How to Have a Paleo Thanksgiving

Paleo Thanksgiving
iStock: Evgenyb

Thanksgiving is on the horizon and it’s arguably the biggest feast of the year. But if you’re on a Paleo diet, you might be wondering how to stay on point. Stuffing, cranberry, gravy, and other fixtures, after all, might not necessarily be considered “paleo foods.” Thankfully, though, a paleo Thanksgiving isn’t that hard to construct.

If you’re wondering how to stay paleo on Thanksgiving, don’t stress too much; we’ve got you covered. The foundation of the meal is Paleo-friendly, all you have to do is get a little creative with a few recipes to ensure you stick to your guns.

What Is the Paleo Diet?

The Paleo diet, also known as the caveman diet, is a popular style of eating that essentially eliminates certain food groups. The dietary regime is meant to mimic that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who had no access to the heavily processed foods of today’s society.

Proponents believe the diet of Paleolithic-era humans was mostly animal-based, with smaller amounts of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Basically, whatever they could “hunt” or “gather.”

The truth, however, is that paleoanthropologists can’t say with certainty what foods “cavemen” did or didn’t eat. Or that the foods available to them promote optimal health. Foods were only available regionally during this time, so people dwelling in Africa, for example, would have had a substantially different diet than those in China or North America.

The main idea, though, is that eating the same types of foods as early humans promotes improved digestion and biological function, while “modern” processing and farming techniques are damaging to human health.

What Foods Can You Eat for a Paleo Thanksgiving?

Unlike other trendy diets, Paleo doesn’t exclude any macronutrients (e.g. fats, protein, carbohydrates). You can load up on the healthy carbs found in fruits and veggies, if desired. But since agriculture wasn’t developed until some 10,000 years ago, Paleo does restrict most “modern” sources of processed foods, like dairy, legumes, and grains.

It also cuts processed sugar.

Food groups featured on a Paleo diet include:

  • Lean meat and fish
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables (except corn because it is a grain)
  • Selected fats and oils—olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, lard, tallow, ghee/butter
  • Minimally processed sweeteners like maple syrup, raw honey, coconut sugar, raw stevia

With that said, let’s take a closer look at the staples you might find on your Thanksgiving spread.

  • Turkey: Turkey is an all-star when it comes to animal-based protein. Lean and rich in B vitamins and minerals like selenium, phosphorus, and zinc, it’s safely Paleo.
  • Stuffing: Traditional grain-based stuffing is a no-go, but you can use alternatives like cauliflower or coconut/almond flour to hold together the celery, onions, and dried fruit.
  • Ham: Though not quite as popular as turkey, holiday hams still appear on tables across North America. To make it Paleo, substitute the sugar for all-natural honey or maple syrup.
  • Green beans: These nutrient-dense legumes are allowed in Paleo diets because they contain smaller amounts of the anti-nutrients common to this group.
  • Desserts: You don’t have to skip dessert when there are Paleo-friendly options like mousse and no-bake cookies.

Paleo Thanksgiving Recipes

Paleo Thanksgiving Main Dishes

When it comes to main dishes, keeping things Paleo is well in within reach. Free-range turkey, pork, and beef can all be a part of your paleo thanksgiving. And with a little creativity, you can also make other favorites Paleo. Thanksgiving stuffing does not have to be skipped!

Roasted Turkey

Prep Time: 1 day    Total Time: 1 day,  5 hours    Serves: Depends on bird size

Ingredients (For a 20 lb bird; adjust based on bird size)

For Brine:

  • 2 gallons water
  • 4 cups apple juice or cider (no added sugars)
  • 1 cup honey
  • 3 tbsp orange peel
  • 3 tbsp peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 cups sea salt
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced or sliced
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 4 stems fresh rosemary

For Turkey:

  • 1 free-range turkey (15-20 lbs)
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 orange, halved
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into thirds
  • 4 tbsp grass-fed butter or ghee


  1. Place all ingredients for the brine in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and cover. Let cool completely.
  2. Put the turkey in a large brining bag or pot and submerge in brine solution. Refrigerate for 24 hours (or 12 hours if using a thawed frozen turkey).
  3. After 24 (or 12) hours, remove the turkey from brine. Discard brine.
  4. Fill a sink with fresh, cold water. Submerge the turkey and let sit in water for 15 minutes.
  5. Remove turkey from water and pat dry.
  6. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Place turkey in a roasting pan, breast side up.
  7. Put 2 tbsp butter/ghee under the skin on each turkey breast. Flip the turkey over (to breast side down). Put the lemon, orange, onion, and celery in the cavity. Sew the cavity.
  8. Roast for 40 minutes, basting with pan juices at 20 minutes and 40 minutes.
  9. After 40 minutes, flip the turkey breast side up. Continue roasting according to the time chart that came with your turkey (about 15 minutes per pound). Internal temp (of thigh meat, stay away from the bone) should read 170F when the turkey is done.
  10. Remove from oven and let rest 20 to 30 minutes before carving.

Spiced Orange Ham

Prep Time: 10 minutes          Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes        Serves: 5-7


For Ham:

  • 1 bone-in cooked ham, fully cooked, around 8 to 10 pounds
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup

For Rub:

  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

For Glaze:

  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 1/2 cup coconut aminos
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tbsp orange zest
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp fish sauce

For Garnish:

  • 4 navel oranges, halved


  1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Place ham in a roasting pan, then pour maple syrup all over. Rub in nicely.
  2. Combine all ingredients for the rub mixture, then rub all over the ham, coating evenly. Allow some of the rub to drop between the slices. Cover with foil and place in oven to cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  3. After 1 hour of cooking passes, place a large frying pan over medium heat and add in all ingredients for the glaze. Combine with a whisk, then let reduce for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking to the bottom. Remove from heat when the mixture comes to a low boil and reduces by one-third (and coats the back of the spoon).
  4. When the ham is cooked, remove the foil and brush half of the orange glaze on top of the ham, covering the entire ham with glaze.
  5. Increase the oven to 400 F, place a few toothpicks through the ham to hold it together. Arrange the orange halves around the ham, then return to the oven to bake for another 30 minutes.
  6. Once ham has browned on the outside, remove from oven and brush again with the remaining glaze.

Paleo Thanksgiving Accompaniments 

Cauliflower Stuffing

Prep Time: 15 minutes    Total Time: 40 minutes    Serves: 6


  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped or thinly sliced
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup baby bella mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 small head cauliflower, chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 tbsp rosemary, freshly chopped
  • 1 tbsp sage, freshly chopped
  • 1/4 cup parsley, freshly chopped
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth


  1. Over medium heat, melt butter in a large frying pan. Add celery, carrot, and onion, and sauté until soft, for seven to eight minutes.
  2. Add mushrooms and cauliflower and add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about 10 minutes more, or until vegetables are tender.
  3. Add rosemary, sage, and parsley, and stir until combined. Pour in broth and cook until liquid is absorbed, roughly 10 minutes.

Paleo Gravy

Prep Time: 5 minutes    Total Time: 20 minutes    Serves: 8


  • 2 tbsp turkey fat from pan drippings, plus more for cooking vegetables
  • 2 cups cauliflower, chopped
  • 1/2 cup onions, chopped
  • 1-2 cups turkey or chicken stock
  • Several sprigs fresh thyme
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Black pepper, freshly ground


  1. Heat pan drippings in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add in onions and cook until onions begin to brown. Stir in cauliflower and thyme sprigs.
  2. Measure pan drippings and add enough stock to equal 2 cups liquid. Pour stock mixture into the pan with vegetables. Simmer for about 10 minutes; cauliflower should be fork tender. Remove herb stems.
  3. Transfer mixture to a blender, and mix on high speed until smooth and creamy.
  4. Return gravy to saucepan and reheat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Paleo Thanksgiving Side Dishes 

Paleo Cranberry Sauce

Prep Time: 15 minutes    Total Time: 35 minutes    Serves:5-7


  • 3 cups whole cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • 3/4 cup organic coconut palm sugar
  • 3/4 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Nutmeg (a pinch)
  • Orange zest (optional)
  • Allspice (optional)


  1. Heat cranberries, coconut sugar, and orange juice in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally for about five to 10 minutes. Reduce heat to simmering and cook for another five to 10 minutes; stir and scrape the sides of the saucepan occasionally to prevent the sugar from burning. Most of the cranberries will burst and the sauce will have thickened substantially.
  3. Turn off heat and stir in the cinnamon and nutmeg (along with any other spices). Let sauce cool in the saucepan for about 15 minutes. Transfer to a container or dish, cover, and refrigerate if desired until cooled to your preference and ready to serve.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Prep Time: 5 minutes    Total Time: 30 minutes    Serves: 4


  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Black pepper, freshly ground


  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Arrange Brussels sprouts on a large baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss until combined.
  2. Roast the Brussels sprouts for about 25 minutes, until they’re crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Shake the pan halfway through.
  3. Serve immediately.

Paleo Thanksgiving Dessert Recipes

Paleo Thanksgiving “Cornbread” Muffins

Prep Time: 10 minutes    Total Time: 35 minutes    Serves: 8


  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  2. Combine almond flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Mix well.
  3. Place almond milk, eggs, coconut oil, and honey in separate bowl and whisk well.
  4. Mix the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients and blend until incorporated. Add cheddar, if desired.
  5. Distribute the batter into a greased muffin tin (makes 8-9 muffins).
  6. Bake for 25 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Chocolate Mousse

Prep Time: 15 minutes          Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes          Serves: 2


  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup keto-friendly chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup raw organic honey
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder, unsweetened
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
  • Chocolate curls, for garnish


  1. Place all ingredients in a blender; blend until smooth.
  2. Transfer to serving glasses and refrigerate 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. Top with curls before serving.

Keep Your Diet Rolling with These Paleo Holiday Recipes

You can do Thanksgiving paleo-style if you want, as it lends itself to the popular diet rather easily. A few paleo-specific recipes can help you out when needed, but for the most part, you can stay on track with some careful planning and decision-making no matter whose table you’re sitting at.

If keto is more your style, check our guide to a keto Thanksgiving.

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