Meal planning is very helpful when you’re Paleo. Otherwise, it is too easy to get into a rut with the same old food or fall off the Paleo wagon when you’re pinched for time (I’ll just eat a bowl of cereal this one time). You should also plan to cook more than you need for a given meal, so that you have easy leftovers for lunch during the week. I’m not sure what it is about lunch, but it seems to be the most challenging meal. A lot of Paleo followers cook up big batches of food on the weekends when they have more time. I remember grilling something like 10 chicken breasts one Sunday. It was nice to just pull a pre-grilled chicken breast out of the fridge during the week for a quick meal.
When I started out with Paleo, I relied on a couple of books to get started; The Paleo Diet Cookbook by Loren Cordain and The Primal Blueprint Cookbook by Mark Sisson. They’re not bad at all. But, then I discovered two more great sources for more variety and I really like their recipes a lot: Everyday Paleo by Sarah Fragoso and Elana’s Pantry. Elana just posted a great article with a weekly Paleo meal plan. It is a great example of what a week of Paleo meal looks like.
I have my usual Paleo staples that I mix and match every week to make meals and try to get some variety. The other key to variety is being creative with dry spices (e.g., chilies, curry, turmeric, etc.), herbs (e.g., basil, oregano, rosemary, etc.), and oils (e.g., olive oil, coconut oil, hazelnut oil, etc.). I like spicy food and I like to experiment when I cook, so it rarely comes out the same twice (which is fun for me). My staples include:
- Ground beef and turkey (the most affordable)
- Different cuts of beef (steaks, roast, etc.)
- Cuts of pork (roast, loin)
- Whole chicken
- Chicken breasts (boneless for fast and easy cooking)
- Some bacon and organic chicken sausage
- Lots of eggs
- Frozen fish (salmon, tilapia, etc.)
- Canned salmon and tuna (fast and easy cooking)
- Canned white meat chicken (fast and easy cooking)
- Fruits (apple, bananas, and oranges) and more variety when seasonal (berries, kiwi, peaches, etc.)
- Fresh veggies (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, mushrooms, onions, sweet potatoes) and seasonal for variety (e.g., chard, kale, brussels sprouts, turnips, etc.)
- Nuts and nut flours (e.g., walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews)
To keep things more within budget, we keep an eye open for deals and sales. Then we’ll buy a ton of that (usually meats) and stock up the freezer. We also belong to a local organic farm coop. Local Harvest is a great site that lets you find organic farms and markets near you. Belonging to a CSA ensures lots of variety, since we never know what they will deliver in the box every week. Plus, it is more affordable than buying the equivalent at a place like Whole Foods (although I do use Whole Foods for a lot of stuff that is hard to find anywhere else). We’re also exploring going in with a bunch of folks at our CrossFit box and buying a whole cow from a local organic ranch. Again, better quality and cheaper than buying the equivalent at a store.
To plan meals, I find that it is easiest to have almost the same thing for breakfast every day. That’s when I am most time-crunched and don’t want to have to think about it. So, almost every morning I have a 2-3 egg omelet with a variety of stuff mixed in (e.g., chicken sausage, mushrooms, spinach, sun dried tomatoes, cut-up steak from previous night, etc.) and a big cup of black coffee. Omelets can be filled with an almost infinite variety of good stuff and you can use all kinds of spices to shake things up. I don’t get bored with eggs and they are a fantastic source of cheap protein. Contrary to old-fashioned popular wisdom, eggs do not raise your cholesterol and are actually good for you (yolk and all).
Lunch is typically leftovers from the night before (that’s why we cook up larger dinners). Again, it’s easy when you’re time-crunched or want something to take to work. In a pinch, I can also just grab one of the cans of salmon, tuna, or chicken and mix it with some frozen veggies for a quick stir fry or put them in a greens salad. If I’m out at a restaurant for lunch, I like sashimi, salads with chicken or steak added, lettuce-wrapped sandwiches or burgers, grilled fish or chicken, etc.
Dinner is where we spend our creative energy and time. I often grill steaks or hamburgers. We also use our crock pot with a beef or pork roast or loin and lots of veggies. I do a lot of oven-roasted veggies with just olive oil, salt, and pepper (e.g., cauliflower, broccoli, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, kale). I’ll also do oven-roasted chicken and fish, often with a spicy nut crust using the nut flours and some spices.
Hope this helps you get started! The books and web sites I listed above are a great source of inspiration for all kinds of different Paleo dishes.