Well Fed Weeknights: Make Paleo Easier & More Fun
I’m Melissa Joulwan, but you can call me Mel. You might be familiar with me because of my paleo cookbooks Well Fed, Well Fed 2, and the soon-to-be-released Well Fed Weeknights: Complete Paleo Meals in 45 Minutes or Less. I also write a blog called MelJoulwan.com (formerly The Clothes Make The Girl), where I write about my triumphs and failures in the kitchen, in the gym, and in life. I’m also a former rollergirl known as Melicious, but I’ve mostly stopped knocking people down for fun. Mostly.
I started following the paleo template in 2009, and when I read Robb Wolf’s book The Paleo Solution, I was already firmly on board with the nutritional guidelines. But it was what Robb had to say about the rest of my lifestyle that smacked me right between the eyes. At the time, I was working a very stressful, full-time (plus) corporate job, and things that were important to me—eating well, exercising, finding time to relax and play—were shoved into the margins of the day. When I was especially busy at work, my self-care habits were the first things to be pushed aside.
One day, riding the bus to work, reading The Paleo Solution, I decided I had to change my approach. Right then and there, I flipped my thinking—and for the next few months, I reminded myself every day that eating well, moving my body, and getting enough sleep were the most important things I could do that day. Eventually, work returned to its proper place in my life hierarchy as the thing that happened between awesome sleep, great meals, and activity.
While taking care of myself is my highest priority, I don’t want to think about it all the time. I want free brain space for thinking about my family and friends, singing along to loud music, reading books that transport me to new places—so I’ve developed some tricks that I think make living well a little bit easier and more fun.
1. Prioritize sleep.
Sleep is essential for literally recharging and repairing our cells. A chronic lack of sleep is associated with increased risk of heart disease and stroke, depression, vulnerability to infection, diabetes, and memory loss, plus—and this is a biggie for a lot of us—the less you sleep, the higher your risk of being overweight or obese.
I’m not gonna lie: that last one kicked me right in the ego and was the motivation I needed to make sleep a priority. I’d been a lifelong bad sleeper, but when I made changes to my diet and my habits, my sleep improved. Now I get between 7 1/2 and 9 hours most nights (compared to 5-6 for the previous 30 years).
I tend to judge myself when I get tired. It goes like this, “Why am I tired? I hate being tired. Do other people get tired like this?” and on and on. Then one day I realized that my cat Smudge doesn’t question it if she’s sleepy. She sleeps… pretty much wherever she is.
Here are things you can try to improve your sleep:
- no electronics at least 1 hour before bed, including TV
- amber goggles after nightfall
- 500mg of magnesium half an hour before bed
- 20-minute epsom salt bath
- guided meditation for relaxation just before sleeping
- bedroom cooled to 65F or lower
- blackout curtains
- eye mask
2. Shortcut your shopping list.
With a little bit of math, you can calculate how much protein and veggies you need each week so shopping gets a little bit easier.
Veggies: It’s a good idea to eat 1-2 cups of veggies at each meal; that’s about 6-8 cups of veggies per day, per person.
You can make it easier on yourself by relying on a mix of frozen and fresh veggies, and by eating them both raw and cooked. That way you get variation in texture and you don’t have to spend all of your free time chopping and cooking vegetables.
As much as possible, it’s a good idea to eat locally and in season, but don’t make yourself crazy doing it. This is an area where “good enough” really is good enough. I recommend that you buy organic/local versions of the Dirty Dozen but with Clean 15, it’s OK to buy conventionally grown, if you prefer.
Protein: You’ll need about 6-8 ounces of protein per person at least three times a day—but very active or growing people might need more. Here’s a short-cut for eyeballing since you probably don’t want to carry a scale around with you to weigh your meals: A piece of protein that’s the size and thickness of your palm is about right, but if you’re lifting lots of heavy things or doing CrossFit, add a little extra.
To calculate your protein needs for shopping, use this formula:
[Number of meals] X [ounces per meal] X [# of people] divided by 16 = pounds you need
Factory farming damages the environment and produces animals that are not optimally healthy, which means they also make us less healthy. I encourage you to buy the highest quality protein you can afford. If you can’t invest in grass-fed meats, buy the leanest cuts you can find, remove excess fat before cooking, and drain the fat after cooking.
If meat’s not really your thing or you’re a recent convert from vegetarianism, a big ol’ steak might not be too appealing. You can mix and match protein sources for lots of options:
- tuna + hard-boiled eggs
- Applegate Farms lunch meat
- mixed grill of chicken, pork chops, sausage, steak
- meat on meat: burger patty with shrimp, anything topped with a fried egg
- fish and seafood
3. Save money with homemade.
Sure, there are plenty of sexy paleo products available now, but don’t be goaded into thinking you need them to eat well. In under an hour, you can make a bunch of paleo treats and staples from scratch. They taste better and they’re way cheaper.
4. Embrace the Weekly Cookup.
It’s no secret that I think the Weekly Cookup is the easiest way to preserve your good humor about your diet while setting yourself up for success each week. The basic idea is to cook “raw materials” so you can make meals on-the-fly and to cook a few recipes to spice things up.
The formula looks like this:
[raw materials for Hot Plates] + [2-3 recipes] + random snacks
This is what I make on a typical week as “raw materials” for Hot Plates
2-3 pounds grilled chicken thighs
2-3 pounds browned ground meat
1 large cabbage, steam-sautéed
1 large spaghetti squash, roasted
1 large cauliflower, riced in the food processor
2 pounds green beans, steam-sautéed
1 dozen hard-boiled eggs
1-2 jicama, peeled and cut into matchsticks
Olive Oil Mayo
1-2 supplemental veggies that I cook “to order”
Plus, I always have these things in the pantry and freezer:
tuna, packed in olive oil
sardines, boneless, skinless, packed in olive oil
frozen chopped spinach or collard greens
frozen chopped broccoli
frozen cauliflower florets
frozen baby Brussels sprouts
The post “The Method Behind My Madness” and my book Well Fed provide more detailed instruction on how to do this kind of Cookup, and this 1-Week Food Plan tells you step-by-step how to make food for a week.
5. Collect easy recipes
Once you’ve conquered the basics, it can be really fun to move on to paleo recipes. I recommend a weekly mix of “ingredients” dinners—like roasted chicken with a baked sweet potato and veggies, or a ginormous salad with sliced steak—and more complex recipes that excite your taste buds and inspire your creativity in the kitchen. There are tons of resources online, but read ingredients lists carefully because not all online recipes are compliant with the paleo guidelines, no matter how they’re labelled. My favorite trustworthy sources for clean ingredients and reliable technique include my site, StupidEasyPaleo, NomNomPaleo, Popular Paleo, and ZenBelly.
All of which brings us my new cookbook Well Fed Weeknights: Complete Paleo Meals in 45 Minutes or Less. In my previous cookbooks I made a strong argument for batch cooking—a.k.a. a Weekly Cookup—so your fridge would be stocked with food all week. I still think that’s a great idea, but sometimes real life means we don’t have a few hours to spend doing prep in the kitchen. With Well Fed Weeknights, I gave myself a challenge: Go to the grocery store, buy the ingredients for a meal, then come home and cook it in under 45 minutes. I completed that exercise about 175 times, and the result is my new cookbook. The recipes were inspired by food trucks and delicious things I’ve eaten on my travels. They’re colorful, bold, and put the fun back in weeknight dinners.
The recipe I’m sharing with you today is an updated version of the Indian stew Rogan Josh. It’s one of my most popular recipes from my site, but the original version takes 2 ½ hours to cook. This new version is ready in just 35-40 minutes!
Weeknight Rogan Josh
Whenever I mention the Indian dish rogan josh to my friend Stacey, I accidentally call it Josh Rogan, and she says, “Who? What?” because she knows it’s called rogan josh. We finally realized I was reversing the names because of Seth Rogen—and then Stacey was confusing him with Josh Groban. And maybe there really is something in a name. “Rogan” means oil in Persian and “josh” means heat or passionate. Perhaps rogan josh is an aphrodisiac? I know it makes me feel good all over, and it’s so luxurious, it makes me want to marry myself.
Total time: 35–40 minutes
SWEET POTATO HOME FRIES:
2 pounds sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet onion
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves
1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1⁄2 pounds ground lamb or beef
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1⁄2 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
1⁄4 cup water
Cook the potatoes. Wash and peel the sweet potatoes, then cut them into 1⁄2-inch-cubes. Place the oil in a large nonstick skillet and warm it over medium-high heat, 3 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and toss to coat them in the oil, then sprinkle them with the salt and cinnamon. Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet, and cook without stirring, 5 minutes. Remove the lid, stir, cover again, and continue to cook until tender. Meanwhile…
Prep the lamb seasonings. Warm the oil in another large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, 2 minutes. While the oil heats, dice the onion. Add the onion to the pan with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. While the onion cooks, peel and crush the garlic and place it in a small bowl. Add the paprika, cumin, coriander, chili powder, cinnamon, salt, ginger, cardamom, cloves, and cayenne. Mix with a fork and set aside.
Cook the lamb. Crumble the lamb into the skillet with the onion and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until it is just pink, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic-spice blend and stir to combine. Add the tomato paste and cook until it darkens in color, about 2 minutes. Add the coconut milk and water. Stir to combine, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.
Bring it home. While the lamb cooks, thinly slice the scallions and sprinkle them over the potatoes, toss, and let them continue to cook uncovered. Remove the lid from the lamb, stir, and cook uncovered until it begins to thicken a bit, 2–3 minutes.
To serve, snuggle the rogan josh and home fries together in a shallow bowl.
YOU KNOW HOW YOU COULD DO THAT?
If you want to add a green veggie, put a handful of baby spinach at the bottom of each bowl. Make it a little more lavish with toasted, sliced almonds on top.
Peel, cut, and cook the sweet potatoes and make the garlic-spice blend; store both in separate airtight containers in the fridge. When it’s time to eat, reheat the potatoes while you cook the lamb.
For 127 more delicious recipes like this one, get your hands on Well Fed Weeknights—or help yourself to this free 70-page sampler PDF with 18 recipes you can start cooking right away.
Melissa Joulwan is the author of the best-selling Well Fed cookbook series and the blog www.MelJoulwan.com, where she writes about her triumphs and failures in the gym, in the kitchen, and in life. Her newest cookbook is Well Fed Weeknights: Complete Paleo Meals in 45 Minutes Or Less (November 1, 2016). After a lifetime of yo-yo dieting and food as the enemy, Melissa found the paleo diet in 2009 and has been happily following it ever since. That year, she also underwent a thyroidectomy. In the aftermath of the surgery and recovery, she became particularly interested in how diet affects hormones, body composition, mood, and motivation. These days, Melissa’s workouts are just as likely to include yoga and meditation as lifting heavy things and sprinting to stay ahead of the stopwatch.