I love how many people around me have taken a renewed interest in their health and are curious about what the Paleo lifestyle can offer them. One of my best friends was recently diagnosed with a hormone-related syndrome and is looking to heal her body through focused nutrition. The problem is that she is incredibly busy, doesn’t particularly care to spend much time in the kitchen and doesn’t have the time or energy to re-learn all things nutrition. The following is dedicated to her…
First let me caveat this for those of you who are not this friend of mine. There are some strong opinions about what it means to be Paleo and I’m sure this post will come under scrutiny since I am promoting it as a how-to guide. My personal belief, based on reading and learning from Paleo authorities, is that Paleo is on a spectrum. Some find raw, hormone-free dairy from grass-fed cows perfectly acceptable, while others maintain a complete dairy-free standard. Many shun all grains and starchy tubers, while others don’t see the harm in occasional, responsible consumption. You get the picture.
I believe the most important thing is to personally research the information you are presented with, determine what your body needs and what your lifestyle can accommodate and thereby finding your place on that Paleo spectrum. My bottom line: There’s no way that eating whole foods, free from chemicals, added hormones and other artificial non-foods will ever be bad for you and, in light of that, I really don’t care what brand the practice falls under (though calling it Paleo is completely accurate). What matters to me is that you care enough to consider your health and in doing so, take steps–even small ones–to fuel your body to function at its best.
Soooooo for those who are interested, here’s how you survive going and staying Paleo.
GET YOUR HEAD RIGHT
This is a transition, but it’s also an all-in commitment. Don’t confuse the two. You really should gut your kitchen of everything that is now unacceptable to put in your body. There is a standard that you plan for and attempt to practice with 100% of yourself committed. However, you must also leave grace for yourself that sometimes exceptions happen, especially as you are learning. The key is knowing the difference. Failing to stick to plan is no longer a reward or a treat, it’s choosing to consume something that you know causes adverse effects in your body. You do it knowingly, and even willingly, but this is not your lifestyle, this is not who you are.
Retrain your brain. We have a perception of what our meals should look like. We have been trained to see food, especially “diet food”, by USDA standards–which are completely warped! Retrain your brain to see food as nourishment, as medicine even. Forget the image of a whole-grain dominant plate. Your plate will now be lean protein, a LOT of vegetables, healthy fats and a little bit of fruits and nuts. Your body was meant to eat this way.
Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. I saw this quote on Pinterest and cannot stop saying it. I’m a recovering cortisoloholic. I cannot tell you the years I have spent stressing about weight, the scale, my clothes size, my fitness progress, my “goals”… stress, stress, stress. I read in one of my favorite books, “The Thyroid Diet Revolution” that from a fat cell’s point of view, constant exposure to adrenaline (cortisol’s partner in crime) is like being yelled at all the time. It causes the fat cells to go numb to the adrenaline, develop a resistance and stay locked in a “hibernation metabolic rate”. What you see? Weight gain around your gut. How you feel? Like you can’t catch a break and nothing is working.
The key to changing what you see on the outside is knowing what is going on inside. Well, and I suppose caring is important too. We can know things all day long and still do nothing about it. So know, care, do, repeat. That’s the magic formula.
Planning is succeeding. It is literally impossible to live Paleo with a “fast-food” approach. You MUST prepare your menu and your food in advance. This presents a challenge because many think they do not have the time required for whole food preparation. Let me put it this way, eighty percent of your weight loss battle happens in the kitchen and only twenty percent in the gym. Have you heard that before? The time you dedicate to cooking is eighty percent of your victory in winning back your health. If your body was a business and time was money, I think you know where to invest.
Going Paleo inherently means you are picky about what you eat. You know why you choose to avoid one thing and prioritize another. This is good and will come in time. But you need to transition now and just want someone to tell you how, right? Well lucky you I’m not a nutritionist, but I am a pretty darn good cook. So instead of going on and on about the technical reasons why most common American foods are toxic and what makes others so darn awesome, I’m just going to spend time outlining how to structure your week as it pertains to eating Paleo. There are plenty of people more qualified than me to tell you why this works, I’ll just tell you how to work it.
IN THE KITCHEN
And now onto Ciarra’s Paleo Cooking Tips…
Make one flavorful sauce each week.
Make spinach pesto, fennel-onion jam, chipotle mayonnaise, creamy roasted tomatillo salsa, salsa fresca, Well Fed’s Sunshine Sauce… This becomes your flavor-profile theme for the week.
Why do we eat food we know is bad for us? Cause it tastes really really good! So let’s take the same approach with Paleo-friendly ingredients and with a reasonable expectation… Don’t try to pull off a Hollandaise right out of the gate. You need to make one sauce that can hang out in the fridge for a couple of days and is so darn good you can and do eat it on nearly everything!
Be strategic with protein.
Most people can only hit the grocery store once, maybe twice, a week. So let’s work with that. Pick a day that is your primary shopping trip and then another for your supplemental shopping. I’ll talk in more detail about that in just a second. For now, mull this plan of attack over.
Each week you will need to plan for:
- 1 crock pot meal where the ingredients are prepared, but frozen to be used later in the week.
- 1 protein selection for a fresh crock pot recipe to be made that day or one that works for braising or roasting if you’re available to babysit the oven. Choose something that will give you leftovers.
- 2 proteins that are fully cooked, put into containers and stored in the fridge for go-to quick meals throughout the week.
- 1 protein, hopefully a seafood selection, to be cooked fresh.
- 1 protein that you know you will buy from the grocery store that is precooked and ready to rock on your supplemental shopping day. I’m thinking about those rotisserie chickens that are free from sugars, hormones and preservatives (pssst… they’re at Costco).
This could look like:
Crock pot meal (freeze): chicken breasts
Crock pot meal (fresh): one pound stew meat, one pound ground beef
Fresh-prepped meal: salmon filets
2 proteins pre-cooked for go-to meals: 2-4 grilled steaks and 1-2 pounds ground turkey
Supplemental shopping day protein: rotisserie chicken or Italian sausages (for quick sausage and peppers!)
Buy a lot of fruit, but even more vegetables.
Grab a Glycemic Index chart and shoot for the fruit and veggies that carry the lowest GI ratings. If we are going to repair your hormones, the first step is insulin stability. There really isn’t a discussion here. If you don’t bombard your body with glucose found in sugars and foods with a high glycemic index rating, the body has no reason to surge insulin. Problem solved.
Because I promised to keep this simple, I’m not going to overwhelm you with the difference between glycemic index rating and glycemic load. The first step is to get familiar with the concept of glucose and insulin in general and then go from there. Ultimately stabilizing your blood sugar and insulin is dependent upon the glycemic load, but there’s no reason to make this harder than it needs to be for right now.
Get a chart, trust the chart, love the chart. You’ll be fine.
Adopt the “hot plates” approach in Well Fed.
Most Paleo cookbooks come with how-to’s in the pages that precede a volume of delicious recipes. My favorite cookbook is Well Fed and the author describes a great concept of “hot plates”. It’s basically reheating a protein selection, adding some vegetables (raw or cooked simply), a yummy sauce and maybe some fruit, resulting in what looks a bit like a crudités platter–but with a hefty portion of meat! It won’t look like a cohesive meal necessarily, but it nourishes perfectly. Gotta give The Clothes Make The Girl props for this!
It’s easy to feel pressured into crafting fabulous concoctions for every meal after skimming through Paleo cookbooks and food blogs. Do not get distracted by food porn. We prepare fancy or visually appealing meals because we eat with our eyes first. We see it, we like it, we want to eat it. The problem is that it can easily become a road block in staying the course, especially when cooking isn’t your thing. Whether the foods you choose are roasted or pureed, fried or baked, ultimately it all lands in your stomach the same way. There are many great Paleo cooks out there who love to showcase what can be done with primal fare, but that’s not always real life. Paleo food is simple food.
Know your super-foodish-foods.
There are several things I would encourage that you pick up, especially at the beginning of your healing process. They are: Chia seeds, Spirulina, flax seed meal (if you aren’t planning to eat many nuts), acidophilus, and kombucha. So much of the work that needs to be done when you first transition to Paleo is about cleaning house. We need to repair our gut, clean out toxins from our organs and blood and restore essential hormone balance. In my opinion, those few super-foodish-foods can quicken this critical step.
OK, time for the rubber to meet the road. Here is the vision for how you are going to feed yourself based on a standard Monday-Friday work week. I don’t work outside the home so my week starts on Monday, but the same thinking applies. Once you get the idea for how the food flow works, you’ll know which day is best for your household. I’m going to write this out according to what I think would be helpful to the most people.
Saturday: Plan meals and go grocery shopping. I keep a running list of my favorite blogs and recipe sites on hand. I look to these first when it’s time to make my meal plans for the week (I sure hope I make your list of favorites!!). Facebook and Pinterest are fantastic for quickly checking out what’s new, what’s popular and what’s solid. Enjoy some breakfast and play online for a while. Get inspired!
Sunday: Put together a Crock Pot meal in the morning or have a fresh protein selection, such as fish or ingredients for a quick seafood boil, ready to go. Today you will cook for the week, so do yourself a favor and have dinner waiting for you at the end of it.
On the day’s docket:
- the sauce of the week
- cooking two proteins for quick meals
- preparing and freezing ingredients for one Crock Pot meal later in the week
- hard-boiling a dozen eggs
- making one “fancy” recipe like Chili Lime Sweet Potato Fries or Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice (I like limes…)
- And if you still have the time (and the energy) try to make one Paleo-friendly dessert. It’s a morale booster to have a sweet treat to nibble on throughout the week.
Monday: Use one of the made-ahead proteins, some sauce of the week and complimentary vegetables. This goes for both lunch and dinner!
Make a pizza with Spinach Pesto, Cauliflower Crust and your pre-made chicken or some fresh prawns (top it with tomatoes and maybe some feta or goat cheese–YUM!)
Make a Burrito Bowl with Creamy Roasted Tomatillo Salsa, Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice and your pre-made steaks.
Make Paleo Tostadas with seasoned ground beef, Salsa Fresca, and shredded lettuce over roasted portobello mushroom caps.
Tuesday: Repeat the same plan as Monday, just use the other protein for variety.
Wednesday: Make the fresh Crock Pot meal if you didn’t do it on Sunday or roast or grill some simply seasoned protein paired with your sauce of the week. There’s also the option of throwing together something super easy like my Italian Mushroom Bake.
Also, grab that Crock Pot meal that you put in the freezer on Sunday and put it in the fridge to thaw. It’s Friday’s dinner.
Thursday: Eat leftovers or grab something quick while you’re doing your supplemental shopping trip, like that rotisserie chicken.
Friday: Your frozen, made-ahead Crock Pot meal should be thawed. In the morning, dump it in the Crock, go about your day and enjoy an easy end to a productive and healthy week!
Saturday: Eat up whatever is leftover from the week’s grub. Your fridge should be empty! You’ll notice that when you eat fresh your fridge is constantly rotating… stuff doesn’t stay long.
My favorite way to use up veggie and protein stragglers is with the Almighty Frittata. Here’s an example of using leftover sausage and peppers. Frittatas not only make for great breakfasts, but they really can be eaten any time of the day and don’t necessarily have to be heated up. I love them and make them frequently!
Since it’s Saturday, it’s time to start the process over again. New sauce of the week, new proteins (or use the same, do what works!), experiment with different vegetables, dig around for fun new recipes that look interesting and/or convenient for your lifestyle. Eventually you’ll find a rhythm that fits your family, your budget and your availability.
Wishing you, and my wonderful friend, all the best.