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Plan Ahead Paleo for Busy Humans: Prep What You Can

How can busy humans make clean eating fit in their lives?

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I know you’re thinking “this is a no-brainer. Of course planning your food ahead of time will help make life easier. Of course plan ahead Paleo is the way to go.”

But do you know where to start?

Around here we eat a fairly steady Paleo diet. No, it’s not because we did the Caveman thing, and it’s not because we like fads. It’s because I discovered in early 2013 through the Whole30 that going Paleo was the best way for me to drop the weight, keep it off and, most importantly, feel good about myself, my body and what I eat.

But I’m busy — and I mean really busy. I work from home full-time with a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old … and it’s summer break. Most of the year I spend about 90 minutes, five or six days a week doing some kind of training (CrossFit, running, triathlon training or some combination). I get eight hours of sleep every night. I’m often at the gym until 5:30 p.m. and the kids are in bed no later than 7:30 p.m.

When in the world am I supposed to have time to cook the majority of my food from scratch?

Time management is very important to me because it lets me make time for the things I enjoy while holding a job that I find fulfilling. And a very big part of that time management is preparing ahead when I can.

When it comes to food that means two things:

–Making a weekly meal plan, through shopping list and only ONE grocery trip (two if the first store doesn’t carry something or a visit to Vitacost.com) per week.

–Preparing as much of that food as possible ahead of time. Not only does this save me time at dinner, about 15 minutes per meal, it means I have easy protein and vegetable sources ready when I’m starving and short on time at lunch.

In this post we’re going to talk about the food preparation and plan ahead Paleo.

Preparing food ahead of time is really important because it is the single most important step for making sure I actually eat healthy food. Let’s be honest, when I’m starving or very tight on time and no healthy options are available for ready consumption, I’m going to grab a handful of whatever I can. If healthy food is ready, I’ll grab that happily. If it’s not, I’m going to eat junk food. The end.

My work schedule is flexible, so most of my meal preparation happens the same morning as my grocery trip and before 1 p.m. I give my 3-year-old lunch during this and make sure he’s occupied with a toy (or set of toys … or something to safely and quietly destroy) to keep him occupied.

Here are the steps I take.

– Make a list, check it twice. First, I decide what I can prepare ahead of time. I check over the ingredients of each of the meals I’m making over the coming week and identify the ingredients that can be processed ahead of time and then reheated or cooked when the time is right. Next, I think about what I’m going to eat for lunch if I’m not making a specific recipe, or for snacks. I put on the list anything I can prepare ahead of time to make easily accessible for those times, like hardboiled eggs or carrot sticks.

– Gather your ingredients. This is usually accomplished in the grocery shopping I’ve just finished.

– The right tools make all the difference. If you’re serious about making Paleo a long term part of your lifestyle, you will benefit hugely from investing in a few tools. Right now my favorites are a food processor (attachment blades for shredding and pureeing are amazing!), my cheap-o immersion blender (WHY dirty the real blender when this thing is fast and so easy to clean!?), and my Vidalia Chop Wizard (BEST THING EVER). You’ll also want to make sure you have containers in which to store all your prepared food. My favorite are reusable glass, but ziplock bags or plastic containers will of course also work.

– Ready, set, cook. I tackle my list of food I’m going to prepare ahead by category, so that I have one thing in each area cooking at a time. While something is cooking on the stove (example: sausage patties that I’ll reheat for breakfast), something else is steaming (cauliflower), something else is baking (cubed sweet potatoes) and I’m taking care of some dicing (in my Chop Wizard). When those things are done I can just wash my tools and repeat.

Here is a list of food I processed over 1.5 hours during the prep day pictured above:

– Prepped broccoli for roasting
– Made a giant pot of roasted carrot soup (not shown — required roasting carrots and then pureeing with immersion blender)
– Sliced sweet potatoes for baking into “fries” later
– Sliced carrots for several meals worth of steamed or roasted carrots
– Made eggs cups for 4 days worth of breakfasts (I love this recipe from Nom Nom Paleo).
– Washed and prepped spinach
– Sliced melon
– Prepped chicken breasts into chunks for a dinner recipe
– Hard boiled a dozen eggs (not shown)

Here’s some examples of other things I commonly prepare ahead:

– Diced onion for various recipes
– Cut/diced/sliced veggies for specific recipes — just go recipe by recipe through your meal plan, make a list of what you need cut and quantities that you can do ahead of time, and do it.
– Some type of vegetable-based soup (carrot, butternut squash, etc.) that can be easily reheated to be used as a quick veggie side dish.

When I first started eating a clean diet, I was blown away that I could eat this many veggies in just one week. Now this many vegetables sometimes doesn’t even last me the full week.

Taking the time to prepare ahead for your meals makes eating a clean or paleo diet much less time consuming and much more user friendly.

What are your favorite prep tricks?

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