No Time To Cook Paleo? – My 3-Step System to Never Being Hungry No Matter How Busy You Are!

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how to cook fast and easy paleo meals

When Life Gets Hectic…

If you’re like me, then there are a lot of periods of your life when things get crazy hectic, and I mean really crazy hectic!

During those periods (e.g., finals at school, when all your kids are suddenly at home during the summer, or when work is overbearing), what you eat becomes less of a concern as Everything Else takes over!

I definitely recall that when my workload at the law firm increased, my diet would take a dramatic turn for the worse (let’s not even talk about my sleep and exercise!). Suddenly, the vending machine would unceasingly call my name and every dish on every take-out menu would make my mouth water.

I thought those stressful times were over when I quit the law firm life a month ago, but then the wedding planning kicked in. I’m sure anyone who has ever planned their own wedding will sympathize with me when I say that the week leading up to the wedding was definitely a bit stressful (and that’s a huge understatement)!

And to have to cook during that week for the entire family?? Hell, NO!

Thankfully, I had a system in place already which made eating healthy and Paleo for that week a breeze, and I’m going to share with you that amazing 3-step system in this post.

And don’t worry, I’m not just giving you some general fluff advice like “remember to plan your meals in advance” – these are concrete step-by-step details!

Why Not Just Stress Eat?

Before I get to the 3 steps, I want to address a huge issue we all face.

I know a lot of you probably say to yourself during those tough periods in your life: “Oh well, I’ll just restart my diet when this period is over,” or “It’s ok to eat this tub of ice-cream today because I’ve had a hard day.”

I totally did the same (and occasionally still do…)!

But, let’s all face the truth today:

LIFE WILL ALWAYS BE HECTIC AND STRESSFUL!

And unfortunately, those hectic periods are the times in our lives that define and shape us.

And for sure, what you eat during those periods will “shape” you both physically and mentally!

So, stop making excuses for why you can’t start Paleo today or why you deserve that cookie just this once.

Because (as the Give Me Everything lyrics go), “we might not get tomorrow, let’s do it [today].”

Remember, life can suck, but we shouldn’t suck at life!

My 3-Step System to Eating Paleo No Matter What!

1. Cook a Batch of Meat in the Slow Cooker

This is really key. If you do nothing else, please do this.

Think about how long it takes to cook raw meat (unless it’s seafood). It takes ages!

Now think about how quickly you can reheat cooked meat. Even if you don’t like using the microwave, you can still reheat meat in under 10 minutes in a pan!

How do you cook that meat and what do you do with it?

So, here’s my step-by-step walk-through:

a. Buy a large amount of meat. I like to budget for around 1/2 lb of meat per adult per meal. It can be any meat (my favorites are beef rounds, pork butts or shoulders, chicken breasts or drumsticks, and beef boneless short ribs). If you really like variety in your meals, then buy 2 different meats per week.

b. Place the meat in a slow cooker and add salt. If you’re not that hectic, feel free to add other seasoning (I’ll post a bunch of different slow cooker meat recipes soon – here are some I’ve posted before… pork, chicken, beef). But the basic seasoning is just salt. (No need to add any liquids to the meat for the most basic dishes.) I find most slow cookers can only fit around 4-6 lbs of meat, so if you have more to cook, then you’ll need an extra slow cooker (I have 2 and I use them at the same time!).

c. Cook the meat overnight or during the day while you’re away. I usually put it on low heat for 8-10 hours (buy a slow cooker that has an automatic timer in case you can’t get home in time – this is the slow cooker I used for a long time!). You can use a meat thermometer if you’re worried about the meat not cooking all the way, but I’ve always found slow cookers to overcook the meat rather than undercook it.

d. When the meat is ready, put it into containers and store in the fridge – I have a ton of glass pyrex containers that I use for this purpose. Feel free to eat some of the meat while it’s warm too.

Here’s a photo of what I currently have in my fridge: – there’s some beef boneless short ribs, lamb chops, and pork shoulder with pork belly.
paleo meats

e. When it’s mealtime, you have a lot of choices as to how you can eat the meat.

(1) Just reheat the meat (in the microwave, in a pan, on the grill) and eat it with some vegetables.

(2) Saute it. Add some coconut oil into a pan, shred the meat, and saute the shredded meat with your vegetable or fruit of choice (Step 2 is all about how to ensure you have fruits and vegetables ready). You can even add some spices or tamari sauce for extra flavor!

(3) Make a Stew. Heat some water (or ready-made meat broth, if you have any) in a pot, add in the shredded meat, add in some vegetables of your choice, add salt/spices to taste. And you have a delicious stew!

(4) Make a Salad. Shred the meat without reheating it, buy some salad greens or a prepared salad from the store (even Walmart and MacDonald’s have them!), throw away any dressing that comes with it, and add the shredded meat with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar to the salad. Toss and eat. That’s a nutritious salad, which you can also make in advance and take to work with you in case you can’t make it home for dinner (or eat it for lunch!).

Phew! That’s a lot of ways to eat that one meat. Imagine if you cooked 2 types of meat or had some frozen fish in the freezer??

Extra Tip:
I usually finish eating a batch of meat within 3-4 days, but it can last a couple days longer in the fridge. You can also freeze the cooked meat, but the long defrost time always deters me. If you shop only once a week for groceries, then either cook all the meat in one go, or freeze half of it and cook that half when you start running low on the already cooked meat.

2. Stock Frozen Vegetables

I know we’d all love to eat seasonally and have super fresh produce, but let’s face it, most fruits and vegetables you purchase in large supermarkets 1) did not come from anywhere close to you, and 2) were picked when they weren’t ripe and has been sitting there for days if not weeks!

That means those “fresh” produce have lost a lot of their nutrition.

As Diane Barrett, a food scientist at the University of California-Davis, writes, “Fresh fruits and vegetables may not be consumed for a significant length of time following harvest, during which time nutrient degradation may occur.”

She also states that: “Fruits and vegetables are frozen within hours of harvest, so that actually allows you to retain those nutrients.”

But even assuming there is significant vitamin loss from using frozen (or canned) fruits and vegetables, it’s still way way way better that you eat the less nutritious frozen vegetables rather than that Thai take-out noodles or fast-food burger!

So, what do I have frozen in my freezer?

As you can see from the photo below, there’s some sweet potatoes, butternut squash, kale, swiss chard, green beans, berries, and pineapple.
paleo frozen foods

In addition, I also have some frozen seafood (because they cook fast) as well as some bone broth (because I made way too much in one go) and some calf liver (just because it’s nutritious and tasty).

frozen paleo seafood

Of course, if you do have time to buy fresh fruits and vegetables and to use them before they go bad in your fridge, then please buy them – I am not against fresh produce in any way!

Extra Tip:
Most prepackaged frozen vegetables are pre-cut and peeled, so you don’t even need to take out the chopping board!

Now, let’s combine Step 1 and 2.

Take a look at these 3 dishes I made for lunch one day:
paleo meal

(1) salmon stew made with frozen salmon with some spinach and celery [recipe here if you really need me to tell you how to throw some stuff into a pot],

(2) pork with pineapple (yep, that’s what I do with that bag of frozen pineapple pieces and that glass container of pork) [the recipe for a fancier version of that dish is here], and

(3) shredded beef sauteed with peppers (ok, I had some fresh peppers that day!) [the recipe for a fancier version is here].

I hope those dishes don’t look too daunting anymore. In fact, you can make all 3 in 30 minutes if you multi-task a little and stick to just 1 vegetable/fruit per meat (e.g. only spinach with the salmon, only pineapples with the pork, and only peppers with the beef).

3. Stock up on Healthy Snacks

No matter how well you plan your meals, there will ALWAYS be those annoying times when you’re starving and have no access to your wonderful slow cooker meat and frozen vegetables!

For those times, I keep snacks around with me (in the glove compartment of my car when it’s not hot, in my purse, in my office drawer).

Some great snacks that I love: 100% chocolate, beef or turkey jerky, salami, coconut butter. None of these need to be refrigerated (assuming you get the right kind of salami).

coconut butter

Or, if you drink coffee, adding some ghee and coconut oil into your coffee (even if you don’t blend it) will give you lots of extra energy and fill you up without giving you a sugar crash! Check out my video on YouTube on making this coffee if you haven’t seen it.

paleo coffee with ghee and coconut oil

Extra Tip:
Keep a jar of ghee and a jar of coconut oil at the office – they don’t need to be refrigerated!!

Are You Still Hungry?

Please let me know if this post was helpful for you, because this amazing 3-step system really changed my life!

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{ 25 comments… add one }

  • Victoria Herrington October 6, 2013, 8:39 pm

    Good article, don’t even have to print or write anything down – got this “in my head”. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Louise October 6, 2013, 8:42 pm

      Thanks Victoria!

      Reply
  • Abby October 7, 2013, 6:36 am

    Thanks for the posts. Sometimes….you are just that tad bit of information and inspiration needed!

    Reply
    • Louise October 7, 2013, 7:00 am

      Haha – thanks Abby!

      Reply
  • Mary Walter October 7, 2013, 8:22 am

    Thanks Louise! Some really great ideas I can implement easily since the busiest time of the year is coming fast!

    Reply
  • Amber October 7, 2013, 10:25 am

    Thank you so much, I really needed this advice today! Amazing :)

    Reply
  • Nyla Walsh October 7, 2013, 10:41 am

    I do many of these things already. It really helps to stay on track. I also have cooked squash, sweet potato, and white potato in the frig. I can use them in many ways to add to the meal. Note: I eat more squash than potatoes, my husband likes the potatoes more. Also I keep fresh mushrooms for a side dish. I have chopped onion in the freezer to shorten prep time. Just a few ways to stay on track

    Reply
    • Louise October 7, 2013, 11:58 am

      Fantastic ideas – we keep cooked sweet potato and white potatoes in the fridge too. Then you can just reheat quickly and eat as a side to any meal.

      Reply
  • Adriana October 7, 2013, 11:03 am

    Those are great tips! I love my slow cooker!

    Reply
  • Deb October 7, 2013, 11:23 am

    thanks for the reminder that there is no excuse not to eat well! good article and info!

    Reply
  • Stephanie October 7, 2013, 12:39 pm

    Thanks, Louise! Every time someone says”I don’t know how/I’m too busy to cook Paleo.” I tell
    them “Pick a meat, pick a vegetable. Garlic powder, salt and pepper. Done.” I have four kids (12-16 yrs) and they are constantly asking what to make for lunch. I tell them to take what ever left over meat is in the fridge and put on top of a salad, then grab a handful of nuts and some chopped cucumber or apple and drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of orange or lemon juice. Easy, peasy.

    Reply
    • Louise October 7, 2013, 12:49 pm

      yes! you’re teaching your kids excellent life skills right there!

      Reply
  • Amanda October 8, 2013, 12:41 am

    Awesome! Great ideas, I get home during the week with little time left to create complicated meals.

    Reply
    • Louise October 8, 2013, 12:48 am

      Glad it helps Amanda!

      Reply
  • Shawna October 9, 2013, 11:29 pm

    I live with CFS/ME and at times I can do very little. Cooking is not likely to happen, and neither is showering or dressing for that matter. Other days I am faring better but basically I never know if it will be a day when I am up to cooking much or not. I am gluten intolerant and have chosen a low carb, grain free diet for my optimum health. I often use paleo recipes as well though I include a bit of dairy in my diet. I have learned to do this very thing you are suggesting, on days when I feel up to some cooking I try to cook up extra supplies of meat or to make stews and soups which I can put in the freezer. I find it helpful to have precooked meatballs on hand and pre cooked chicken. There is a local company that makes a nice sausage that just has real meat and is gluten free. Those are easy to cook up too. I also find scrambled eggs or an apple with almond butter are fairly easy meals to get for myself though I have had days when even the scrambled eggs would be too much and I try not to eat too much fruit.

    Reply
    • Louise October 9, 2013, 11:54 pm

      Thanks Shawna – those are some first-rate ideas!

      Reply
  • Annie October 15, 2013, 9:50 pm

    Just starting to look at paleo diet???this ideas are very helpful not so overwhelming as it all first appears ..

    Reply
    • Louise October 15, 2013, 10:27 pm

      Thanks Annie – glad you find them helpful!

      Reply
  • Kate November 8, 2013, 6:32 pm

    Wow! This is great. Thank you! I know all of these things but it’s nice to be reminded of them. Life has gotten crazy busy for me – I just started medical school – and I’m finding it SO hard to eat well now that I don’t have a lot of time for food prep. I should definitely get my slow cooker fired up. I’m so glad I just found your website – I think you’re my new best friend ;).

    Reply
    • Louise November 8, 2013, 9:12 pm

      Haha thanks Kate – so glad it’s helpful!

      Reply
  • Pat November 27, 2013, 8:33 am

    Thank you so much! I use my electric pressure cooker for just these ideas! I have been on Paleo for one month today and look forward to a lifetime of Paleo Living. Your info is priceless,and well written for our busy lives with no excuse for unhealthy non-paleo eating! Thanks again, Pat

    Reply
    • Louise November 27, 2013, 5:44 pm

      Thanks so much Pat – glad it was helpful!

      Reply
  • Erin December 4, 2013, 4:09 pm

    Thanks, I am struggling with my new food restrictions and how to make new food, I hadnt thought about pork in the slow cooker!

    Reply
  • Joyce Kaiser April 20, 2014, 10:26 am

    I cook in batches, too. And prep veggies in batches and portion them. It’s easy to grab a handful of this and a pinch of that and toss it in the wok to heat through.

    I also spend a few minutes every Sunday creating a meal plan for the coming week. If I know what we’re eating every day, I know what to get out of the freezer to thaw or what to toss in the crock pot in the morning. No thought required. Saves a huge amount of time.

    Plus I keep a few quick proteins on hand – turkey burgers or sausages mostly – that can be heated in 8-10 minutes. Hard boiled eggs is another good one, they stay fresh for hours and can be tossed in a to go bag the way I used to take granola bars and such. Cans of tuna. And nut mixes. I make big batches of spiced nuts to take with me when I’m going to be someplace that I will boredom eat. That can be very satisfying.

    It may not sound like it, but I actually spend a lot less time thinking about food than I used to!

    Reply

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Louise Yang Ancestral Chef

Hi! I'm Louise - I am "beyond gluten-free," grain-free, paleo/primal, a lawyer, an ex-physicist, a cook, a blogger, a Brit living in the US, an ex-violin player, an occasional crossfitter, a mystery book junkie, and of course, I am the Ancestral Chef :) Read my About Me Page for more!

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