16 Super-Smart Paleo Tips to Help You Handle the Holidays


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Those of us in the US are at the starting blocks. The rest of the world are warming up.  The Canadians already have a headstart.

The holiday season is upon us. All our planning, strategizing and learning from past months will be tested. And many of us anticipate the holiday season with baited breath as paleo and non-paleo worlds collide.

Questions, questions…

Will we be able to resist our formerly favorite holiday treats? Will Uncle Joe’s beady eye follow us as we pass on the bread rolls? Will there be stress, too much alcohol and not enough sleep? Will we forage for food we can eat or let it all hang out for a day, then haul ourselves back on the wagon after that?

Last week I asked Paleo/NonPaleo readers for their best tips to manage the holiday season. My inbox was overwhelmed with over 80 pieces of advice! Paleo/NonPaleo readers are clearly seriously smart and have strategies in place to manage the non-paleo onslaught.

Wise words, none of them mine 🙂

I thought there was too much collective wisdom here to pass up so I’m sharing the advice. I’ve provided the list of tips at the top but included the comments and examples provided by Paleo/NonPaleo readers below that. You can jump down to the comments by clicking on the links for each tip.

I suggest you get a cup of tea and read everything partly to learn what others are doing, partly to steal some ideas that work for you and finally to stimulate new ideas of your own. And don’t forget to share – let’s spread the paleo word. 🙂

Have a great holiday season, everyone!

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #1. Take your own food to a gathering.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #2. Send notice of your dietary preferences ahead of time.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #3. Be the host.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #4. Remind yourself of how bad non-paleo food makes you feel.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #5. Plan ahead.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #6. Don’t have non-paleo food available.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #7. Eat before you go.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #8. Make smart choices, relax, enjoy.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #9. Make it a fun challenge.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #10. Respect others food preferences.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #11. Bake extra.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #12. Communicate your needs clearly.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #13. Set goals.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #14. Prepare mentally.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #15. Exercise in the morning.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #16. Offer paleo substitutions with a non-paleo ‘essence.’

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #1. Take your own food to a gathering.

Don’t just show up – make your own food to take to family gatherings! Not only do you ensure that you have good, wholesome paleo food to eat, but you just may convince others to give paleo eating a shot. Especially after they try some delicious gluten-free, dairy-free pies and bread-free stuffing. ~ Amy A.

Best tip for me is to make sure I make a few dishes that everyone will like that I know are paleo-friendly… Then I know there are several items I can enjoy myself. For example, marinate broccoli florets in olive oil and balsamic vinegar overnight (or a paleo-friendly vinaigrette or Italian dressing like Braggs). I do it in a ziploc bag and flip it over often to rotate the marinade. After a day of marinating, it is more tender than raw and very flavorful! ~Marilyn S.

Bring my own foods to eat, even if that means a main dish, side dish and dessert. At least then I know it’s something I can eat. ~Mandy F.

Honestly, my survival tip is having something there I can indulge on – like a paleo pumpkin pie or something similar. ~ Shannon P.

My first tip is that I bring my own sea salt with me. Also, in my family, we all bring something. I have a huge sweet tooth- and it’s SO hard for me to not give in and have dessert, so I volunteer to make the desserts. I bring a couple of wonderfully incredible paleo desserts (coconut cream pie, pumpkin pie, etc) and that way, I still get to indulge. Plus, my family loves it, because they find out that they’re extremely low in ‘bad’ food. :)Rachel T.

Actually, this will be my first paleo holiday, but on other outings where food was involved this year, I’ve just brought lots of paleo-friendly foods, enough to share with anyone interested. We’ll be bringing most of the side dishes for Thanksgiving, so it should work out OK as most of them probably could be made paleo-friendly. I always take a dish or two (or three!) to any food gathering so I know I will have something to eat, and also to introduce folks to the paleo lifestyle and what truly yummy food I eat. This year at Thanksgiving, I am taking a cranberry relish, a paleo sausage/apple/dried cherries “stuffing”, and a paleo pumpkin pie! ~Mindy K.

No Thanksgiving or Christmas is complete without a holiday dessert – volunteer to make it paleo so you can enjoy it too! ~Anya

I offer to bring the dish that would be the most tempting for me to stay away from. For example, I love sweet potato casserole, but the way my mom makes it is loaded with sugar and marshmallows on top! So I offer to bring this and make it paleo-friendly. No one misses the marshmallows! ~Kathy M.

I plan to bring several paleo dishes that I can fall back on. ~Dorothy H.

My holiday tip is to offer to make the stuffing and dessert and that way you can bring a paleo version for everyone to enjoy! ~Michelle

When going to a Christmas party, take a platter of paleo delights (eg. veggie sticks and dip, meat shish kebabs, baked goodies, fruit chunks, etc.) to share, if possible – that way if nothing else is appropriate you know you always have something to eat, and you continue to spread the word about how delicious and party-friendly the paleo lifestyle can be! ~Sally C.

I always volunteer to bring a side or appetizer. I bring an assortment of veggies and dip. ~Mara S.

Volunteer to bring things that are PALEO—- that way, you KNOW there will be something for you to eat. Especially desserts!! ~Jennifer E.

To avoid temptations at the party I always make sure to bring a Paleo dish whether it’s an appetizer, main dish or a dessert that way I am confident that I will be able to eat at least ONE item during the event. ~Melissa

I bring sparkling water with me and usually a side that I won’t feel guilty eating. Plus it is usually the only healthy option besides meat. ~Kathy M.

If you’re eating potluck with friends choose the dish you will bring based on how high it is on your favorites list so you can be sure you’ll be satisfied at dinner. That way if your favorite is pumpkin pie you’ll know you can have a big slice without derailing your lifestyle because you’ll know exactly what’s in it. ~Angie

I have been invited to someone’s home for Thanksgiving so have offered to bring a side dish that I know will work for me. So, at least I can eat turkey and one side! ~Sharon K.

Every traditional dish I make will have a Paleo counterpart and maybe I can sneak in a few without anyone even guessing! ~Darlene M.

You can get (or make) marzipan made with honey (just ground almonds and honey!). Roll the marzipan into a small ball then dust with cocoa. This are a typical christmas sweet from Germany (called marzipan potatoes). Take them as a hostess gift or to the office party so there is at least one sweet thing you can safely munch on. ~Jill B.

I make and bring primal sides to the potluck dinners we’re going to. ~Donna

I have found the best way to survive any gathering is to make sure the person(s) involved know your dietary needs, and to bring lots of good stuff with you! Who would turn down an offer for multiple potluck dishes? Some homemade salad dressing, a few paleo friendly sides and you’re good to go. It helps that I’ve lost 55 lbs in the last 6 months since I started eating paleo and my extended family is very supportive. ~Joy L.

My favorite paleo tips for the holidays are to teach others how to make some dishes or bring your own because I think “paleo holiday food” could pass as “normal holiday food” basically undetected. And we get to use real butter on the turkey, so I mean, come on! 😉 ~Sara G.

I LOVE love LoVe lOvE to cook, so I usually manage the holidays okay by bossing everyone else out of the kitchen, but that really only works if the feast is centered at our place. When my partner and I go to my familys for Thanksgiving we employ a three-part strategy to stay true to ourselves while still enjoying the chaos:

1. We always volunteer to bring dessert, and make two or three different, yummy paleo options, giving us control over how much sugar the meal contains. This year I made a) ground almond super-dark brownies sweetened with honey, b) chilled and whipped coconut-date and coconut-pumpkin frosting shots and c) cashew butter fudge, made by blending equal parts coconut oil and cashew butter and then freezing hard.

2. We stay in the kitchen and do prep and serving duty until everyone has their meals in front of them, so that we don’t spend the hungry pre-dinner time sitting next to bowls of frosted nuts, Grandma June’s shortbread cookies or any of FOUR types of roll/bread. When we sit down, it’s with a plate of food in front of us.

3. Since there’s never enough room on the kids’ table for any serving dishes, and since there’s never enough room at the adults’ table for everyone, we sit with the kids. It does make for some truly in-the-moment thanksgiving conversation. A gem from this year “I’m thankful for mashed potatoes and the chair on the end and because T. promised not to pick his nose in front of me.” ~Lindsey P.

My favorite tip for staying paleo is to bring my own food, but make sure there’s enough to share! My food is amazing and I look great so people gobble it up! (Pun intended!) ~Jen.

Bring dishes you CAN eat! Last year my husband and I brought a HUGE platter of roasted veggies and EVERYONE loved them. Great excuse to try new recipes too. ~Karen N.

I usually take a number of paleo food items that I can snack on to avoid eating what ever is put out for everyone else. This way I can fill up on snacks that are processed and empty calories. ~Tami

My tip for the Holidays is to make it simple and pure. Best quality real food to satisfy my taste buds. I prepare a few different healthy Christmas cookies for dessert. So I feast on good food and feel great and happy. ~Romy

If it’s a get-together, I will always bring a dish or 2 that I can eat. That way, if there’s nothing else, I know I’m eating something good for me! Plus you can show all the non-paleo folks out there that eating paleo doesn’t mean you are missing out! ~Vicki

I make my all time favorite paleo recipes on holidays so I am not tempted to eat the other stuff. If I have my favorite paleo dessert, which is usually reserved for special occasions anyway, I will eat that instead. ~Rachel S.

I also plan on bringing a paleo pumpkin pie (or a pumpkin-ish dessert) to keep me from binging on all the goodies that are available after dinner. ~Cyndi

Bring something that looks festive and non-paleo to share and enjoy. You feel less judged and can stick to your diet! ~Ashley B.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #2. Send notice of your dietary preferences ahead of time.

I sent “legal” recipes to my mom so she can still cook for me and watch me eat and enjoy it. I’ll have all the traditional dishes, just Paleo versions. ~ Dara

Also helpful to give the host a heads up, especially if family. I always remind my mom of my dietary restrictions so she won’t be offended if I’m not eating what she makes–with a reminder that I don’t expect her to change what she’s making to accommodate me. ~Ashley B.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #3. Be the host.

This will be my first Paleo Thanksgiving and am ‘surviving’ it by hosting it myself. There are many wonderful recipes out there that are Paleo and those that I’ve tried out on friends were well-received and surprised at the healthy ingredients. ~Dawn D.

Host! I offered to host again this year and I bet no one will even notice the white flour yeast rolls (I like to call them disease rolls) are missing! There are so many yummy paleo goods there’s no way this Thanksgiving will mean missing out in holiday goodies. ~Arielle L.

This year I am trying new paleo recipes and pray the family loves them! ~Tanya

I am newish to paleo, so I haven’t seen it through a holiday yet. But I successfully convinced my mom to let me cook Christmas Eve dinner, so I know I will survive that one! ~Megan

I plan to cook this year! That is how I will survive. ~Amanda

What I’ve done is this: since my mom’s list of no-no’s is shorter than mine (she’s eschewed all red meat,) I do the cooking and she enjoys a home-cooked meal by a private chef (me) 🙂 That way, she doesn’t tire herself doing the cooking, we still eat together, and we both respect our eating habits 🙂 ~Simon P.

So far our plan is to stay home and cook! ~Misty

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #4. Remind yourself of how bad non-paleo food makes you feel.

This will be my first holiday season as a paleo eater. I began my journey about 8 months ago. My health transformation has been amazing. Every time I am tempted to eat something I no longer eat, I just remember how poor my health was before and how I suffered, and the temptation passes! ~Kay P.

Stop, breathe and realize how bad you will feel if you go off the range and eat non-paleo. I drink a large glass of water walk away and distract myself. Sometimes it works, sometimes I falter. Bottom line do your best and don’t beat yourself up. ~Christine

I remind myself that I don’t like having upset guts for a week or two when trying to heal from some grain (always gluten free) or dairy treat I may have had!! ~Shannon

I don’t have too much trouble staying on track. I just remember that when I stray from my Paleo lifestyle, I end up feeling horrible physically. The holidays are when I need my energy, my focus and my mental clarity the most. ~Regina

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #5. Plan ahead.

The key for me is to plan ahead. I am going to a Thanksgiving potluck dindin. Knowing the basics of what’s on the menu, I will decide ahead of time what I WILL eat, and I will bring a really terrific dessert option that suits my diet and share it with others. I also have a mantra… “I really love feeling good. I am soooo worth taking good care of.” But having a determination and a plan ahead of time  is about making a decision and honoring it/me. ~Laura T.

My strategy is to shop early for ingredients in order to be prepared ahead of time. It’s not that different from my regular cooking and I also have favorites that I look forward to making every Thanksgiving, so I keep those recipes with notes from the previous year. ~Rebecca R.

I find it’s important to have all your food planned well in advance. For me that includes having some side dishes ready to cook or bake, easy to prepare appetizers, lots of veggies (or cheese) to nibble on until the main course is prepared. I also try new recipes in advance of serving them for a holiday. ~Kathy M.

My suggestion for surviving a paleo – or any – holiday is to be involved in planning the menu for dinner. By being one of the people planning Thanksgiving dinner, I am able to ensure that things I can eat and will enjoy will be in good supply, and that there will be fewer of the trigger foods that I am trying to stay away from. I can also ensure that my sister and mother are getting foods they enjoy and aren’t being deprived at the same time. ~Lynne M.

My paleo survivor tip is command the kitchen! I would also recommend cooking recipes before festivities. I always have my non-paleo fiancé try everything and get her take on things. ~Brendon M.

I’ll have my almonds ready in case there isn’t enough paleo food for me to eat. They always make me feel satisfied after I’ve had a few. ~Cyndi

I carry a Lara bar in my purse at all times so that if I’m starving and there are no paleo options, I have something to hold me over until I can get to a full paleo meal. ~Niccole K.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #6. Don’t have non-paleo food available.

Make sure to have plenty of paleo food choices and fewer non-paleo choices – more nuts, cheeses and fruits, fewer cookies and no candy (M&M’s) ~Bonnie V.

Make up paleo food that you like for yourself (and others.) As usual have your fridge filled with cooked, or cut Paleo foods. Make up some Paleo treats so that when everyone is having dessert at the end of the big turkey dinner…you can too! If I’m having family for any of the Holiday dinners everyone will be pure Paleo…it’s never been an issue as there are so many amazing recipes out there. Start your new Family Favorites!! 🙂 ~Carleen

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #7. Eat before you go.

My favorite holiday paleo tip is have a big nutritious paleo breakfast — especially if you’re going to a feast later. There is nothing that makes me so grateful, even-tempered and unlikely to fall into a SAD pecan pie as a belly full of protein and good fats and veggies. ~Sally B.

The last few years I have learned to eat a full meal at my house before I attend a party, that way I am not starving when I arrive. ~Melissa

Eat a healthy snack before leaving the house and always follow it with a spoonful of coconut oil before heading out the door. Something about that coconut oil keeps me very satisfied! ~Nikki W.

If I know I’m going to an event that is less than paleo friendly, I’ll intentionally eat a paleo meal beforehand. This means a lot less temptation when the non-paleo food is passed around. I just tell the hosts or other guests who ask why I’m not eating that I ate before coming by. It’s such a shame because the food looks amazing, but I just don’t have any room in my stomach. People will often give me non-paleo foods to take home with me or as gifts. With those items, I either toss them (out of sight of the giver, obviously) or pass them along to someone who will enjoy them. ~Niccole K.

Eat a small, paleo-approved snack (like a handful of almonds or jerky) before leaving the house for any parties or holiday meals. ~Samara

Eat beforehand and have a lot of water before going to someone’s house. ~Mandy F.

Filling up with appropriate protein in the a.m. makes me less hungry and craving the usually sweet suspects at the holiday meal. I’m far less likely to want the sugary non-paleo foods. ~Jodi H.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #8. Make smart choices, relax, enjoy.

Enjoy your family and don’t stress about food, make smart choices, but don’t deprive yourself. ~Diane H.

My tip for paleo holiday – don’t stress out! I relax the “rules” a bit for the holidays, otherwise I will go hog wild and wake up in January 40 pounds heavier! LOL. ~Kathy

Choose the protein-rich foods at a party, like meats and eggs and if I’m going to cheat a little, I’m going to do it right and choose a dessert. I try to go for something small like a brownie or cookie and skip the big slices of pie and cake. ~Mandy F.

My tip is indulging a little and counteracting with T-Tapp…especially Hoe Downs!

Keep a glass of club soda in hand at all parties. ~Samara

Sometimes I’ll splurge and enjoy a glass of wine (or two) which then leads to the munchies so I’ll head to the veggie platter for a filler. ~Melissa

My tips are to be prepared (like you always write) and when you are with family or friends, offer to cook the main dish yourself. I will spend Christmas with my parents, grandparents, etc. so I can’t cook myself because I’m invited *yay* so I think I will say no to the extreme non-paleo dishes and use the 80/20 rule of Mark to relax and enjoy the holidays. Because it isn’t all about food but also about stress, sleep and fun. ~Victorien

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #9. Make it a fun challenge.

Buy everything beforehand and make meals a challenge to create a fully paleo creation ~Andrew S.

Challenge yourself to 12 hikes over the 12 days of Christmas. ~Alison

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #10. Respect others food preferences.

I found that my non-paleo family members aren’t extremely fond of paleo desserts, so one survival skill I’ll remember is that the food is not all about me. They will want to enjoy traditional pumpkin pie; and I can have an alternative, in addition to that.

And, for the past twenty years, I’ve created food traditionally for the holidays such as a super-sweet sweet potato casserole, so that will also be there (maybe less sweet…..). And, while I’ve finally eaten some different vegetables this year, they haven’t integrated into the family’s taste preferences, so I’ll be respectful of that. ~Kathy M.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #11. Bake extra.

I’ve found in the last few years that the key to keeping our family (two young kids included) on the paleo track is to do a little extra baking. There always seems to be some suitable main dish and veggie alternatives that are paleo (or near enough) but the sweets are another story! I make sure I make a few extra batches of muffins or coconut truffles or at the very least a container of dates on hand so when we’re tempted by the extra “goodies” we can eat something that’s much better for us and won’t have so many unwanted side effects! ~Ginger

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #12. Communicate your needs clearly.

I think the most important tip to surviving the Paleo Holidays is communication. In our house, we decided to stay home with just our immediate family because that way I had total control over what was being served. I know this doesn’t work for everyone (and it doesn’t work for Christmas with our family) so a person/people need to be very upfront about what their needs are. Don’t judge what others are choosing to do, and expect that they won’t judge you. Make enough to share, but be firm on what you will be eating. Be kind and loving. Have a plan ahead of time for when you are faced with foods that aren’t so good for you. ~Susan P.

I don’t feel defensive when people ask me about why I eat the way I do so I might ask them a few questions in return to determine their real level of interest &/or their motivation for asking… and depending on the situation, I’m happy to share knowledge about the thinking behind why I eat as I do. ~Laura T.

Gracefully say “Thank you, but no thank you.” Trying to explain Paleo to people who don’t want to change (not that you are trying to change them) wont hear the benefits…They’ll only hear “no pasta?!” ~Samantha P.

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #13. Set goals.

Even though we’ll travel to our family’s home and I won’t be totally in charge, my primary goal is to avoid gluten (1st) and sugar (2nd). I’m taking a couple of side dishes and a Paleo bread loaf so I don’t feel so left out and tempted to graze the dessert table! ~Traci

My tip is to try not to overeat and have some ‘treats’ that are Paleo- friendly so I don’t overeat those that aren’t! ~Mel

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #14. Prepare mentally.

Be prepared to be tempted but stay strong and determined. ~Mandy F.

During the holidays, stick to your guns and do what you know is right for your food choices (AKA paleo) regardless of comments from friends or relatives. It’s very difficult to fight the tide (or to row up-river), but whenever I do it I am happier and feel better about myself and my food goals – regardless of comments from my mother or my aunt or my friends. They all have their varied opinions about my eating choices, but they don’t live inside my body. So, I choose to not let the hoopla of the holidays spoil my inner-self nor what I am fighting so hard to achieve.  ~Jeff J.

A few days ahead of time, write down exactly what you are going to eat at the holiday meal. Post the list on your fridge, or bathroom mirror, or wherever you will be sure to see it. Whenever you look at the list, reaffirm your committment to how you are going to eat on the day of the feast. ~Ruth

What I add during winter-time is a cover photo of my abs on my iPhone and iPad. Every time I use them I see my abs and they remind my how I want to look like in Spring when bikini time is back. ~Romy

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #15. Exercise in the morning

I survive by running the local Turkey Trot first thing in the morning. Then I’m much more able to say no to non-paleo temptations because I’m feeling so good from racing! ~Marnie

I’m going to move more during the holidays to compensate for all the long dinners and I’m going to suggest dimming all the lights and to use candlelight during the holiday dinners so there is less artificial light. ~Victorien

Super-Smart Holiday Tip #16. Offer paleo substitutions with a non-paleo ‘essence.’

When I am craving something sweet, I drink hot tea. It keeps me occupied. If I choose a “sweet” flavor it usually does the trick. And this is so easy to do in the winter, when it’s freezing outside!!! ~Michelle

Instead of having a bowl of chocolate treats, I will have bowls of different types of nuts. ~Bonnie V.

I’m not American so I don’t know much about Thanksgiving, but from what I get so far I think mashed potatoes seems to be part of the dinner – that would be easy to trade for a mashed root celery (with lots of butter from grass fed cows!! Yummy!) 🙂 When it comes to Christmas, for us as a Swedish(-German) family the Swedish baked goods are always important – but what I’m doing this year is simply to use the same spices and tastes and convert it to paleo friendly recipes. This way, we don’t miss out on the taste experience and don’t crave the “bad stuff”. I also made a “Christmas muesli” with the spices of Swedish Christmas cookies so we can start our mornings with that Christmassy feeling (recipe is on my blog if you are wondering what I mean with Christmas muesli – www.lieselathome.com) – so my tip is to add the tastes and smells that we normally have – but use them in other things. I think if we just give ourselves alternatives – and still eat good and tasty food, the cravings won’t come as easily. ~Lisa


What a great wealth of knowledge! I know I got some new ideas. Did you?

Do you have any tips to share? Will you adjust your holiday eating to fall in paleo or throw caution to the wind and get back in the saddle later? What paleo behaviors will you wrap into the holidays? Tell us in the comments!

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Alison Golden writes on the topic of paleo over at Paleo/NonPaleo. She aims to share ideas, inspire and motivate readers by teaching them how to live paleo in a non-paleo world. She is also the author of the bestselling book, The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo, a unique tool that gives the reader hundreds of strategies to navigate the learning process to successful paleo living.

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