Make it a Primal Thanksgiving!

Given it’s Thanksgiving week, we thought we’d devote Monday to the big menu. (Check back tomorrow for this week’s Dear Mark!) Yup, we’re taking on the mother of all carb-laden holidays, and we aim to please. The truth is, you absolutely, positively can make Thanksgiving a primal success, and you needn’t compromise taste or tradition to stay on track this holiday. No franken-foods (Can we say Tofurky?) or flavorless “health” concoctions here. We think Grok – as well as William Bradford – would be pleased, and we hope you are too. Happy Thanksgiving to all our American Apples. And for our international readers: even if you aren’t joining in on turkey day this week, we offer up these recipes as a great menu for any upcoming parties or holidays. Bon Appétit, everyone!


A given for the large gathering, we think appetizers offer a great opportunity to round out the perfect primal meal. It’s also a fun way to skip the typical lunch and make a grazing day of it. Everyone loves the traditional crudités to be sure (e.g. veggies, fruit, relishes, dips, and cheeses – if cheese is your thing), but there’s plenty of room for some tempting seafood starters as well. A little New England flavor (and some omega-3s) for your starter buffet…

Primal Nut Crackers with Spreads/Cheeses of Your Choice

Crabby Mushrooms

Fruit and Nut Tray

Fruit and Nut Tray

Think seasonally as well as Primally. Figs, apples and pears can complement dried berries, cherries and an assortment of your favorite nuts.

Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce

Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce

Scallops Wrapped in Bacon

Scallops Wrapped in Bacon

Cook bacon until tender but not crisp. Set aside on warming plate or in warm oven. Sauté 2 minced cloves of garlic and 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme in butter. Add scallops and cook for few minutes (3-5 minutes depending on size). Wrap strips or half strips of bacon around and secure with cocktail toothpicks or small skewers if desired.

Antipasto Tray


Deviled Eggs

Deviled Egg



Into 1 lb. ground beef, bison, pork (or other favorite ground meat), combine 1 egg, ¼ cup tomato sauce, ½ cup white onion (minced), 3 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley, 2 Tbsp. minced red bell pepper, 1 Tbsp. minced garlic, 2 tsp. minced fresh oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Roll into meatballs and either cook in pan (until browned throughout) or bake in oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes depending on size. Serve as is or with a favorite sauce.


Pumpkin Soup (Also great with butternut squash!)

Pumpkin Soup

Carrot-Parsnip Soup with Parsnip Chips

Carrot-Parsnip Soup with Parsnip Chips

Seinfeld’s Crab Bisque

Crab Bisque

Wild Mushroom Soup with Vegetable Confetti

Wild Mushroom Soup

Use a good premade stock if you’re looking to save time, substitute the vegetable oil for olive oil, and add extra herbs to the broth for a fully homemade taste.

Fresh Spinach Salad

Spinach Salad

Have a favorite salad you serve every year? Check out our Primal dressing options for everything from vinaigrettes to Caesar and French!

MDA Ultimate Salad Recipe

Cobb Salad

Pumpkin and Pear Salad

Waldorf Salad

Beets and Greens

Apple Manchego Salad with Toasted Walnuts

Arugula Endive Salad with White Wine Vinaigrette


Who says mashed potatoes, marshmallow yams, bread stuffing, and white dinner rolls are the only true Thanksgiving sides? Let’s think beyond the Stove Top box here. We’re confident these healthier options will please even traditional palates.

Bread-Free Fruit and Nut Stuffing

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad

Cube or cut into bite-sized chunks your favorite root veggies (sweet potato, turnips, parsnips, carrots, beets). Chop a white or yellow onion and mix with veggies. Toss mixture with your favorite cooking oil, minced garlic, coarse salt and fresh black pepper. Roast veggies in 450 degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until tender. Sprinkle with finely minced parsley while still warm.

Haricot Verts with Greens and Shallots

Green Beans

Mashed Sweet Potato

Though there are plenty of reasons to forego the usual white potato, by all means embrace the traditional sweet potato. Packed with fiber and vitamin A (and much easier on the blood sugar), everyone can agree (primal or not) that sweet potatoes make the perfect Thanksgiving side.

Wash and pierce large, uniformly sized sweet potatoes. Place on oven racks with lined baking sheet on rack beneath to catch syrup drippings. Bake for about an hour or until you can easily squeeze them. Allow to cool slightly for 15 minutes.

Scoop out the potato and place in large serving bowl. (If you want to further break down the fibers, you can always run them through the food processor for 10-20 seconds.) Add as much butter as you please, of course, along with ground ginger, salt, pepper, and a little chive. To please your sweet-toothed guests, you can always put a small pitcher of warmed maple syrup on the table.

Zucchini and Squash Gratin

Zucchini and Squash Gratin

Low-Carb Gravy

Though many of us have clear memories of the white all-purpose flour being a gravy staple in our families’ kitchens, you don’t need to feel tied to this tradition. Ultimately, gravy is a collection of pan drippings dissolved in liquid and then thickened. The small amount of flour you might use won’t add more than a few grams of carbs per serving. However, if you’d like to eliminate the flour, consider skipping it and serving an “au jus” rather than typical gravy.

After taking the turkey (or other meat of choice) out of the oven, scoop up anywhere from ½ cup-3 cups of pan drippings (depending on how much liquid you used for basting and how many people you’ll be serving), and pour them into a large skillet. If you used broth for basting, you likely won’t need to add much to the gravy concoction. Some people prefer to add a small amount wine at this stage to give the gravy another “layer” of flavor. Stir over heat and add either a traditional thickener (1/2 Tbsp. to 1 Tbsp. of whole grain flour will do it) or a small amount of cream. Heat through, continuing to stir until blended and warmed.

Roasted Cauliflower and Mushroom Sauce

Roasted Cauliflower and Mushroom Sauce

MEATS! (The Main Event)

The ultimate in Primal feasting….



Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (Be sure to put the oven rack in a low position.) After rinsing and patting dry the bird, remove the innards and set aside. (A great meal themselves that can be cooked alongside the bird or baked/boiled at another time.) Combine 1 stick butter (softened) with salt, pepper, fresh thyme and minced garlic. Rub the butter mixture inside the bird and underneath the skin of the breast. (Just work the skin up with your fingers and then smooth it out again after you’re done.) Add final amount of herbed butter mixture all around outside skin of the bird. Fill the inside of the turkey with coarsely chopped onion, carrots, celery and bay leaf. Tuck and truss as needed. Add broth to the bottom of the pan.

Cover breast of turkey with aluminum foil (especially if you’re roasting a large bird) for first ½ of cooking time. Roast until thigh meat registers 165 degrees (usually around 25 minutes per pound), basting with broth and butter as needed throughout second half of cooking time. Let rest loosely tented before carving.

Rib Eye Roast


Combine crushed peppercorn with 1 Tbsp. chopped thyme, ½ Tbsp. salt and 2 Tbsp. gourmet mustard. Place 4-6 lb. roast (enough for 6-8 people) in pan fat side up. Rub mixture over entire roast, add broth to bottom of pan, and cook for around 20-25 minutes per pound or until meat thermometer registers 160 degrees (done medium). Loosely tent and let rest for 15 minutes before carving.


With these recipes, you can have your Thanksgiving pie and eat it too!

Primal Pumpkin and Apple Pies

Pumpkin Pie

(You can always substitute sweet potato puree for pumpkin if sweet potato pie is your thing.)

Cranberry Nut Crumble/Tart

Pecan Crumble

For crumble, spread whole pecans or other desired nuts on parchment lined baking pan. Toast in 250 degree oven for 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool. Using food processor, grind 1 cup toasted nuts to approximate size of baby peas. (You can also mince nuts with large knife.) Set aside. Sauté fresh cranberries in butter until softened and/or warmed through. Add desired spices (e.g. cinnamon, ginger, etc.), and mix for additional minute over heat. For crumble, mix toasted nuts with 2 Tbsp. melted but slightly cooled butter. Pour fruit into dish and top with nut crumble and dollop of freshly whipped cream if desired.

For tart, chop rather than grind pecans or leave whole. Sauté cranberries until softened. Mix 1 egg, 3 Tbsp. maple syrup, 2 Tbsp. dairy or almond milk, and 1/3 cup butter. Add cranberries and pecans to mixture, and pour into tart crust (See our pie crust recipe above!). Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Almond Macaroons


Chocolate Nut Treats

Chocolate Nut Treats

Looking for one last show-stopper to serve with coffee or red wine? (Maybe after the kids are in bed or all the guests are gone?) Use your favorite nuts and dried fruits for this very decadent indulgence. It is a holiday after all….

Melt a bag of high cocoa content (70%) chocolate chips (or two bars of high quality bittersweet chocolate) with ¼ cup cream on medium to low medium heat. Pour over single Tbsp. piles of nuts and dried fruits. Our favorite combinations: pecans and cranberries, pistachios and cherries, coconut and almonds, or hazelnuts and dates.

Sufficiently distracted and salivating yet? We’d love to hear your feedback on these recipe ideas, your thoughts for handling the Thanksgiving food traditions/pitfalls – and your favorite primal style recipes for the big holiday!

quinn.anya, Methoxy.Roxy, sheilaz413, ColinandAngie, Wendy Copley, rachel is coconut&lime, avlxyz, moirabot, biskuit, dream sister, talkoftomatoes, the amanda, Benjamin Haas, dcaCRL, In Praise of Sardines, -Mandie-, Another Pint Please…, eszter, bucklava, Jen Chan, manueb, wickendon Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Great Pumpkin Recipes

The Whole Series of Eat This Today, Feel Better Tomorrow: 1, 2, 3, Intermittent Fasting, Special Occasions and Dessert Editions

Fantastic Fall Recipes

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17 thoughts on “Make it a Primal Thanksgiving!”

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  1. We are trying a fruit and nut stuffing and a primal apple pie with our thanksgiving this year. Can’t wait. This is going to be the best thanksgiving ever! And all with no guilt!

    The SoG

  2. This makes me want Thanksgiving to be tomorrow even though I have not done any of my grocery shopping! Another good appetizer – its easy finger foods – (it can also be a yummy side dish) is to take mushrooms, snap off the stem, clean the inside of the cap, and add fresh pesto. Set them on a baking sheet (with the open end facing up) and pop them in the oven for a few minutes until the mushrooms are warm and the pesto has melted into the mushrooms a bit. They taste best warm, but work great cold as left-overs too!

  3. I’m sooooo eating that Pumpkin soup! And maybe the parsnip soup too, but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had a parsnip, what do they taste like? And the chocolate nut balls…omg I can’t wait!

  4. A note on the chocolate nut treats: I’ve been substituting coconut milk for my usual heavy cream when I make ganache. (I make it almost weekly…I have a problem, I know.) I also add a little coconut oil, just for a nice fat boost. It tastes great, and I bet it would go well with the choco-nut concoctions you guys mention. Personally, I just eat it by the spoonful or stir it into coffee. But I guess that’s not for everyone.

  5. You may disagree with this one, but we’re not going to change our meal at all. The focus for us will be on the reason(s) for Thanksgiving, and not the American lust for celebration. Thanksgiving for us will be carne asada (grass fed), asparagus, a monster salad, and the usual (semi) primal fair — just set on nicer service, with a few more people around, and garnished up a bit.

    I believe one of the reasons we (Americans) are in the state we are in, is because we emphasize the meal and not the gathering. Even a primal Thanksgiving puts the emphasis more on the food. There is an inherent lapse of reason here — I think.

    That said, better people go primal then enter the glycemic nightmare that will haunt so many for hours, if not days after the event — or events as it will be for many!

  6. Dude… I almost ate my laptop halfway through that post!! This looks delicious, I’m totally trying most of these. Oh, and the week after thanksgiving I’m gonna have a different salad everyday!

    Great post, thanks Mark!

    All the Best,

    Andrew R

  7. Oooh, I was Googling “low carb thanksgiving recipes” and yours blog came up! So excited to find you!! I’ll let you know if I try any of these recipes! LOVE the photos, btw!

  8. Wow that looks great especially the chocolate nut thing (ok, I admit I’ve been having a dark chocolate craving). I try to make sure I get eggs and bacon or some other meat for breakfast so I am not ravenous all day. Also we usually do a shrimp plate and my mother-in-law makes her deviled eggs for the lunchtime appetizers.

    Used to do broccoli casserole but I need to find a way to low carb the topping… it was stuffing mix. Maybe some sort of nut meal would work? It’s basically butter, broccoli, milk, chicken broth, and the topping.


  9. I know I’m in the minority here when it comes to this, but Thanksgiving dinner for me will continue to be the standard turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, etc. I’ve made a lot of improvements in my eating habits, and in large part I have this great blog to thank for that, but Thanksgiving and Christmas are two days I don’t mean sticking to tradition no matter how unhealthy it may seem. 🙂

    Great work as always though Mark, fabulous ideas and I imagine a primal thanksgiving meal is very delicious.

  10. I made an interesting dessert for this thanksgiving. It was a tart, with the crust consisting of ONLY Figs, cashews and dates. Granted, I didn’t have a food processor, so I had to grind them up by hand, but it made the ultimate crust! By the way I filled it with thinly sliced green apples.

  11. Mark, thanks so much for this! My husband and I just started a 30-day Paleo/Primal Diet challenge on Monday, and we really concerned with how Thanksgiving would go over with my family. I think I’ll have to pick a few of these (there’s so many great ones to choose from!) to share with my mom. Maybe we can start some new, healthier Thanksgiving traditions. 🙂


  13. What? No nod to the cranberry sauce? Can’t anyone find a way to primalize the cranberries? Because that’s my 20 per cent, friends. I can resist anything but these.

  14. Hi kapo,
    I always make cranberry sauce in the blender. Wash and pick over a bag of cranberries, core an apple, add a naval orange. Whirl until coarsely chopped. This can be served raw or you can simmer it to thicken. You could add a bit of honey or maple sugar flakes, cinnamon etc. to taste. Chill and serve. ENJOY 🙂