If you’re celebrating Thanksgiving with your family later this week, chances are the spread will include roasted, stuffed turkey, white and sweet potatoes or yams, an assortment of vegetables or maybe squash, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, and – of course – at least one pumpkin pie. These foods will forever be associated with Thanksgiving in our minds, but were they really a part of the first Thanksgiving? In other words, just how traditional is our traditional Thanksgiving dinner?
You might be surprised to learn that only about three items on that list were possibly a part of the first Thanksgiving that Pilgrims and natives feasted on for…get this…three days! So, if they weren’t enjoying all our high-carb favorites, what were they eating? Let’s just say that if we ate like they did, we’d probably see our fitness gym goals and gains a little sooner.
The Pilgrim Diet
• Lean meat
Although we don’t have a detailed menu for the first Thanksgiving meal, we know that deer and wildfowl were definitely a part of it (five deer, to be precise – a gift from the Wampanoag). Game was a plentiful, natural source of protein for the Pilgrims and natives. Even if their feast featured a turkey, you can bet it wasn’t a pre-fattened one from the farm basted in butter. Neither would the Pilgrims have stuffed it with breading, although they may have seasoned or even stuffed their fowl with fresh herbs and nuts. Needless to say, this version of “the bird” would have been a lot healthier for us, and required fewer make-up workouts at the fitness center.
• Fish and shellfish
History tells us that fish and shellfish would also have been part of the meal, another plentiful and nutritious source of protein and healthy fats.
• Few, if any, starches
Forget the mashed potatoes, or any potatoes. They wouldn’t have been available, along with sweet corn. While the Pilgrims’ lack of yummy comfort food wasn’t necessarily their plan to limit carbohydrates, limiting your servings of starches may help you keep a lean physique.
Fruit like plums, grapes, melon and wild berries were likely the closest our Pilgrim predecessors came to dessert. Even though cranberries are still an obligatory staple of our Thanksgiving feast, we usually prepare it with added refined sugars.
Take a cue from the Pilgrims and consider making a more natural version of yours this year. Better yet, swap out that second piece of pie for some fresh fruit, instead.
The Pilgrims were sure to get in the recommended servings of vegetables. Their meal probably included leeks, wild onions, beans, Jerusalem artichokes, squash, and maybe some cultivated veggies and herbs brought from England.
Although it’s fine to enjoy more decadent foods once in a while, eating vegetable dishes first may help you feel satisfied sooner, which means consuming fewer calories, overall.
Why Not Go on a Pilgrim Diet the Day After?
Even if you can’t (or don’t want to – be honest) eat like the Pilgrims and natives this Thanksgiving, consider modifying your diet to resemble theirs in the days and weeks that follow. As always, keep up your consistent workouts at the fitness center and maybe even look for an opportunity to throw in an extra sweat session or two. After all, now there’s all that leftover turkey to eat.