Paleo Meal Kits: Are They Worth It?

The mail order meal kit seems to be all the rage right now. It appears to be one of those “catching up with Europe” things, as meal kits in this fashion started in Sweden with Middagsfrid in 2007 and Linas Matkasse in 2008. HelloFresh, which was already going strong in Germany, jumped the pond in 2012, just as Blue Apron and Plated were getting started.

Now, with more than 150 meal kit companies active in the U.S. as of March 2017, there is something for every diet plan, and that includes the Paleo diet.

Sun Basket, a meal kit company out of San Francisco, and Green Chef, a Boulder, Colorado-based company that is a subsidiary of HelloFresh, both started in 2014 and offered meal kits for alternative diets such as vegan, Paleo, vegetarian and keto. Naturally, I had to take a look at both of these diets to see how their fare fared.

How It Works

The way these meal kits work is this: You sign up for meals. A box comes to your home with meals the way you request them, and by that, I mean that you tell the company how many people are eating. Each meal comes with enough for two people unless you are asking for a larger plan, which both companies offer.

Each Paleo box arrives with meals separated into bags, and the proteins underneath the bags resting on an ice pack. Both companies use sustainable materials and recyclable packaging. The bags will contain components of the meal — the vegetables, specific spices, sauces and in some cases oils or fats. While Green Chef tends to have most things pre-cut, you’ll do the cutting yourself with Sun Basket. Instruction cards will also let you know what you need to have on hand, from pans and measuring cups to olive oil and salt and pepper. And, because you are technically the chef here if you want to try a touch of cayenne in that chili sauce or a little turmeric with that ground lamb, you have that freedom. And, because the components of each recipe are separate, you don’t have to put the cashews in that stir-fry if you don’t want to.

Something to consider that I didn’t until it was too late is food sensitivities and allergies. I have a very strange allergy. I can’t touch shellfish…when it’s raw. As long as it’s cooked, I’m fine. So if I’m making a dish with shrimp in it, I buy cooked shrimp. So, when one of my Green Chef dishes came with raw shrimp, I was a little at a loss. I have, literally, never cooked shrimp in my life due to this allergy. Fortunately, it all came peeled and deveined, so my contact with it before I put it in the pan was mercifully short. Both companies offer alternatives to a certain extent, so, if you can’t have something like this, check the menu and see how you can change it.

Going to be out of town or have too many guests to waste good food like this on? Just skip the meal. But make sure you do it in time or you’re getting a box anyway. On the flip side of that very shiny coin, if you find out the family isn’t coming after all or you have to cancel your trip out of town, make sure you get on your account quickly to unskip, and they’ll send you your meals.

All of these meals are preplanned, so you can look ahead a few weeks to find out what you’re getting and decide what changes you want to make or if you want to skip a meal or maybe invite that boyfriend over (or girlfriend. We’re not particular here) for a great meal.

The Customer

I am not necessarily an average customer. Or maybe I’m fooling myself, and I am. Before I rate these boxes, let me explain who is ordering them.

I am single, and, barring some bizarre, misplaced miracle from on high, I will remain that way. I don’t have kids to feed. I don’t have a significant other. I am only cooking for myself. So when I set my deliveries to three meals a week, what I’m actually getting is six. That’s not necessarily going to be the way it works for people with families who need to cook for more than one person.

I work 40-55 hours a week. Do I want to stand and cook? Not always, but the fact I don’t have to plan the meal and gather the components is half the battle.

So, I will be rating these boxes from that perspective because, right now, it’s the only perspective I have.

The Meal Kits

Sun Basket:

Sun Basket offers Paleo, vegan, vegetarian, Mediterranean, and gluten-free meals. The selections I got in my box included a salmon dish with wild caught Keta salmon, red cabbage and orange slaw and a chili lime sauce for the fish. There was a steak dish with a mushroom pan sauce and Brussels sprouts, which I roasted and drizzled with maple syrup. Finally, there was ground lamb dish, köfte, with meat patties and a cucumber/sweet red pepper salad and tahini sauce. I have prepared all of these meals, and I would recommend every one of them.

Plenty of food. I’m not finishing any of these meals and then deciding to eat the other serving. There was more than enough food with each dish.

One of the added values of Sun Basket is that all of their “recipes” come in a little glossy magazine. What that means is that you get all that week’s recipes in your box. Not just the Paleo recipes, but the vegan, the vegetarian, the Mediterranean. Now, keep in mind these aren’t conventional recipes. There is no “1 cup of this” or “1/2 lb. of that.” You get your meals pre-measured. But, any enterprising cook could take a look at the recipes and piece together some of them to experiment.

 

Green Chef:

Green Chef offers the same options as far as alternative diets that Sun Basket does, as well as omnivore, carnivore and keto. The box is virtually identical to Sun Basket’s, and both of these companies offer fully recyclable packaging.

My Green Chef meals were a shrimp and vegetable stir-fry, a Greek-inspired pork meatball dish with cauliflower “rice” sauteed with artichoke and kalamata olives and a chicken and roasted vegetable dish that I have not yet cooked. The two I have eaten were wonderful meals with plenty of food and great on flavor.

Green Chef does not come with the same glossy book full of instructions and recipes, but it comes with an instruction card for each meal. The stickers holding the bags of food closed are a particular color and the instruction card is colored to match so there’s no mistaking which ingredients should be in front of you.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

What are the benefits to these meal kits? The biggest is convenience. The meals come planned with everything needed to prepare a perfectly Paleo meal. Both meal kits use organic foods, though Sun Basket does charge extra for the organic meats. Both meal kits outline exactly what is in the kits, just not the measurements. For example, if there is a packet of spices, the recipe card or book with list exactly what spices are in the packet. They may also recommend spices from your own cabinet that might change the flavor slightly. Sun Basket’s instructions also feature a “Kids Can” section for families, listing things children can do to help prepare the meal like peel oranges, stir cooking vegetables or manning the time for specifically timed food items. Both sets of instructions are set up in such a way that no time is wasted. While one item might be simmering, you’re working on another. The food is healthful and flavorful. I can honestly say nothing was bland. Both kits also encourage you to be your own chef. Don’t like spicy, don’t add this. I don’t like cashews, and I’m allergic to walnuts, so I took those things from two different meals and didn’t add them. I gave them to my father, who is a big fan of both cashews and walnuts.

Another benefit is the fact that you’re cooking. I had never roasted Brussels Sprouts. I’d never made “rice” with artichoke and kalamata olives. Will I be able to do that without the meal kit. I will now, but I don’t think some of the dishes or cooking options would have occurred to me if I hadn’t been using a meal kit. Unless you are the chef of an international-styled restaurant, you’re going to be stepping out of your comfort zone a bit. You are going to learn something.

Menus for both of these boxes are posted with plenty of time for you to decide you might not want something. Say you see something two weeks ahead that has roasted beets, and you wonder what horrible person would feed someone beets Everyone knows beets are a part of a secret society plan to cull the population. (Are too! Prove me wrong!) But I’m looking ahead, and I manage to evade certain death by choosing a different dish without strategically included beets.

Cons:

Is there a downside to meal kits? Yes, there are downsides that don’t necessarily include beets. If you are looking for something convenient that will keep you from having to cook, this is not it. You will be slicing and dicing and frying and mixing and toasting and roasting. It’s not going to keep you off your feet.

The sites are okay. They aren’t necessarily that user-friendly. They want you to get on and order not surf around. They aren’t hiding anything, they just make the website to have a single purpose. Yes, there are FAQs. Yes, there are other areas to explore…a little. But, every time I was on either of the sites, I had to do a little nosing around to remember how to get answers, alternatives or another payment option.

The final downside is the cost. For three two-person meals per week, I will pay $78.95 for Sun Basket and $84.95 for Green Chef. That comes to $11.99 for each of six meals for Sun Basket and $12.99 for each of six meals for Green Chef. Each company charges $6.99 for shipping and handling. As far as cost goes, these boxes are only dinner. You still have to shop for breakfast and lunch. To decide if this is reasonable money, you will have to figure your grocery bill and add in meals eaten out for convenience. Do they come to $11.99 plus shipping (about $13)? Meal kits are not cheap.

Finally…

Are they worth it?

Yes…to an extent.

I’m not going to give a straight answer here. Yes, even as expensive as they are, I think the pros still outweigh the cons, particularly for those new to Paleo who have no idea how to make a paleo meal. Even for someone like me, who has been eating Paleo-ish for a year and has no problems coming up with meal plans, these meal kits are a fantastic opportunity to do something with my food I would never have done otherwise. I’m learning I have a few favorites I didn’t know about, that I prefer my cauliflower rice fresh as opposed to frozen, that I like roasted Brussels sprouts and that I like feeling like a professional chef standing in my kitchen mincing garlic, toasting pine nuts and coarsely chopping cilantro. That’s why I’m going to commit to getting boxes twice a month, but no more.

Try a box or two or three. I can personally say the food is terrific and flavorful.

Where you go from there is entirely up to you and your finances.

Paleo on the Go

Paleo done best is at home with fresh food that you prepare yourself. Unfortunately, that is not always a reality. Trips, travel schedules, business meetings and long hours can cause you to slip back into your old ways. Don’t worry about it. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

But it also doesn’t necessarily have to happen. With a little pre-planning and foreknowledge, you can be prepared to Paleo on the go.

Be Prepared

It’s not always the case that the boss comes in, says, “We need you at this place, like, yesterday,” puts you on a plane without so much as a change of clothes, and you find yourself out of your element. Most people have the chance to plan.

If you know where you’re going and where you’re going to be staying, you’re already ahead of the game. Get a hold of the hotel. Find out if there’s a refrigerator. Most hotels these days have a fridge, microwave and a coffee pot, particularly if it’s an extended stay hotel. Ask about their breakfast. Even a cold continental will have things like hard-boiled eggs and fruit.

Keep in mind that most hotels will not allow you to cook in the rooms. It’s not what the rooms are for and cooking in the rooms is very often against fire codes. It’s not something you want to do anyway. Hotel rooms aren’t great places to try to wash dishes. If you’re driving to your location, though, precooked food will go into the microwave nicely. And don’t forget the fridges are small. A lot of little Tupperwares take up a lot of space. I put my prepared meals into Ziploc storage bags. They take up much less space.

It wouldn’t hurt to take along a small pack with paper plates, paper bowls and plastic flatware. Not all hotels have those on hand, and it’s a little frustrating to realize you have food to eat, but nothing on which to eat it.

Fresh is Best

If there is a grocery store nearby, grabbing a few days worth of fresh food is not hard. Places like Safeway and Kroger stores have shredded rotisserie chicken, so you don’t have to buy a whole one. The produce department is a great place to look, and there are now Paleo foods in the freezer section. You’re going to want to pick up things like juice for breakfast because the juice in most hotels is full of sugar. Bottles of water are wise purchases because you don’t have to worry about the quality and flavor of the tap water. One 16.5 oz bottle of water will make one of those little pots of coffee in the room, and, of course, you’re going to want to be drinking it as well. I don’t tend to recommend deli meats, but high-end roast beef is good for a day or two. Peel and eat shrimp is also a great one to take along.

Know Your Snack Options

Two weeks after I started eating Paleo I was living in my car. Because it was a circumstance I knew was coming, I had a chance to prepare for it. I had already started looking for Paleo snacks to take to work or to eat in lieu of candy bars. Once I had to move into my car, I already had a good idea of what I was going to buy to eat. Items like Lära Bars replaced candy bars, RX Bars stood in occasionally for lunch. I tested jerkies (Epic is good, and so is Old Trapper) and fruit sauces like GoGo Squeez. I could have two hard-boiled eggs, some jerky and a Bolthouse Farms smoothie for breakfast for next to nothing, and because I was living in my car during the winter, I could put food in the trunk of my car and it would keep nicely.

What do my homeless adventures matter to you? The items I learned I could eat and stay Paleo are great pack-along snacks to have in your hotel room, your briefcase, and your rental car. They can help you keep to plan when everyone else is munching on candy bars or granola bars during the business meeting. And when you just can’t live without the chocolate, Ghirardelli’s Intense Dark chocolates fall in line with both the Paleo and Keto eating plans. Just sayin’.

Hot Food

Okay, I get it. You’re not going to just want to eat food heated in the microwave. Once in a while, you’re going to want something that feels a little more “real.” One of my biggest problems with hotel living is the fact all of my food is nuked or reheated. Yes, I definitely want hot food sitting in front of me rather than a frozen meal or prepackaged finger food.

Go ahead. Do it. Hit a restaurant. If you’re concerned with staying on plan, look for something basic and not covered in cheese or sauce. A small steak with a salad is a great option, and, if you need more, throw in a potato or, better yet, a sweet potato, if you can get it. A place like Denny’s and Perkins where you can piece together your own breakfast are great as long as they don’t have a problem with substitutions. Can you have more bacon instead of hash browns or fruit instead of pancakes? Don’t want to leave your room. Try my favorite go-to. Dominos Pizza’s plain wings and a Caesar salad. The wings have nothing on them and are baked in the pizza oven rather than deep-fried. There are always options.

Don’t Sweat It

It’s getting easier and easier to find items that fit the Paleo lifestyle, and if you can’t find that, fall back on Keto. They are very similar. But, really, in the long run, don’t sweat it. Do the best you can with what you have and remember that Paleo is not about what you can’t have. It’s about what you do have.

The world will not end if you miss a Paleo meal. Neither will your diet.


Should I Cleanse Before I Paleo

You’ve made up your mind. You’re going Paleo. No more grains, no more sugar, no more dairy. You have a menu plan and a shopping list. You’re ready to go. But then a magazine at the checkout stand got you thinking.

Should you cleanse first?

It seems that everyone talks about it. Why not get all these toxins out of your body before you start a new way of eating?

Maybe a little information beforehand would be in order

What Does a Cleanse Do?

Wikipedia CommonsI can tell you what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t dispel toxins from your body. There isn’t a shred of scientific proof. If you’re looking at a detox that claims to do so, these are only the claims of the person who is pushing to detox. If you have a healthy liver and kidneys, then your body is getting rid of the toxins on its own. Not to be crass, but dispelling toxins is what you do every time you sit on the toilet (Or stand at it. Sorry, guys. Didn’t mean to leave you out.) Urination and defecation is our bodies getting rid of the toxins.

So, what does the cleanse or detox really do? Basically, it gives you a jumpstart on weight loss, if that is your goal. But, buyer beware. Detoxes and cleanses can be complicated and they can actually be dangerous. I would personally not recommend any detox or cleanse that does not have you eating actual food over the course of the short diet. I wouldn’t do one that is more than three days. And I definitely wouldn’t stop taking my vitamins while I was on it.

Why I Didn’t Cleanse first

When I decided to go Paleo, weight loss was the furthest thing from my mind. I was in pain, but the last thing I wanted to do was going on a daily regimen of meds. Two years earlier I had been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, and my doctor specialized in pain management. She was the person who recommended Paleo to me as both a way to manage my pain and a way to manage my blood sugar as I am also borderline diabetic.

I wasn’t worried about cleanses and detoxes. I was worried about being in pain. I was worried about not being able to stand on my own two feet at work or climbing the four flights of stairs to my daughter’s apartment where I was staying. I was worried about facing a lifetime of pain meds and limited mobility. So, the first thing on my mind was not “I should do a cleanse first.” I went to the store, bought clean foods and started eating right.Wikipedia Commons

That being said, I do occasionally cleanse. I’ll do one if I’ve been off plan for two long. I am, in fact, on day one of a three day cleanse as I type this. I do a cleanse that is Paleo-friendly, and, at the end of three days, go back to eating on plan. Why? Because, although my Paleo life started because of pain, it has now also become about weight loss. If I do a quick cleanse when I’ve been too far off plan, I tend to get rid of those few extra pounds and pick up close to where I left off so I don’t feel too far behind.

If You Insist

If you are hell-bent on doing a cleanse, find a safe one. Don’t spend three days drinking water and juice. The human body was not made to subsist on liquids, and you’re talking a lot of sugar, even if it is natural. But don’t be drinking a lot of specialized potions and mixes either. You can cleanse just fine without special products that are really not doing anything other than putting money in someone’s pockets.

Do you have health problems? Pay attention to the kind of cleanse you do. What kind of cleanse is it, and how is it going to impact those problems?

Do not do something that demands you repeat it too often. The cleanse I do can only be done every 30 days, and I generally will go longer than that. I only use it when I need it. If you’re looking at something that is telling you that you need to be doing it more often than every 30 days, there’s a problem.

Do not go on any cleanse that insists you have to drink more than 90 oz. of water a day. Once you get past that 90 oz., you’re washing away electrolytes and dehydrating yourself (Drinking water. How ironic is that?).

The cleanse I do was (or maybe still is) a pre-diet cleanse for a diet called Slim4Life, which is not a diet I recommend, but several people I worked with at the time were on it. Really, the only good thing I carried away from that program was this jumpstart cleanse.

My Cleanse

I usually lose between eight and 10 lbs. on this cleanse, but that’s not a guarantee. I’ve lost as few as three pounds. There is no pork on this cleanse, so save the bacon for later.

Each morning for breakfast, I have two eggs cooked any way I want. I usually fry them, but I’m in a hotel for a few days, so I’m having them hard-boiled. I will also have some kind of meat that isn’t pork, a raw green veggie (It’s asparagus spears while I’m at the hotel), and a clementine or half an orange. For the rest of the day, I have all the meat (again, not pork) and raw green vegetables that I want. The meat can be cooked any way you like it, but it cannot be breaded. Before I go to bed, I eat another clementine or the other half of the orange. During the three days of this cleanse, I will have five bottles of water every day on top of any black coffee I care to drink. For those of you checking, that’s 84.5 oz. per day.

Do not try to make this a low fat cleanse, or you will have no energy. I don’t trim the meat. When I fry or scramble my eggs, I cook them in butter. Your only sugar is coming from the orange or clementines. If you don’t want to be dragging, don’t go low fat.

Another point: I continue to take all of my vitamins during this three days. I would never do a cleanse that recommends you stop your vitamins, particularly if you’re taking certain ones (or not taking certain ones) on the advice of your doctor.

It’s Your Call

Honestly, cleanse is your choice. Just be wise when making it. My advice, thought, is skip the cleanse unless you’re trying to jumpstart your weight loss. Just start eating Paleo. There’s no need to preface it.

Kelli’s Paleo Pantry Essentials

Living Paleo is no different from living not Paleo. If you get hungry, you walk into your kitchen and take food out of your fridge your freezer or your pantry. You cook it or you nuke it, but the fact is, it’s there to prepare.

You’re going to do better with the Paleo lifestyle change if you have the materials to make that change at hand. This isn’t something you want to do by finding a recipe and going to get the supplies for that recipe, only to do the same for other recipes. You’re going to want a few staples on hand so you can be a little more spontaneous than that.

What is your pantry going to look like? Different from mine. Just because we’re following the same lifestyle does not mean we’re going to do it the same way. You may prefer fish and poultry while I prefer heavier-flavored game meats. You may want to eat a lot of salads while I prefer my veggies sautéed. You may drink tea while I drink coffee.


One of the free resources I offer is a pantry list. It’s very important to have a pantry you can work from. There are a few things that are top-of-the-list important for me, though. These are my Paleo pantry essentials.

Inside My Paleo Fridge

Obviously, you’re going to be shopping for fresh meats, veggies and fruits to eat, but the pantry items on my list are more about preparation and spontaneity. These are things my fridge cannot be without.

Eggs — I eat a LOT of eggs. I always have two in the morning, In the summer, when I’m more likely to eat cold meals, I’ll have two hard-boiled eggs at lunchtime. Believe it or not, eggs are good for you, particularly the yolk, which is full of all kinds of vitamins and the vital nutrient choline. They also can help give your meal staying power so you’re not wanting to nosh unnecessarily.

Salsa — I keep a bottle of mild Pace picante sauce in my fridge for impromptu “chili” which is usually a meat, sweet potatoes, a veggie and “chili stuff,” which, for me, tends to be salsa, peach puree, spices and cayenne. Pace is paleo friendly.

Maple syrup — Real maple syrup is a sweetener for me and I always have some on hand. I cook with it, bake with it and, occasionally, I actually put it over pancakes.

Butter — I know this seems out of place given Paleo’s ban on dairy, but I still use butter daily for cooking. We’re talking about real, unsalted butter, not substitutes. Grass fed is best. Almost all of my pan frying and sauté is done in butter.

Stocking a Paleo Freezer

Your freezer is going to have some meats and veggies in it, but there are a few things you don’t want to miss.

Cauliflower rice — I was skeptical of cauliflower rice when it became popular, but I love it. I use it as…well…rice. I’ve made fried rice, I’ve put it in soups and stews, and I’ve just added it to dished for a little extra texture. It’s great to have in a pinch.

Fruit — I got a wild hair and made a blueberry mocha smoothie. How? I had the materials. Frozen fruit is fantastic to have as part of your stock and smoothies made with frozen fruit don’t need ice to water them down. Keep your favorites on hand.

Chocolate — True dark chocolate is good for you, and sometimes it’s just what you need for that sweet tooth. Dark chocolate bars (70% – 90% cocoa) in the freezer can be a great bonus, and Ghriardelli has a great 60% chocolate chip that’s great for mixing with nuts and fruit for a snack. If you decide you want Paleo chocolate chip cookies or to try your hand at Paleo hot cocoa, having the materials on hand never hurts.

Paleo Pantry Staples

This is the area where I tend to have more stock than anywhere else. I keep cans of olives, jars of fruit purées, boxes of bone broth and nuts. But what is most important to me here is baking supplies.

Flours — True, you’re not supposed to have any grain flours on this eating plan, but there are others. I highly recommend keeping almond flour on hand. Of the alternative flours, I find that it’s the one that behaves the most like regular wheat flour. For those who can’t have tree nuts, coconut flour and cassava flour are also handy. Be aware that if you use some of these flours slowly, they may need to be stored in the fridge or freezer.

Honey — This is another sweetener for me, but I sometimes use it as a topping as well. Bananas with a little honey and cinnamon make a great snack.

Arrowroot starch — Cornstarch is out, so if you like gravies and stews, makes sure you have arrowroot on hand. Tapioca starch also works really well.

Spices — This is a big one. I can’t tell you how many people have asked me how I can stomach such a bland diet. I’m not sure what brand of Paleo they were on, but there is nothing bland about it. I love food with Mediterranean or Middle Eastern spices. I’m usually putting a touch (too much) of cayenne in my meals. I eat Garam Masala on my sweet potatoes. There is no reason for this lifestyle to be bland.

Bottled water — Why? Because you should drink about 8 cups (not glasses) of water a day, and that’s about four bottles. They’re handy. Just open one up and drink at your leisure. If you’re someone who knows they don’t drink enough water, this is a great way to get some down.

What’s on My Paleo Shopping List?

Paleo is clean eating. That mean fresh food, not prepackaged with all kinds of preservatives, salts, sugars and grains that you don’t need. I like my veggies sautéed, so I buy leafy greens like spinach, sweet peppers, onions, zucchini, broccoli and asparagus. I prefer bacon for breakfast, but ground turkey or chicken with lots of poultry seasoning makes a great substitute sausage. Because I’m single, I can grab packs of breakfast steaks, chicken thighs and fish portions, separate them and freeze them in portions.

But I’m also on the go a lot. I grab Paleo-friendly snacks like GoGoSqeez, Epic bars and Lära bars. If i’m on the road, I always have beef jerky, and Epic makes some great uncured jerkies. I do whatever I need to do to keep from pulling over and hitting McDonalds. Having something handy in the car helps cut back on Bacon Double Cheeseburgers.

Conclusion

Really, when you get down to it, Paleo living looks exactly like non-Paleo living. The ingredients are just a little different. Start slow. Start small. Don’t go whole hog until you know you want the whole hog. Then make sure that your life isn’t disrupted by the fact you’ve just rolled out of bed wanting pancakes, and you don’t have the supplies to make the.

Any questions? Feel free to ask in the comments below.

Starting the “It’s Not a Diet” Change

Okay, maybe it’s a diet in the most scientific use of the word. It’s the word you look up when you find a baby bird and need to know how to feed it. What is the bird’s diet? In the world of Paleo, diet falls under that same heading. This is the way our ancestors ate. They weren’t trying to lose weight, they were trying to survive, and they did it with the resources they had. When we talk about primal and Paleo diets, we’re taking the idea of the original diet all the way back to the cavemen. Yes, their diet would differ by region and resources, but the idea is still the same. Paleo is not a diet in the modern sense of the term. It is a lifestyle, and it can be very hard to change lifestyles.

Start Slow

When I was first told I needed to adopt a Paleo diet for my osteoarthritis, I went whole hog even though I didn’t know, really, what I was getting into. I thought it would be easy. After all, I had already dropped (or mostly dropped) two of the three Paleo restrictions. I am allergic to lactose, so I had already stopped drinking milk, and I had stopped buying bread when I lived in a shelter because I didn’t have a place to hide if from my hyperactive kitten who loved crinkly bags and would tear open my bread bags. Certainly I could just drop the refined sugar, and I would be on my way to a healthier, pain-free me. I didn’t bother reading anything about the lifestyle. I totally had this.

Except I didn’t. Inside of two weeks, I was miserable. I had no energy. I learned that bread-free and grain-free are two different things. I learned that, as a nation, we put grain and cheese on, literally, everything. And we put sugar even in things that don’t need sugar. I couldn’t figure out where my energy was supposed to come from. And, while I understood that I was supposed to be making a lifestyle change, I was treating it like a diet.

Forget Low Fat

One of the hallmarks of the American weight loss diet is low-fat food. It is so ingrained in our thinking, that the minute we suggest a change in the way we eat we subconsciously start thinking of ways to cut the fat. I was no exception. When I followed up with my doctor and told her the problems I was having, particularly with energy, she had me give a rundown of what I was eating. I explained everything from drinking water to eating salads to trimming fat. She stopped me there and asked why I was trimming the fat from meat. What she told me next changed the course of my diet (ahem…lifestyle change.).

“Do you really think the cavemen trimmed their steaks before they ate them”

I was essentially trimming the energy I needed from my food and throwing it away. Then I spent the days complaining that I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I don’t trim my meat. I eat bacon. I don’t limit myself to egg whites. And, while Paleo is a non-dairy diet, I do cook in butter (I did mention only practically Paleo, right?).

Stop Drinking Your Calories

This is actually a big one, and certainly was for me. I drank a lot of soda. I drank a lot of Starbucks. I drank a lot of juices. Now, unless the drink is a very specific part of my meal, I only drink water, black coffee or tea. While that doesn’t seem all that interesting, that’s just my day-to-day hydration. There are times that I will forgo a piece of fruit for a smoothie or cup of juice. Once in a while, I’ll decide to spoil myself with a non-fat latte. Or, if I feel like I want a soda, I’ll grab and Izze (Check out what I have to say about those here.) Honestly, it’s not as hard as it sounds.

Stop Counting Calories

Stop. Just don’t. And stop measuring things unless you’re making a specific recipe. Eat when you’re hungry, just make sure it’s not dairy, grain or sugar. When I get up and have breakfast, it goes something like this:

“I’m hungry, what’s to eat? I’ll have a couple of eggs, and look! Bacon! I’ll have a few strips of that. I think I’ll sauté some zuchini and have an orange, too.”

I’ll cook that all and have a cup of coffee with it. How much do I eat? As much as it takes for me to not be hungry. Some mornings that’s a breakfast steak, a sweet potato, two eggs and a banana. Other days it’s a hard-boiled egg and a tangerine. Some days I won’t have lunch until nearly 2 p.m., other days I’ll be snacking all day on fruit, nuts, veggies and beef jerky. There is no specified time to eat. There are no hard and fast rules. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not, don’t. It’s as easy as that.

Baby Steps

No lifestyle change is going to work if you stop the old one cold turkey and make an abrupt change. Don’t throw out the dairy, grain and sugar and expect to suddenly be Paleo. You’ll be setting yourself up to fail. Years of habits can’t be broken overnight There needs to be creation of entirely new habits and that takes time, 30 days, according to some experts. Start slowly and feel yourself out. How is this lifestyle going to work best for you. If you are someone that just HAS to have hard and fast rules, take those 30 days to make those rules that you want to stick to. There’s no need for detoxes or cleanses to start. Just slowly replace processed foods with clean foods. Slowly change habit into better habits. Making a decision is one thing. Implementing it can be a whole different animal. Don’t just grab it by the horns. It’s easier to sneak up on it first.

Benefits of a Paleo Lifestyle

No one likes going on a diet, yet somehow, we’re always doing it. Resolutions are constantly being made and broken. Weight is being lost and then gained back. A good day on a new diet often results in a sugar and carbohydrate binge the next day. There is something we are doing wrong, and diet gurus are getting rich off our misery as we struggle to reach what seems to be an unattainable goal. And reaching that goal can be worse. Reaching the goal means tying yourself to a maintenence diet for the rest of your life. One of the benefits of a Paleo lifestyle, though, is that it is not a diet. 

Not a Diet

Paleo is a lfestyle. This is not a situation in which you follow a regimented plan, add steps as you are told and get to an end. So many of these situations end with weight regained. Once you’ve reached your goal, you go back to eating the way you had before, and you gain all that weight back. Or perhaps the diet you never lose the weight. Perhaps the diet is just not right for the way your body works. Or perhaps it’s so restrictive you just can’t stay with it. How often are you going to run through that cycle before you give up? 

I am a child of the ’80s, and we dieted. It’s just what we did whether we needed to or not. I remember that my mother and my sister went on a day that was so restrictive that they were only two days into it and my sister was in tears. She wanted food she could taste. She wanted to eat enough she didn’t feel like she was starving. She wanted to eat meals with eveyone else and not feel like she had to hide so she didn’t see us enjoying our meals. That’s not to say you don’t give things up for Paleo lifestyle, but you certainly don’t deprive yourself. 

It’s Not Tasteless, It’s Clean

Another benefit of the Paleo lifestyle is that it’s just good clean eating. There is nothing anywhere that says it has to be bland and tasteless. There is also nothing anywhere that suggests food has to be spicy to hide the fact the food just isn’t good. When I first told one of my customers that I was going Paleo, her first comment was, “I feel sorry for you. I’d rather eat food that tastes good.” The crazy thing is that I’d had a steak, a baked sweet potato and a salad for dinner and nothing there was tasteless. 

Clean just means it’s real — okay, some people do take the term “clean” further than that, but, really, we’re just talking about real food. A steak under the broiler, a salad of real food items. A potato, an apple, a handful of pecans. Nothing I’ve just mentioned is tasteless. And the fact I’m going to broil that steak with onion, garlic and maybe some sage guarantees I’m not eating anything bland. What I’m not doing is opening a box of prepackaged food and throwing it in the microwave.

It’s an Anti-inflamatory and Autoimmune Protocol Eating Plan

The biggest benefit I have gained from my Paleo lifestyle is the loss of pain. My doctor recommended the “diet” (a word she used with the most scientific of meanings) to help alleviate the pain of osteoarthritis. The things I was eating before — the breads and muffins and refined sugars — was causing the inflamation that caused my pain. Removing those things from my diet would help, at the early stage at which we caught my disease, keep me from daily medications. People with autoimmune deficiencies also benefit from a Paleo lifesyle. Those with diseases like Rhumatoid Disease, Lupis, HIV and AIDS, for example, benefit from this lifestyle for the very same reason I benefit with my osteoarthritis. The clean eating removes inflamation and pain and other issues caused by autoimmune problems.

It’s Vitamin Rich

Everything in our lives tells us we can’t possibly get all the vitamins we need by just eating food. That’s not true with a Paleo lifestyle. The foods are vitamin rich. I was told I needed extra calcium due to my osteoarthritis, not by my doctor, but by every other thing I read on the disease when I was diagnosed. So, imagine my surprise when I ended up in the emergency room with a calcium-based kidney stone. Why? I was taking too much calcium. With almond-based flours and milks, spinach and citrus, I was actually getting all the calcium I needed from my food. Instead of a finger dish full of vitamins every morning, I take only two in addition to my regular mutivitamin. A Paleo lifestyle can, indeed, provide you with all the vitamins you need. 

The Lifestyle is the Benefit

I mentioned before that the Paleo lifestyle is not a diet. It’s not a set of crazy rules and preset meals. Yes, there are going to be some restrictions, but, in a perfect world, they are restrictions we would already have been making. Paleo is fresh and real. Does it take a little more work? Yes. Is it going to take some practice? Yes. But at the “end” of this race toward a goal, there is no maintenance plan. There is no fear of stepping out of a restrictive regimen and regaining weight. The biggest benefit to Paleo is that it is a lifestyle that can be lived by the individual’s needs. There is no portioning, no fat trimming, no measuring, no watering down. Paleo is stepping away from the world of processed foods and eating food the way we were meant to eat it.

 

Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate

When I was young, I would have told you that I’ve always liked dark chocolate. Now, of course, I know the difference between Hershey’s Special Dark and good dark chocolate.

Chocolate is important to me. It has some great health benefits and yes, it’s Paleo, if you use it right. The darker the chocolate is, the better, and I’ve had 100% cocoa. I usually have my chocolate at bedtime with a little black coffee, kind of a non-alcoholic nightcap. This is not something where I sit and eat the entire bar. I have a square. Usually, I buy the bag of Ghirardelli squares so eating one at a time is simple.

I find that a square of dark chocolate is all I need, and I love Ghirardelli’s Intense Dark line for the flavors I can get. A lot of other companies pair their flavors with semi-sweet chocolate and ruin the value of the dark chocolate altogether. These bars, though, come in raspberry, cherry, sea salt, and my personal favorite, Cabernet, which has blackberry and blueberry undertones. The chocolates are very rich, and I don’t feel like I’m short changing myself on a “diet” rather than enjoying something I’m allowed to eat.

GoGo Squeez

Another favorite that comes from my homeless days is GoGo Squeez by Materne North American Corp. These are little applesauce pouches that are designed to appeal to kids and are perfect for lunch boxes. They’re a great mix of applesauce, a veggie (sweet potato and carrots are the most common, but there is also one with butternut squash) and a second fruit like peach, pear, mango, banana, strawberry, etc. You can see the entire lineup here.

I was concerned about being able to get things like fruits and veggies that would keep if I was living in my car with no room for a cooler. Canned fruit is inconvenient and full of sugar, but these pouches are all natural, 100% fruits and veggies with no added sugars. I could pick them up at Walmart for a song, and I’d get them three or four boxes at a time so I had a variety to choose from. Even after I finding a place to live, I carry these to work to have on a long shift or if my BG level drops. The lid makes them great to carry, because you can close it and don’t have to eat it all at once. There are other versions of this in the canned fruit aisle and the baby food aisle, but GoGoSqueez remains my favorite for both taste and cost. And, FYI, the Boatin’ Banana, left in the trunk of the car on a mild winter day, makes a great half-frozen treat. Not that you’d ever find yourself in the position, but, just saying’…

Sautéed Tomato and Olive Câpres

Although it is not Paleo, I’m a huge fan of fresh mozzarella. I buy it in pearls or ciliegine. and just create something, throwing together a few things I think might sound good (meat, veggie, egg and fruit) and then mixing it with an equally appropriate dressing. On a whim, and looking for something new, I threw this together, just winging as I went. It was really quite tasty.

1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced into disks.
1/2 cup black olives, sliced length-wise.
1 1/2 cups mozzarella ciliegine, cut in half
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon Tessemae’s Honey Basalmic dressing
Parsley, black pepper, onion powder, celery flakes and basil to taste

1. Heat olive oil, black pepper and onion powder in small sauté pan.

2. Add tomatoes and toss in the olive oil. Sauté until two minutes and then add olives.

3. Mix olives with tomatoes well and let sit on low heat while preparing cheese.

4. Place cheese in a small serving dish and add spices to taste. Drizzle with dressing. Mix well.

5. Add tomatoes and olives to cheese in dish and mix to coat evenly.

6. Enjoy

​Makes 1 serving.

The Tessame’s dressing can be found at most stores in the produce section.

RX Bars

I was technically homeless when I started my Paleo-ish lifestyle. I spent my first two weeks at my daughter’s while she was in England, but moved into my car when she came home. I was unwilling to undo everything I’d worked for over the previous two weeks because I didn’t have a kitchen, so I started to think about portability, things that keep and were cheap.

I had actually discovered RX Bars when I was an Uber/Lyft driver. I would be in my car 15 hours a day, and, depending on how the day went, I didn’t necessarily have time to stop and eat. I would pick up these bars at a 7-11 that sold them 2 for $5, and I’d buy $20 of them at a time.

I don’t usually like nutrition bars, but I am really impressed with these. They are just what they say on the front of the package. The egg gives them a little more staying power than, say, a Lära Bar, which is another favorite of mine, and they are more of a meal bar than just something to deal with my sweet tooth. They can be a little pricey — a box of 4 is $6.50 at Walmart, more at other stores —but they are so worth it, particularly when I’m on the road. They come in some great flavors: chocolate chip, chocolate sea salt, coffee, mixed berry, blueberry, chocolate coconut, and, even though they aren’t paleo because of the peanuts, peanut butter and peanut butter chocolate.