Navigating the Grocery Store

One day last summer I was making myself Sarah Fragoso’s salmon cakes for myself for lunch. Charlotte was paying careful attention, noticing the pink colored salmon flesh (her favorite color) and liking the word “cake” in the name of a lunch item. I was shocked when she asked for a bite and then another bite, and I was overjoyed when she requested them for lunch the next day. It was great timing. I had just about how great omega 3 fatty acids, like the ones found in salmon, are for the brains of individuals with ASDs in the amazing book The Autism Revolution.

Her love of salmon in cake form has not faltered. I pack them chilled in her school lunch a few times per week, drizzled with olive oil and lemon. Her teachers often remark how much she loves them. I shake my head in bewilderment, explaining that it’s like winning a Paleo lottery to have a child that loves such a nutrient dense food.

In an effort to keep her coming back for more and increasing the nutrient density of the food item, I decided to look at using fresh ginger instead of powdered ginger as one of the spices. When I saw this item in the grocery store, I recognized a local brand and tossed it in my cart.

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It was a few weeks later when the jar was nearly half empty and spun sideways in my refrigerator door, that I saw this:

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It may be hard to read, but the ingredients for the “ginger” are as follows: ginger, high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, olive oil, lactic acid, and potassium sorbate (a preservative). I had mindlessly believed that the only ingredient in ginger would be–ginger. When I really thought about it, I can see the need to add oils for the texture and preservatives to keep it from spoiling, but the high fructose corn syrup as the second ingredient gave way to a massive palm to the forehead on my part. Instead of beating myself up about screwing up such a perfect food with a processed sweetener, I used it as learning experience to be better about reading labels.

I was recently asked about shopping for Paleo foods in the grocery store, and after my ginger debacle, I can certainly relate to feeling stressed and overwhelmed at the thought of buying food for your family. I thought it would helpful to share how I try to avoid the traps of deceptive marketing and overbuying.

Have a list. I’ve written before about the importance of meal planning and preparation when living a Paleo lifestyle. Other shoppers in the store often do a double take at my legal sized pad full of lists sitting in my cart when I’m shopping. While I squirm with embarrassment and try to get a tough skin for being different, I just have found no other way to do it. Planning meals ahead of time and shopping just for those items saves time and money. I recently came across this site that may be helpful for building meals around proteins and other ingredients you may need to cook in your fridge or freezer. Also, watching the grocery store print ads and knowing which meats are on sale is helpful for meal planning on a budget.

Shop alone. As much as I would love to spend my “free time” doing something other than grocery shopping every Friday morning, I know that this is the best time for me. Bringing the kids and husband is a recipe for disaster–more time spent in the store plus more impulsive purchases equals more money spent. Taking the time to read ingredients and using will power to avoid foods you don’t need takes focus, energy, and space. I know many friends who grocery shop at night after the kids go to bed.

Avoid the aisles. Almost every ingredient that it takes to make a healthy Paleo meal can be found around the edge of the grocery store–meat, fish, butter, eggs, and sometimes produce are placed in the back of most stores. They’re there for a reason. Store owners are hoping you throw items like soda, goldfish crackers, peanut butter, and cereal in your cart on your way to get to the reason you came to the store in the first place–milk, eggs, or fresh fruit.

Most of the items in the aisles of the grocery store are modern Neolithic foods that we’ve become addicted to. Most have gluten, modified food starches, artificial colors or flavors, stabilizers, and added sugars. Our bodies don’t recognize these items as food and disease in some form or another seems to be a result of consuming too much of them.

If you’re spending the bulk of your time at the grocery store in the produce section, you’re doing it right. Other than the sneaky ginger item, everything in that section is safe to eat. Try not to be intimidated by nutrient-rich veggies like kale, chard, and beets. A quick Google search with the veggie you’ve purchased and the word Paleo is sure to bring up a delicious recipe.

Also, look for creative options in the value-added sections of produce. If you know you’re pressed for time when cooking on a particular night, choose pre-cut fruits and veggies for versatility and convenience. One of my weekly staples is the carrot chips (under $2)–easily boiled for a dinner side dish or dipped in guacamole instead of a corn chip.

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Keeping focused on the fresh items at the edges of the store is a strategy I still use when I shop. In my experience, the set up of the store is the same for most retail grocers–Costco, Trader Joe’s, or our local supermercado. Nevertheless, I often find myself browsing the aisles looking for a new magical or mysterious packaged item that will make my life easier, and I have yet to find it. (If you’ve found a gem in the aisles of the store, share it in the comments below). For the most part, Paleo is about shopping for basic ingredients and using them to put together deliciously homemade meals. If you haven’t been told yet, you’ll need to learn how to shop differently and cook real foods to find success with this lifestyle.

That being said, Paleo moms and dads are armed with awesome resources to produce these meals for their families. Use the Paleo community tab to find a Paleo recipe blog or cookbook that fits your style. What you’ll notice is that the ingredients are simple and pretty easy to prepare. It takes some practice but after a while when you slip into a grocery store aisle to grab canned coconut milk or almond flour, you’ll slip out just as quickly knowing that there’s nothing in the packaged foods that is of any benefit to you or your kids.

It takes a smart and savvy consumer to beat the big food business. Being prepared and staying focused on your family’s health is sure to help on your next grocery store adventure.

Bridging the Gap

When Charlotte was about two years old, I made the mistake of driving my mini van through a car wash. The giant red scrub brushes right at her eye level, the rushing soap and water covering the car, and the powerful suck of the giant vacuum dryers were all too much for her nervous system to handle. I learned after one horrific meltdown to save that errand for a kid-free day.

The car wash experience created fear and dread for her. For weeks she asked me if we were going to the car wash every single time we began the process of getting into the car. (No. no. No mommy guilt here. None at all. Let’s proceed.) At the time we were attending an Early Start morning program and working with a behavior therapist and occupational therapist. At one of our home visits the behavior therapist recommended a picture schedule to help Charlotte visualize what her day might look like.

I was not opposed at all to this idea. I had plenty of teacher training where I had learned that kids need predictable routines to feel safe in their environment. For Charlotte, she needed to know whether the car wash (or any other out-of-the-norm event) was happening anywhere in her day in order to feel regulated and comfortable. So, for several weeks, I snapped pictures with my phone of many of the places we visited on a regular basis. Initially thinking that this project was going to be overwhelming and time-consuming, I was sadly mistaken that our “busy lives” were pretty limited to grocery stores, therapy, school, and the homes of close friends and family.

When Christmas cards began arriving in the mail, I began to keep a collection. Most of our family and friends have pictures with their smiling faces, oftentimes within their homes or with their pets. Pulling a picture out of a friend or relative and showing Charlotte prior to the interaction made a world a difference in how she responded socially.

I printed out the pictures, organized them on a large board and it eventually became routine to discuss the day’s events and outings and plan our time and even behavior expectations around it. For example, if Charlotte was currently challenged with behavior at a particular location, I could post a clip art picture of Dora or Max and Ruby on her board to let her know that she could watch those shows as a reward for appropriate behavior at the grocery store, school, therapy center, etc.

When the term “good behavior” became a bit too loose, we attached goals to each location and talked about them early in the day and again before we began the activity. For example, Charlotte struggles putting forth consistent effort at her therapy sessions. She  also interrupts the brief but important conversation between myself and the therapist after each session. Our goals for therapy center became simple but effective: Try your best. Listen to your therapist. Don’t interrupt.

Charlotte has a very sharp visual memory, so once she saw the words in print, she had them memorized. She would often tell them back to me as she hugged me good-bye to enter the therapy room. It’s even more effective as she’s beginning to learn (or teach herself) to read.

So our board (pictured above) sits in our main family room and is updated weekly. I have recently added post-it notes with planned-in-advance Paleo dinners. This seems to break down resistance in the form of whining/complaining at the dinner hour and putting a stop to the endless question of What’s for Dinner? CrossFit-style garage workouts for mom and dad are posted on the board so the kids know they’re welcome to join us for family exercise after the heavy weights and equipment are put away.

Somehow the week seems to flow into more of a rhythm when the kids know what is happening, what they’re going to eat, and what is expected of them. Our parenting style seems to be more about preparing our kids to be their best selves in their everyday lives. The board helps them prepare themselves for what lies ahead while practicing self-regulating tools at the same time. In addition, it helps us manage any negative behavior patterns that may come with a change in routine or schedule by talking together about the change and any expectations around it.

In all honesty, it does take preparation, consistency, and effort. It works well for the needs of our family, and I don’t mind planning our week’s meals and activities ahead of time. As a teacher, I planned and prepped lessons for my third graders so it seems to regulate me as well. We’ve never been big fans of surprises and spontaneity, and we’re okay with that. We’ve embraced this lifestyle and try to focus on the benefits of better health for all of us, rather than how much work it is.

Our modern-day society challenges us to meet the needs of our kids and ourselves right up to the dinner hour. This tool helps us bridge the gap between the hectic schedule we must lead to get it all done and the time we need to slow down, share healthy meals, and enjoy each other as a family.

Eating Paleo in the Real World: It’s a Jungle Out There

 

Most people I speak to about the Paleo lifestyle understand its benefits and can see it working for their family on some level. I most often hear the what ifs and what abouts around things like birthday parties, restaurants, grandparents’ house, and even school. In fact, my WordPress stats show me that many people come to this site via Google searches like Paleo lunches, Paleo birthday parties, and Paleo on the go.

Clearly, this is a valid question for most people considering the switch to Paleo, and I completely understand these concerns. So today I thought I’d share with you the crazy-updside-down week that my family and I just lived through. After reading this you will see that eating Paleo is possible when life pulls you outside of the comfort of your own kitchen.

Scenario #1: The Dance Recital

Dana and Charlotte participate in weekly ballet lessons, and twice a year their studio puts on performances. Last December, Charlotte made her performance debut in The Nutcracker. After agonizing over the decision of whether she was ready for a commitment to the classes, the rehearsals, getting on stage, and the chaos of it all, she put our mind at ease and performed like a champ.

Her motivation to perform and endure the challenges that come with it most likely come from the years of watching her sister dress up in costumes and make-up to be cheered and praised by friends and family. Having survived the stress and anxiety of the December performance, we knew she would love the performing experience again and we used what we learned to be better prepared this time around.

On the night of the dress rehearsal, we were told to arrive at 5:00pm. Both girls needed to have hair and make-up done and were instructed to bring dry snacks, not to be eaten in costume. As you can imagine, examples of dry snacks were non-Paleo foods like crackers, pretzels, and granola bars. I entertained the idea of eating an early dinner just before we left, but with a 30 minute drive to the stage, hair and make-up to be done, and a nap for Charlotte until the last possible second, packing food for dinner was the only option. I had planned ahead the night before by roasting a large chicken with lots of meat and baking a few extra potatoes, ensuring easy-to-pack leftovers.

Dana’s Planet Box is shown below. The foods were not exactly dry, but not messy either. I kept an eye on her in the holding area backstage and made sure she used her napkin, didn’t eat in her costume, and washed her hands immediately upon finishing her dinner. I also let her know that other kids would have junk food/fast food, and that just wasn’t an option for us.

Charlotte’s dinner was similar, but catered to her preferences. Lots of napkins and washing hands kept her and the costume clean and her belly full.

Since I was camped out with Dana at the dress rehearsal until 10pm that night (Chad picked up Charlotte earlier) I knew that Paleo food was the only way to survive the marathon of dance numbers I had the privilege of watching. Here’s my dinner:

Both girls performed beautifully and the recital was a huge success!

It’s worth mentioning that the anxiety that comes with hours of waiting in a holding area filled with jittery, young dancers brought Charlotte’s needs for sensory input out in the open. I managed to snap a few shots of her regulating herself in a stressful environment. While these situations are not ideal, I was very proud of her for finding ways to stay calm enough to avoid a meltdown, still remember her dances, and even smile on stage.                                       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scenario #2: The Hospital

On the night of the recital, Chad mentioned to me that his stomach was not quite right and he was feeling pain and discomfort. At 3 am, he woke me up from a sound sleep and let me know this stomach pain was like nothing he had experienced before. We phoned the ER, and he was told to come in with a driver. I made a call to my amazing friend Siiri, and she arrived at our door within minutes to stay with our sleeping kids.

After isolating the pain to the lower right quadrant of Chad’s abdomen and getting a CT scan, it was determined that he was in the midst of an appendicitis attack. We were thrilled to see our friend Dr. Mike at the hospital who reassured us that this was a random event that had nothing to do with diet, lifestyle, or overall health. With a sigh of relief, Chad slipped into a morphine nap and we waited for an OR to open and have his angry appendix removed. 

I checked on the kids and then began to think about some breakfast for myself. Seeing that my health issues tend to center around stressful events, bringing on excessive adrenaline, I knew that some clean food was in order to get me through a long day at the hospital. I fought feelings of panic and anxiety as I approached the hospital cafeteria cautiously, expecting to find nothing suitable for to me eat.

I was delighted to find a bar of warm food with eggs, sausage, and bacon. I loaded up my plate with dry-but-edible scrambled eggs, 2 pieces of bacon, and some starchy carbs in the form of tasteless hash browns. (I’m one of those carb eating Paleo people, and I do much better keeping potatoes in the rotation a few times per week)

After my Paleo breakfast and a hot cup of coffee, I felt much better and Chad and I hung out until it was time for his surgery. After I got word from his doctor that he had made it through surgery, I ventured back down to the cafeteria for lunch. I ordered a bunless hamburger from the man at the grill and cheated with some sweet potato fries (I’m sure it was not coconut oil that I saw in the deep fryer).

Once Chad was settled in an overnight room, I was back at the cafeteria for dinner and asked for a grilled chicken breast to sit on top of lettuce greens and veggies from the salad bar, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. When I returned to Chad’s room to eat my dinner, he joked at how Paleo it was and that we should consider a date night at the hospital cafeteria.

While it was surprising to find Paleo options at the cafeteria, it did take a certain amount of will power and focus to walk past plenty of packaged foods and treats that seemed to be more tempting in times of stress and little sleep. Resisting this temptation and eating clean paid off when I returned home at 8pm and found that I had enough energy and sanity to put my very tired kids to bed. I gave huge hugs to my incredible friends Kimberly and Siiri who not only kept my kids entertained all day but managed to feed them Paleo all day as well.

Scenario #3: Junk food at Summer Day Camp

There was no rest for the weary over the weekend at home as I tended to Chad in his recovery, nursed Charlotte with a throat virus and a fever, got my house back in order, and managed my own needs for sleep and rest. In the midst of this chaos, I kept the upcoming week in the back of my mind. Dana was scheduled to attend a week-long day camp at our church, and I had been informed of the provided snacks via email. While we normally opt for packing our own snacks at events where a non-Paleo snack is provided, this situation provided a bit more of a challenge.

All of the snacks were tied thematically to the day’s lesson, and most of them involved junk food, including goldfish crackers, pretzels, marshmallows, whoppers, and other candies. I knew that asking Dana to sub a box of raisins for these super fun activities and treats was too much to ask. She is still a kid, after all.

I talked to her about the situation, and the food options would may have worked fine if it were just a one day camp. But given that the camp was all week and the fever bug was running through our house, I knew I needed a more Paleo option to give Dana the best chance at staying healthy and enjoying the camp.

I remembered seeing a cookie-like treat made with sunflower seed butter in our copy of Eat Like a Dinosaur by The Paleo Parents. I was so relieved to find a quick and easy recipe for Mini Nut Butter Cups. We made a bunch of super-yummy, kid-friendly, nut-free, muffin-shaped cookies with just a few ingredients that were easy to transport. This morning we filled a baggie with a bunch of grapes and a few cookies and sent her off to camp with a snack that she was excited to eat, despite what the other kids had. 

We survived this week and managed to eat clean with the help of our amazing friends, some luck, lots of preparation, and a wonderful resource. It has taken two years, but I can proudly say that we have established a lifestyle around Paleo. We were able to make it work in the most trying of circumstances. So the next time someone asks us about Paleo and all of the what ifs and what abouts, I’ll remind them that it’s not just a way of eating, it’s a way of living.

For more inspiration on staying Paleo in trying times, read about NomNomPaleo’s adventures of living in a hotel room with her family for the last 2 months.

The Favorite Food Technique

The Favorite Food Technique

I often feel like a kid again when I hear my 4 and 7-year-old daughters playing happily together. Their favorite activities–playing School, Barbies, or Dress-up take me back to the days when my younger sister and I played happily together for hours. It’s often a warm and wonderful feeling to re-live my positive childhood moments, and just like any parent, I try to keep my girls’ lives and happy and positive, keeping moments of uncertainty few and far between, especially when it comes to food.

This is easier said than done–eating Paleo foods consistently is crucial to their health but giving up the unhealthy overly processed favorite foods without a huge battle seems impossible on some days.

It hasn’t been easy, but over time, my husband and I have learned some tricks that have helped keep the eating experience positive while supporting the child during a time of change.

Favorite Food. Every child has at least one favorite food, if not more. Using the Favorite Food Technique consistently during your Paleo transition can be a very powerful tool. It allows your child to have some control over the eating experience, but also gives you some power with introducing new foods.

Here’s an example:

It’s lunch time and you would like your child to try some roasted chicken or other healthy protein in the place of an unhealthy option like macaroni-and-cheese that you are trying to phase out.

Sometimes it can be Easy-Peasey Lemon Squeezy (a favorite saying around our house)

You’ve discussed the upcoming food changes with your child. Maybe you’ve picked out some new foods to try together or had your child help you prepare them. Once you feel that your child is as ready as they’re going be, present the plate with the roasted chicken and a small portion of a Favorite Food. Depending on where you are with your Paleo transition, the Favorite Food can be something like the mac-and-cheese or another healthier favorite, like strawberries. If your child is like mine, he/she will probably gobble up the mac-and-cheese/strawberries and ask for more while the roasted chicken sits untouched. Calmly explain that he or she will get more Favorite Food when the roasted chicken is finished.

Enter all stalling/defiance/testing tactics of said child here: picking at food, moving it around on the plate, feeding it to the dog, etc. It’s important to hold firm and encourage the child to try the roasted chicken. Have another portion of the Favorite Food within reach to show the child that they will be rewarded for trying a new food. Use your discretion here. If you just want the child to try the Healthy Food, reward with the Favorite Food as soon as the bite is chewed and swallowed. If your goal is to get them to eat the entire serving of chicken, wait until it’s finished before serving the Favorite Food.

Hopefully, the child will recognize how great the roasted chicken tastes, gobble it up, and be rewarded with the Favorite Food. Continue The Favorite Food Technique consistently with each meal until the Favorite Foods become Healthy Foods and pat yourself on the back when you’re telling your kids they can have more kale chips when they’ve finished their steak.

Sometimes it take a little Tough Love.

Again, if your child is like mine, it takes more strategy and planning. If your child refused to eat the roasted chicken and only eats a small serving of mac-and-cheese or strawberries for lunch, they will learn how unsuccessful that was. Allow them to get down from the table and go about their day. When hunger strikes and your child comes back for more food in a few minutes, use your discretion. Giving them the Favorite Food without the Healthy Food will teach them what works to get the reward–stall at mealtime, get down, get hungry, go back and bug mom/dad for Favorite Food.

When your child comes back to you for more food and is asking specifically for more mac-and-cheese, continue to offer the Healthy Food first. Sit them back at the table and serve Healthy Food (preferably something different than the roasted chicken–you don’t want to rehash the same battle) before giving the Favorite Food. Do not put any of the Favorite Food on the plate until they have tried/finished the Healthy Food. The point is to develop a pattern of predictability and safety for the child around new foods.

Reinforcing the child’s positive behavior keeps the eating experience positive and limits the battling that can often go on when you are introducing a new food. You know it’s working when you see your child more comfortable and willing around trying new foods. Keep working at it and lessening the servings of unhealthy processed foods. Once the processed foods are eliminated, it gets even easier. Kids begin to enjoy the flavors and textures of fruits, vegetables and proteins and pretty soon they’ll be Eating Like a Dinosaur!

A few more tips:

Remain calm–remember to keep the eating environment positive by guiding the child with the reward. If it begins to become a battle, remove the child from the table and try again when you both are calm.

Limit the liquids–make sure you keep heavy liquids like milk (raw, coconut, or otherwise) off the table until the child tries/eats the Healthy Food. Many kids will fill up on milk for the meal, missing out on the meal’s nutrients.

Choice–when introducing a newer food, be firm about the expectation and offer a limited number of choices. “We’re having eggs for breakfast. Would you like scrambled or hard boiled eggs?”

Consistency–make sure you and your partner are on the same team with this approach. Work together so your child knows you mean business.

Keep it fun–hugs, cheering and high 5s are allowed when kids try new foods! Celebrate the successes to keep it fun and positive.

The tips above were recommended to our family from our behavior therapist, Rebecca Kerley, in the early days of Charlotte’s issues. We’ve used The Favorite Food Technique throughout our journey and continue to use it when serving less desirable foods. Hopefully, your family will benefit from it as much as ours has.

Quick & Easy Veggie Side Dishes

About a year ago, Chad left on a business trip and I was left to figure out what to cook for dinner for several nights. The problem was that my cooking skills were limited. We had been eating Paleo for about a year, and he did all of the cooking. While he was gone, I did manage to pull together some gluten-free meals for the kids, but they end up being processed foods with minimal nutrients.

That same week, the girls and I were treated to dinner by my friend, Kimberly, a busy mom whose husband was also traveling. When I saw my kids gobble up the colorful fruits, vegetables, and roasted chicken that she had prepared, I was motivated to face the challenge of cooking a healthy dinner for my family.

A few days later I was trying recipes from Everyday Paleo and teaching myself the basics. After about a year of following recipes, instruction from Chad, and lots of practice cooking Paleo dinners, I’ve mastered a few quick options (they’re too easy to even be called recipes) that have become family favorites.

Sweet Potato Chips

Peel a sweet potato and slice it in half. Place the flat half on the thinnest setting of a mandolin slicer and slide across (carefully!) to create thin chips. If you don’t have a mandolin, use a sharp knife and try to get the slices as thin and even as possible.

Take 2 to 3 tablespoons of coconut oil and heat in a skillet on medium heat. When the oil is hot (not smoking), place the sliced sweet potatoes in the oil. The thinner chips will cook very quickly (1-2 minutes per side). Flip over the chip with tongs when the edges begin to look golden brown. Cook 1 to 2 minutes per side and place them on a paper towel next to the pan. Sprinkle the chips with sea salt and cinnamon.

If you cook a big batch of these, use them for kids’ lunches, snacks, or this Everyday Paleo Spanish Tortilla recipe.

Kale Chips

A bunch of kale from the grocery store or local Farmer’s Market is a weekly staple for us–cost-effective, loaded with nutrients, and versatile. While I love kale sautéed and cooked like spinach, my girls gobble up kale chips. Charlotte recently said kale chips were her favorite vegetable.

Wash a bunch of kale and remove the leaves from the stems. Discard the stems, dry the leaves with a paper towel, and chop the leaves into chip-sized pieces. Toss the leaves in a bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Use as much oil as you would if you were tossing a salad.

Place the oiled leaves on a cookie sheet. I baked mine in an oven with the rest of my dinner at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. (a higher temperature like 400 degrees also works for about 12 minutes) The chips are done when the edges are brown, not burnt and the leaves look crispy. Sprinkle with some more sea salt, if desired.

Carrot Chips

This is one of the veggies Kimberly prepared the night she hosted us for dinner. It has become a quick and easy option that is my go-to veggie when I know we are going to walk in the door starving. If I already have a protein cooking in the slow cooker, this side dish can be made in 5 minutes.

Boil a small pot of water. Using a bag of carrot chips from the produce department of your local grocery store, put 1 to 2 handfuls of chips in the boiling water with a teaspoon of honey and a pinch of salt (if desired). Boil chips until tender (about 3 to 4 minutes) and top with some grass-fed butter.

These are also great for sneaking veggies into some lunches at home. Add them to   school lunches if your kids like cold and crunchy carrots.

Serve any of these side dishes with a fruit salad and a healthy protein to make a delicious and easy Paleo meal.

Feel free to share your quick and easy family favorites in the comments below.

Our Secret to a Delicious Liver Burger

Last night we grilled our homemade Paleo burgers and when I sliced into mine and saw juicy deliciousness running onto my plate, I knew we had a recipe that I was ready to share.

You may remember that Chad and I began a quest to incorporate organ meat into our diet after I realized that my hair loss may be caused by nutrient deficiencies as a result of my adrenal issues. Organ meats, especially liver, contain loads of Vitamin A, which was the main ingredient in the vitamins that were helping my hair grow again. See this post for more details.

We have consistently been eating beef liver for about 4 weeks, adding it to our weekly burgers. Each week Chad tweeks the recipe a bit working toward the right blend of flavorful juicy-ness that hides any metallic taste of the liver. As we enjoyed this nutrient dense meal last night, we discussed what we believe to be the secret ingredient to creating a moist and flavorful burger that contains both grass fed beef and beef liver.

Yes, it’s the candy of meats. A Paleo staple and my favorite food. BACON! Well, actually we used bacon’s snobbier Italian cousin–Pancetta. Pancetta is pork belly meat that is salt cured, seasoned with such spices as nutmeg, fennel, peppercorns, dried ground hot peppers and garlic, then dried for at least three months (source: Wikipedia). We love pancetta’s delicious richness and flavor, and we find that it pairs well with many meats and vegetables. It is more expensive than bacon and harder to find, but well worth the search, in our opinion. We buy ours at our local meat market where we pick up all of our grass fed meats, beef liver, and fresh fish.

After many attempts at getting this recipe just right, we can safely say that incorpoarting fattier meats like sausage and bacon/pancetta adds the juicy-ness that is difficult to get in a typical grass fed burger, and the rest is in the cooking:

Recipe

This recipe made 2 larger adult and 2 medium sized burgers for our kids. It was the perfect amount for our family, as our appetities tend to run on the higher end.

1 1/4 pound grass fed ground beef

1/4 pound beef liver (grass fed preferrably)

1/3 pound pancetta or bacon

4 large Italian sausage links (without casings)

1 whole egg (we use pastured eggs)

1/2 TBSP fresh basil (when chopped)

1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce

1/2 TBSP spicy or regular mustard

1/4 tsp olive oil

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp cardamom

1/4 tsp nutmeg

Combine meats–we used the grinder attachment from our Kitchen Aid mixer to grind ground beef, panchetta, sausage, and liver. If you get the liver in a frozen piece (1 pound or 1/2 pound pieces are easiest to work with), thaw it slightly and slice off about a 1/4 pound. If you don’t have a grinder, chop up the liver and pancetta/bacon as small as possible and mix with other meats.

To the meat mixture, add the whole egg, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, olive oil, and spices and mix vigorously with a large fork and form into a large ball. Place the ball of meat into a large bowl and let it sit in the refrigerator for a minimum of 20 minutes. Form into patties appropriately sized for your family and grill over a hot fire for 4-6 minutes on each side, according to how you like your burgers cooked. Chad’s grilling tip: do not touch or press the patties while they are grilling to keep the juices in tact.

Serve on a bed of lettuce and top with avocado and/or your favorite burger condiments.

Health Update

I have always felt that Charlotte and my health issues stemmed from a lack of nutrients. As soon as we began the Paleo diet and consistently ate nutrient dense foods, we immediately felt better–I had more energy and Charlotte’s eye contact and sensory issues improved.  

As we have made a conscious effort to eat nutrient dense organ meats, our overall energy level has continued to improve. I have seen an improvement in recovery after exercise as well as a decrease in PMS symptoms. Charlotte’s sensory and social issues continue to lessen. While we are still working on sleep issues with her, we are confident that she is becoming stronger and more nutritionally sound every day.

Just this week Mark Sisson did this post on nutrient deficiencies and listed Autism Spectrum Disorder as a symptom of Vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 can only be found in animal products, and we have seen a tremendous decrease in Charlotte’s Autism-like symptoms as we have incorporated more B12 into her diet through grass fed and pastured rasied meats. See this post for more information.

If you decide to try the recipe, please give us your feedback in the comments below.

What’s for Dinner?

I used to try to do everything right. I was a perfectionist in many ways, always trying to do things just right so that I would not be judged too harshly or fail at anything. Then I had kids and that didn’t work so well anymore. Trying to keep a clean house and have well-behaved kids while being a perfect wife was an unreachable goal that only led to anxious and negative thoughts.

Today I manage my household much differently and have realized the value of our family’s priorities. I learned to say No more often and lower the unreachable expectations for my kids and myself. I still struggle with micromanaging all of it on some days, but for the most part I’m better about enjoying my kids and being a mom.

When we adopted the Paleo diet, we fell into a simpler rhythm and a lower stress lifestyle. It may be difficult to believe that giving up convenience foods can make life easier, but it does. Living Paleo can actually complement a low-stress lifestyle and free you from many other demands. When life is focused on food and family time, there isn’t a lot of time for hectic over scheduling. If you must be home to prepare and clean up dinner, feeding the family takes priority, and you find a way to get it done. Everything else seems not as important.

When I get overwhelmed with being a mom and wonder if I’m doing enough to raise happy and healthy kids, I step back and know that if I get a Paleo dinner prepared and on the table each night, then I know I’ve done a lot of things right.

We focus on our Health. Grass-fed meats, salads, and quality vegetables fuel our bodies after a long day of school, play, or work. Our girls don’t eat food that comes from a package or box. We’re providing them valuable nutrients that are improving their current health and laying a foundation for a healthier future.

We express gratitude. We have recently begun a nightly prayer in Thanks to God before we eat. It gives us a moment each day to be grateful for the journey that we are on toward better health and success in meeting Charlotte’s needs. It’s very sweet to hear the girls thank God for each other, their friends, and their school.

We enjoy the meal. Each Paleo meal is full of nourishing vegetables and proteins that taste delicious. It’s safe to say that Dana is becoming quite the Foodie, understanding and appreciating the flavors and textures of foods while cleaning her plate every night. In addition, the girls are learning to value the time it takes to prepare a meal in consideration of everybody’s needs and tastes.

We feel great. If you are currently eating Paleo, then you understand how great it feels. An increase in energy is generally the first positive response most people feel when they begin the Paleo diet. The girls have energy to carry them through their day, have fewer meltdowns before dinner, and generally have better behavior.

We treasure the time together. In the busy-ness of school, homework, activities, and travel, we have one opportunity each day to connect and talk together. Even though our kids are young, they are busy with their own interests. So when they ask me 500 times throughout the day, “What’s for dinner?”  I like to think they are looking forward to the meal and time together as much as I am.

When I advocate eating Paleo, it’s a simpler and healthier lifestyle change. With a focus on family and healthy eating, everything else falls to being less important. We plan to all be home in the dinner hour to come together and finish our day as a family. When we worry less about doing everything for everybody and concentrate on healthy meals and time together, we know we’re doing something right.

Pictured above: The Bacon Chicken recipe from Paleo Parents