… Bring Your Own Bread?

        1. OOh! If you feel really compelled to provide a starch option for guests… why not sushi? Rice is a little better isn’t it?

  10. This is great! I was just talking to my partner this weekend about getting married and that I want to do all primal fare….he’s not totally on board yet so there’s still work to be done but this will be a step in the right direction! Thanks Mark and good luck Jennifer!!! 🙂

  11. Do the primal food…most of us have good intentions when going to a wedding or party…”I will not eat/drink whatever”, give in to temptation once there, then go home feeling bloated and guilty…no one will miss the bread and potatoes, especially if you don’t mention what is going on…just FEED them good-tasting Primal food…and they will go home feeling light and airy, and happy for your beautiful day. Congratulations, by the way.

  12. Of course you can have a primal party! It is my daughter’s 1st Birthday on the weekend and she has never had a grain in her short life yet! Her party food will be all primal except the cake which I count as my 20% and she won’t be having any 🙂

    marinated chicken wings
    roasted mushrooms stuffed with cheese & olives
    mini quiches with cherry tomato and bacon
    cheese platter with carrot & celery sticks, almonds and dried fruits
    lebanese meatballs with tzaziki

    who wouldn’t love this???? primal or not…

  13. I’ve only recently gone primal and two weeks in I had a wedding to attend and to be honest I was terrified, but honestly once I got there and looked at the menu the only thing that really had me stumped was the dessert. I had the choice of apple pie or Chocolate cake. Neither all that primal. I went with the apple pie because although it was coated in singar at least it had some fruit in it. I took two smallish bites for politeness sake and said I couldn’t eat any more.

    During Dinner it was easy to kick off my shoes under the table and at the reception it was all about hitting the dance floor in my bare feet, by that point everyone was having too much fun to mind, and several of the other ladies soon became keen to kick off those heels and join in.

  14. Let me offer three additional appetizer options that I find work great for any type of celebration or snacks too.

    Primal Chicken Salad stuffed in Belgian Endive Leaves (mix grapes, nuts, celery, onions, dill, and chicken in primal mayo)

    Cucumber slices or cups topped with cream cheese, smoked salmon, and a sprig of fresh dill

    Roquefort grapes (mix cream cheese and Roquefort cheese, chill, mold cheese around each grape, roll in crushed pecans or almonds)

  15. I’m getting married in October. The restaurant is well known for its game meats, so tasty appetizers and main dishes were not a problem. And for the money being doled out, I think it’s reasonable to make some gluten free requests, we had no problem with this. We also mentioned that many guests have diabetes and we’d like to moderate the sugar used in recipes. Having a mostly primal wedding is about keeping our guts in working order for the entire day, not about forcing an opinion on our guests.

    We compromised on dinner rolls. Gluten free rolls will be put at our setting and offered to anyone that asks, wheat based rolls will be at the serving line.

    As for the cake, we selected cheesecakes with gluten free crusts. Those are typically made of nuts and/or nut flour. There’s more sugar than on a typical primal day,but feast or famine right? Take time to enjoy the feast part, not every day is supposed to be as grand as your wedding day.

  16. This post was great. I love the bit about a fractal move to the alter. Yeah, I laughed out loud. Great job guys.

  17. My husband and I did a an almost entirely primal/paleo wedding reception.

    Appetizers were:
    My family’s clams casino recipe (topped with sauteed onions, peppers, pimentos and bacon).
    Deer summer sausage (my husband hunted the deer, and had it processed locally into sausage).
    Various veggies and local cheeses.

    We did a summery tossed salad with locally grown strawberries, then for the dinner we did grilled vegetables, mashed cauliflower, and then grass fed roast beef and shrimp scampi-style (obviously no pasta). We didn’t do a wedding cake, but we did make the exception for some ice cream, and the alcohol we served offered a “wiser choice” for those trying to live life along more primal/paleo paths (skinny margaritas, cider, etc.).

    Burpees, pushups, and lunge walks did make their way into our special day, as well as the bride/groom workouts for the weekend.

    Best wishes to you, Jen!

  18. my fiance and i are having a hog roast for ours. of course, she is a pig farmer, but it’s still a cheap and social main course. ..

  19. Love the idea of running fractals down the aisle in bare feet!

    As for the food, primal eats are so good you just need to serve them. They will sell themselves 🙂

  20. I giggled about the “playing the celiac card” comment! 🙂 I’ve discovered that “playing the diabetic card” can also go a long way – I don’t know about the States, but here in South Africa I recently got served way better food on an airplane because I asked for diabetic meals: roasted fish, plenty of fresh veg, and fresh and dried fruit for dessert instead of the sticky toffee pudding and chocolate that the guy next to me was wolfing down. The meal still came with a bread roll, which I just didn’t eat.

  21. Awesome! So glad to see this. I just attended my monthly writer’s meeting and learned to my amusement that now three of the five other members are under doctor’s orders to eat low-carb and/or grain free. (I, of course, have been enlightened about grain for years but did they believe me? Nooooo.)

    Anyhoo, making Primal-friendly snacks for those meetings has been at the top of my brain lately. This post & accompanying links is a big help!

  22. Thanks for the wedding post! My fiancee is a chef, and just finalized our 5 course formal wedding dinner menu 100% primal! (our guests wont even miss the bread)


  23. Wonderful issues altogether, you just gained a brand new reader. What could you recommend in regards to your put up that you made some days ago? Any certain?

  24. Fabulous and really got me thinking. Thanks! We’re doing a Primal menu for our wedding reception AND we are having breakfast for dinner! Bulletproof coffee included, of course. Our menu is chock full of things like frittatas, bacon, Primal-style waffles and fruit salad, with nearly all ingredients from our favorite CSA. Our wedding cake is a beautiful naked almond cake with vanilla buttercream, covered in fresh berries. I doubt anyone will know a thing about any of it except the waffles, and I really do have celiac so its easily accepted. Can’t wait!