PaleoHacks: Tips for the busy & frantic

I’ve been around the Paleosphere for a while now, going on 5 years or so.  In that time I’ve had the good fortune to meet, help, and be helped by a lot of people.  But the one thing that continues to pop up with every person trying to tackle this lifestyle is, “How on earth do I fit all this cooking into my daily routine!?”

I see this question popping up on Facebook in various forums almost daily, whether it’s in The International Paleo Movement Group (IPMG), my good friend Diane Sanfilippo’s 21 Day Sugar Detox (21DSD) (affiliate link) groups and forums, the Whole 30 and Perfect Health Diet crowds. It doesn’t matter.  Every new person asks this same basic question.  I even asked it myself once upon a time.  It seemed crazy that as a dad, an employee, a home-owner, someone who religiously makes time for hitting the gym between 3 and 5 days a week, and someone who would like to spend at least 5 minutes just sitting and breathing, that I should have to increase the amount of “stuff” I have to think about daily just to maintain my health. In fact, it seemed don’t right counter-productive to good health to have even MORE stuff to think and worry about daily.

Maintaining good eating habits takes work.  There is no magic pill, or silver bullet.  Well, actually, there is. The work itself IS the magic bullet.  The problem is that most people are so used to convenience and pre-prepared, frozen crap that takes 3 minutes in the microwave, that actual cooking doesn’t sound like a magic bullet. It sounds like way more effort you don’t have time for, more hassle you don’t need, and more frustration than it’s worth. It’s even more overwhelming if  you’ve never had to master the kitchen and don’t know the difference between an immersion blender and a chef’s knife.

Clearly some people LOVE being in the kitchen.  I actually rather enjoy it when I have the time and don’t have other more pressing things to do.  And I know my compadré also loves being in the kitchen.  Friday nights after work are his “Me Time” where his creative side flourishes.  But by and large, for most people these days, cooking is a lost art, and the idea of having to cook meals at the end of the day after work are the last thing anyone would actually want to spend their time on.

My kids often hear me say things like, “Everything in life is a skill!”  and, “If you want to get better at it, you have to practice!”. This is no less true of maintaining a healthy life style or eating well.  It takes practice.  At the beginning, we all stink at it.  Especially if we’ve never been taught how to work in the kitchen.  But the more you stick with it, the better you get. I’m also a firm believer that you need to also understand yourself and your lifestyle in order to figure out how certain things fit into that daily routine.

My friend and trainer, Justin, from Crossfit Woodshed/A Lifetime of Strength, recently posted the following to his membership:

“look at your existing routine and your habits and consider what changes a new habit would catalyze. If you love jogging, it makes you feel good, and it cascades into good choices and habits with measurable results already…that may be the answer–your good existing routine is probably going to win the day. In this case that doesn’t have to mean you’re “a jogger,” it means that jogging a few times a week fits into a happy, healthy version of you.”

In other words, look at the new habit you wish to introduce.  How does that work for you? Will this new change re-enforce existing good habits?  Cause undo stress and allow old, undesirable  habits to creep back in?  Take a look at your daily, weekly, or monthly routine and figure out what fits into it and what doesn’t.  Maybe a bulk cook day just can’t fit into your weekly routine, but it might monthly.  With kids and all sorts of activities, we never do huge batch cook days.  Yet, my friend Christine does them quite often, and very successfully.  PaulA does big cook-ups almost weekly, while we focus on smaller “life hacks” to make things go easier.  But the most important thing is, as they say, “To Know Thyself!”

A few years ago Justin invited Dan John to visit us for a weekend seminar.  One neat trick I learned from him was the “Stop Light” approach.  The concept is simple, but the results are powerful. Take out a calendar and and look at your week, month, or year.  Figure out which parts are “green”, “yellow”, or “red”. Which parts of your week are free right now?  Where you have time to do whatever you want? Those are the “green” zones, where you might be able to fit something else in.  Which parts are a little tight already?  Perhaps there’s an hour here or there between other things.  You might be able to do something, but maybe you shouldn’t commit to it.  That’s “yellow”. And those parts that are already scheduled and committed to, definitely “red”.  So, figure these things out and see where you might fit in a new habit or start working on a new skill that will eventually make your life easier.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t pause here and warn you of trying to take on too many new habits at once.  I’ve written in the past about how to adopt new habits here and here.  So if you missed those, give them a gander, and work on introducing one new, good habit at a time.  And of course, if you ever need help, feel free to stop by 30 Days in the Cave or our Thoughtful Cave Dad FB page and ask for help.  That’s what we’re here for!

So, without further ado, here are a bunch of PaleoHacks CaveMom and I have adopted to make our weeks a little easier to deal with.  With jobs, houses, cars, dogs, chickens, and CaveKids who need to be schlepped all over creation 7 days a week, here’s how we do it:

  • Have the same thing for breakfast & lunch every day.
    • Decision fatigue is a real thing (see herehere, here, and here). The more decisions you need to make in a single day, the worse you get at making decisions. Taking the decision-makingprocess out of things that “don’t really matter” makes life easier. I have an omelet every morning for breakfast and a salad for lunch everyday. Knowing well in advance what I’m going to be eating means I already know when I shop what I’ll need to buy, so it’s always in the house.
  • Shop at a time that fits into the rest of your life.
    • My kids have activities 3x/week right near the local BJs Wholesale (Northeast version of Costco). So we plan on doing our shopping when we already have to go in that direction. We drop them off, hit BJs, usually fill up our gas as well, then turn around and pick up the kids.
    • We maintain a shared Evernote folder with per-store lists for ALL the food we ever buy.When someone’s going somewhere, one of makes sure that store’s list is up to date. Often this plays out with me calling my wife and saying, “Hey, we’re out of X, can you swing by the store and get that?” Which results in her saying, “Sure, but update the Evernote list?” I do that, Evernote syncs to her phone, voila!
  • Call ahead for things like deli orders.
    • Deli meat is just way too convenient. We eat a LOT of it. We make sure to buy the cleanest, healthiest stuff we can find, no extra sodium, no added sugars, etc. We usually get about 4 pounds/week. When someone’s heading to BJs, we call ahead and let them know we’ll be there within an hour or so, and they always have it waiting.
    • This saves a ton of time, and it’s priceless to see all those people sitting there waiting to give their order as you walk up, say, “I called in my order.”, have the girl hand you a stack of meat, and then walk away while they’re all still standing there waiting.
  • Bulk-prep on weekends.
    • Since I already know I’m having omelets and salads all week long, I already know what I need to make those things. I pretty much put the same things on each, so on Sundays (or, often, Monday mornings while getting the kids ready for school) I chop up large containers worth of mushrooms, peppers, onions, cucumbers, and celery. This leaves only things like tomatoes and olives to slice up for each day’s salad or omelet.
  • Cook enough for dinner to make lots of leftovers.
    • We live on leftovers. When we cook up chicken, we’ll grill up 4 pounds of chicken and have that for dinner 2-3 nights in a row. We’ll make up huge batches of chili consisting of 6+ pounds of ground beef and freeze half for later, and eat the other half for 203 days in a row. We almost always have leftovers in the fridge or freezer.
  • Get the largestcrockpot you can find and use it for everything!
    • Cooking in bulk is made even easier with a crockpot. Do all the prep up front, dump everything in the crockpot, turn it on, come back later and eat. It also makes it really easy to make enough for leftovers.
  • Have leftovers for breakfast or lunch.
    • My kids have been known to eat BBQ chicken, grilled steaks, chili, beef stew, hamburgers, etc. for breakfast. There’s nothing faster for breakfast in the morning than the thing you can yank out of the fridge and zap in the microwave for 2 minutes and serve. And, since it’s homemade, it’s always delicious.
    • My kids are not huge fans of eggs, so they’ll often *ask* for leftovers if it means they don’t have to have eggs.If we didn’t get to the store, or it’s an odd week and we ran out of something, I’ll often take leftovers for lunch.
    • If we had chili, the kids will often request we send that to school for lunch in a thermos container so it stays hot.
  • Have “back-up” items in your pantry at all times.
    • Sometimes we don’t have leftovers and we run out of deli meats which means I don’t have any protein for my lunch. I keep cans of tuna, kippers (herring fillets), and salmon in the pantry at all times.
    • Not only are these things delicious and incredibly nutritious, but they’re insanely convenient. Grab a can, toss it in your lunch with your salad, and go. Open it up, dump it on your salad, douse it with your homemade EVOO based salad dressing, and BAM. Salad with protein.
  • Buy lots of eggs!
    • Eggs are miracle meal. They have all the essential nutrition in on easy and convenient package to grow an entire chicken!
    • We buy about 4dz/week from a local farmer. Even at $3.50/dz, that’s only $.30/egg, which for my wife, is an entire meal!
    • For my omelet, that’s a $1.20! You can’t beat that for affordability! We’ll sometimes make frittatas, but more often than not for me it’s the omelet, the wife 1 over-dead, and the kids get scrams.
    • Easy, quick, convenient, and affordable. You can’t beat eggs!

So, there you have it!  Automate your life.  Figure out which things work for you and use them. Figure out which things don’t work for you, and ignore them.  I’d love to hear what tips, tricks, or hacks you’ve incorporated into your life, so please share them in the comments!

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