If you’re new to cooking from scratch, the idea of pulling out the vegetable peeler, knives, cutting boards, skillets and baking sheets every single night may seem a little daunting. Or a lot daunting. Maybe you’re like me and you just can’t decide what you want to make. Or maybe you find a recipe you want to try, but it contains so many weird ingredients or unfamiliar methods you get overwhelmed and give up before you even make it to the grocery store.
Don’t let these things be your barriers to healthy eating – or Paleo eating. Let’s break it down. Plan for each meal to include a protein, a fat, lots of veggies and maybe some fruits. If you stick to this, you really can’t go wrong.
When you go to the store, buy enough protein for the week. My basket usually has a couple of packages of chicken breast (or thighs or tenders), a few packages(ish) of grass fed ground beef, a bag of frozen tilapia, a few cans of wild-caught tuna and an occasional roast or salmon filet. Pork is a good option, too (pork chops, a good quality bacon or a pork roast – but those don’t find their way into my basket because of the pork allergy). Oh yeah, don’t forget the grain-fed eggs. I buy two dozen, and most of the time I’m the only one who eats them. Don’t have the budget for grass-fed, cage free and wild-caught? Please don’t make a mad dash for the Hamburger Helper. Just buy conventional meat and eggs. Sure, the cleaner your food is the better, but keep it real and don’t use it as an excuse for stocking up on cheaper, processed (and chemical filled) foods.
Now let’s talk fat. When most people think of fat, they think of oils and lard, but that isn’t the case here. I make sure to have a jar of coconut oil, olive oil and ghee on hand (but butter is fine, even though it’s dairy, if you can’t afford ghee). But fat is so much more than this. Fat will keep you full and add flavor to your meal. You know those meals that just aren’t quite satisfying or leave you hungry a short time later? Chances are it was a high-carb, low fat meal. Feel like the meal is missing something? Toss in some healthy fat and I’m willing to bet it makes all the difference. I make sure to buy avocados, olives, coconut (shredded and unsweetened), coconut milk (full-fat in the can), nuts and seeds (all kinds).
Vegetables and fruits are going to be the biggest part of your meals from a “volume” standpoint. Buy seasonal (it’s cheaper and fresher) and mix them up. The standard things I put in the basket (or grab from a farmers’ market table) are sweet potatoes, red potatoes, onions, peppers (all kinds), beets, squash (spaghetti, butternut, zucchini and pretty much anything else), eggplant, brussel sprouts, spinach, lettuce, mushrooms and broccoli. I buy less fruits, which are usually bananas (the guys mostly eat them), berries, apples, peaches and pears. In the winter I’ll buy frozen berries because they’re much cheaper and will last longer. Some canned items are a good idea, too, like diced tomatoes or tomato sauce (none for me, sad face), quartered artichoke hearts, pineapple and mandarine oranges packed in 100% juice. I keep the canned stuff to a minimum, but it’s a great idea to have them on hand for those time-pinch situations. As a bonus, the juice from the fruit or the brine from the artichokes can add some great flavor to sauces or dressings.
Don’t forget the seasonings! See my post here about pantry staples. A splash of vinegar can brighten up a dish, salt can act as a umami, and simply swapping the seasonings in a breakfast hash can make it taste totally different.
For some people, taking a day and doing some batch cooking or preparation can really come in handy on busy nights. Sometimes I do this and sometimes I don’t, but I’ll tell you one thing: when I’ve done it, I’m sure glad I have! Now, you can’t batch prep everything, because not everything will keep very long once it’s washed, chopped and cooked. But there’s a lot you can do.
Chicken – toss 6-8 chicken breasts in lemon juice and olive oil. Season with sea salt, black pepper and onion powder, then bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. Will stay good at least 3-4 days (maybe longer, but that’s as long as mine lasts). You can pull it out and chop them or slice them for a lot of different dishes.
Eggs – the 9 minute egg is my favorite. I’ll cook anywhere from 6-12 eggs at a time. Let the eggs come to room temperature, then put in a steamer basket over a pot of boiling water. Cover and let steam for 9 minutes. Immediately submerge in an ice bath and let stand at least 10 minutes. Peel and keep in the refrigerator until needed. Will last at least 3-4 days but, again, maybe longer. I use mine before they go bad.
Vegetables – this one gets a little trickier. Root veggies, like carrots and potatoes, can be chopped ahead of time. Soak white potatoes in cold water before storing to prevent them from browning. Sweet potatoes do fine without soaking. Hard squash, like butternut, can be chopped ahead and will keep for a little while, but softer squashes like summer and zucchini should be used within a couple of days. Fruits – don’t bother. They’re easy enough to wash and eat.
Up next: creating a meal. Stay tuned!