One thing that seems to be a challenge for people wanting to clean up their eating is not the desire, but the logistics. Let me be the first to admit it, eating clean (like anything else worthwhile) takes some time and effort. There, I said it.
Healthy meals with fresh, whole ingredients are not just going to fall out of the sky (or off Pinterest) and land on your plate. For some of us to pull it off, we need meal plans, shopping lists, printed recipes, HELP.
Oddly enough, I am super organized in my professional life but not really when it comes to meal prep. That is something I want to improve upon. My way of shopping and cooking has evolved over the last few years. I had to make some concerted effort when my fiance and I decided to follow a low carb diet. My original plan of attack was to cut out carbs and replace them with veggies.
That is still the general principle I follow and this principle has applied even through changing to a gluten free diet last November (after being diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity) and more recently after going full Paleo beginning in October of this year.
This general principle of replacing carbs with veggies guides my eating and thus my shopping. I basically have a handful of staple ingredients that I buy that work in several different recipes. You will be surprised how many different ways you can do protein, veggies, fruits and nuts. When I always have those on hand, I know a healthy meal is never out of reach.
So here are my Low Carb High Party Kitchen Staples that can always be found if you peek inside my fridge and pantry, and here’s what I do with them.
- Chicken Breasts: I should not have to tell you how versatile chicken is. Most common uses are for dinner, grilled/baked and served over salad or as an entree with a veggie side.
- Lean Ground Beef or Ground Turkey: I use both for bunless burgers, as the meat in my “pasta” sauce or paleo pasta e fagioli soup, on top of taco salad, as meatloaf. One of my favorite uses for ground turkey is a very gourmet turkey burger with roasted fennel.
- Low sodium deli meat (turkey or ham, I prefer Boar’s Head All Natural brand): I like to have deli meat on hand for quick no-cook lunches. My fiance has it as a wrap and I have it as a chef salad of sorts. Deli meat is also good for a quick, meaty snack that you can just grab out of the fridge.
- Canned Tuna or Chicken: I make tuna salad or chicken salad with mayo if it’s for my fiance and with mashed avocado and a drizzle of EVOO if it’s just me. This is another quick, no-cook dish that you can prepare ahead of time and packs well for lunch. Depending on what spices and add-in veggies you use, the flavors can be wildly different. Grapes add a sweetness, radish adds crunch and a little heat, apple adds sweet and crunch, nuts provide depth of flavor and crunch. The possibilities are endless. Here is a Curry Chicken Salad I like.
- Bacon: Part of the way I do Paleo is bacon on everything!! If you can get your hands on some high quality nitrate free bacon it will make everything in life better. I have a hard time keeping the really high quality stuff around, but I always have some form of bacon waiting for me in the fridge. It adds some fat and a satisfying flavor that makes you feel like you are indulging. For me, more so than any other food, the addition of bacon masks the absence of carbs and cheese. Bacon and eggs, bacon on top of bunless burgers, bacon on top of salads, bacon prepared ahead of time and kept in the fridge for a quick, meaty snack.
- Eggs: Eggs used to be only a breakfast food for me, but not anymore. When you don’t have time or energy to cook something elaborate, making eggs is a relatively quick and easy lunch or dinner. I like them because they are filling and you can pack them full of veggies and a side of bacon, like this. Lately, I have been adding an egg to my bunless burger patties before cooking them, it adds a richness to lean meat. I also like to add egg on top of burgers to make it a Brunch Burger. Another great use for eggs is hardboiled eggs to have on hand to top a salad or just grab as a quick snack.
- Spinach or Kale for adding to my Shakeology: Choose raw organic spinach or kale for this. I occasionally use spinach or kale for salads as well, they have a much stronger flavor than other greens so you might prefer to use other greens for salads. I like wilting baby spinach and baby kale under eggs or “pasta” as another way to sneak in some greens.
- Other Greens for Salads: My favorites are spring mix, baby romaine and romaine hearts. Lately I’ve been exploring new “greens”, including ready-to-go cole slaw mixes from the store that turn into Meat Coleslaw when topped with chicken and bacon, broccoli slaw and brussel sprouts (which turn into a great slaw texture if you run them through the food processor).
- A Vegetable “Pasta” option: matchstick carrots, crinkle cut carrots, broccoli slaw, spaghetti squash, zucchini, butternut squash, sweet potato, green papaya: Vegetable “pasta” is something I turn to 1-2 times per week. I just love it. I have posted examples of this several times, since I keep coming back to it and experimenting with the basic concept of substituting veggies in place of pasta. Here is the traditional carrot pasta (my favorite). Here is the broccoli slaw “pasta”. Here is the sweet potato noodles. Here is the green papaya “noodles” perfect for pad thai and stir fry dishes. Here is the classic spaghetti squash “pasta”.
- A few Side Dish Veggie options: brussel sprouts, cauliflower, green beans. There are so many ways to prepare these. My favorites are roasting brussel sprouts with a little bacon and balsamic vinegar, making cauliflower mash as a good substitute for mashed potatoes, running cauliflower through the food processor (called “ricing” the cauliflower) until it is a rice or couscous-like texture. Boiling green beans and then tossing them with a little garlic and bacon.
- Salad Topper Veggie options: radishes, celery, cucumber, alfalfa sprouts. I vary these to keep things interesting. I also try to buy whatever produce is on sale/in season.
- Onion. Sauteed on top of burgers with mushroom, egg scrambles, taco salad, “pasta” sauce, in burger patties. I use a lot of onion.
- Garlic or Shallots. Pretty much the same uses as onion, above. I also use roasted garlic or shallots in homemade salad dressings.
- Tomatoes. My Sam’s Club sells big 2 lb bags of roma tomatoes. I usually have one or two on hand to make from scratch “pasta” sauce. No more pre-made sauces! I roast my tomatoes in the oven with spices, onion and garlic for about an hour and then blend them in the Vitamix… voila! The freshest, most delicious sauce ever! Just add some meat and some of the vegetable “pasta” above and you’ve got a paleo style Italian meal.
- Bell Peppers. Sauteed or roasted as a side veggies, in eggs, on taco salad, in soup.
- Mushroom. Sauteed on top of burgers with onion, egg scrambles, taco salad,
- Avocado. On salad, on top of burgers, as a snack, as a side to omelettes, IN a smoothie.
- Bananas. I regularly use 1/2 frozen banana in my Shakeology.
- Apples or Pears. I keep these on hand for a little fruit to have a breakfast on days when I’m not having my shake for breakfast. It also makes for a good grab-and-go snack.
- Frozen berries for adding to my Shakeology. When they are in season and cheap I will buy them fresh and freeze them. When they are not in season I buy them already frozen.
- Coconut Milk. For shakeology and smoothies.
- Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk. For shakeology and smoothies.
- Coconut Water. For shakeology and smoothies. It’s also ‘nature’s Gatorade’, so I like to use it as a post-workout thirst quencher if I’m feeling especially dehydrated.
- Sparkling/Mineral Water. Add a little lemon or lime and you’ve got a lovely soda and cocktail alternative. Get really fancy with it with berries and fresh herbs.
- Raw Nuts: Usually one big nut for snacking (walnut, pecan, almond) and one small nut for salad topping (sunflower seeds, pine nuts)
- Extra Virgin Coconut Oil. I add this to my coffee in the morning instead of creamer. It’s also a good alternative to EVOO for cooking and roasting.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I try and get a high quality one for making salad dressings and a regular one for cooking.
- Ghee. Ghee is the paleo friendly version of butter. It’s basically clarified butter where the milk proteins are cooked out, removing it from the dairy category. I use it exactly as I used butter. It’s hard to find. I found some in my local health food store, Rollin Oats.
- Vinegars. I usually have a few types of vinegars on hand for keeping my salad dressings interesting. The must-have list includes Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar & Balasamic Vinegar. I also like red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar and champagne vinegar.
- Mustards. Dijon and Spicy Brown are always on hand for salad dressings.
- Spices. This is where your cooking gets some personality! Use what you like, and a lot of it!
- Raw Honey. For salad dressing and to add to my morning coffee.
- Dates. For a quick sweet snack/dessert replacement. Can also be added to shakes and smoothies and is really handy for paleo baking. More on that later.