Rule #1: Minimize how often you mention Whole 30.
When I called my mom to inform her I decided to tackle my second round of Whole 30 last December, she was... less than thrilled. While she knew I would be happy to make my family tasty Whole 30 approved dinners while I was home, she dreaded the idea of her annual holiday feast being interrupted by some unforgiving dietary restrictions.
For those still unfamiliar with the clean eating phenomenon, Whole 30 is a 30-day clean eating program that eliminates alcohol, sugars, dairy, grains, and legumes from your diet—a.k.a. all of the fun, festive things normally consumed in excess during the holidays. That meant no eggnog, no cider, no tree-shaped cookies dripping in sugary frosting, or butter-drenched rolls at the dinner table.
While the idea of tackling the holiday season without a drop of mulled wine or a nibble of sugar cookie might send a shiver up your spine, I was drawn to the idea of avoiding the high amounts of sweets and booze I typically consume throughout the holidays, and starting the new year feeling completely fresh and healthy. (Note: I had completed Whole 30 successfully before, so I felt more confident about my ability to follow through. If you’re trying your first round over the holidays, prepare to have your willpower seriously tested.)
Though my holiday Whole 30 was certainly not a walk in the park—I’m sure my family could recount a tale or two of me crankily reminding them I can’t join in on the Christmas morning Cinnamon Rolls or cups of warm apple cider—in the end I felt proud of the determination and flexibility it took to stick to the program throughout the season without driving everyone around me crazy.
This is your course-by-course guide to tackling a Whole 30-approved holiday feast—without making your family completely resent you in the process.
The First Rule of Whole 30…
Is to not talk about Whole 30. The fact of the matter is that most people won’t realize they’re being deprived of any specific ingredients if it’s not brought to their attention. Instead of mentioning the program constantly—after all, nobody really wants to hear about someone else’s diet—serve up your Whole 30 approved dishes on the down low. Not only are family and guests unlikely to notice they’re eating sugar-, grain- and dairy-free dishes, but they also won’t be annoyed by your dietary reminders.
Make sure the wine and sugary treats are readily available for everyone else to imbibe in throughout your holiday celebrations. Although you won’t be able to join in on the fun, your guests won’t realize they’re being served an otherwise Whole 30-friendly feast if they have easy access to the rest of their festive favorites.
One of the most convenient parts of sticking to your Whole 30 program around the holidays is that protein recipes that please everyone, but won’t break your dietary rules, are easy to come by. Many simple whole turkey recipes, like this Seasoned Roast Turkey, are Whole 30 approved as long as you substitute ghee (program-approved clarified butter) for standard butter. This Dry-Cured Rosemary Turkey and Roast Turkey with Rosemary, Lemon, and Garlic will also do the trick. Or, give another bird a go with a Classic Roast Chicken (once again, swapping butter for ghee), or this completely Whole 30-friendly Lemon Rosemary Roast Chicken with Potatoes recipe, which also provides you with an excellent side dish.
For the red meat fans, most prime ribs, like the Classic Prime Rib, Fennel-Crusted Rib Roast, and Salt-and-Herb Crusted Prime Rib are totally Whole 30 compliant, or treat your family to Pan-Seared Pork Tenderloin Medallions or Filet Mignon with Fresh Herb and Garlic Rub.
If you’re more of a fish fan, Grilled Salmon with Garlic, Lemon, and Basil is a perfect program-approved main that everyone at your table will love.
Salads are an easy way to combine tons of Whole 30-friendly vegetables, nuts, oils, and vinegars for a satisfying and healthy starter to your meal. This Simple Salad with Lemon Dressing will be a great base to work with, adding your own special ingredients and twists.
Other simple salads like this Heirloom Tomato and Beet Salad, Marinated Mushroom and Artichoke Salad, and Roasted Beet, Fennel, and Walnut Salad (swapping the dressing for a whole-30 approved blend that doesn’t use honey or orange juice) will also fit in just fine at your table.
Many satisfying holiday sides can be easily made to fit within the confines of the program, and will be so filling and flavorful that no guest will suspect they’re being deprived of any ingredients.
The simple roasted vegetable options are endless, like Roasted Broccoli and Roasted Carrots with Fennel, or try a more complex recipe like this Roasted Cauliflower (with or without fried eggs). These flavorful Sheet Pan Roasted Vegetables include Whole 30 compliant apple cider vinegar and whole grain mustard, along with a variety of spices, and are sure to be a hit with your friends and family. Similarly, these Roasted Root Vegetables and Lemony Roasted Vegetables with Toasted Almonds will also be a smash.
Still planning to make some non-Whole 30 approved dishes for everyone else at the table? It’s easy to adapt ingredients and dishes to fit your needs. If you’re making a big batch of rich, buttery Mashed Sweet Potatoes, or a platter of Twice-Baked Potatoes for your family, set aside a couple of roasted potatoes for yourself, to be served with some salt, pepper, spices, and ghee. Or, utilize a delicious Whole 30 substitute recipe, like Mashed Potatoes with Parsnips, which relies on nutritional yeast and coconut spread to mimic a typical dairy-filled recipe, or Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Cumin, subbing ghee for butter and steering clear of the addition of maple syrup.
Deviled Eggs are one of the easiest sides to make Whole 30-friendly by using an approved organic mayonnaise (or making your own at home), as well as the classic holiday Green Bean side dish (try this Green Bean with Lemon and Garlic recipe for a flavorful boost, but swap out the butter).
Other flavorful side options include Raw Artichokes with Herbs and Almonds and Roasted Asparagus with Walnuts and Cherry Tomatoes—simply hold off on the Parmesan in both of these dishes, or add it to the bowl after dishing out your own serving. Brussels Sprouts with Bacon will also be an instant holiday classic; just be sure to buy a sugar-free bacon at your local organic market.
The dessert section of the meal will be your biggest holiday sacrifice—besides wine and eggnog, that is. Unfortunately, one of the basic rules of Whole 30 is not attempting to recreate baked goods or junk food using approved ingredients, so trying to hunt down a vegan, sugar-free pumpkin pie recipe isn’t exactly on the up-and-up.
While your family pigs out on apple pie a la mode, dense chocolate cakes, and all of the holiday cookies, make yourself some simple baked apples with cinnamon and ghee, and do your best not to longingly eye everyone else’s slices of carrot cake.
Though it will be tough at the time, at the end of your feast—with both you and your family well fed and free of a single dietary regret—you’ll able to sleep soundly with visions of (sadly, non Whole 30 approved) sugarplums dancing in your head.