Adventures in Eating
Let me just start out by saying, I know many of you will think I’m crazy. I’m not writing about this to give or get advice, to open up a controversial topic, or anything like that. But my family has been making some changes in the way we eat, which I know will change the way I garden. It has opened up a new world of eating vegetables, and so I am excited to share more about growing and eating things I would never have considered even a year ago.
Eating a Paleo Diet
For the past two months we have been eating a Paleo diet. The basic idea behind this way of eating is to go back to eating like man did before he settled down and grew crops. Basically, this means eating meat, veggies, fruit, and fat. It means NOT eating grains or legumes (think wheat, barley, oats, rice, beans, peanuts).
Before you freak out, I’d like to offer a few bits of background. First, this diet was recommended to my husband by his physician in response to his latest physical exam and blood tests. He has not been officially diagnosed, but we’re pretty sure he has metabolic syndrome. If left unchecked (by diet and exercise), he will surely develop diabetes, heart disease, and be at increased risk of a heart attack or stroke. Sounds like most of America right now, doesn’t it?
Second, we haven’t made drastic changes all at once. We maintained two diets (regular and paleo) for quite a while. I often cooked pasta or rice for the kids, with a paleo substitute for the adults. My husband has been more careful and strives for 80% paleo compliance, I’m eating paleo about 50% of the time, and the kids about 25% of the time. This was an expensive, but effective way of gradually building new recipes into our diet.
Finally, though the paleo-lifestyle permanently excludes grains and legumes, I expect that once my husband reaches his health goals we’ll probably have them as a minor part of our diet. We like the 80% rule–try to eat this way at least 80% of the time. This allows for eating out, eating with friends, holidays, etc.
What Paleo Eating Looks Like
When my husband first brought this to the table (literally and figuratively!), I thought it was a crazy meat-eating diet that would be impossible to maintain. Boy was I wrong!
Before we started I leaned a bit toward the vegetarian side, so I often used less meat (3/4 of a pound instead of 1 pound), and cooked meals with meat only two to three times a week. Now I try to incorporate meat into most meals, using amounts that would be typical: 1 pound of ground beef for an entire recipe or 1 small chicken breast per person.
The main difference is that I replace all our former grains with vegetables. So, instead of rice, I make cauliflower rice. Instead of pasta I make spaghetti squash or cabbage. I also make veggies as a side dish–broccoli, asparagus, green beans, green salad. We easily eat twice to three times as many vegetables as before.
We still enjoy dairy (which is controversial in the paleo world), but have moved to whole dairy: whole milk, full fat sour cream, cottage cheese, etc. And butter! You see, there are fewer calories in vegetables than in grains, so the fat is an important source of energy and calories.
Another part of the paleo-lifestyle is fruit and nuts. We’re eating the same amount of fruit and slightly more nuts than before. We enjoy it, but don’t go crazy on the fruit. They make a great treat (strawberries and cream) or as a snack with lunch.
Finally, we’ve loved the addition of coconut to our diet. Coconut milk is a new staple, and I cook with coconut oil. I’ve always cooked Thai and other Asian dishes with canned coconut milk, but felt bad for the high fat content. But this type of fat/oil is recommended when eating paleo style.
Benefits of the Paleo Lifestyle
Both my husband and I have been losing weight, which is great. But the biggest benefit I’ve seen is with his appetite. After eating this way consistently for a week or two, he lost many of his cravings. His energy is more consistent, without the early-afternoon crash he used to experience. He’s a cookie/doughnut junkie, and while he still likes those foods, he doesn’t NEED them like he used to. When he was eating grains, he found it nearly impossible to give up those bad foods. But now it’s easier to abstain (or during the holidays, enjoy just a few).
I’ve loved the increase in veggies for my children. My oldest has gone through a picky eating phase, and was routinely asking to eat just pasta with butter and powdered Parmesan cheese. Now even when he refuses the main course, he eats spaghetti squash and butter, along with a small salad and broccoli. What an improvement!
I’ve totally stopped buying cereal, chicken nuggets, and most snack foods. My kids beg for fruit or yogurt as a snack, enjoy eggs for breakfast, and leftovers for lunch.
As for me, I can feel a huge difference with the increase of veggies and reduction of grains. I had already given up all white bread, which brings my already slow digestive system to a standstill. Replacing starches with fiber has helped even more. I find that I experience a different sensation of being full after a paleo meal. I am satisfied, but not stuffed, and that feeling lasts a while. Meals based on carbs always left me overeating, wanting more, and craving a snack within an hour or two.
The Cost of Eating Paleo
For a point of reference, I usually spend $300 a month to feed our family of 4. That includes food and paper goods, pretty much anything you buy in the grocery section at Wal-Mart. On top of that we budget about $130 for eating on the go.
Even though it’s been two months, because of the holidays, travel, etc. I don’t feel like I have an accurate view of what these changes cost in money. My gut feeling is that it will cost somewhat more (maybe 25-30%), but less than it cost at first (no idea, I can’t even think about it). You see, at first I was buying double. Or I should say, my husband was buying paleo-friendly food while I maintained our normal supply for me and the kids. He likes to experiment, and sometimes one trip to the health food store was $50! With 2, 3, 4 or more such trips, I would not be surprised if we spent double.
Honestly, I decided that the cost of food, even if it’s double for a month or two, is less than disease, medicine, and other potential problems and losses we might incur without this change. So I chose to let go and see how it all settled out. I think it’s evening out and I’ll report on it at the end of January.
The biggest cost has been in time and preparation. I had my repertoire of recipes I could whip out at a moment’s notice, and this has made me scour the internet for ideas, run to the store for extra items that aren’t in my pantry, and spend WAY more time cooking.
We also don’t have a great option to get pizza or eat out as often as before. So it creates more responsibility for me, since I’m the one who cooks around here (my husband is willing, but remember I said he likes to “experiment”?).
The upside–I got a new Cuisinart for Christmas. Highly justified, highly used, and highly loved by me! Also, winter is slow in my garden, so I have the time for cooking. And who can complain if I warm the house up with cooking or baking?
So overall, it’s been a great change for our family. Like I said, I’ve found some great recipes that use lots of vegetables. Some veggies that we rarely ate before (cauliflower, cabbage, squash) have become staples. I’m excited to pass some of these along to you and link you to my favorite cooks and sources of these recipes. Some are paleo, others are not.
This will also change how I plan and plant my garden. I’m looking forward to planting more spring veggies–salad greens, cabbage, and broccoli. And I’m less focused on tomatoes (though we’ll still have lots of those) and more focused on squash, green beans, and root veggies. Growing a garden will really start to impact my budget, since we spend more on vegetables than we used to.
Won’t this be fun?!? Here’s looking forward to a great year enjoying my square foot garden!