Two months ago I wrote Part One of a series sharing our family’s experience with the Paleo Diet.
I hadn’t expected two things: 1) the overwhelming response to my Paleo story with tons of follow up questions, and 2) that my third child would arrive over a week early and I wouldn’t have the chance to finish my Paleo mini series in August as planned. Life is fun and funny!
Finally this week, I’m hoping to finish sharing our Paleo story. [And thank you to everyone who emailed me with questions and comments about Paleo! Hoping to answer them here by the end of the week.]
When my husband and I decided to give the Paleo Diet a try, we wondered if it was better to “ease into it” with a few grain/sugar/dairy changes to our diet at a time, or if it was better to go cold turkey and start Paleo full boar. We chose the latter option, and I’m glad we did. The initial carb/sugar cravings during the Paleo transition are rough – and if we’d had items in the house easily accessible to satisfy those cravings, I’m not sure we would have successfully made it through our initial Paleo 30 Day Challenge.
How We Got Started:
Following the advice of Paleo cookbook author Sarah Fragoso in her book Everday Paleo, I went through our family’s pantry, refrigerator and freezer and got rid of all our sugar, wheat, grains, and dairy. I donated unopened pantry items to a local food shelter, I gave opened boxes of cereal and baking products away to girlfriends and neighbors, and we let our kids eat up the dairy in the house before “Paleo Day One” started.
Then we stocked our pantry with some new “Paleo” staples:
- almond meal (flour)
- coconut flour
- coconut milk (pure full fat coconut milk from a can)
- unsweetened coconut flakes
- assorted nuts and seeds
- a wide variety of spices
- tomato paste (a substitute for sugary ketchup in cooking)
- fresh Medjool dates (a yummy dessert and also used as a sweetener in Paleo baking)
- Unsweetened dried fruit (raisins, cranberreis, etc).
- Plantain chips (alternative to chips for snacking and dipping)
Along with lots of meat, eggs, and fresh fruits and veggies, these became the canvas for creating delicious Paleo meals including baked goods and treats/desserts.
It’s All About Different Ingredients – Not Different Tastes
I soon learned that cooking Paleo did not require a HUGE new selection of foods – it just required some basic new staples for our pantry and fridge, along with the ample amounts of fresh produce and proteins that we were already accustomed to purchasing at the grocery store.
I realize now that the biggest transition, as our family’s “cook,” was for me to change my thought process in the kitchen. We could still have “spaghetti and meatballs” and “fried rice” and beef stew, but we’d enjoy those flavors and textures with different ingredients.
Instead of relying on rice and potatoes and noodles to be the normal carb staples at dinner time, I now had to think “riced cauliflower” and “spaghetti squash” and “sweet potatoes” as our carbs. Once my thought process and grocery list changed, the Paleo meal planning and cooking became fairly easy.
This book became my Paleo “bible” for learning how to set up a Paleo-friendly kitchen:
For the first month or so of Paleo, we cooked out of Paleo cookbooks and Paleo food blogs a LOT. It was an expensive season for our food budget, but it helped us explore a new way of cooking and eating in a fun, adventurous way. It also kept us excited about the Paleo lifestyle.
As time went on, however, we found that there were certain Paleo recipes that our entire family loved and looked forward to the most, and those became the new family staples that still appear on our dinner table monthly if not weekly.
Having a new set of staple breakfasts, lunches, and dinners in our family repertoire immensely helped us get the food budget under control. It standardized our grocery store lists and we didn’t waste any food because we purchased and cooked things we loved.
We still try a new Paleo recipe as often as once a week (less frequently while I was pregnant) which helps maintain our Paleo excitement and our food adventure spirits.
I’ve collected many Paleo cookbooks along the way. Here are some of my favorites (all of them should be available through your local library…albeit with long wait lists):
A new favorite I’m reading right now (not pictured) is Against All Grain by Danielle Walker. Her web blog (againstallgrain.com) is also a great resource.
The Key to Sticking with Paleo:
I know a lot of people who’ve given the Paleo diet a try, but very few who’ve been able to maintain the lifestyle long term. It’s a difficult lifestyle choice when the world we live in is so very grain heavy and sugar laden.
I am 1000000% convinced that the reason my family and I still cook and bake Paleo and still love the Paleo lifestyle is because:
Heck and golly goodness we cheat – and often.
I remember when we first started Paleo saying to my husband: “what about our favorite Italian date night restaurant – does this mean we’ll never eat there ever again?”
To which my rockstar man replied. “No way – we’ll go there and we’ll eat bread and order ravioli and eat tiramisu and enjoy every single bite.”
And that’s exactly what we do.
When our kids are invited to a birthday party, we let them eat the biggest piece of cake they are offered. When they exhibit exceptional behavior in church, we take them to Dunkin Donuts for a big ol’ chocolate frosted with sprinkles (doesn’t happen as often as we’d like it too. Sigh…) When the Hubs and I go out for date night or over to a friends’ house for dinner: we cheat and eat what we want or what we are offered, and we don’t feel guilty about it.
Going off diet for us is “making a decision” not “cheating” and we enjoy it and leave the guilt wagon behind. Sometimes we feel gross after going off diet and wish we’d stuck to Paleo. But it keeps us from feeling deprived and it renews our commitment to eating sugar and grain free.
Dr. Loren Cordain, recognized as one of the founders of the modern Paleo movement, recommends an “80/20” rule for Paleo. He suggests trying to eat Paleo at least 80% of the time, and allowing yourself to “cheat” the other twenty percent. My family finds this principle works really well for our family.
And next time…
Here’s a final Paleo tidbit for this already way to long post today: you don’t have to make a major life transition to Paleo in order to cook healthy, delicious Paleo recipes for your family. With a few changes in the way you think about meals and plan your family’s menu, you can easily start incorporating Paleo into your family’s diet.
Next time, I’ll tell you how.