[Not all Holistic Squid readers eat a caveman diet, but many have decided to go paleo to improve their health. Debra Dorn shares some of her top tips for quick and easy paleo meals, that actually apply quite well to anyone who wants to eat healthy, home-cooked food – regardless of your diet.]
Are you struggling with trying to create easy paleo meals on a daily basis? I know a lot of people find paleo restrictive, expensive, inconvenient, and time-consuming. And some even believe that paleo cooking requires special talents and skills.
In my experience home cooking for over a decade now and going paleo since the end of 2012, none of these things have to be true if you follow some simple easy tricks…
Seven top tips to make easy paleo meals every day
#1 – Make cooking a habit
This concept is not unique to paleo, but to eating healthy in general and is probably the most important point. If you incorporate cooking as part of your daily routine and not view it as an inconvenient chore, you’ll be more successful.
How do I do this? I simply don’t question it.
I don’t keep any processed foods at home; and because I take leftovers for lunch, I know that if I don’t make dinner, I’ll also not have lunch ready the next day, which means I’ll be spending more money.
#2 – Shop seasonally and locally, when possible
By eating only what’s available in season, you’re benefitting in a few ways: you will get more varied nutrients from your vegetables and fruits; since the seasons dictate your choices, you'll be less bored; and since produce is generally less expensive when it is in season, you’ll be spending less.
When I can, I go to farmers’ markets and always try to shop locally. Otherwise I have a chart in my kitchen that tells me what is in season every month where I live. This way I always have a reference guide for knowing what I should be buying and when.
For example, in Spain (where I live), fresh chestnuts are only available in autumn and part of winter. So I plan my recipes and dishes accordingly. You can find seasonal produce charts for your area online or use this great tool (US only).
#3 – Be smart about shopping to save on time
Every two weeks, I buy my protein in bulk, divide it up, and freeze it in portions (enough for dinner with leftovers for lunch).
I buy my fresh vegetables weekly, since these can spoil, and in quantities that I’ll use. This saves me shopping time and also forces me to only use up what I have on hand.
In my pantry, I always have certain staples: eggs, garlic, onions, plenty of cooking fats (EVOO, butter, duck fat), sea salt, pepper, something with which to thicken sauces, canned tomatoes, wines for cooking, and plenty of herbs and spices. With these, I’m always ready to tackle almost any dish even on a whim.
#4 – Keep your daily meals simple and uncomplicated
Don’t try making a paleo version of chicken pot pie on a weeknight, unless you already have the recipe mastered.
Leave the experiments and complicated dishes for when you have the time and energy. Instead, stick to simpler things for which you don’t need recipes, such as sautéing on the stovetop or baking a fish in the oven.
Alternate your fats, such as butter with chopped parsley one day and olive oil the next time for the same cut of meat. Garnish with fresh herbs, easily sautéed vegetables (such as mushrooms, caramelized garlic or leek), and fresh salsas (such as a vinaigrette). These all take only minutes to prep and make, yet can totally transform your dishes from boring to gourmet.
#5 – One-pot meals
I love creating meals that only require one pot, such as stews, tagines, and braises. With any of these, you can use the same method and base (such as sautéed onions, garlic, tomato, and celery), and change the protein, fats, and vegetables and create a slightly new dish every time – plus it helps save on cleanup time.
#6 – Use leftovers to create new dishes
For the economizing home cook in Spain, it's traditional to transform leftover fried fish or certain stewed meats into a new meal. One of my favorites is pescado en sobreusa, which uses leftover fried fish heated up in a fragrant garlicky sauce that gives it a new flavor and a different presentation, thereby creating an entirely new dish.
For American palates, this recipe is a great example; or by further way of illustration, you could make hamburgers one day and create Salisbury steaks the next with the leftover burgers. Let your imagination lead your creativity in the kitchen.
#7 – Plan ahead
Plan ahead a couple of evenings during the week by cooking some things in advance. For example, while you cook dinner tonight, place a halved butternut squash in the oven to bake. You’ll have the cooked pulp ready to make a soup tomorrow in no time.
Although I prefer to allow what is available in the market determine my easy paleo meals for the week, some folks do better with more planning and organization.
If this is your situation, you can create your own meal plan for the week before you go shopping, just like you do for a party or special event. Write down what you'll be making and plan what you need to buy.
If even that is daunting or too time-consuming, you can always subscribe to a meal plan, which will spell it all out for you, including exact amounts of what you’ll need to purchase to create your easy paleo meals. Holistic Squid's own Real Plans is the way to go for the most delicious and convenient meal plans on the planet. Click here to learn more about Real Plans.
Now let's hear from you.
What are YOUR top tips for easy paleo meals?
Debra Dorn is the author, photographer, and recipe developer behind the paleo blog, The Saffron Girl. She is a home cook with a passion for traditional foods sourced locally. Debra writes about food, travel, expat musings, and life in Andalusia, Spain as a Spaniard.