One of the biggest complaints I see from people who are interested in starting the Paleo diet or the autoimmune protocol (AIP) is: how can I find the time to do all of that cooking?!
I said the same thing myself when I first transitioned from a highly processed Standard American Diet (SAD) to cooking from scratch on a real foods diet, which eventually evolved into Paleo. At the time I had a demanding laboratory job and I really struggled to find the time to cook.
I implemented 2 strategies that I have kept using through the years: meal planning and batch cooking.
What is meal planning?
Meal planning takes forethought and, well, planning! Typically the easiest way to approach it is to look forward to the next 7 days and then choose which meals you will eat on specific days. It's difficult to do successfully without putting your menu down on paper, either old school in a notebook with a pen, or using a spreadsheet on the computer.
Both Pinterest and Yummly can be helpful in helping you to find and organize recipes from blogs that you want to try. You can also pull out your favorite cookbooks and choose your favorite recipes, too.
Once you have planned out the meals you want to eat, you need to look at all of the recipes and create a shopping list, and plan your grocery store and/or farmer's market visits to get all of your ingredients. This step takes the most work and I have found it helpful to print out copies of every recipe to ensure I don't forget any ingredients on my shopping list! I use the free website & app Wunderlist to keep track of shopping lists which I can share with my husband.
Then, you choose one or two days to do meal prep - usually one of your days off of work works best so you can dedicate a chunk of time to chopping, slicing, and cooking. You've gotta be good at multitasking for this to be efficient and not eat up your entire day. While the ground beef for your chili is browning, you're roasting your sweet potatoes and squashes and chopping veggies for your salads, quickly moving from one task to the next. It helps to write down a plan. When you are getting used to the process of multitask cooking it's a good idea to just do 2 or 3 days worth of cooking in one session, so you don't get overwhelmed!
For dishes that are quick to cook the day of, look at any prep work like peeling or chopping that you can do ahead of time to save you even more time.
If all this sounds like a lot of work, I won't lie: it is. But with practice you will find that it becomes easier and faster to create meal plans for yourself and your family. That said, there is no shame in signing up for a meal planning service to help take the workload off of you, even if you just do it for a few months. 20Dishes is my favorite (more on them below).
What is batch cooking?
Batch cooking involves cooking enough to last you and your family more than one meal. My husband and I refer to them as "tickets" - one ticket feeds the two of us once, and I very rarely cook a meal with fewer than 2 tickets. I prefer at least 3 or 4, and we eat those leftovers as lunch or dinner usually, or I sometimes freeze them for later.
There have been periods where I have been lazy about meal planning and have relied more on a few batch cooking sessions per week. If you aren't into spreadsheets, this strategy may work better for you! Large roasts work very well with batch cooking, with the added benefit that you can use your slow cooker and/or Instant Pot to prepare them. Here are some awesome batch cooking recipes from my blog:
- Easy slow cooker unrolled cabbage rolls (AIP)
- Slow cooker or Instant Pot Cuban lechon asado (AIP)
- Easy slow cooker ropa vieja
- Cuban slow cooker picadillo with hidden offal
- Beef tongue tacos
- Puerto Rican Sancocho (meat plantain stew) (AIP)
- Guacamole chicken nuggets (AIP)
What about meal planning services?
I think meal planning services are a great option and can save you a lot of time, especially if spreadsheets and planning ahead make you feel dread. There is one in particular that I have been proud to promote over the years called 20 Dishes, founded by 3 of my friends, which actually marries meal planning with batch cooking. You get your weekly menu plus a cheat sheet with dead simple step by step instructions for one meal prep session per week that will take you about an hour.
So they take all of the hard, tedious work out of choosing recipes, compiling a shopping list, and figuring out how to do all that multitasking on cook day, and they make it so simple that you can create a week's worth of dinners in just 1 hour.
They have AIP, Paleo, Gluten-Free, Classic (which is all real food), and Vegetarian options. Yes, they have AIP!! I have seen so many people talking about how brain fog can really interfere with their meal planning while on the AIP, and the beautiful thing about 20Dishes is that all you have to do is print out your shopping list and print out your step by step instructions and you are good to go.
Try 20Dishes free for 7 days just to make sure you like their system (believe me: you will!)
Something else I LOVE about 20Dishes is their mission: to bring back the family dinner and making cooking easy for EVERYONE, regardless of the diet they eat. It is a sad fact that home-cooked meals are becoming endangered in our busy modern world, and the younger generations are not being taught how to cook. They are passionate about doing no less than changing the world by helping even the busiest families enjoy healthy, home cooked meals every day of the week. Plus not eating out saves SO MUCH MONEY every month! The membership will pay for itself over and over again when you implement it each week.