How to Build Tasty Paleo Dinners That Non-Paleo People Will Love!

So you’re trying to stick to Paleo, but you’ve got a problem (or maybe 2 or 3 problems?) The family isn’t exactly on board with the idea. Can I tell you something that should encourage you? Your life is my life.  I feed a non-Paleo husband (though he likes to think he is because he beats all of us to the bacon), a fairly open-minded 9 year old daughter and a picky eating toddler. Read: I live a normal life, with a normal family. I make one dinner that we all eat—and for the most part enjoy—thanks to a couple key moves by this mama.

So Let’s Talk Planning.

I think plenty of people like the idea of Paleo — eating whole foods which embody ancestral dietary practices — but when it comes time for the rubber to meet the road lots of you get very discouraged and pop in a pizza. I get it.

With all the impressive Paleo concoctions out there it’s easy to think that you’re somehow not doing it right if your plate looks like you took the “three hots and a cot” approach in a sea of impressive cauliflower alchemy. I will share a secret with you. Most of us don’t eat like that everyday. Paleo food is simple food. Do not get discouraged by food porn!

Remember great tasting dinners do not have to be complicated. As a mom, a blogger, a recipe developer, a CrossFitter and the designated dishwasher in my house, I can tell you that I do not have time for complicated dinners either.

This is how I build meals that are inherently Paleo, but have a few twists to keep my non-Paleo eaters happy too.

To balance your plate, start with protein.

It’s very easy to start with protein, add vegetables that compliment the protein and then finish it off with a sauce, safe starch or other sides like fruit, nuts, seeds and healthy fats.

Scenario #1 – Classic Steakhouse Dinner

Protein: Steak, grilled
Added protein: Shrimp, kabobs/grilled
Vegetables: Steamed broccoli with ghee, sea salt & black pepper; mashed sweet potatoes
Dessert: Pomegranates, berries with dark chocolate pieces and coconut whipped cream

This dinner would take maybe 20 minutes to make. The sweet potatoes should be set on to boil first. Get them going right away. Then the steak and shrimp get the same seasoning (salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a dash of cayenne) and grill together (steak over direct heat, shrimp off to the sides for indirect heat). Trim and steam the broccoli while the protein grills (via stovetop or microwave, whatever you are comfortable with), toss with ghee and seasonings. Drain and mash the sweet potatoes with a little ghee or grass-fed butter and sea salt. Remove the protein from the grill. Done.

For making my crew happy, I might add some white rice to the mix and let them dip their meat in whatever sauce they like.  I’m happy; they’re happy. Mission accomplished.

If you’d like dessert, coconut whipped cream can be made in advance and will keep in the fridge for a couple days. It’s beyond easy to enjoy a small bowl of berries and dark chocolate with coconut whipped cream on top after a perfectly balanced (and quickly prepared) Paleo meal. No one has ever turned this treat down!

Scenario #2 – Taco Night!

When you think taco night, images of GMO processed corn shells fried in God-only-knows what kind of oils likely dance around in your mind… and maybe there’s a margarita misbehaving in there too. Then there’s the canned beans, the packets promising you something Spanish in nature for your rice alongside buckets of cheese and sour cream. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

For me, taco night means:

  • heaping pile of grass-fed ground beef loaded with vegetables (AKA my way of cleaning out leftover veggies from the week)
  • a batch of Mexican Lemonade Prawns
  • a massive salad bowl filled with lettuce, spinach, broccoli, fresh cilantro and whatever else I want to dump in there
  • some avocado with fresh lime, cilantro and a pinch of Celtic sea salt
  • some fresh fruit like pineapple and strawberries on the side

I challenge you not to get full on that!

Sure you can try to recreate taco shells with lettuce leaves, but I prefer to just pile all of this on a plate and go to town. It is a whirlwind of flavor and no one has ever complained!

Now for my non-Paleo eaters I will have some organic sour cream, cheese and pre-made salsa available. And maybe even some chips or tortillas too. They’re not for me, but it doesn’t have to mean that I rule over their plates too. When presented with quality meat and a TON of fresh veggies and fruit, the ratio of good to bad is acceptable in my book.

Since my kids weren’t born into a Paleo home, my approach is to make eating nutritiously a painless experience. I believe it sets them up to see the value in making the choice to continue with those habits easier as they get older.  So far it seems to be working. Though my toddler still is obsessed with sauce on everything… and what toddler isn’t?  My 9 year old LOVES vegetables roasted in coconut oil or sautéed in grass-fed butter or ghee! That’s her choice. Now the taste of sauces are too much for her… she likes the vegetables.  I’m no expert, but the advice I’m giving you today is working for my family. I hope that encourages you.

Make A One-Dish Meal Everyone Will Love

Another trick I have to surviving meal time in mixed company is the savior of designated dishwashers everywhere: the one pot dinner.  I will often make one-pot dinners that are super tasty on their own, so non-Paleo add-ons aren’t usually an issue.

Take Cauliflower Lasagne for example. This dish is loaded with cauliflower, carrots, onions, tomatoes, garlic and spinach. All of those fabulous veggies are layered with a rich and flavorful pork sausage bolognese. Yes, please!  In this recipe, I finagle the cauliflower into a noodle, which replaces the traditional gluten pasta. I don’t add dairy to this recipe, however, in the past I have used a little goat cheese and/or high-quality parmesan when I feel like it.  If others at the table want some cheese, I offer it. If I feel like I need to hold off on the dairy, I do. No harm done.

No one in my family has a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance so there’s no need to be vigilant with the stuff. However, we all know that too much dairy does carry some baggage with it, so it’s a balancing act. A touch of parmesan isn’t going to hurt us, so it is offered. When I feel like I need to keep myself in check (maybe I’ve had grass-fed butter in my bulletproof coffee that morning instead of coconut oil, for example), then I will pass on it. It’s that simple.

This dish gives us our meat and veggies in a super creative way and is so flavorful and texturally spot on that the dinner table is quiet and tummies are filling up on whole foods. Would some garlic bread on the side be yummy? They’d probably say yes.  I don’t serve it in my house, but you certainly could in yours! Remember we’re building here… and we’re feeding people that don’t eat like us.

Make Non-Paleo Diners Happy AKA Ciarra’s Sanity Saving Advice

Let them eat… sauce. 
You won’t have it, but it doesn’t mean they can’t.  In no way am I telling you that Ranch dressing, BBQ sauce or industrialized ketchup is OK. It’s loaded with gnarly stuff. I’m saying that reality is that not everyone can make every desired condiment from scratch using only whole ingredients. So if you want to make one meal and feed people who don’t follow the same guidelines that you do, let them have sauce. Especially kids.

Fillers? We don’t need no stinkin’ fillers! But they might… 
Would some rice make them happy? Would dinner be perfect with some roasted baby reds in lemon-pepper pesto? Make it! These are actually considered safe starches in small portions. It may not be ideal for everyone (such as those seeking to balance hormones and blood sugar, nursing an insulin resistance and/or trying to lose a few pounds), but it doesn’t mean that they are innately harmful. Research the gray areas of Paleo and try to offer them as a bridge over the gap between your more strict Paleo ideals and their non-Paleo preferences.

Gray is A-OK.
No this is not a reference to 50 Shades of Grey (though that ain’t bad either). There are several ingredients that are outside of the meat, veggies, fruit, tubers, nuts and seeds rule of thumb that can be well tolerated by some and shouldn’t be categorically dismissed at face value. You’ll find namely dairy, white potatoes, legumes and rice on that list. Unless you have a sound reason to avoid those things, such as illnesses that are better supported with stabilized blood sugar, autoimmune conditions, or lactose intolerance why not offer them up to your guests? This post is about building meals that a non-Paleo eater will love, not about redefining the heart of Paleo.

Bottom line? Here’s your formula:

maybe some FRUIT, NUTS OR SEEDS that work
and make sure there’s enough HEALTHY FATS on your plate
Dairy, starches, legumes, condiments, and anything else
gets added afterwards for non-Paleo diners

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.


  1. Mel says

    It was really inspiring reading this. I too am a mom of a 10 year old who’s open minded to eating new things and a fussy fussy 4 year old. My husband eats well but insists on fillers. It’s great knowing We are not the only paleo-dysfunctional family :p

  2. Dave says

    Good ideas overall, thank you! Not so sure about mixing proteins though (ex: steak and shrimp). Do you subscribe to the “fit for life” thinking where different meats require different enzymes/acids to break them down. Best to stick to one type of meat for most efficient digestion.
    Otherwise, thanks for putting this great page together.

    • says

      I guess I don’t refine things down to that degree. I live in a very practical world feeding young kids and various dietary preferences, so this approach is a great solution for my needs (and the needs of many others). If you have concerns along the lines of mixing proteins, or eating fruit with protein which is another one I’ve heard about, then just make sure to take this post as a template to work from as you move forward with what works for you.


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