Are you working on a Paleo challenge but struggling to fit in all that cooking and meal prep – and maybe looking longingly at the prepackaged “Paleo” bars and cookies at the checkout counter? Or maybe you’re craving snack food more than you thought you would, or you’re not sure what to even eat for snacks without dried fruit and nut butter.
Trying to fit Paleo into a modern lifestyle isn’t easy. If you’re already doing it, or even if you’re trying your best, pat yourself on the back, because you’re swimming upstream against a very strong current of takeout culture and convenience foods at every turn. To help you along the way, here’s a masterpost of tips, advice, simple recipes, and resources for making your challenge a success.
Finding Time to Cook Without Prepackaged “Paleo” Foods
A lot of people struggle with Paleo because they’re “too busy to cook.” So they end up eating a lot of convenience foods that they didn’t want to eat, just because they think they don’t have time to make something at home. Alternately, they end up way too reliant on processed “Paleo-labeled” treats like bars and trail mix – which is exactly what the Paleo Basics challenge asks you to eliminate.
Here’s how to squeeze Paleo into your daily schedule without relying on the prepackaged convenience foods, sugary smoothies, or a handful of trail mix masquerading as a “meal.” Pick your problem below to get solutions and resources for tackling it.
I don’t have time to make breakfast in the morning.
- Solution: go for a make-ahead breakfast, like egg muffins/mini frittatas or mini meatloaves.
- Resources: Here are 8 make-ahead breakfast recipes.
I don’t have time to pack and prep lunches.
- Solution: cook a double dinner at night. Put half on your plate and half on your lunchbox. You just packed your lunch in about a minute of extra time.
- Resources: Here are all our recipes tagged as “good for leftovers” for your browsing convenience.
I don’t have time to make dinner after work.
- Solutions: (pick one or more)
- Resources: Here are all our recipes tagged as “fast cook” for inspiration.
What can I eat for quick snacks?
- Solutions: (pick one or more)
- Eat enough at meals so you don’t need snacks at all. It’s OK to eat big meals. There’s no metabolic advantage to eating six times a day: the only reason to do it is if you like it.
- Eat exactly what you’d eat at a meal, just less of it. Good food is nutritious whenever you eat it; there’s no reason why “snacks” demand special kinds of food.
- Resources: Check out this list of 10 nut-free, low-sugar Paleo snacks; mix and match until you get something with both protein and vegetables in it, and chow down!
Tip: if you batch-cook one or more of the following at the beginning of the week, you’ll have a much easier time finding snacks later:
Keeping the Basics Interesting
“Basics” is not a synonym for “boring!” You don’t have to give up flavor or pleasure just because you’re giving up stuff that’s designed to imitate junk food. In fact when you let go of the “Paleo treats,” you might be surprised to discover exactly how enjoyable your “regular food” can be.
Some tips and resources for keeping your interest going:
- Don’t skimp on fat or salt. Both are perfectly fine to eat (fat doesn't make you fat, and salt isn't a devil food), and they give your
food flavor. If you try to eat meals without fat or salt, your food will taste like cardboard and of course you’ll be bored of it – so don’t do that to yourself! Maybe as a special treat to carry you through the challenge, you could experiment with duck fat or something else really luxurious.
- Explore all your vegetable options. Challenge yourself to try one or two new vegetables per week – most people have at least one thing in the produce section that they’ve always kind of looked sideways at but never really explored.
- Switch up your leftovers to avoid getting sick of recipes you batch-cook. Here’s how to use leftovers without getting bored.
- Look up recipes and techniques to make basic staple foods interesting: here are some ideas for eggs, roast chicken, salad, and ground beef.
- Keep your mind stimulated in other ways. If you’re relying on food for all the interest or stimulation you get in your day, then it’s going to be awfully hard to give up hyper-stimulating junk food: humans crave pleasure, and we need to get it from somewhere. If you’re trying to cut the junk, try introducing a non-food pleasure as well to shift your focus.
But Why Can’t I Have Paleo Treats on the Paleo Basics Challenge?
You “can” have anything you like: you’re an adult and you get to decide what goes into your mouth. If you want to, you “can” have Paleo treats – in fact, if you want to, you “can” have regular, non-Paleo treats full of high-fructose corn syrup and refined flour; it’s not like they’re illegal. Nobody will stop you at the door and set a dog to sniffing your bags for hidden sugar.
But for the Paleo Basics challenge, you’re choosing to abstain (and yes, the way you say it matters!) from those treats even though you technically “can” have them. Treats aren’t part of the Paleo Basics challenge because it’s about your emotional relationship with food as much as your physical diet. It’s fine to enjoy occasional treats; it’s not healthy to be dependent on food for comfort or entertainment. If you really are eating those treats occasionally, within the spirit of Paleo, then abstaining for one week shouldn’t be a big deal at all.
If you’re finding it impossibly difficult to even think about not eating Paleo treats for a week, it might be a sign that you’re depending on them for emotional reasons – to feel good after a long day, to handle work boredom or stress, to reward yourself for a job well done. In that case, it might be worthwhile to take a hard look at your relationship with food, and maybe some ways to reward yourself without food.
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