After my post about avoiding Burnout through breathing, sleep, and diet, I had quite a few questions about what exactly we eat, and finding the time to fit the food into a busy lifestyle. This post has more details about the diet and practical tips for getting started. If you haven't read the previous post, I suggest you start there, as this post is a follow up, and will make more sense if you start with the first post. The original post gives an explanation for why eating this way can improve your health, and I would not have tried this diet myself without knowing the why, as it involved some big changes to my eating habits. It also includes some information about sleep, yoga, and deep breathing. This post though, is all about the food, which while it is also the most work, it is also where I experienced the biggest changes to my health.
You are what you eat and when you eat the right foods, you go a long way towards good health. Although I spent many years sick and seeking treatment with conventional doctors (at least 10), it wasn't till I started experimenting with diet that I found my way to good health. Although I am not a doctor, and you should of course talk to a doctor before making diet changes if you have health problems, I write this in hopes that the years of research and experimenting I put into my health, will help you or a friend with your health.
In general we DO eat mostly vegetables (2 or 3 servings with every meal), then a single serving of protein, and some fruit). We would eat nuts, eggs, and seeds if we could, but my youngest is allergic so we do not have them in the house. These are great and healthy ways to add variety to a healthy diet if you do not have allergies.
In general we DO NOT EAT processed foods (other than occasional cheats), do not eat dairy (other than occasional cheats), do not eat items with added sugar (other than occasional cheats), and only eat grains once a week (other than occasional cheats). Perhaps you've noticed a pattern of cheating? That's because you can maintain health gains and weight loss as long as you come back to eating healthy. I will go into more detail about how to find the ideal healthy to cheating ratio for yourself later (very scientific ;) ) but for the first month I recommend eating as close to the following rules as possible:
1) No dairy
2) No processed foods
3) No added sugar
4) No grains
Why? Giving yourself a month (or as close as you can get) will give your body a chance to reset itself, and the need for sugar that eating the Standard American Diet (SAD).
mise en place - Everything in its place
Eating healthy ends up taking more time in the kitchen. In spite of being married to a chef for many years, I managed to avoid learning a lot of how to do much in the way of cooking. My clearly inferior skills in the kitchen were not needed, so I just helped a bit. I started this eating healthy with relatively few cooking skills, and preparing healthy food for the week took me a LONG and frustrating time, almost 4 hour of my Sunday to prep food for the week! That prep included veggies, fruits, and proteins for lunch and breakfast. When I t0ok the time to get everything in it's place (mise en place), by picking up a few key items for the kitchen, and a few important skills; I cut my time on food prep for the week in half, depending upon how much I wanted to get done (i.e. how lazy I felt about cooking on that day). The two keys to less time in the kitchen needed (other than time to increase my skills) were good knives, and cutting techniques. Chefs the world over have spent a lot of time defining the 'right' way to cut things. The 'right' way is usually the most efficient way to cut the item (whether it be vegetable, fruit or meat). Although my husband has a book about this, I often find it quicker and easier to just 'Google' how to cut whatever new item I am trying to prepare. This step takes a lot of extra time at first, but if you are not already familiar with how to cut and prep your food, taking the time to establish the correct way to do it now, will save you lots of time in the future. Videos like the examples below make it easy to pick up these skills!
Don't underestimate the importance of a good set of knives (this would not have occurred to me before I married my husband, so please excuse me if this seems to basic), but good knives make life much easier! We used to have a set of Wutoff knives at home, but my husband uses them at work. We bought a cheaper, but very functional set on Amazon. We chose these knives based on my husband's professional opinion, and the recommendations in the book "What Good Cooks Know" from America's Test Kitchen (which is by the way a great book to get if you need to stock up your kitchen). We have the following knives at home (and love them). If you can only get a few knives, start with the Chef's Knife, and the Pairing Knife.
Victorinox 8 Inch Fibrox Pro Chef’s Knife - This is the knife I use most often in the kitchen!
Wüsthof Classic Paring Knife Classic - For smaller items.
If you want to stock up on a full set of knives we also like and use:
Victorinox Swiss Army 6 Inch Fibrox Pro Boning Knife with Flexible Blade
Mercer Culinary Millennia 10-Inch Wide Bread Knife - We don't eat bread often, but when we do, this comes in handy!
Breakfast, lunch, dinner and more!
What exactly do I prep for the week on Sundays? I usually cut fresh vegetables for salads (carrots, mushrooms, etc.), cook sweet potatoes and mushrooms for lunches, and prep meat or eggs for the week as well.
Eggs are great breakfast food, and can be prepared quickly in a variety of ways. Sadly, our youngest was born with 22 food allergies (which is a whole different story) so eggs are off our menu for now. However when we could eat them, we had them most days for breakfast, one of three ways:
1) Egg Muffins:
It's easy to make enough to last the week. You can throw a wide variety of meats, vegetables, and/or herbs, into muffin trays, pour scrambled eggs on top of it, and cook in the muffin trays. These can be put in the fridge and reheated each day of the week for about 5 days. We limit cheese in our house (really limit it right now as my youngest is still allergic) but here are 12 recipes to get you started.
2) Hard Boiled Eggs in a Hurry:
If you need a faster breakfast try it's also easy to get perfectly done hardboiled eggs by baking them in the oven when you don't have the time for egg muffins. Read about that here. Hard boiled eggs with left over vegetables and some fruit are a great, quick breakfast.
3) No time on Sunday Eggs:
Finally, for weeks when you just don't have the time to cook for the next week, cooking scrambled eggs on low in the morning usually only takes about 5 minutes. Keeping the temp. very low makes it possible to leave the pan (for making all important coffee) without burning the eggs. Throwing leftover vegetables from last night's dinner are also an easy way to vary scrambled eggs.
4) No time for Eggs:
Having a week when you don't feel like making eggs? Just make some extra protein on Sunday for the week OR plan to cook extra with each night's dinner, and eat it again for breakfast.
1) My favorite thing to eat for lunch is a Mason Jar Salad. Simply put the dressing on the bottom, add some hardy vegetables (I like to put carrots, radishes, and/or tomatoes in my bottom layer, followed by peppers, and mushrooms), finish with your salad greens on top (as far away from the dressing as possible). When you are ready to eat it, simply flip the jar over, shake it up, and dump it out. I pack the protein separately. You will have a fresh, well dressed salad ready in minutes (easy to fit in on a 20 minute teacher lunch schedule). You can make these on a Sunday, and they will still be good on a Friday).
2) If it's not the right time of year for salads, I usually go with a protein, a few vegetables, and some fruit for lunch. This is where the Sunday cooking time comes in, I generally cut up some carrots, and cook some mushrooms, broccoli, or sweet potatoes to put in lunches during the week. Sometimes I will cook a meat like chicken for lunches too. Our lunches usually contain some avocado as well, for a healthy fat. Sometimes we are also lazy and use a healthier prepackaged lunch meat (no hormones, nitrates, added, etc). A good quick lunch is a piece of lunch meat with some avocado wrapped in it (with a bit of sea salt). If you have more vegetables prepped, adding some cooked mushrooms, or roasted garlic to the roll up is also great (or rolling up the the whole thing in a large leaf of lettuce to add some greens to the meal). The kids eat the same lunches as the adults, even at school. My children and I use Planet Boxes which are stainless steel with compartments. These make it easy to pack a meat, a few vegetables, and a few fruits in lunches. When I don't have the time or will to cook on Sunday for lunch for the coming week, we plan to make more at dinner, and use leftovers in our house for lunch. Below is a slideshow of a week worth of lunches at our house. There are a lot of repeats, but this is what is fresh now and in the garden, I'm okay with it (and so are the kids)!
Dinner usually consists of meat, 3 different kinds of vegetables and some fruit. There are a lot of possible variations here, especially as you look at what is available locally. I highly recommend the website NomNom Paleo for easy to follow, kid friendly recipes. The cookbook is great too!
Staple Veggies: We try to provide a variety of fruits and veggies to our kids, but we have some veggies that the kids love and are quick and easy and, and show up frequently.
1) Broccoli: Trim it, put a pot on the stove to boil, add salt till the water tastes like salt water. When water comes to a boil, throw the broccoli in and let it cook for 5 minutes. While cooking, prepare a bowl with cold water and ice. After the 5 minutes put the broccoli into the ice water. Let sit for a minute, drain and toss with olive oil and salt to taste. Quick and easy and good for when you need to use the oven to cook other things.
2) Cauliflower: Two great and quick ways to prepare:
a) Trim it, toss in olive oil salt and pepper with a few cloves of garlic. Cook at 450 till golden brown. Turn at 10 minutes and give it at least another 10 minutes.
b) Cauliflower mashed potatoes. Steam cauliflower till tender, drain and throw in the food processor with olive oil (or butter) salt, and a garlic till taste. Blend till like mashed potatoes (totally fools my kids).
3) Sweet Potatoes: My KIDS love Sweet Potatoes one way and one way only, and this is the way (I think this is the only thing I make that they actually like my way better than 'Dad's way. Pre-heat oven to 450. Peel and slice between 4 to 6 sweet potatoes. Slice the potatoes thinly. Toss in olive oil with 8 cloves of garlic. Lay out on sheet trays, and sprinkle on salt and pepper. Flip the potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper on the other side. When the oven is ready cook them for 20 minutes, take them out and flip them over and cook another 8 to 15 minutes, checking every 5 minutes or so, the finished product will look almost burned but not quite, so good!
4) Mushrooms: My kids love cooked mushrooms, and we eat them both as a stand alone vegetable and as an addition to salads or lettuce wraps at lunch.
What about those nights when you just can't cook?? We all have them, but if pizza isn't an option anymore, we usually opt for a pre-cooked chicken at our favorite grocery store. Combine this with some guacamole, veggies and fruit, and you can have a quick meal in minutes.
After eating this while, I found myself needing/wanting snacks during the day less and less (a sign that your body has a good amount of fats ready to burn), however when you are in need of a snack (especially when first starting the diet) a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit is very satisfying. My time for snacking on the really unhealthy stuff was often after my kids were in bed at night. When I want to binge on sugar now, I try a big piece of fruit (or two) like an apple and/or banana and a big glass of water before giving into temptation. That usually helps me quite a bit.
I've found that I can eat one 'non-paleo' meal plus one dessert a week and still not have negative effects on my health. More than that and I don't feel as good, which helps me stick to the diet. When/if you start this diet, I recommend trying to stick to the diet as cleanly as possible for a month to evaluate how it makes you feel. If it seems like things are going well, slowly add a few cheats back in each week. Notice how they make you feel, and decide what works best for you based on how your own body reacts. A few of my favorite treats for when I'm trying to be good include:
Candied Pecans- Paleo other than the sugar, add these to raspberries and blueberries for a fruity treat that almost tastes like pie.
Banana ice-cream- Better than it sounds, and a great way to use up old bananas.
Liar Balls- Almost like candy but not quite.
A side note on cheating during the holidays...sometimes I cheat a LOT from Thanksgiving till the New Year. That's totally okay, and I know that I will go back to healthy eating when I am ready for it. I just pay attention to how I feel, and stop myself to have a 'healthy food break' if I start to get migraines or low energy again. The point of this way of eating is not to deprive yourself, but to set new habits of generally healthy eating. Eat your cake, and don't feel guilty, as long as you eat something healthy too. :)
Kids and healthy eating
My sons were easy to sell on healthy eating, as we have been eating this way since they were old enough to eat food. My daughter however was a hard sell. She was 4 when we started eating this way, and would often say she 'hated' the new food. Especially as she was used to eating homemade bread and pasta every week. Three things that really helped 'ease' her transition:
1) If you eat the SAD diet (Standard American Diet) your body is programmed to eat large amounts of sugar (and expects and craves it) because most of us eat too much of it (I know I used to, and still do sometimes), but your brain is also made to be able to recognize when something has high nutritional value, and even if you do not like something initially, you can grow accustomed to the taste when their is a high enough nutritional pay-off. I always have my daughter take at least 3 bites of food she says she 'hates' so that her brain can learn to 'like it'. I explained this reasoning to her and she got it. She takes her bites without complaining now and encourages her siblings to do the same.
2)It also helps to include a familiar vegetable kids already like (for example broccoli) with something they are less familiar with (i.e. brussel sprouts) that way you know the kids will have something to eat even if it's not their favorite.
3) Get the kids involved. My kids love to peel potatoes, wash lettuce, snap beans, and assemble salads (which they are way more likely to eat if they help make). My daughter is very proud of her little 'dog knife' (it's the one with the orange 'tail') hanging with all of our knives and loves helping with it.
I was okay with my kids occasionally not eating a lot for dinner when they said they didn't like it, they learned some valuable lessons. My pediatrician is very supportive of our diet, and said if anyone ever questioned it to let them know are kids are thriving on it. They are often surprised that my youngest has gained weight so well, since usually it is hard to get kids with so many allergies (22) to gain weight. He is thriving and happy on this diet!
For your Information
The following books are helpful to read when developing your diet, and will help you understand how foods effect your body. Fair warning, you can't 'un-know' this information (as my family like to say). A lot of this information changed the way I see the world quite a bit.
Grain Brain- A great book for explaining the impact of gluten and sugar on the brain. You will never look at a delicious piece of bread the same again! Mwahaha (wah!!!) :)
Brain Maker- Very interesting description of how important gut bacteria and the micro-biome is to our overall health. It was information in this book, that helped me realize my son had food allergies before he tasted any 'dangerous' food. I was able to clear his skin of severe eczema (that we could not clear with medicine) and give the doctors a pretty accurate list of what I thought he was allergic to before the allergist tested him. The doctors were skeptical at first, but are now all very interested in this research. My pediatrician told me she thinks work with the micro-biome will be the next big field in medicine. It is also the reason the only supplement my family all takes is a good pro-biotic. Born with 22 food allergies, at his testing a few months ago, my son had a 50% reduction to all his allergens across the board. This could be just him growing out of them, but those are impressive numbers. I have been using information from this book to try to help him (I consulted my pediatrician, allergist, and asked Dr. Perlmutter, the author, a question before I 'experimented' with probiotics and my youngest. I am glad that we have tried it, and hope he continues to see good results.
The Omnivores Dilemma- A great explanation of the path of our food from farm to table. Important but also sad. Michael Pollan is a great author, and I've enjoyed all of his food books I have read.
In Defense of Food- An exciting explanation for why eating more traditionally is better for our health.
Nom Nom Paleo - My favorite Paleo cookbook, easy to follow, easy to make, kid friendly, and fun to read.
Against All Grains- A great cookbook with everything from breakfast to dinner (including some pancakes and muffins)!
Paleo Takeout- Good for those new to Paleo that want something that resembles food from the SAD diet (and some tasty treats).
Well Fed Paleo- Easy to follow recipes, and a really great description of how to prep for your week on Sunday.
The New Family Cookbook- America's Test Kitchen- Not strictly Paleo, but once you know the basics of the diet you can 'Google' Paleo substitutions (or in some cases just leave things out). This book will tell you how to pick the best food, along with fundamental cooking tips that will just make all your meals better!
What Good Cook's Know - Everything you could want to know about what equipment to buy for your kitchen. Systematically tested by America's Test Kitchen (reliable and knowledgeable)
Below are a few of the documentaries I've watched in relation to diet, and where I've streamed them. This is not an extensive list and I will try to add to it as I come across more information. It was watching 'Forks Over Knives' with my husband that finally convinced him we needed to experiment with our what we ate, for the sake of our health.
Intermittent Fasting is the last practice I do to improve health. In a nutshell, it is calorie restriction, either with a long fast a few times a year, or by skipping a meal on a daily basis (usually breakfast). Our ancestors did not eat constantly the way we do now, and would often go for periods of time without food. I used to hate when people would say , "I forgot to eat", because I would get shaky and headaches if I didn't eat, and I couldn't understand how others could just forget to eat. The shaking and headaches came from the sugar drops and spikes in my blood stream when I ate the SAD diet. When I switched to this way of eating, I can easily skip meals and not even feel hungry. That is because my body has a proper store of energy built up and ready to burn when I don't eat (and by occasionally fasting I give my body the chance to burn it). This is not something that I would recommend doing until you have been eating Paleo for a few months. When my husband and I started doing it (note the kids do NOT do it) we barely noticed skipping the meal, and not eating breakfast made it easier to get ready in the morning. We fast by not eating after 10pm at night, until lunch time the next day. Eating healthy, I don't even miss breakfast.
Why do it? Intermittent Fasting (not eating for 12 hours if you are doing it on a day to day basis as we do) gives your body a chance to burn stored fat, go into a state where it cleans out damaged cells, increases the production of new neurons in the brain, and has even been shown to lengthen the telomeres at the end of our strands of DNA (telomeres are related to longevity).
In conclusion, I hope this was a helpful post for those considering making a switch in their diet. They were big changes for me, but the health benefits I've seen for myself and my family have been life changing. Thanks to diet changes we've got rid of severe eczema for my son, and severe migraines for myself. We have all lost weight, and have way more energy. Several friends and family have had similar results, but I won't share their stories without permission. Hoping that this post helps someone find their way to better health!
Entering my 13th year in the classroom; I am a TPRS/CI Elementary Spanish Teacher. Passionate about TPRS/CI, Brain based learning, and using technology to bring the world to our students, and our students to the world.