Paleo diet: pre-cooking a week’s worth of meals
Stephen wrote in to The Paleo Table website and said,
“I’m a police officer and have a hard time sticking to a paleo diet. Firstly, I’m really new to switching to it, which is a vulnerable, easy to cheat time. Secondly, due to my job, it’s hard to nail down chain times when I get to eat. I am thinking about cooking a week’s worth of food ahead of time and bringing it to work in a cooler. I’m not much of a cook, but I know preparing my own food is the best way to stick to the diet.”
You are so right about that, brother! Good thinkin. While I don’t have this same problem as far as shift work, I can definitely sympathize. My sister Heidi is an E.R. trauma nurse and her partner Mark is a police/canine trainer. Both their schedules can turn them into drive-thru-visiting, fast food-eating zombies if they don’t keep an eye on it. They’ve had a lot of success doing just what you describe (my sister has lost over 30 pounds in the past couple months too!), so I decided to have a chat with them and get some of their best tips for managing food when your schedule is all out of whack.
Mark & Heidi’s tips for cooking a week in advance
Every Saturday afternoon they hit up Sams Club (or CostCo or whatever wholesaler is nearby) and buy big amounts of protein. Usually at least 20 pounds of meat. They mix it up each week with steak, hamburger, chicken, pork or beef tenderloin, shrimp, fish. On Sunday, they fire up the grill and cook enough for the whole week.
They’ll add in seasonings (Old Bay for the shrimp, taco seasoning for ground meat, salt & pepper for steak, paprika for chicken, etc) when they’re grilling everything. The trick is to cook everything just shy of being done (medium rare, even for the chicken & seafood). Then later when the food is reheated in the microwave, it still tastes good and doesn’t get dry and rubbery.
Then they portion out the food and put it in ziplocks or plastic containers. They will leave enough in the fridge for Monday and Tuesday, and throw the rest in the freezer. Each day, they pull a portion down into the fridge so it’s ready for the next day.
What about veggies?
Follow the same procedure for veggies with a little variation. They buy bulk amounts of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, brussels sprouts, asparagus, whatever veggies look good that week. Leave the veggies raw and portion out 2-3 cups or however much looks yummy. Then they use Ziplock steamer bags later in the day – 60 seconds and you have steamed veggies. Another option is to make a big chopped salad at the start of the week and keep it in the fridge. Each day just scoop out a portion. Slice up your meat and put on top, add some olive oil, and you’ve got a darn tasty lunch.
Crowdsourcing pre-cooking tips
Since Mark and Heidi had such good info for me, I decided to put out a call on Twitter, Robb’s forums, and my Facebook page to see what wisdom others could share. Here’s what we have to learn from them:
Meals for the week – Paleo style
This amazing post from Julie at BTB Fitness is a veritable treasure trove of information. It has shopping lists, a meal plan, photos of their results, times it takes to prep things, and more. Go check it out!
Some other weekly routines
The hilarious and amazing Henry made a video for us, to demonstrate how he makes Egg Muffins. These are great for a week’s worth of breakfast and snacks. Sarah from Everyday Paleo has a detailed recipe as well. If you want reusable silicone baking cups like the ones in the video, check these out!
Gable Barber said:
8 lb pork roast in the crock pot on Sunday. Pull it apart and portion into little tupperware containers, usually ~8-10 oz servings. Sometimes we bake 6 or so sweet taters, peel em, toss in a bowl with some olive oil and mash em up. Portion that into tupperware containers too. Each day I usually put some frozen broccoli florets into tupperware and toss some pork (or whatever meat), broccoli, and sweet taters into my lunch box, and I’m set!
Tupperware almonds, beef jerky, etc too, for quick snacks. We save all our pedialyte containers, then brew a lot of green tea, cool it, and cut it 25% tea, 75% water and stash those in the fridge too. Anything to make the mornings less rushed, and to ensure I’ve got the right foods with me at all times.
Zach Marcy said:
1. Buy sectioned containers for the food.
2. Cook enough protein, veggies, sweet potatoes, etc for 5-7 days worth of lunch and dinner.
3. Use frozen organic veggies with every meal.
4. Place them in the freezer for fast access every morning before work.
5. Pack fresh veggies and healthy snacks like apples and almond butter or fresh fruit and raw almonds.
6. Eat every 3-4 hours to keep blood sugar regulated and avoid cravings.
MyPaleoLife said: I always cook a roast a week, slice it thin and freeze in small portions until needed. Always double or triple a recipe and freeze the other portions for when needed.
Yvespatte said: I cook meat/fish in advance, but without seasoning. So I don’t eat the same meal for several days. Different seasoning everyday.
staceylillich said: On the weekend I cook up several pounds of bacon and venison sausage and baggie it into individual servings for breakfasts.
Famlivingsimple said: Lately we have been making lots of chili and reheating it, but putting it on top of cauliflower to make it last longer.
Prep now, save time later
Personally, the time I get my convenience cooking done is right when I get home from grocery shopping. I immediately boil a dozen eggs. My husband gets two each morning as part of his breakfast. When I am bleary-eyed at 5:30am trying to make his breakfast and get him out the door, this is a lifesaver.
I also bake 6-8 sweet potatoes in the oven so I always have those at the ready. I am not a sweet potato snob, and I like them in the microwave just as well. Poke a few holes, microwave for about 4 minutes per potato. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Done. Having a big batch of sauteed/roasted fajita veggies on hand is great. Use peppers, onions, mushrooms, carrots, whatever you like. Serve in lettuce cups with meat.
Cutting and prepping veggies is essential. For some reason, I can gaze into the fridge and if there are whole carrots there, I’m like, ugh, there’s nothing to eat, but if I go ahead and turn the carrots into carrot sticks and the celery into celery sticks, suddenly there are things to dip into guacamole and almond butter!
My good friend Mary W. said:
Amy Kubal says:
Double recipes, cut veggies, portion things out, hard boil a dozen eggs, if the oven is on roast meats, cook a squash or two, some sweet potatoes, etc. all at one time. Plan what you’re going to have each day to be sure you’re ready!!
Diane of Balanced Bites says:
I like to boil a dozen eggs or make a fritatta with any veggies & meat and reheat it in the toaster oven all week.
I work from home but often find myself out during the week visiting clients for meetings or working in coffeeshops. When I know I’m gonna have a really busy week of traveling around, my go-to meals/snacks are what I affectionately call Meat Cookies. I love the wild caught salmon burgers I get from CostCo (tons of Omega-3s and 20g protein) as well as their turkey burgers (35g protein!). I grill a bunch of them at the start of the week (they just taste best grilled) with blackening spices and then eat them cold throughout the day. I’ll top em with homemade mayo, Lemonaise, or guacamole. Viva la meat cookie.
Cook it slow
Soups and stews are so easy to incorporate into a busy paleo lifestyle. The slow cooker is your friend. I have a small one (4 quarts) and even I can make several days’ worth of lunches in it, all while I’m not even home! I call my slow cooker June Cleaver cause she totally makes dinner while I’m at work.
Here are your steps to a successful stew:
- Get a hunk of sturdy meat (pork loin, beef pot roast, a few skinless chicken thighs, venison, bison). This is the perfect opportunity to turn a cheaper cut of meat into something totally magical.
- Get some chopped veggies (carrots, celery, onions, garlic, tomatoes).
- Get some really good broth (chicken, veggie, beef, whatever you can get that tastes amazing on its own).
- Put them all in the slow cooker. Cook on low for 8-10 hours.
That’s it! Now freeze the extras.
Freezing soups or stews into individual portions
First allow your soup to cool slightly, then pour the soup into paper cups and freeze. Once it has frozen, pop a single portion soup out of its cup and into a freezer bag. You might wanna label the bags, soups can look really similar once they’re frozen. To reheat, just put the frozen soup into a bowl and microwave, or heat in a pot on the stovetop! Speaking of defrosting…
On defrosting frozen stuff
Cosmopolitan Primal Girl had this tip:
Usually I will leave the frozen item on the counter in the morning and by the time I get home from work it is thawed out. Then I either throw it in a pan to re-heat it or turn my oven to 350-400 and bake it for about 10 minutes to re-heat it. A toaster oven is also an easy & convenient option for re-heating stuff without having to use the stove.
If I’m using stuff that is solid frozen, I will speed up thawing by placing the frozen item in a bowl of boiling/really hot water or leave it in the sink with hot water running over top of it.
Paleodish said this:
To reheat refrigerated items, I either re-heat them on the stove or sometimes toss it in the slow cooker. Tip – Depending on what it is…adding a little water or olive/coconut oil to it when re-heating seems to do the trick just fine. For frozen items, I usually take them out of the freezer and put them in a bowl/on plate to thaw in the fridge.
Any more tips?
Well this post is pretty exhaustive but I bet we missed some stuff. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed their know-how!
Any other tips on pre-cooking food for convenient paleo meals? Tell us in the comments!
Want more cooking and meal planning ideas?
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