How to Prepare for Thanksgiving Dinner

Father and his daughter preparing a meal for Thanksgiving day.It’s time for the annual procession of all things carb: potatoes, rolls, stuffing, and desserts galore. It can be tough to be Primal during Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, especially when everyone seems to have an opinion about the correct way to approach the holiday food-stravaganza.

On one end of the spectrum are those who say every day is a Primal day. They prepare their Thanksgiving feast the way they do every other meal. If someone else is doing the cooking, they selectively forage and might even bring a Primal dish of their own to share (or relish alone). On the other end are the folks who argue for an anything-goes attitude. Live for the moment, deal with any consequences later. And in the middle, we have those folks who strive to balance the value of family traditions with their Primal interests to forge a reasonable compromise for the day.

There’s plenty of room under the Primal tent for everyone and plusses and minuses to each strategy. Let’s explore.

The “Stickin’ to Your Guns” Approach

Of all the days in the year, Thanksgiving can be the most difficult to navigate for people who want or need to stay strictly Primal. Your commitment can get some blowback even if friends and family “tolerate” it for the rest of the year. Rest assured: you’re not a stick in the mud or a killjoy. Don’t let the naysayers make you feel like you are missing out by sticking to what works for you the other 364 days of the year. It’s entirely your right to eat how you want on Thanksgiving, just like it is every other day.

That said, it’s also not good to be so rigid that you wind up feeling deprived, stressed, or isolated. If you want to loosen the reins but feel like you can’t, that’s a problem. I’ve talked to folks who feel like they aren’t “allowed” any dietary excursions, lest they be kicked out of the Primal club or lose all their health gains. Neither is true whatsoever. Make sure your commitment is coming from a place of confidence and true desire to toe the line, not because you feel pressure to be “perfect” with your food choices.

If this is the road you decide to take, it’s wise to plan ahead. What will help you be successful? Maybe it’s bringing a couple side dishes to family dinner or pre-planning what you’ll say when pushy Aunt Marge positively insists that you must eat a slice of her famous pecan pie. Maybe it’s taking to your unsupportive partner ahead of time, letting them know your intention to stick to your typical food, and asking them not to make it a big deal. Strategize and communicate ahead of time so you can enjoy the big day.

The “Anything Goes” Approach

I’ve never been a fan of making too much of a fuss about food and food rules. Food, and breaking (metaphorical) bread with others, should be easy and enjoyable in my book. So you’re not going to get a bunch of pushback from me if you say that you just want to enjoy this one day without analyzing what you’re eating, asking about the ingredients, mentally tabulating the carbs, and making the “ideal” choices.

The caveat, of course, is that this isn’t the best choice for everyone, maybe not for lots of people. Certainly if you have food allergies or intolerances that make it so you’ll feel miserable for days or weeks after, I’d encourage you to think hard about whether it’s worth it. Pie is good, but is it really that good? Also, for some folks, this type of thinking becomes a slippery slope. One day becomes “just until the leftovers are gone,” which becomes “just until Christmas,” until they come out of a fog in mid-January and realize that not only did they fall off the wagon, they can’t even see the wagon on the horizon.

Luckily, though, this kind of all-or-nothing thinking isn’t the only way to enjoy some of your favorite non-Primal foods this holiday. There is another path…

The “Take 20” Approach

Yes, you can invoke the 80/20 principle here.

Arguably, if someone adopts the anything-goes approach for just one day and then goes right back to eating Primally, that is the 80/20 principle in action. That’s true. But you can also practice moderation in the meal itself, finding a sweet spot between saying no to everything and saying yes to everything. Choose the indulgences that are most worth it to you, however you determine that.

This is usually the approach I take myself. Chalk it up to convenience or nostalgia, but Thanksgiving does only come once a year. Your family may have very meaningful traditions that you enjoy participating in, or you might just reserve a special place in your heart/stomach for a certain dish. Some folks will even take advantage of the opportunity to do a strategic carb refeed.

My suggestion is to gauge where you’re at in your Primal journey. Beginners or those who do better with consistency might have a harder time traversing the route of moderation. However, if you feel you can enjoy it and then return to your Primal track the next day none the worse for the wear, go ahead and partake.

However you choose to approach the holiday this week, know that it’s ultimately about owning your choice. The decision itself doesn’t matter as much as the spirit and knowledge behind it. Make your own, fully informed, entirely unapologetic choice, and relish the holiday for all its worth!

Primal Thanksgiving Menu

The truth is, there are plenty of ways to make your holiday fully Primal if you want. Whether you’re hosting or visiting, I invite you to check out some of our most popular Thanksgiving recipes. They’re proof once again that eating Primal doesn’t mean sacrificing taste.

Who knows you might even win over some converts!

Now it’s your turn. Good readers, what say you? Will you be invoking the Primal compromise or planning a fully Primal holiday? Comment below.

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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