A year ago, I was struggling with overwhelming cravings for sweets and carbs, bloating every night, and frustration over having gained 20 lbs. (welcome to middle age), among other things. It was a relief to discover that grains – including gluten free grains – and refined sugar were the main culprits behind most of my issues. My digestive distress has actually been a blessing because it motivates me to eat healthy or suffer the consequences. However, for those who don’t have obvious digestive issues, but still want to lose weight and be free of cravings, a substantial diet change can be daunting. (Can I get an “amen” from the gluten-free choir?)
Why is it that we get motivated to eat healthy, and perhaps even attempt a “Whole 30” diet cleanse in January, but at the end of the month go right back to eating processed foods and all the junk we know we shouldn’t eat? There’s a reason they call processed foods “convenience foods.” If you look at the typical Paleo blog there is just nothing convenient about all the prep necessary to rely on fruits and veggies for your carbohydrates. Those of us juggling the demands of busy schedules and kids need to be able to balance nutrition with time constraints and different eating requirements. (No, my skinny-as-a-rail son does not need a low-carb diet!) However, there is a healthy way to lose weight and keep it off without spending hours (and money) at the gym or making weight loss the only priority in your life.
The “Mostly” Principle
I’ll spare you the details of my personal saga (because you and I both know there will already be many words in this post – if not, welcome to my blog), so to sum up:
- Over the last 9 months I’ve lost about 20 lbs. and have kept it off, even through the holidays (while still enjoying small amounts of our favorite goodies).
- I’ve mostly gotten rid of cravings for sweets and carbs (as long as I don’t eat grains or sugar during the day – if I do, it’s Hello Kettle Chips!).
- I’ve mostly said good-bye to bloating and digestive distress that had become the norm over the past few years (caused by the above foods and legumes, including peanuts).
- I’ve managed to do this by eating a “mostly Paleo” diet.
Are you catching a theme, here? The “Mostly” principle is what keeps me on track with healthy eating because I strive to eat grain-free, refined sugar-free most of the time. I try to consume mostly whole foods, but I do take advantage of some convenience foods. (Call me lazy, but I’m NOT making my own mayo or ketchup.) I cook from scratch most nights, but give myself the freedom to heat up a frozen GF pizza on nights when I just can’t bear to cook (like every Friday night). I don’t obsess over whether there is a gram of sugar in my salad dressing or turkey bacon, but focus on choosing the most healthy options that fit into my budget (because I live in the real world where organic foods are mostly too expensive). This is why my recipes are tagged as “Paleo-ish,” because I’m not a strict Paleo guru.
The freedom found in the “Mostly” principle is what has made my eating plan realistic for long-term success because the requirement of perfect adherence to a strict diet is often the enemy of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. The meal plan that has evolved is one that is sustainable for life in a busy, gluten free family of four who likes to travel, throw parties, and occasionally eat out.
The Weekly Meal Plan
What makes my eating plan sustainable is the simplification of menu planning by designing a 2-3 week meal rotation that allows me to fix the same food for myself as for my family, with just a minor tweak; I omit the carbohydrate side dish for myself and eat a larger portion of veggies. So simple! If I get bored and want to swap in another diet-friendly recipe, I just find the slot that matches the side dish I’m using and plug it in to that week’s menu. I can’t begin to describe what a huge time-saver this has been! It’s even become the framework for the cooking lessons I’m giving my son this year, since repetition of the same menus will allow him to watch and learn, then assist, then prepare each meal by himself. Score!
When you look at the meals on my menu you’ll probably be a bit surprised that this has been my “diet” because we eat normal, kid-friendly food. Each night has its own theme, and I’ll move the nights around to fit my schedule as needed (like switching a crock pot meal to a busy night). My menu is simplified because I keep any grains separate and low-prep, so my family can help prepare that side dish while I focus my efforts on the vegetable side instead. (Initially, you might want to skip the potatoes for weight loss. Doing so, I lost about a pound per week. Now that I don’t want to lose any more weight, I try to eat a serving of potatoes or yams each day.)
As always, all my menus are gluten free! So even if you’re not looking to lose weight or curb cravings, you can still simplify your menu planning with the easy-to-prepare, “normal people” meals at the end of this post! Since too much dairy can also cause digestive distress, most of my meals are also naturally dairy free, with the exception of a few made with butter or topped with a little Parmesan cheese. However, I use coconut oil or olive oil in most of my baking, unsweetened almond milk when needed, and cheese is usually optional.
Changing the way I eat breakfast has been the key to eliminating cravings. I can occasionally eat pizza or a small amount of grains and refined sugar for dessert in the evening as long as I avoid them for breakfast. The good news is that grain-free muffins taste great (especially the day after they’re made) and fill you up because coconut flour is high in fiber, as well as really good for you (and does not taste like coconut, although it does lend a distinct flavor to baked goods, which is why I blend it with almond flour). Sweetening baked goods with fruit and honey is not only more natural, it doesn’t cause spikes in blood sugar like refined sugar, so my energy level stays steady throughout the day. Plus, shopping is simplified because you only need 2 flours as opposed to half-a-dozen needed for gluten free baking!
I make enough grain-free muffins or pancakes for myself on Monday morning to last for the week, then just reheat them for stress-free mornings. I usually have 2 muffins or pancakes with an egg or piece of nitrate-free turkey bacon (or both) and a small serving of fruit, like an orange wedge or handful of berries. If I’m fixing hashbrowns for my family, I may just have one muffin and a small serving of hashbrowns.
The key to eating a satisfying, low-carb lunch is to fill up on veggies and fruit, and make sure you have some sort of fat if consuming a low-fat meat like chicken or turkey (i.e. olive oil, avocados, nuts or cheese, if tolerated). During the winter, I like to make a big pot of hearty soup once a week that’s full of veggies and meat with no grains, corn or beans. If you chose a canned soup, which tends to be mostly broth and not filling, toss in some frozen veggies and leftover meat when you heat it or just round it out with some raw veggies.
In the summer, I ate lots of salads for lunch with leftover roast chicken, canned salmon, taco meat, etc. Cucumbers add a nice crunch as a substitute for croutons, and you can load up your salad with whatever veggies you like. I quickly grew tired of salads, though, and ended up preferring lettuce-wrapped burgers or leftover meat and veggies. For a quick and easy lunch, I’ll heat up a Jennie-O turkey burger patty with some taco seasoning, then top it with guacamole and chopped tomatoes or salsa.
We drove across the country on a 2-week trip last spring, and survived on turkey “sandwiches” made with thick slices of oven roasted turkey (from Costco) as the “bread,” filled with guacamole (squeezed out of single-serve packets) and sliced tomatoes, wrapped in a lettuce leaf. These can be made ahead of time for lunch on the go. With a handful of carrots and an apple (plus a bag of chips for my family members), this lunch sustained us for hours of walking around Washington D.C. Another variation is to spread some Dijon mustard on one turkey slice, top it with sliced avocado and tomato, then put another turkey slice on top and wrap the whole thing in a lettuce leaf.
Snacks and Sweets and Feeling Satisfied
The key difference between the way I eat now and the way I used to eat is that I used to eat until I was “full;” now I eat until I’m “satisfied.” When you cut out grains (and initially, starchy veggies like potatoes) you’ll notice that you don’t feel full, in the sense that you’re stuffed and can’t eat another bite. But by filling a third of your plate with veggies, a quarter to third of your plate with meat, and a quarter to third of your plate with fruit, you’ll feel satisfied. You’ll walk away from the meal feeling like you’ve had enough to eat to sustain you for the next 3-5 hours, but you won’t feel uncomfortably full.
If you do get hungry between meals, a handful of almonds and a piece of fruit or handful of carrots should get you through to the next meal. Lara bars are great, sugar-free, all-natural bars you can throw in the car for running errands. Now that I’m not trying to lose weight, I also snack on sweet potato/root veggie chips (from Trader Joe’s) because the inherent sweetness naturally limits my portion size. For dessert, I usually enjoy a handful of salted almonds with about a tablespoon of semi-sweet chocolate chips, since a little dark chocolate is good for you! If you crave ice cream, try the Dole frozen chocolate covered banana slices that come in convenient 4-packs. (When I serve the family ice cream, which was my go-to easy dessert for them over the summer, I sometimes pull one of these out for myself – and the kids get jealous!) But as I said, once you’re free from cravings, a little dessert with the family from time to time should be fine.
I’ve linked recipes that are already on my blog, and will come back to this post in the future to add in links as I post more recipes. My plan is to post recipes for all the options below. If you don’t like a particular vegetable on my list, substitute one you do like! (Although I’d encourage you to try the roasted broccoli and Brussels sprouts before you dismiss them. Roasted veggies are amazing!) If the veggies listed aren’t filling enough at first, add a side salad to your meal and remember to include a serving of fresh fruit. During the winter, pineapples are reasonably priced where we live. A fruit salad made with pineapple, kiwi, and pomegranate seeds will end your meal on a sweet note. Diced pears with fresh blueberries or a mango/kiwi/blueberry combo also make good winter fruit salads.
2-3 Weeks of Meals Designed for Weight Loss for 1 in a GF Family of 4
(Serve with fresh fruit. Serve the carb listed to your family only.)
Day 1: Italian
- Spaghetti squash with meat sauce (ground turkey or beef in a homemade sauce or one from a jar)
- Family Side: Brown rice spaghetti noodles (if your family doesn’t like spaghetti squash)
- All-natural Italian sausage (like Falls brand Hot Italian) with optional marinara sauce
- Option 1: Serve meat sauce over thinly-sliced, grilled eggplant, topped with Parmesan cheese
- Option 2: Serve sausage link with a side of yellow squash sauteed in olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper
- Family Side: Garlic toast (buttered gluten free bread, sprinkled with garlic salt, cooked butter-side-down on a griddle or frying pan)
Day 2: Seafood
- Garlic shrimp stir fry
- Frozen snap pea stir fry blend sauteed in olive oil with salt, pepper, and McCormick’s Garlic and Herb Seasoning; add thawed, frozen salad shrimp just before serving
- Family Side: Heat-and-serve rice or Seeds of Change Garlic Brown Rice and Quinoa
- Salmon burger patty (like Trident salmon burgers from Costco) or baked salmon (with olive oil, salt, pepper, and basil) with fresh squeezed lemon juice
- Buttered peas and carrots or snow peas sauteed in olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper
- Family side: Rice or quinoa
Day 3: Chicken Comfort Food
- Homemade or Costco roast chicken
- Baked, grilled or sautéed chicken with olive oil & herbs
- Roasted broccoli or asparagus
- Family Side (optional for you): Mashed potatoes or yams (mash microwaved yams with butter, unsweetened applesauce, salt and a dash of cinnamon, and top with dried cranberries or chopped pecans)
Day 4: Mexican
- Taco salad made with leftover roasted chicken and salsa or ground turkey with taco seasoning (and whatever veggies you like)
- Family Side: Tortilla chips
- Beef Chimichanga filling (made with leftover roast from day 7), crock pot pork taco meat, or fajita meat with zucchini, salsa, and guacamole
- Serve Chimichanga or taco meat with sliced raw zucchini “chips” for scooping up meat
- Serve fajita meat with zucchini, bell peppers, and onions sauteed in oil with salt and pepper, topped with salsa
- Family Side: Heat corn tortillas on a griddle with shredded cheese and fill with meat, salsa, and guacamole (optional); for fajitas, fill tortillas with meat, veggies and salsa
Day 5: FREE NIGHT!
- Pizza – Seriously, take one day off and eat a REASONABLE portion of whatever you want with a side salad or raw veggies, or keep it low(er) carb with my homemade pizza crust/bread stick recipe that replaces 2/3 of the flour with almond flour.
- Visit a buffet restaurant (like Golden Corral or Tucano’s Brazilian Restaurant) and load up on meat, fruit and veggies. If you’re super serious about weight loss, make your soup for the week on this night, and make enough for dinner with leftovers for lunches.
Day 6: Burger Joint Food
- Jennie-O turkey burger patty or beef patty with whatever condiments you like, wrapped in lettuce (optional – this is just too messy for me, so I prefer to eat it with a fork)
- Sweet potato fries and salad or raw veggies
- Family Side: Bun (we use the heels of our gluten free bread for buns)
- Buffalo chicken (cubed chicken breast sauteed in olive oil with Lowry’s seasoned salt, pepper and parsley, served with buffalo ranch dressing)
- Baked fries or sweet potato fries, salad or raw veggies
- Optional Party Food: Buffalo Chicken Dip with celery sticks for dippers (FYI, I now cut back the ranch dressing in the recipe to 1/4 c.)
- Carrot sticks
- Family Side: Tortilla chips (for scooping up dip)
Day 7: Meat and Potatoes
- Crock pot roast cooked with onion, celery, garlic clove and carrots (discard celery and garlic)
- Green beans
- Family Side (optional for you): Potatoes in the crock pot with homemade gravy
- Family Side Option 2: GF sub rolls for French Dip with cooking juices
- Grilled steak or pork chops with Monterey seasoning
- Green beans
- Family Side (optional for you): Baked potatoes
As promised in my Pledge to Blog the Truth, here’s a snapshot of our menu this week. You’ll see that it’s been tweaked (because of ingredients that needed to get used up) and is yet another variation on the menu above. The possibilities are endless!
Remember to check back for detailed recipes to go with my menu plan. In the meantime, just remember the “Mostly” principle and enjoy a happy, healthy new year!