Updated: Aug 11, 2018
You've taken the plunge.
Vows made, line in the sand drawn, courage screwed to that sticky place, you've taken Paleo Step One: cleaned all the bad food out of your fridge and pantry.
Heaps of processed food, bags of sugar, flour, bread, chocolate chips, potato chips, corn chips, cheese whiz, frozen pizzas, canned beans and stew--even vienna style pork sausages--all line your garbage can or a neighbor's pantry.
Every ancestral lifestyle system starts with this "liberation" of your cooking space.
Now it's time for Step Two: lining up all that great ultra-natural, non-processed food the books tell you about.
Maybe you've already shopped for your new Paleo-Primal-Keto friendly food staples. Maybe you've lined up 50 "Paleo endorsed" recipe cards so you can hit the ground running. Maybe you've adopted or downloaded or mapped out some Paleo pundit's 21-day or 30-day meal plan.
Maybe you've convinced yourself you can cook a little ahead each day, and precisely schedule what leftovers you'll eat at each of the next 15 meals.
Maybe you actually have time for all this...
I sure as heck don't.
This is the first bump in the road for many freshly minted Paleoids: where does all your safe, program-approved, organic, grass-fed micronutrient rich food come from? How do you make this work and still have a life outside your kitchen?
Your new food prep menu: it ain't like it used to be
I've read close to a dozen "how to Paleo" books. They all offer meal plans, menus, and endless advice on making dishes so tasty you won't even miss the hyper-palatable, bioengineered, carb-riddled, GMO-and-pesticide-laden recipes we all grew up with.
The authors are smart--they realize that most of us are addicted, not just to conventional food, but to its CONVENIENCE. To complete the Paleo "sale," especially for hesitant newbies, they must dangle some version of "normalcy"--which typically includes mapping out all your food for the first month.
We all remember the old normal: work, family, school or other pressures that keep us days or even weeks between home-cooked meals. It's just too easy to pick up take-out or fast food, rip open shiny plastic packages (muffins, cold cuts, yogurts, salads, whole pre-cooked meals), and thrust an endless unholy procession of imitation food into our microwaves.
Read the labels? Why? The food tastes good, I can eat it RIGHT NOW and "they wouldn't sell it if it was bad for us"...right? All that stuff has been tested. Good to go.
Take more than 10 minutes to prep a meal? Madness...
Paleo living (and EATING) in the real world
You need to add method to your madness.
Kitchen time management is now crucial. Not everyone has time to cook for hours each day. Me least of all.
Between us, my wife and I have two day jobs and run four separate businesses. When we first went Paleo, we still had one teenager in the home. Spare time did not exist.
There was NO FREAKING WAY we were going to plow through myriad (and endless) tasty Paleo-friendly recipes, juggling cookbooks and organic spices, patiently chopping shallots or rendering duck fat.
Those recipes are great, don't get me wrong. We try them...maybe quarterly.
For us, convenience was (and still is) king. Once the alarm rings on Monday morning, we are running flat out through Friday night, then catching up over the weekend.
But...we still had to confront our mini-revolution's demands...and there is VERY little Paleo- (or Primal- or God forbid, Keto-) friendly fast food. Hardly any "convenience" food.
We realized that 95% of what we would eat most weeks...would be made by us.
And so we inaugurated Food Fest.
Driving a steak through the heart of "old normal"
We decided to do all our cooking on Sunday. And I mean all of it. We might grill the odd salmon steak during the week. Maybe.
And, since I do most of the cooking, I don't slow down for complex recipes. My goal is to have at least three different protein sources, organic salad, and roasted or grilled organic vegetables (including squash or sweet potatoes if needed) prepped in adequate quantities for the week. We usually have a great variety of tasty, 100% Paleo-compliant ready-to-eat food right through Saturday afternoon.
Its like having a Paleo buffet open all day, every day. You just pull out what you want, warm it up if needed.
When Kathy tires of my narrow culinary range, she contributes something fancier. Her daughter Julia stayed with us for awhile and also upped the gourmet game. Julia invented the phrase "food fest" (and lost 50 lbs going Paleo with us.)
It became a great family activity, and two or three people can batch cook quite a bit of food in an afternoon or evening. I have the rhythm down now, and often do 100% of the cooking myself.
No, we aren't the only batch-prep culinary artists out there (this is popular among college students)...but it was new for us.
Read the previous sentence ten times.
Food Fest fine focus
We tend to shop for the week on Sunday morning, relax a bit, and dive in around 4:00 or 5:00 PM. We usually finish by 9:00 PM. Your schedule may vary. Popular items:
(any three or four protein ideas...)
oven baked grass fed beef burger patties
roasted whole organic chicken with herbs (lately maybe just chicken thighs)
grass fed steak
organic turkey burger patties
wild caught tuna salad (occasionally salmon salad)
pan-seared grass fed beef liver or heart
"Meatzza" once every four weeks or so
and all the non-negotiable accompaniments:
medley of organic salad greens
soaked (24 hrs) then dehydrated (12-18 hrs) raw organic nuts (almonds, pecans, macadamias)--we do nuts about every two weeks
bone broth--about every 6 weeks
3-4 pounds of roasted, steamed or grilled organic vegetables
sometimes a frittata or egg bake (omega-3 or pastured eggs)
We actually killed an old standard 4-burner electric stove with all this. Between all the baking, sautéing, overnight simmering (bone broth), and 12-16 hour low-heat nut dehydration, it just...stopped, right before Thanksgiving! We now have a great 5-burner flat top with dual oven, and a separate Excalibur nut dehydrator. I have had every single burner and both ovens going at certain times, while the Excalibur purrs in the background.
We also try to have on hand:
precooked compliant/organic sausage
raw or at least grass fed cheese
Avocados (or organic guacamole)
canned oily fish (MUST be in olive oil if not water), like sardines or wild caught tuna
organic nut & coconut butter
We use a huge assortment of Spice House and Penzey's spices to vary flavors.
Gained: up to 10 extra hours in our work week
Your first few Food Fests may run long until you get used to batch cooking. I've done creditable work in as little as three hours. You could also to do some prep both Saturday and Sunday. The key is starting something that will complete by itself (roasting chicken or baking burgers) while you whip up salad or prep vegetables.
A great lesson: moving burgers, bacon and chicken into the oven. Stovetop was just too messy and labor intensive.
Now that it's just the two of us (and me a borderline Keto), we don't make as much protein, though I hold the line at three selections minimum. This prevents boredom and maintains protein diversity.
The big payoff: 3-4 hours cooking on one day yield us 5-10 hours per person during the week in EXTRA TIME (compared to making the same dishes from scratch, daily.)
It's that or hire Daisy and Mrs. Patmore.
Winning the most crucial battles: fast food, takeout, travel
Planning ahead becomes a way of life, especially away from home.
Lunch at the office? Sudden overnight business trip? Sick relative? These can leave you scrambling for nutrient-dense, non-processed meals--if you don't already have them on hand. Complete your weekend Food Fest and all you have to do is portion out the burgers, steak, vegetables, frittata, hard boiled eggs etc., zip up your cooler and go. It's all there waiting for you.
Kathy is a great example. During the school year she gets to school at 7:30 AM, teaches until 3:00 PM with only one short lunch break--and immediately begins after-school activities that last until 5:00 or later. THEN she runs home to teach private music lessons for 30-90 minutes-- and grades papers after that!
Her faculty "free lunch" tempts insidiously--with 1950's cafeteria-style processed or pre-prepped items. Friday is pizza day. No labels to read, no control over additives, processed oils, refined starchy carb content, added sugars, pesticides, GMO-s, you name it...but it all sure looks good and tastes great!
Instead of throwing herself, famished and overworked, under this bus, Kathy has a mini fridge in her classroom. She stocks this every week with Food Fest staples, including "fast" stuff like organic fruit, nuts and nut butter, grass-fed yogurt, tons of salad. No runs to McDonalds or Dairy Queen needed.
At home, all she does is open the fridge.
While I work from home, I often travel on weekends. Rather than freak out over finding a nearby Whole Foods, I just load up the cooler. Good coffee (and maybe wine) is my real challenge on the road.
Dining out? Just pay attention
Yes, it's possible to survive--even enjoy-- the occasional restaurant meal. Fast food is out, of course, but "all day breakfast" places and steak houses are great bets.
Ordering eggs and bacon (or steak or pork chops) just about anywhere won't kill you. Maybe don't think too hard about the oils used on the grill. Omelettes are great if you can tolerate dairy.
Before my Keto phase I would splurge on hash browns (or mashed potatoes at dinner.) No harm done. I order sliced tomatoes in place of toast.
Any decent steak house will let you order meat without sauces, and substitute vegetables for potatoes, pasta, or other forbidden grainy yuck du jour. Most places offer balsamic vinegar and olive oil for salads.
Not "just" cooking, but regaining control of your life
Not everyone is willing, or even able, to make these changes.
Food addiction, or at least co-dependence, dominate Western societies. Openly bio-enhanced, hyper-palatable processed foods--with all their acknowledged health problems--control millions of lives.
For so many of us, the idea of giving up (bread, pasta, cereals, beans, desserts, mom's special casserole, insert your deadly-but-delicious favorite dish here) is horrifying, maybe unthinkable.
This is the hallmark of addiction, not simple "food preferences."
The Paleo lifestyle breaks this cycle, but success requires vigilance against addictive cravings--especially at the beginning.
Your weekly Food Fest puts everything you need within reach.
And don't forget:
DAVID WHITESIDE IS NOT A DOCTOR and does not give medical advice or treatment. He offers information and personal experience only. Nothing you read on this website or blog should be construed as medical advice or as intended to supersede information you get from your medical professional. Following the advice given here or on any recommended resource site does not create a doctor-patient relationship or create liability for David or anyone else. David is not liable for any loss or complication you experience from following any diet or taking any action. You should check with your properly accredited medical professional if you think you are injured or ill.