Steal This Meal: Thanksgiving, Part I

Our two part Thanksgiving Steal This Meal series starts today, with a request posted by a reader of our blog.  Chris wrote,

“I usually cook Thanksgiving Dinner for my family, and this year my goal is to make it Whole30 compliant. Whenever I tell my family about how the Whole30 works, they immediately say, ‘That that sounds too hard’ and ‘I could never give up breads and grains’ and ‘How do you make that food taste good?’  So this year I intend on cooking the whole delicious meal Whole30 compliant, and then after tell them, “Oh by the way, you just had an entire meal with no grains, potatoes, or legumes!”

We want to help Chris (and you!) show your family and friends that eating Whole30 compliant is not that hard – and that our Good Food can still be delicious and satisfying.  So we decided to Whole30 transform the two toughest Thanksgiving recipes – stuffing and cranberry sauce.  Now, you readers know we wouldn’t normally “Paleo-ify” a poor food choice (like bread-laden stuffing or sugar-drenched cranberry sauce), but in the once-a-year case of a family-centric, culturally significant holiday like Thanksgiving, we believe it’s okay to recreate a dish that is reminiscent of what we used to eat. (Paleo-ifying stuffing for an annual family dinner is not the same thing as justifying your “healthy” Paleo pancakes every morning for breakfast!  But you already knew that.)

Note, these recipes aren’t designed to taste just like the original – that would be impossible, and disappointing for your guests.  Instead, we encourage you to present these Whole30 dishes as alternatives – traditional Thanksgiving fare with a twist.

Steal This Meal:  Whole9 Thanksgiving “Stuffing”

This dish serves 8-10.  We’ve used extra-lean ground beef and soaked walnuts, along with traditional spices and herbs, to give this “stuffing” the same feel and flavor as the original bread-based dish.  Note, the extra-lean ground beef is the key – buy the leanest available.  This will keep the stuffing from tasting too much like, well… ground beef, as much of the beef flavor is carried in the fat.  This is best right out of the oven, and it smells just like the dish Dallas’ Mum makes.  We thought it delicious, and the perfect accompaniment to turkey.


  • 1 pound extra-lean ground beef (we used the 95% lean, organic, grass-fed beef from Whole Foods)
  • 2 cups walnut pieces, very finely chopped/ground and soaked overnight (rinse several times before using)
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 4 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 apple, cored and finely diced (we used a Minnesota Honeycrisp)
  • Several springs of fresh rosemary, sage, thyme, and marjoram (poultry mix), finely chopped
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp sea salt


  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Chop all the veggies, the apple, and herbs.
  • Saute the beef and celery for 3-4 minutes on medium heat, making sure that the beef gets broken up into really small pieces as it cooks.  (Big chunks are not very stuffing-like!)  We used a big saucepan for this, as we didn’t want the contents to overflow once everything was mixed.
  • Add the onion and apple, and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the herbs, garlic powder, walnuts, and salt, and mix thoroughly. The beef should NOT be totally cooked at this point – there should still be some pink.
  • Pull everything out of the pan, and dump it into a 9×13 baking pan (or two 6×9 pans), and bake uncovered at 375 for 30 minutes.  Serve hot from the oven.

We couldn't believe how much this looked - and smelled - like real stuffing!

Steal This Meal: Whole9 Thanksgiving Cranberry Sauce

Serves 8-10.  While we normally don’t recommend using fruit juice or dried fruit as a substitute for sugar, some added sweetness was necessary to offset the serious tartness of the fresh cranberries.  We’re okay with figs and apple juice as a sub for sugar in a special occasion dish like this.  However, make sure your guests know that our more traditional sauce is still pretty tart in flavor!  The flavors do meld with time, and this sauce tastes even better the second day – which means you can make it ahead of time and store it in the fridge.  This was so amazingly good, we put it on everything this week – eggs, baked Alaskan cod, even our burgers.


  • 2 – 12 oz bags of fresh (not frozen) cranberries
  • 1 cup of 100% pure apple juice (no added sugars)
  • 1 large navel orange, washed
  • 10 dried black mission figs, very finely chopped (make sure you cut the stems off)
  • A dash or two of each: nutmeg, allspice, ground cloves


  • Place the cranberries, apple juice, figs, spices, and ½ cup of water into a covered saucepan on medium heat.
  • Bring the mixture to a low boil for 10 minutes (until the cranberries “pop”), and turn down to low heat. Simmer (still covered) for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Squeeze the juice from the orange into the sauce, and finely grate the orange zest (use the whole orange peel!) into the saucepan.
  • Keep on low heat (simmer) for another 15 minutes. Store in airtight container in fridge until ready to use.  Serve cold for the best flavor.

Delicious and pretty on your plate, our cranberry sauce is sure to be a hit!

Stay tuned for STM – Thanksgiving Part II next Friday, as we feature our best reader-submitted Thanksgiving day dishes.  And as always, if you’d like to contribute your best Whole30 approved dish, send your Steal This Meal entry (along with photos and YOUR Whole30-inspired story!) to  (Want to see our other selections?  Just  select “Recipes” from the category list on our sidebar.)

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  1. says

    For Cranberry Sauce, I use 1/2 cup orange juice, 1/2 cup water, 1 T balsamic vinegar, and I cut the orange peel in to large strips. Method same as yours. Very even balance between sweet & tart. I find orange juice, when cooked, imparts a sweetness that apple juice doesn’t seem to match. Plus, I can squeeze the orange juice myself!

  2. Chris says

    Thanks for the idea on the stuffing! The ground beef should give it a good texture and consistency like bread stuffing. The one thing I would add to make it even more awesome would be a good smoked turkey stock! I usually buy a good quality turkey stock (or chicken if I can’t find it). Then I’ll enrich the flavor with some smoked turkey wings, carrots, onion, garlic, celery, sage, thyme, parsley, a head of garlic, kosher salt, pepper, and olive oil. Let that simmer for a few hours, you have an amazing smoked turkey stock! Pour a cup or so over our “stuffing”, and save the rest of the pot for the gravy!

    I bake my cranberry sauce (since the stove is usually occupied by everything else). I’d recommend using a casserole dish for easy clean up. When sauce is almost done baking, add a quarter cup of Jim Bean and put it back in the oven for 10 mins. Good times! =)

  3. Jennifer p says

    Can someone suggest an alternative to walnuts in this recipe? I am allergic to them and pecans. Maybe macadamias would work.

  4. Mariette says

    could lean ground turkey be substituted for the beef? while i eat plenty of chicken, turkey, and fish, i just haven’t been able to get back onto the “red meat” wagon. :)

  5. says


    You could sub in turkey, yeah, but keep the quantity small (per the recipe) so the “stuffing” doesn’t end up tasting like the turkey. Just so you know it’s not just you, my mom (who is having a hard time with the reintroduction of red meat, too) used ground chicken and said it was delicious. Good luck!

  6. Jennifer says

    Who needs Thanksgiving? These two recipes are a great meal on their own! I made both last night. I did a double batch of the meat, to give us enough for leftovers, and as I didn’t happen to have any beef, I substituted one pound each of ground turkey and mild pork sausage, and I didn’t have any nuts so I left them out altogether. All with good results! I think you might be slightly disappointed if you had it in your head that it was going to taste and feel like stuffing, but if you were just hoping for a change of pace in a tasty Whole 30 meal, you would be delighted! Just had some leftovers of both for breakfast and that was great too. I recommend doubling the meat, that way you’ll have plenty to go with the cranberries and you’ll be happy to have leftovers of this. Yum.

  7. Cathy says

    This stuffing would be excellent in acorn squash! I do a stuffed squash with almost the same ingredients except breakfast sausage instead of beef, but it is hard to find one without lots of sweetners. Can’t wait to try this variation!