Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Staying Primal / Paleo with Healthy Eating During Church & Social Gatherings

I see primal / paleo-style eating as the best way to take care of the bodies that God gave me and my family; it's a matter of stewardship.

That said, it's not a huge leap to start wondering:

How do I keep to my primal / paleo-style eating goals within an active church and/or social life?

I've been what I'd describe as a fairly active churchgoer throughout my adult life, and the broad point is: in order to avoid blood-sugar-spiking grains and sugars, you plan. Here are some tips that dig a little deeper in this bit of advice on navigating church and social events that could otherwise derail your eating goals:

Teas, coffees, breakfast events: These are very common in American church life. Prayer breakfasts, men's sunrise breakfasts, pancake breakfasts, women's tea-and-testimonies, brunches, breakfast potlucks, and Sunday morning gatherings (like Sunday School/Adult Bible Fellowships) can be nutritional minefields. At best, you might find a relatively unadulterated fruit tray straight from the grocery store's produce section. But more typically, you'll find muffins, cookies (yes, cookies!), even cakes leftover from some prior event. Add to that pancakes, French toast, scones...sounding familiar? Get to the coffee/tea end of things, and what is on hand? Sugar, non-dairy creamer (which is full of hydrogenated oils, aka trans fats!), and (blech) Sweet'n'Low.

When you had a chance to plan ahead:

  • Eat protein before you get there. Sure, you might find a sausage quiche or egg casserole at the event. But odds are good that it contains gluten via added bread or a crust. Save yourself the trouble by having a little quality protein before you leave. If it's an early event and you're pressed for time, plan the night before: make a batch of bacon so it's ready to grab and go, and you can even have a couple of pieces on the drive over. Other pre-event protein options are: a bowl of whole milk yoghurt or cottage cheese, pieces of cheese, or leftover meat from the night before.
  • Bring reinforcements. A little bag of macadamia nuts. A Tanka bar. Whatever high fat and/or protein-heavy snack you need to nourish yourself! And if you're worried about others' reactions, don't. The truth is people are so preoccupied with their own meals/snacks that they are very unlikely to notice or ask about yours. And if they do? Shrug your shoulders and cop to having food sensitivities. You might get a few pitying looks, but the conversation is likely to move on from that subject pretty quickly.
  • Bring your own coffee. Brew yourself some coffee at home in a travel mug or disposable coffee cup, add a hefty glug of heavy cream, and head to your event! You'll get a good dose of steady, filling energy.

    When you didn't get a chance to plan ahead:

  • Eat condiments. Well, this sounds a little sillier than it is. But if you didn't plan ahead, and find yourself in a tight spot and feeling hungry and tempted, a few spoonfuls of the plain full fat cream cheese brought with the bagels, or the peanut butter set by the toast is way better than eating the bagels or toast themselves! (And yes, I know peanuts don't qualify as primal given their legume status, but they're still a whole lot nutritionally superior than sugar or grains for a person in a moment of weakness.)
  • Fast. If you are used to primal / paleo-style eating, by now you might have had some success with fasting. Especially if it's an early-morning event, you might have luck with this. Say, "Hi!" to someone you haven't caught up with in a while when others are milling through the food selection. Or take your seat, and if grilled, just say that you sometimes don't get hungry until later in the morning.
Spaghetti Dinners/Bake Sales/Fundraisers: The carb train just keeps coming. And what are these events for? To raise money for very worthwhile causes. My advice? Just give the money, don't eat the food. You've helped them to raise funds and to skip the overhead of feeding you a whole load of cheap, insulin-spiking grains. Win-win!

Cookouts and pot lucks. From the first warm rays of spring through the start of the school year, cookouts and BBQ events abound. Here's how to handle them:
  • Skip the buns. Bring a plastic fork if you have to, just don't eat the buns. Have your hot dog, brat, burger, whatever! Mustard is the safest condiment pick, blood-sugar-wise. Mayo is OK, but don't go nuts because of the omega-6-overloaded soy and/or canola oil that commercial mayo contains.
  • Bring what you can eat. Some foil-wrapped salmon to set on a corner of the grill, a few premarinated chicken breasts, or whatever else strikes your fancy. Be sure to offer to do some time turning things at the grill yourself lest you saddle somebody else with the duty of cooking your dinner!
  • Look for the veggie tray, then the chips and dip tray. There is almost always one of these around at a larger event. Stock up on those, especially the celery sticks that noone else eats, and then head over to the chips and dips. Skip the chips but load up on whatever dips you can judge as not containing gluten (queso, guacamole, salsa, etc.). Now dip with your veggies!
  • Find the cheese and cold cuts. Even if you have to disassemble an unwitting catered Croissan'wich to get to the meat and cheese, you're doing yourself a favor! Chuck the carby outside and nosh on the fat-and-protein-filled insides. And there is no shame in taking just the cheese from the cheese and cracker tray.
How do YOU navigate these kinds of gatherings while staying true to your eating goals?


  1. Navigating church events with food-allergic family members is similarly nightmarish. We've adopted similar strategies and find nothing wrong with bringing our own snacks to supplement and asking lots of questions about ingredients. In potluck situations we always volunteer to bring something for the course that seems most likely to contain forbidden ingredients (ie. a dessert so we can avoid eggs or a main dish if it seems like otherwise there might be nothing substantial to eat). You do what you need to do to take the best care of yourself and your family.

  2. Great tips, especially since we're going primal about 85% of the time (slowly going towards 100%)

  3. I never heard of a Tanka bar and looked it up and it sounds interesting glad to know there are things like that out there.

  4. Thank you SO much for this post! The tips are helpful, but more than that it's nice to just know that others are dealing with these situations. I love the family focus of your blog =)

  5. Adrienne - yes, I so feel your pain now that I'm scrutinizing my choices at group events more - though immediate-life-threatening allergies are even more of a challenge, I'd say!

    Lacey - welcome! Glad you stopped by and enjoy the vibe. Hope that you continue stop by and to find helpful tips. :) Good luck to you and your family in your efforts to eat healthfully.

    Dawna - my girlfriend who had a baby last fall is running a half marathon in just a few months. I am in AWE of distance runners. :) Good luck with your fitness pursuits - hope that you enjoy Primal Kitchen's offerings in the future.

  6. Great post. I too am primal and a Christian so nice to meet another :D Thanks for all the great tips and I enjoy your lunchbox posts!!

  7. I have just found your blog, and it is wonderful! I'm a single mom and my daughter and I are working on transitioning to a primal lifestyle, and your blog is an amazing resource. I can't tell you how many windows I currently have open to read and bookmark! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Welcome, Lori and Stephanie! Great to have you here. :) Hope that you continue to stop by.

  9. OH, I'm so glad I found your blog! We're a Jesus-loving primal family, too. Thank you SO much for writing. I'm going to pour over your archives and - hopefully - get over some of the hurdles we've faced lately! (Although, we have a son with egg and nut allergies, so it's even harder with him - but your Lunchbox posts are SO helpful.) You rock, Mrs. Grok!

  10. Hi, putmama! So glad you found Primal Kitchen. :)

    Here's a terrific thread on PaleoHacks featuring a myriad of meal (esp. breakfast) suggestions for families dealing with egg and nut allergies. Hope it helps!


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