Planning for A Paleo and AIP Christmas: The Food
It’s coming to the time of the year when the world is going Christmas mad. Post-Black-Friday-Cyber-Monday sales, our attention turns to the obvious. It’s December now… and Christmas is around the corner. And Christmas ‘stuff’ has been in the shops since around September… There’s no point resisting any longer – we really have to think about Christmas now…
So what do you do if you are following a Paleo lifestyle?
This occasion is one that you would would be forgiven for thinking revolves entirely around food. And drink. And the aforementioned ‘stuff’, all of which is largely non-Paleo.
Now to state the obvious, we must point out that Christmas is, at its heart, a religious festival. Therefore the sole focus doesn’t have to be the feasting, or the wine and mince pies after carolling, or the ever-revolving fayre of buffet foods and “special” drinks that roll out at this time of year. Having said that, modern Christmases have come to be synonymous with these experiences, and these eating opportunities.
So what do you do if you want to have your Christmas festivities revolve around the lavish dinners and the partying? Well… this might surprise you but there really is nothing wrong with this, even if you’re following a Paleo-style diet!
Just a few tweaks here or there and a Paleo (or even AIP) Christmas is totally do-able. How? Read on to find out…
But First… Should You Even Bother to Make Your Christmas Dinner Paleo?
It wouldn’t be a Paleo In The UK blog without us pointing out that whether you choose to Paleo-ise your Christmas, or just eat what everyone else is eating for this one day, is entirely down to personal choice – and also revolves around your motivation for following a Paleo diet in the first place. And it really doesn’t matter.
Clearly, if you are AIP there will be a reason for you following this restrictive, immuno-regluatory diet. Having an autoimmune condition which you are tackling through elimination dieting is going to deter you from throwing all caution to the wind and just eating anything and everything. Obviously too, if you have specific food allergies or extreme intolerances, you don’t need to make yourself ill simply for the sake of ‘fitting in’ and/or ‘having what everyone else is having’.
But for everyone else, there are very personal choices of how you feel when you’re limiting your intake of the so-called ‘non-Paleo foods’ such as grains, dairy, processed sugars, oils and legumes. If you have been experimenting with Paleo for a while there is a good chance that you already know what you can and cannot play with, where your own personal boundaries and ‘wiggle room’ might be, and which of the supposedly ‘non-Paleo’ foods your body gets on fine with. As we say everywhere on this site, the Paleo template is just that – a template. This means that you will have margins around this template where you might include some foods which others would eliminate. Whilst we would always recommend that the core of the way we eat is nutrient-dense and focuses on whole foods. However, if you already know what foods aren’t directly detrimental to you, it’s probably days like Christmas Day where you would choose to spend your nutritional freedom points, and elect not to limit yourself to only nutrient-dense foods.
Why Christmas? Well, because one of the biggest parts of a Paleo philosophy is not the food – it’s about the lifestyle and socialisation. Gathering together – typically around fires whilst dining – is one of the most humanising and ancient acts known to man. The benefit of holidays such as Christmas is that (despite the fact that family politics can always crop up) we are all put in situations where we get to spend quality, work-free time together and, as is traditional, break bread.
Even if you don’t want to actually break bread, eating and enjoying food with loved ones and celebrating through feasting could not be more ancestral and authentic. This is nothing to do with the religious backdrop to Christmas (which obviously isn’t ancestral), but it is everything to do with the spiritual connectedness of feasting as a group.
So, if Christmas is the one day of the year where you really do get to relax, be away from work and/or just be with your loved ones, then we are firmly of the opinion that what you actually choose to eat shouldn’t matter at all. In fact, it should just be what makes you feel good. (We actually believe that that’s true all year round!)
For us, that does mean staying relatively Paleo and gluten-, dairy- and processed-sugar free. However, that’s not because we identify as being “Paleo”, so every other food is banned. Instead, it’s simply because we feel our best eating this way. If we could still feel amazing consuming the foods that we typically eliminate, then we would definitely choose to do so at times of celebration. And yet, for most of us, there are real health consequences to straying from a largely-Paleo template. Those consequences are simply not worth it, especially not at a time of year where you want to be able to just be happy and relax with loved ones.
How to Make Christmas Dinner Paleo?
So, assuming you’ve navigated the tricky decision of whether to have a truly Paleo Christmas, or whether you want to go mainstream for this one day of the year, what do you do if you’ve decided that you want to make your Christmas Dinner Paleo?
It’s been said before and it will be said again – at its core, Christmas Dinner is a very Paleo meal. It’s a large roasted piece of protein and a load of well roasted veg, typically in animal fats. The protein is roasted whole, typically (i.e. the whole bird) and both gravy and stuffing can be made without using anything non-Paleo.
There really is no one-stop site that we’ve found that just does “Paleo Christmas”… And the more we think about it, that’s possibly because it is not really necessary. If you’re already a dab hand at rustling up the ‘meat and two veg’ type of vegetable-laden, delicious-protein meal then Christmas Dinner should be a breeze because that’s all it is.
If you’re a little newer to this then we have found one really good (fairly well-priced) ebook called “A Paleo Christmas” by Paleo Diet and Fitness – only £6.99. If you want a Free Guide then you could enter your details to get The Paleo Plan Christmas and New Year Guide.
There are also countless websites out there which curate many recipes for Christmas. We’re not going to repeat that here, because in our eyes Christmas Dinner isn’t that complicated…
So – if roasting a bird is relatively easy… what are the issues with a Paleo (or AIP) Christmas, and why write an article on Christmas food at all?
The UK Christmas Dinner
The main issue with the Paleo Christmas Dinner if you’re in the UK is not going to be the cooking of it… it’s going to be the food quality.
Finding genuinely (and only) pasture-raised turkeys (which are undoubtedly better than conventional-reared turkeys that fill the supermarket shelves at this time of year) is tough, if not impossible in the UK. If we’re absolutely honest, most chickens and turkeys are going to be, at least in part, fed on some cereal grains. So you could choose to eat red meat instead, or stick to the roasted hams and gammons.
However, at Paleo In The UK we believe that poultry can still be consumed. To choose your bird, focus on how many cereals they have been fed and, to us, there is a more important concern of how close to ‘real lives’ the chickens and turkeys have led. This means that the best, most Paleo birds are those which are free to roam, to graze in the open fields – and, when inside, free to spread their wings and stomp about a bit.
In this class there is one unparalleled UK company which we are proud to point you towards: Springfield Poultry.
This company rear both Organic and Free Range birds. They class these slightly differently – but this only signifies that they eat a different feed. Both Organic birds and Free Range birds are allowed to roam freely throughout their farm in the Hertfordshire countryside and are kept in barns overnight in which they have ample room to move around. Their Christmas range includes Cockerel, Goose, Turkey and Duck and if this is your first order, make sure you sign up to receive their newsletter and you will get 10% off your first order. This is important at Christmas because these birds are not cheap (pun intended!). However, this is an investment in your health and the welfare of animals. Oh… and it’s an investment in a truly delicious bird.
And if you’re not into the poultry for Christmas and do want to go the red meat route – our Food Suppliers Resources page directs you to the best meat suppliers in the country for anyone following a Paleo diet. They all have Christmas sections and special boxes which provide one-stop, “Christmas Dinner Sorted” options and which make sourcing ALL the Paleo food for Christmas really easy.
Beyond the Bird
So you’ve worked out where to get your centrepiece meat, whether that’s the traditional turkey, a goose, duck or red meat.
Now, it’s the trimmings that you need.
Clearly every vegetable is an option, with all the cabbage, sprouts, carrots, parsnips that you can manage and any other vegetables you fancy. Boil them simply or roast them in animal fats, use Himalayan Pink Salt and loads of fresh herbs for flavour and then drizzle more meat juices over the top. As with all Paleo meals, the vegetables should be a star.
But beyond the simple veg there are other traditionally Christmas dishes which are, possibly, not traditionally “Paleo”. And yet all can be made Paleo – and it doesn’t take that much more effort.
Our favourite recipes which complete the Paleo Christmas table are below:
An Amazing Paleo Gravy (use Bone Broth if you’ve no turkey stock or want a super-nutritious sauce…)
Spectacular Cranberry Sauce (definitely add the orange zest for more flavour)
Gluten-Free Paleo Stuffing – one of the more simple ones out there, though you can get super-complicated if you want to (just Google “Paleo Stuffing”)
If you’ve read our All About Potatoes page, you’ll know that for most people we place potatoes on the Paleo menu. However, if you’re not up for eating potatoes this year, feel better without them and/or are AIP then you’ll need to come up with alternatives. Clearly, there’s the sweet potato option – prepared as per the roast potatoes. You could, however, go for cassava, celeriac, parsnips (already included in most Christmas dinners), squash and/or pumpkin. All of these can be roasted individually, or you could mix them up together – in the goose or duck fat that you would have used for proper potatoes.
And if you’re AIP the process is no more challenging… every single thing mentioned above is either AIP or able to made AIP with just a few tweaks.
Then you just need to do the usual:
- Get gluten-free, local, grass-fed sausages wrapped in nitrite-free bacon – check out our Food Supplier Resources for the greatest meat providers that will stock ample varieties of these foods, typically on dedicated “Christmas” pages
- Buy crackers (the Christmas, not the gluten, variety) and some alcohol (which we’ll cover more next week) and…
Ah, but what about the No-Bread Bread Sauce…???
Yes, well… this one’s a bit more tricky. You can’t really replace a bread/milk combo. You can just make it using grain-free breads and dairy-free milk but there is no way that this is going to taste the same or feel the same as a traditional bread sauce. This is one of those foods that you might have to leave off the Paleo and AIP Christmas table.
How To Say No
This neatly leads us onto the fact that we know that if you can control the food served and the options presented at your Christmas then you could simply follow the above and all would be fine. If you were hosting and catering for those who aren’t following any particular diet, chances are they would not be any the wiser and just think the food is ‘normal’.
But Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without it being a family affair – one in which you’re invited to others’ houses and one in which you may have absolutely zero control over the catering.
If you know your host well enough then it is perfectly reasonable to request that they don’t pre-stuff the turkey (with anything other than Paleo stuffing) and/or don’t use butter to baste anything whilst cooking it if you’re avoiding dairy (though many people doing Paleo still eat butter so won’t even need to bother with this last request).
By far the easiest option, however, is for you do the extra work – you are the one with the requirements, after all. Offer to make the stuffing and cranberry sauce and bring it with you. The recipes above are tried and tested and are good enough so that nobody would know that they were eating Paleo food. And, most importantly, make sure there is food there that you can eat… and load your plate with that. And remember – it’s literally one day. It is fine for you to not gorge on all the foods that everyone else is.
And as for how to ‘justify’ your nutritional choices to loved ones and family, there are countless articles, blogs and podcasts out there telling you how to explain your dietary choices. Just google “how to tell someone you’re Paleo”… skip past the Google autofill (which, rather cutely, first suggests “how to tell someone you love them…”) and read any one of the articles that come up. These are all really good versions of conversations or comments that you can make about justifying your Paleo choices to others – everything from anthropological arguments, to the “I just feel better” comments and all the scientific rationale and physiological information you could ever want.
Again, rather than repeat the work of others, it possibly just falls to us to remind everyone who is even vaguely following a Paleo diet that it is not necessary for you to justify your nutritional choices to anyone. As long as you are confident and secure in your own reasons for following a Paleo regimen (and for more on this, check out our Purpose, Macronutrients and Weight Loss Page) then your choices for your Christmas Dinner are entirely down to you. Just because Christmas can be a complex familial occasion where you are trying to keep everyone happy (and stress levels run high), our recommendation is to remember that this is one day (we’ll cover the extended party season next week).
No matter who you’re trying to entertain or who you’re trying to keep happy… it’s also your Christmas Day – and whether you choose to be Paleo or you elect to have non-Paleo foods, we truly hope that you can thoroughly enjoy everything you choose to eat.