By Annie Gebel
Whether it’s a birthday party, game night with friends, or a holiday potluck, bringing our everyday Paleo lives to our occasional social lives can be a big challenge for families transitioning to this lifestyle. Luckily, there are some steps you can take that will help ease the stress. After all, you want to enjoy spending time with friends and family without suffering from guilt or gas, right? So try these strategies…
Create new favorites
Most of us have something we’re known for. Whether chips and dip or those famous cookies you make, there’s something that people know they can count on you to bring to every gathering. Well, that used to be the case. I recommend trying something other than your old standbys, at first. Paleo-ized versions of favorite comfort foods are all over the internet, and they taste great, but they don’t taste like the traditional foods you remember. It takes some time to learn to bake and cook without white flour, pasta, and other processed ingredients. Once you figure it out, though, you’ll enjoy tweaking your old favorites. In the meantime, use recipes that have been proven already. If you search for “Paleo party foods” or “easy Paleo cookies,” you’ll find all sorts of internet results tested by some talented Paleo bloggers. Or, if you’re like me, check out any of the many Paleo cookbooks that you can put your hands on and find incredible recipes to impress your friends and family with.
Focus on fun, not food
When you’re planning parties, include crafts or activities that don’t leave a place for nibbling. Try creating an obstacle course in the yard for a boot camp birthday. When our oldest turned eight years old we did exactly that and the kids had so much fun! After cake and ice cream, the kids had to put together a puzzle that led them to their favor bags! Gotta work their brains too! Or if you have a little fashionista like we do, try a birthday photo shoot! We used our hallway as a runway, hung a sheet on the wall, and a friend of mine (photo credit: Megan Henry) snapped some great shots as the kids put on a fashion show. Pool parties, bouncy houses, board games, craft parties, or lots of other ideas will keep people, big and small, having a great time and not thinking about the lack of snacks. My husband likes to set up Nerf gun targets just like the kids!
If you’re headed to a potluck and you’re asked to bring a dish to pass, take two. I’ve found that if I take just a side or just a dessert, I too easily reach for food in the category I didn’t bring. To help with that, I usually bring a dessert and a protein-laden main or side dish. The protein helps fill me up and give me a chance to decide what other dishes I want a bit of. And I don’t miss out on a sweet ending because I’ve provided something delicious to enjoy. Some of my favorite party proteins are bacon wrapped dates, baked chicken strips with roasted pepper aioli (aoli is just a fancy word for flavored mayo – puree some jarred roasted red peppers with homemade mayo), or meatballs. For desserts, we’ve found a variety of brownies, cookies, and cake that fit the bill and everyone enjoys – Paleo or not.
Consciously enjoy yourself
One of the frustrating and freeing things about a Paleo lifestyle is that there is no one way to do it. You make the best decisions for you. That might mean that you can have dairy laden ice cream and your body processes it just fine. Or it might mean that a beer or two leaves you feeling bloated and uncomfortable. The common rule of thumb in the Paleo world is to eat as cleanly as you can for at least 30 days and then reintroduce the foods you want to try to see how your body reacts to them. Once you know the effects of gluten, dairy, legumes, and sugar have on you specifically, you can decide if you want crackers and cheese or if you’ll just grab a few extra chicken strips. Whatever choice you make: own it – accept it – embrace it.
There is no right or wrong. The first few years we ate Paleo I didn’t even attempt Paleo-ized baking. Remember that boot camp birthday? That was the third year into Paleo living for us. All of our meals were in line, but it was the first year I tried to make a Paleo cake. The cake was good, but the frosting – it tasted good, but looked…interesting. Before you ask, Tootsie Rolls and Oreos are not Paleo, but they look good on a tank cake! Since then, I’ve focused on using the incredible recipes that Paleo gurus have perfected and put on their websites or into cookbooks and we now enjoy delicious tasting and delicious looking cakes and homemade coconut milk ice cream for our birthdays. When we go to a party somewhere else, though, we consciously make the decision to have a piece of gluten and sugar filled cake. We enjoy it and don’t feel any guilt. So, get out there and party as hard as you’d like. Create new traditions, have a ton of fun, provide your own goodies to share, and have a great time! I know I will…May starts birthday season for us, with four of our five birthdays coming up in a six week period! It’s time for some Paleo par-tays!