Of all the sessions I attended at the 2015 Paleo f(x) conference in Austin, Texas, this one was the most practical for our eat real food audience: 20 ways to make Paleo easier and more fun, by Melissa Joulwan, author of Well Fed and Well Fed 2, and Stephanie Gaudreau of Stupid Easy Paleo.
No two people understand the psyche of the busy, working chef better than these two, and they graciously shared their best tricks of the trade – the ones that have been proven to make the biggest difference in people’s lives.
The take home point of their compelling message was that no matter how busy you are, or how bad of a cook you perceive yourself to be, eating real food is within reach for anyone who’s committed to doing so.
Here are my top 10 picks for how to make eating real food fun and easy:
- KISS: Keep it simple, sunshine. Especially at first. According to Melissa Joulwan, “You don’t need a recipe to make really good food.” As long as you have the basics (plenty of vegetables, protein and healthy fat), just mix and match using different preparation methods and you’re good to go. Don’t have a lot of time? How about a variety of chopped veggies with guacamole and a can of tuna or some hard-boiled eggs? You can always upgrade to recipes later when you’ve mastered the basics.
- Embrace the weekly cook up: Ever wonder how restaurants whip up your meal so fast? It’s because they’ve done ninety percent of the prep work earlier in the week! Take a page out of the restaurant handbook by allotting a few blocks of time every week to washing, chopping, and assembling. This might even make it feel as though somebody else cooked for you (and doesn’t the food always taste a wee bit better that way anyhow?).
- Get friendly with fat: It’s essential and super tasty, so it’s time to enjoy healthy fat again … sans guilt! Good sources include coconut and olive products; butter/ghee or other saturated fats for cooking like lard or tallow; avocados, nuts, seeds, and the fat contained within grass fed meat. Can’t source or afford grass fed meat? No problem. Simply pat away the fat from the grain fed animals, which is where unhealthy fat is found (this is not necessary on grass fed animals). Strictly avoid trans fats.
- Mind your pennies: If the high cost of food is a factor, purchase lower cuts of meat. Ground beef instead of prime rib or filet mignon. Canned tuna instead of fresh lobster. Eggs are always an economical source of protein. Upgrade to higher cuts as your budget allows. Buy in bulk whenever possible to make the most of another popular and effective money saving strategy.
- Pick three faves: Select three go-to breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. Make sure they contain ingredients you regularly stock in your kitchen. Rinse and repeat. It may be boring at first, but the initial stages of eating real food have more to do with repetition (forming the habit of eating well) than variety. Sample breakfasts might include frittatas, stuffed peppers, or a hash/scramble. Sample lunches could be salads with different dressings/protein or soup. Dinners could include meatballs or some other slow cooked meat.
- Roll food forward: Every meal need not be cooked fresh, and in fact, “stretching” the food you make is a great way to add variety without any extra effort. Perhaps you cook a whole chicken (I like the crock pot method of placing the chicken in whole, seasoning it, and cooking on low for 8-10 hours) and then use the meat in a breakfast egg muffin, as a topper for salads, or traditionally sliced breasts at dinners. Throw all the bones and skin back into your slow cooker, cover with water, add in spices, onions and/or carrots, cook on low all day, and strain to create broth for your next soup.
- Keep a stocked pantry: Ensure that you have coconut milk, cooking oils, spices and chicken broth on hand, and you’ll always be able to pull together a meal. I’m a big fan of purchasing my non-perishables in bulk from Costco, making my weekly shopping trips mostly about the fresh stuff.
- Fall in love with freezer meals: It’s like take-out, but without the guilt. Heating up a healthy, home-cooked meal you made when you had the time is way more satisfying that resorting to a processed frozen pizza.
- Create your tribe: Together we really are stronger and more creative. Surround yourself with others who share your love of real food. Perhaps you create a bi-weekly meal exchange group or take turns hosting a supper club once a month. Bonus points for deepening existing social connections. The only limit here is your own imagination.
- Paleo is a framework: There is no such thing as “perfect Paleo.” It may take some trial and error, but find the version that works best for you. A good strategy is to be vigilant for at least a month, slowly introduce foods one at a time, notice how they make you feel (cravings, energy, mood), and make adjustments based on this feedback. In other words, embrace the n=1 experiment of you!
As Stephanie Gaudreau so poignantly reminded us they wrapped up their session, “At the end of the day, we have to keep perspective on the fact that it’s just food. The whole point is to have a life that you love and enjoy.” Well said.
I hope this “serves you” (no pun intended). Please let me know in the Facebook comments which strategy appeals most to you. Or perhaps you can even share one of your own.