How to Host a Healthy and Fun Thanksgiving Part 1
I haven't always cooked using Paleo or gluten free recipes, but I have hosted Thanksgiving dinners in the past. Whether I was cooking for four people, ten people or more, it was always hard work! There's a lot to juggle in the kitchen between all of the prep work and timing everything to be ready at the same time. That's not even including the time consumed by pre-planning to figure out what you want to cook, food allergies to avoid, shopping lists, etc. That's why I am sharing my ideas on healthy Thanksgiving recipes I have either tried or want to try and some hosting/decor ideas that will hopefully guide your decisions and planning process as you gear up to grocery shop this weekend/next week for the big day. I am going to share this in three parts because the post will be VERY long. Get out a sheet of paper and a pen, and keep an eye out for parts two and three to be posted over the next couple of days!
Starting with the Turkey - the main event! I have not prepared a whole turkey yet...bones and giblets freak.me.out. I have roasted a whole chicken in my Crockpot and the thing barely made it into the Crockpot itself because I was so grossed out and gagging. So...for previous Thanksgivings I have always purchased a turkey breast to roast either in an oven bag in the oven, or in my Crockpot. It's turned out moist and always served enough plus we had left overs. As usual, make sure to gauge the size of the turkey breast with the number of people you're serving. If you're purchasing a turkey with bones in it, then you can assume 2lbs per person. If you're purchasing a turkey breast then 1/2 to 1 lb per person is safe. However, it never hurts to have leftovers!
Depending on the size you choose then it may not fit in your slow cooker, so be careful with this idea. An oven bag is another way to cook it that also traps in moisture. Another reason to use a slow cooker besides how moist it makes the turkey is also to free up your oven for other things. But, there are also side dishes you can prepare in your slow cooker so the option can be reversed to create room in the oven.
Here is a recipe for a Paleo slow cooker turkey by Innocent Delight. I haven't tried this one but it is similar to how I prepared the turkey breast in the slow cooker. The recipe is Paleo, but the gravy option isn't unless you switch out the milk for coconut milk. I usually place foil over the Crockpot but underneath the lid to help trap in the moisture. One year I also tried Cajun seasonings as a rub all over the turkey and it was a huge hit!
Next we move to a the dressing. I prepared this gluten free recipe once (click here) and it took some extra TLC because of the extra baking for GF cornbread, but it was worth it for my gluten sensitive sibling who I was hosting that year. Stuffing is easy to prepare gluten free, but it is definitely NOT Paleo because of the butter and the corn in cornbread itself. If you try hard enough you might be able to find a GF pre-made dressing mix but I have not yet looked that hard. I like to make things from scratch when I can.
I'd love to try this Paleo stuffing recipe by Healthful Pursuit when I next prepare a Thanksgiving meal! It is made using coconut flour bread which you all know by now that I love to make! I haven't compared the coconut flour bread recipe to the recipe I use, but consider it game on.
Next we move to the green beans or green bean casserole. To accommodate my gluten intolerant sibling, I have prepared green beans in the past by simply sauteing the green beans in olive oil, adding in salt, pepper, almond slivers, and either blue cheese crumbles or goat cheese crumbles. Easy and quick, but clearly not Paleo because of the cheese. I discovered canned GF cream of mushroom this week that I will be using for Friendsgiving this year. Fingers crossed it tastes ok.
I would love to try this Paleo recipe by Fed and Fit. It will take more time than my simple suggestion above, however it looks AMAZING, and the only issue for me is that I would substitute in turkey bacon. It's healthier in a way (if you can say that about bacon), but actually because I have a pork intolerance. It's hereditary. =}
The next side I am going to suggest is sweet potatoes, and mashed potatoes OR cauliflower mash! There are a TON of Thanksgiving sides so the list seems endless, however for me this is a well rounded meal before adding in breads and desserts. Naturally I would also always suggest roasted vegetables and there's tons of great ways to do that. I have a link at the very bottom of this post with more ideas.
Depending on your guest count I would imagine most family's either serve sweet potatoes or potatoes however with both being a filling dish it isn't a bad idea to serve both. Clearly you can do simple things like bake them whole, cut them into smaller bite sized cubes or fry shapes and bake them, or mash them. All of that is great. Throw on your favorite seasonings and you're good to go.
A recipe I would like to try for a Paleo sweet potato casserole is by VeguKate. It looks delicious, but to make it truly Paleo you will need to tweak the topping recipe to eliminate the rolled oats. Oats are not Paleo. I would suggest either sticking to just the crushed pecans or adding in a bit of almond flour to your mixture for texture. You can also eliminate the maple syrup from the casserole recipe to make it Whole 30 friendly. ;) I think sweet potatoes are sweet enough.
Mashed potatoes and mashed cauliflower can be prepared exactly the same way. If you're not eating a Paleo diet then the more butter the better, right? Or, the more Parmesan in the mashed cauliflower the better. Be.still.my.heart. But, if you are eating Paleo like I am then the simplest way to prepare either of these is to boil them in water until softened. Add in almond milk or coconut milk to help puree it, add in truffled olive oil or truffle salt (my favorite magic trick), and any other spices you may normally use. It's so simple!
Here's a link to a cauliflower mash recipe by Fit and Fed that I haven't tried, but it basically reiterates what I just said. And side note - I prepare mashed cauliflower all the time as a great and easy side dish any time of the year.
Additional side items that cannot be left out: Paleo gravy, Paleo bread or rolls, and Paleo cranberry sauce.
I haven't yet made a Paleo gravy so I will just share the link that looks good and rather easy too!
I follow Nom Nom Paleo and she has a lot of great Paleo recipes. In this recipe here for Paleo gravy she is actually using mushrooms! I think that's a great way to work in extra vegetables and nutrition to your Thanksgiving meal.
I have made a cranberry sauce just like this one that Spry Living shares (but I can't find my precise recipe) and so long as you're using fresh squeezed orange juice this recipe can be Paleo. Ginger adds a great kick to the sweetness of the cranberries and honey. I personally do not use cranberry sauce, but my family enjoyed it.
Lastly, my favorite items to share are the breads! I don't miss bread very often, honestly. However, at times like Thanksgiving when you have gravy to dip it in then I most definitely want bread! Well, what better way to keep your health plan in check than Paleo breads.
I've posted multiple times about my love for this coconut flour bread and my adapted Paleo pumpkin bread too. It is so easy and quick to prepare, and bakes in a short amount of time. If you have a larger group coming over then just plan to bake four or more loaves. It bakes in a typical loaf size baking pan so you'll be able to gauge how many slices you'll cut it into. GO FOR THIS! It will not disappoint you.
Preppy Paleo has a great looking recipe to make Paleo dinner rolls too! I haven't tried this yet, but this recipe is going in my "to make soon" stack of recipes.
The final food item to make is dessert, of course! We save the best for last right? There are many types of desserts to make for Thanksgiving: pumpkin anything, pecan pies, apple pies, any pies, pumpkin and spice cake trifles, chocolate is always a hit, and so on. I am going to focus on four pumpkin desserts I have made.
First is an easy pumpkin chocolate chip cookie recipe that is sure to be a hit with the kids and this easy pumpkin spice Krispie treats recipe would be too...you don't even have to tell them there's pumpkin in them! These are NOT Paleo, but I still wanted to share as an option for kids.
Last of the desserts I want to share is a pumpkin pudding. It is easy and can be made gluten free (it is NOT Paleo). Jello Pudding states on their site which puddings are gluten free. If I remember correctly, their distinction is that they are not considered Celiac friendly, but if you're gluten sensitive then their product is ok. Make sure to do your research on this if you have a gluten allergy.
For more ideas on Paleo recipes for Thanksgiving you can check out these links on My Natural Family.
For more ideas on vegan and gluten free recipes for Thanksgiving you can check out these here on The Pretty Bee.
I have a ton of recipes saved to my Thanksgiving & Fall board on Pinterest as well as a lot of fun activities and decorating ideas. I will share ideas for decorating tomorrow in Part 2 and kid's activities in part 3 of this post on Wednesday, but you can scope out my Pinterest page early if you'd like.
Good luck planning your Thanksgiving dinners!