Imagine I am talking to you in my best whiny child voice. “Mom! What’s for dinner?” How does that make you feel? Are you confident and excited, knowing you have a plan for a healthy, complete paleo dinner with all the ingredients in the fridge ready to go? Or do you feel your blood pressure rise as panic sets in? You haven’t even thought about dinner and now that someone mentions it, your mind is reeling. What’s going on tonight? Who’s going to be home? What do I have in the fridge or freezer?
I think we’ve all had instances of feeling both ways.
I promise, I will give you 10 ideas for super simple paleo dinners, but first, let’s talk about what constitutes dinner. Just an aside: I am going to assume that most of you reading this are women. I know I have some male subscribers and I’m not suggesting you ignore this post, but maybe just ignore this next paragraph.
Women: we are being too hard on ourselves. We continually set up unrealistic expectations for ourselves. We hold ourselves to a standard that is too high, actually unattainable in many cases. We expect that we will continue to look 25 when we’re 45 (and fit into the same jeans); we expect our children to excel in sports and school and always be respectful; we expect our houses to always be spotless, our lawns lush and green; we expect our husbands to never embarrass us ;); and we expect a healthy, economical, delicious dinner on the table most nights of the week.
So my purpose in writing this article is to take some of the pressure off in regards to dinner. And in total disclosure, I’ll admit that this article came about because this whole “what constitutes dinner” is a revelation for me. The lightbulb just went off, so to speak. I’m talking to myself here.
I used to think that dinner had to be an entree, at least two vegetables and sometimes a starch. If we are following a paleo diet, which most of us are, the basis of our diet is meat and vegetables. Or more accurately, it’s protein, healthy fats and plant matter. Sometimes that protein can be eggs. It doesn’t always have to be grass fed beef. And the plant matter can be a simple salad. It doesn’t have to be a big pan of roasted vegetables. Or, gasp, it could be a dish of slice apples. Or be totally crazy and don’t even slice those apples!
I’ve mentioned it a couple times before (and maybe you’ve noticed the lack of posts lately), but I’ll say it again: this fall has been a very busy one for my family. Fall usually is a busy season, but as the kids get older, the schedule fills up even more. My husband and I are very careful to allow the kids to participate in only one sport at a time. But add piano lessons, boy scouts and church activities, and all of a sudden the schedule is packed. We are constantly fighting against “too busy” syndrome.
Our schedule this fall has necessitated quick and easy meals and creative planning. I am a planner at heart so you would think the planning part would come easily. It does to a certain extent, but it still takes time and creativity. Maybe I shouldn’t say the planning is easy, because it really isn’t, but having a plan reduces my stress and brings a sense of comfort and confidence. Because I know the benefits are so great, it is easier to make the time to plan.
More often that not, the dinners I’ve put on the table this fall have been simple affairs. Sometimes I choose to serve a meal that takes no more than 20-30 minutes to prepare. Sometimes I choose to serve a meal that I prepare early in the day and reheat at dinner time. Sometimes I use the slow braising method with either my dutch oven or the crock pot, a set it and forget it kind of meal.
The bottom line is this: analyze your schedule with a realistic eye. Figure out which days require quick meals and plan accordingly. Are you going to have time in the morning to get something going in the crock pot? Will you have time to make a casserole at noon and stash it in the fridge until 5:00? Do you need to throw something together quickly once everyone arrives at home? Figure out what you will have time for each day.
And by all means, if at all possible, do all your grocery shopping on the weekend so you have what you need in the fridge or the pantry, be it a big roast or a bunch of cans of tuna. As our Boy Scouts like to remind us, be prepared!
Here are some of the meals I’ve been serving my family lately:
tip: you can find canned pumpkin everywhere these days and it will likely be on sale, so stock up now
These pancakes are really low carb, if that’s your thing, and are super delicious. I posted this one a long time ago, but have recently re-discovered it and we’ve all been loving them!
3. Salad (meaning a pile of greens – nothing fancy), one of these homemade dressings: creamy balsamic, hot bacon, or ranch (from my ebook) made over the weekend, with a piece of grilled meat (chicken, fish or burger) on top.
Homemade dressings follow a simple formula: some form of acid, some form of fat, and seasonings. I make honey mustard all the time by simply mixing some mayonnaise, yellow mustard or dijon mustard, and a little honey. Add a little salt and pepper if you like or maybe some fresh herbs. I’ve not given you amounts because you need to make it to your taste. You can’t mess this up. If it is too sweet, add more mayo or mustard. If it’s too tangy, add a little more honey until you get it just right.
4. Quick sauté of onions, squash, mushrooms and shrimp (you can even throw them in frozen), add herbs of your choice. Any protein will cook faster if you cut it into smaller pieces. White meat poultry, fish and shellfish are all very quick cooking proteins.
5. Deli meat lettuce wraps – lay out a piece of romaine or bibb lettuce, layer in deli meat, add cole slaw mix (just shredded cabbage and carrots) and dressing or sauce of your choice, and roll it up. Serve with carrot sticks and/or apple slices on the side.
6. Tuna or salmon salad – mix canned fish with mashed avocado and/or homemade mayo. Add any chopped veggies you like such as celery, jicama, carrots or cabbage, and pickle relish if you like a little sweetness. Serve on plantain chips (Inka is a good brand that doesn’t contain industrial seed oils) or in lettuce cups. Add some cherry tomatoes on the side. If you have time, make your own plantain chips.
8. Hamburger hash, I wish I had a better name for this. It’s fast and tasty and worth a try!
9. Tacos in one of these forms: over lettuce as a salad, over plantain chips as nachos or add broth to the meat mixture and make taco soup. Embellish with your favorite toppings: salsa, guacamole, chopped peppers, etc.
I usually make a big batch of the taco meat filling and store in the freezer in meal sized portions.
10. Frittata with any of the leftover veggies and/or meats you have lying around your fridge.
If you make several smaller frittatas, they will cook very quickly and you can make different varieties.
There are really lots more ideas like these, but my hope is that listing out these meals will get your creative juices flowing and inspire you to make your own quick and easy, but still paleo meals. If you have a great idea not on my list, please share it in the comments so others can benefit!
I hope these ideas are helpful. And I sincerely hope you are able to give yourself some grace in the dinner department. As long as you set something nutritious in front of your family, that’s a win. Even if it’s just a piece of romaine lettuce with some deli meat rolled up and an apple on the side. That’s far better than take out from any fast food joint!
If your major concern isn’t dinner, but rather trying to look 25 in your 45 year old skin, all I have to say is this: each wrinkle on your face, each extra pound you’re squeezing into your jeans, represents a memory, good times or bad, and they make you who you are. And who you are is special. Each and every one of us is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).