Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Paleo for Dummies - Part I: Meal Building

     A lot of people are turned off by the idea of Paleo eating because it seems like too much work. No more instant meals from a box, frozen dinner entrees, and the ease of just hitting the drive thru on the way home from work. But it's really not as hard as it may seem to throw easy meals together in a very short amount of time.  Personally, I don't mind spending a little extra time in the kitchen on my nights off..but I realize that isn't everyone's cup of tea.  So here is the easy formula for quick Paleo meals.

MEAT + VEGETABLE + FAT + HERB/SPICE = Happy Caveman/Cavewoman.

It's really that simple. The phrase 'so easy, a caveman could do it,' comes to mind.

   So what are your options?
   Well, the possibilities are pretty limitless.

First, Decide on a Protein:
     As often as possible, choose high-quality sources like whole eggs, grass-fed beef, chicken and meats that aren't treated with added hormones/antibiotics, as well as wild-caught seafood. If you like bacon (who doesn't?), try to opt for the uncured, all-natural kind.
Also, a lot of stores carry organic chicken sausages, which are minimally processed and have very few ingredients--they are about as close to Paleo as you're going to get in a sausage. Just be sure to read labels, as some varieties contain some added sugar.

Then, pick a vegetable (or two, or three) -
     Some good choices are broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens, peppers, onions, cabbage, asparagus, zucchini, squash, brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and bok choy.
    Poor choices are white potatoes, corn, grean beans, carrots, peas, yams, and sweet potatoes (although it's worth noting that sweet potatoes/yams are a great post-workout recovery food).

     Don't be afraid to try out a vegetable you've never had before. Ever had sauteed swiss chard? How about roasted beets or fennel? Really--what's the worst that could happen? You won't like it? Keep food boredom at bay by experimenting with different things. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Or, instead of (or in addition to) vegetables, pick a fruit -
    Due to their high sugar content, fruit should be consumed in moderation.
    Some of the best choices are blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, and blueberries, and melons.
    Some good choices are apples, citrus, peaches, apricots, and peaches.
    Things like mango, papaya, pineapple, grapes, pears, bananas, and dried fruit should be eaten sparingly.

     Click here for a chart outlining the sugar content of different fruits.

    With fruits and vegetables, try to stick to whatever is in season. Guide to Pennsylvania's Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables will give you an idea when certain things are available in this region.

Then, decide which fat(s) you'd like to use:
-Olive oil, Avocado oil, Coconut oil, Macadamia Nut Oil, Palm Oil, Walnut oil, or Almond oil (Check out Mark Sisson's Definitive Guide to Oils for the nutrititional profiles of different oils, and which ones should be avoided.)
-Coconut butter
-Coconut milk
-Macadamia nuts, Almonds, Walnuts, Pecans, Brazil nuts, Hazelnuts, and Pistachios. Go for unsalted.

Now add some herbs and/or spices:
     Try to think of your spice rack as your own personal flavor arsenal. Stock up on things you like, and once again, don't be afraid to try new new things. Some of my favorites are cinnamon, garlic, ginger, ground black pepper, parsley, dill, oregano, rosemary, basil, cayenne pepper, ground mustard, and cumin, just name a few. Mrs. Dash also makes a bunch of different salt-free seasoning blends that takes all of the I-have-no-idea-what-goes-together guesswork out of the picture for you. When choosing a seasoning blend though, it's always better to opt for salt-free--that way, if you decide to add salt, you can control how much.

     It really doesn't get much easier than that!

    And it doesn't have to be terribly elaborate, either.

    A very basic meal would be a grilled chicken breast seasoned with cumin, garlic, and cayenne, with avocado slices on the side and steamed broccoli.

    Or, if you're in the mood for steak, simply season it with some ground black pepper and salt and then toss it on the grill. If you wanna get fancy, saute some beet greens and onions in some olive oil with a little bit of garlic. Personally, I'm a huge fan of simple stir-frying/sauteeing: it's fast, easy, and I can get a variety of different things all in one skillet, keeping me from being constantly entrenched in a mountain of single vegetable monotony.

   Want something with a slightly Asian flair? Take some peppers, bok choy, and scallions and stir-fry them with olive oil with a little bit of coconut aminos or Tamari (wheat-free soy sauce), as well as some ginger and garlic (can you tell I love garlic?). Add cooked chicken or shrimp and a dash of sesame oil to finish. Or top with crushed almonds for a bit of crunch. Broccoli slaw (which you can find with the salad mixes at the grocery store) is also really good prepared this way, and requires no chopping or cutting--a favorite for when I get home from work late and want something fast and filling.

    A breakfast-y option could be something like a chicken sausage and a couple of eggs, a cup of berries, and a handful of nuts/spoonful of nut butter. Or an omelette with diced chicken, peppers, and onions cooked in a teaspoon of avocado oil.

    Lunch could be some sort of chicken salad with mixed greens, a handful of blueberries and crushed nuts, with an oil and vinegar dressing.

    It's probably a good idea to shake yourself of the idea of certain foods being eaten for breakfast, certain foods for dinner, etc. There is nothing wrong with having salmon for breakfast and eggs for dinner. If convenience is key, just make whatever you have available.

    If you really don't have time during the week to cook, then you may want to set aside a a couple of hours (at the VERY most) where you can get most of your prepwork out of the way for the entire week. Cut up the vegetables you think you'll want and put them in ziploc bags in the fridge. Still too hard? Buy vegetables that are easy to cut, like asparagus, greens, or zucchini (because if you can't cut tear up some chard or cut a zucchini in less than a minute, then I'm afraid I can't help you).

     Grill or cook a couple different kinds of meat to have on hand as well. If you make 7 days worth of meat though, you may want to freeze a couple of portions so it doesn't go bad. If you like hard-boiled eggs, cook a dozen and keep them in the fridge for a quick snack. I like to to make a whole package of bacon and store the extra in a ziploc bag--it's good to crumble over vegetables, or just snack on when I am desperate for a salty fix.
     I've said this before, but the key to quick convenience meals is a well-stocked fridge/freezer. I almost always have frozen shrimp on hand--all I need to do is defrost them, and saute for a couple minutes, making a a little extra to serve them on a salad the next day. Actually, whatever you make for dinner, it's ALWAYS a good idea to make extra. Leftovers are your friend.

    Just don't make it harder than it needs to be!

     Once you get used to eating this way, it becomes second nature. Be patient--it may take a little trial and error at first, but believe me, it will pay off. It definitely, definitely gets easier! The average time I spend making dinner during the week is 15 minutes from start to finish, and it's never bland or boring.

     This is YOUR health here, you need to make it a priority--and understand that you're going to have to log a couple of hours in the kitchen along with your hours in the gym if you want to BE and PERFORM your best.

    Hopefully this helps a little. :)

    Come back soon for some more Paleo for Dummies action, including some tips for hunting and gathering at the grocery store, and help creating a Primal shopping list.


Spice Rack said...

I used the main or shall we say most common type of spices, which I personally think that are usually present in all kinds of dishes. Pepper, sea salt, rose mary, cinnamon, basil and oregano. I keep them in a tight sealed spice rack in order to preserve its freshness.

Anonymous said...

Chinese five spice is good too;)

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