Lunch

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So my business recently moved to a new location. With this new location came a world of new and wonderful shiny things. But the thing I’ve been most excited about today is that I’m four blocks closer to the Sub-Shop!!! A tiny little restaurant that accepts cash only and is only open for 3 and a half hours a day on weekdays only. Why is it that a scarcity makes things seems to taste so much better? So today for a mere $6.50 I got to eat this salad of the Gods. It’s filled with mushrooms, olives, green peppers, tomato,banana peppers, pickles, carrots, chicken, and cashews, and topped with the dressing they make in house. Now that it’s gone I’m left contemplating how much of my future paychecks will be spent there. (A lot… Like-a-lotta-lot)

Sorry Rob.

Salad for Breakfast

I had to go into work super early today and didn’t have time to make anything for breakfast. But I knew I had a long day ahead of me and I didn’t want to try to do it on an empty stomach. Which ended up being a good idea, because it turned out to be a busy day. So I went down to the food court to see if anybody was open. And the only place that was was a chicken sandwich place. But they sell salads, so I figured I’d try my luck.

I tried their Cobb Salad, which I ordered with grilled chicken instead of the breaded chicken it normally comes with; and without cheese or dressing. The grilled chicken was served cold, which may have been because it was nine am and they were just opening, or may have been because that’s how they serve it. I didn’t really care enough to ask. I didn’t realize until I opened it up that it also had corn on it, which I normally don’t eat and mostly picked out with my fork, although I wasn’t overly concerned and I definitely ate some of it. Other than that it was served with some crispy pepper strips which I skipped because they listed some grain products in the ingredients, and tomatoes and carrots and eggs and bacon which I did eat.

I had the whole thing dry. And before I took a bite I really wanted to cover it with dressing. But then I tried it and it was awesome and I devoured it as quickly as I could. I still experience some of the old cultural programming that makes me think veggies don’t taste good unless they taste like ranch dressing. But as soon as I take the first bite I remember how amazing meat and vegetables and eggs and fruit taste and I don’t need to cover it all with cream sauce and croutons.

That simple cold salad of mixed greens and tomatoes and carrots and corn and eggs and bacon and chicken gave me the energy to power through a pretty busy day for about six hours until I took a break to eat another Larabar. Fruit Tart. And that got me through till dinner, when my wife prepared me an amazing spaghetti squash and meatballs. There was a time, not too long ago, when I would have been starving on 5000 calories before five pm. Today I had less than 700 total through breakfast and lunch. The more I eat nutrient dense food, the smaller my portions become and the longer they sustain me. It really is an amazing thing. Nutrition is so much more complex than “calories in/calories out.”

The idea of a salad for breakfast seems really crazy. When I was younger I remember thinking mockingly of that as “rabbit food.” Even as I got older and started eating a lot more salads I rarely thought of them as “main course” material, even with meat. I wanted something more. Something extra. Even when they were covered in dressing. Now I can eat a fairly small dry salad and run at top shape for hours.

Paleo doesn’t mean every meal has to be a salad, or you have to survive on nothing but shakes or granola bars, or starve yourself to get by. Most days I’m eating grilled meats and roasted vegetables and potatoes and squash and succulent fruits. Every once in a while I’m on the go and in a hurry and have to make due. But I’m finding the more I make the right decisions, even in a pinch, the easier everything becomes.

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Breaded Pork Chops and House Salad with Cheese

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Mrs. Sandwell and I went out to one of our favorite Italian restaurants recently. We specifically asked the waitress not to bring us bread and to leave cheese off of all our food. She gave us some static about it throughout the evening, repeatedly, but was generally a very good natured waitress. We enjoyed her service thoroughly and tipped her well.

We both ordered the same thing. A house salad, which was fantastic. And was delivered with Parmesan cheese all over it. And for the main course I was going to order a large antipasto salad, but the waitress sold me on the special which my wife also ordered. Pork Chops with Roasted Red Potatoes. “That sounds delicious!” I thought. And it was. It was also breaded pork chops, which I only found out when they arrived. They were also served with green beans, which was a delightful and unexpected surprise since the waitress didn’t mention them when describing the special to us earlier.

So even though I specifically asked that our table not receive any bread or any cheese, we got cheese on our salads and breaded pork chops, both without warning. We were also offered garlic bread and cheese on our dishes, despite having previously expressed our preference repeatedly. Our waitress even said, “Oh, I thought you meant the other cheese.”

We didn’t let any of this bring us down. We didn’t get bent at the waitress or make a scene. She really was a pleasant waitress. And we had a great date night. I’ve said before, “When someone else is doing the cooking try to be gracious about the results.” So we didn’t have the perfectly Paleo meal we had planned. That we had specifically chosen THAT restaurant to go to for. That didn’t ruin our evening or cause any drama. The breaded pork chops with red potatoes and green beans were fantastic. So was the house salad with cheese. It was a great meal, and one great meal with a few grams of food we don’t normally consume isn’t gonna be the reason my legs fall off.

It’s easy to get really caught up in what you’re focused on. And that’s good, because you really want to be conscious of what you’re ingesting and making intentional decisions about your nutrition. But sometimes life throws you a curve ball. I could have been a big jerk about the whole thing, and yelled at the waitress, and embarrassed my wife in public, and demanded I get my meal for free. I wouldn’t even have been that out of line. I couldn’t have been more clear about “no bread no cheese.” But instead we smiled and laughed and had a wonderful meal and went on our merry way.

The world at large doesn’t get it yet. The more experienced you are with Paleo, the more you encounter that. “No cheese” means “the other cheese.” “No bread” somehow doesn’t include bread crumbs. It’s all the time, everywhere. It’s people saying, “I don’t eat much bread; I only had a croissant and a muffin for breakfast and pasta for lunch and pizza for dinner and soda all day.”

You can rage at that, or you can chuckle at it. You can throw your food in the waitress’ face, or you can enjoy a delicious meal. Your choice won’t change the world. But it might change your evening.

We loved our dinner. And later we talked about how it’d probably make us feel a little sick, and how we’d probably experience a little bloating from it, and how tasty it was. And we’ll definitely go back to that restaurant. And next time I know to be more specific about my salad, and not to order the breaded pork chops. Instead I’ll get the grilled chicken or the antipasto salad, both of which are also excellent.

Learning how to live the Paleo lifestyle is more than just caloric math equations or lists of allowed or prohibited foods. It’s about education and objectivity and rational decision making. And at it’s most basic, it’s about having a more sustainable lifestyle. It’s about being healthy. And your mental and spiritual health is just as important (or more so) than the number on the scale or the size of your pants. It only makes so much sense to stand firm on a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese and ruin your evening and your marriage and bring long lasting drama and stress and negativity into your life by throwing a fit at a restaurant. Sometimes the healthy decision is just to enjoy your evening.

What can I get instead of bread?

I went out to breakfast this morning with my wife. I ordered a meal of breakfast potatoes and eggs and sausage and bacon and loads of veg, and asked them to leave off the cheese. It was great!

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The dish I ordered also comes with a side of toast or biscuits and gravy. So I asked the waitress, “What side options do you have that aren’t bread?” And she offered me pancakes, waffles, oat meal, or a cinnamon roll. I just smiled and told her I’d have it without a side and my wife did the same and then our food showed up and it was delicious and we devoured it and we were both totally full at the end of the meal.

It’s important to remember that the Paleo lifestyle isn’t really a part of the social consciousness yet. At least not to the degree that vegetarianism is for instance. If I had asked her for a “no meat” option she would have understood and not recommended bacon or sausage. But when I asked for a “no bread” option she offered me four bread options. Not because she was being a bitch. Not because she was stupid. She was a perfectly pleasant waitress and she got a good tip. The simple reality is she doesn’t think of pancakes and waffles and oat meal and cinnamon rolls as bread. This is part of what makes bread such a sneaky bastard. It’s like a silent ninja that’s stalking and killing you. Until it’s pointed out to them, most people don’t realize that pizza is bread, and tacos are bread, and soda is bread, and cupcakes are bread, and corn salsa is bread, and cereal is bread, and flour gravy is bread, and fried fish is bread, and linguine is bread, and a pretzel is bread, and rice is bread, and beer is bread, and on and on and on. When I said “no bread,” she just thought I meant “no toast.” And that’s not her fault. That’s our culture.

This is a learning process for all of us. Our species has been surviving on grain products for a long long time. And coming to understand that they might not be good for us, or that we shouldn’t be eating them, or just how ubiquitous they are in our society takes time. I’m still finding out sneaky new ways grain products are used in foods you’d never imagine, like in ice cream or ketchup or even processed meats! If I’m studying this almost every day and still learning new things all the time, how can I expect a waitress who’s never heard of this before to be an expert on what I mean when I say “no bread?”

So be patient with your servers. Be patient with yourself. If you have what you thought was a perfectly Paleo meal and then later realize that there was a grain product in the sauce you thought was safe, let it go. A tablespoon of sauce with a milligram of gluten isn’t going to kill you. If your server misunderstands your dietary preferences and suggests the wrong foods, just smile and nod and get on with your life. The longer we live this lifestyle and the more gracious we are about it with others, the more it will become a part of mainstream culture. I’m already seeing “Paleo” sections on menus and “Paleo” food trucks. As you grow in your understanding of the Paleo journey, the world around you will too. So take it easy. Lean back in your chair, smile at the waitress, tip generously, and maybe later have a small, good-natured chuckle at the one time a waitress recommended waffles as a good “no bread” option.

Eating Out Paleo

A big part of the lifestyle we’re practicing now involves cooking healthy food at home. We’re eating organic, no hormone, grass fed beef, and fresh fruits and vegetables, and making our own soups and salads out of ingredients we prepare ourselves. But sometimes you just want to go out to a restaurant. Maybe you’re pressed for time and it’s convenient. Maybe you’re going out to celebrate a big event. Maybe you just really want to sit and relax while someone else makes breakfast. Whatever the reason, you want to eat out. But you still want to stick to the plan. So what do you do?

Well, the good news is, it really isn’t that difficult. With a little planning and preparation ahead of time, you can eat out pretty much carefree. First it’s a good idea to spend a little time learning about different cuisines, how they’re prepared, and what kinds of foods you can generally expect to find on the menus of different restaurants.

American food is pretty easy to define. Hamburgers and sandwiches, it’s mostly meat on bread, Sides usually include fries or chips. This kind of food can be made fairly “Paleo friendly” without too much trouble. Order burgers without cheese or a bun, most places are willing to put it in a lettuce wrap or just on a plate for you with the toppings. Ask for some variation of steamed or sauteed veg for a side.

Chinese food is a tricky one. You can order grilled meat and steamed veg, but the sauces are almost exclusively made with soy products which I’m trying to avoid as much as possible. Soy has a lot of potentially unhealthy aspects, which you can find on a number of websites like this one. In addition, especially in America, Chinese restaurants tend to serve breaded foods cooked in any of several oils often avoided in the Paleo lifestyle. Corn, canola, vegetable, and peanut oils are all common in so called “American Chinese” restaurants. If you just have to have Chinese food, and I’m someone who loves Chinese and still craves it occasionally, try sticking to steamed vegetables and grilled meats. Avoid things like rice, fried pastries, and soups which usually have soy and tofu in them.

Indian food is actually pretty naturally Paleo. They tend to use coconut milk and coconut oil instead of dairy milk and vegetable oils, and the dishes usually consist mostly of large chunks of meat. Watch out for foods that include Paneer, which is a kind of homemade cheese, as well as lentils, chickpeas, and yogurt. Look for a good, authentic, Indian restaurant, and you can probably eat pretty easily while still sticking to the plan.

Italian food is another story. Usually it’s breaded meat or veg served over pasta with cheesebread on the side. Wash it down with a soda and you can enjoy bread four ways in one meal. You can find things to eat at Italian restaurants, grilled chicken, potato gnocchi in meat sauce, antipasto salads, it’s not a total wasteland for the ancestral eater. But they will try to cover the food in cheese and overwhelm you with bread. If I’m in an Italian restaurant I start by asking the waiter not to bring bread to the table and then specifically request no bread or cheese on my main dish, regardless of what I order, just to be safe. I’ve had dishes sometimes arrive with cheese sprinkled over the top that wasn’t mentioned on the menu when I didn’t specifically address it with the server while ordering, so now I just do so as a matter of course. Don’t get bent. Just go in knowing that your choices will be limited, and then do your best.

Mexican food can be enjoyed pretty easily, just stay away from the rice and beans and tortillas. Order the fajitas and just eat the sizzling steak and veg with lettuce and guacamole.

I stick to a couple of basic guidelines when I’m eating out that make it easier to decide what to order.

1. No more than two special requests. If I’m looking at something I want to order on the menu and I can do so with two or fewer adjustments, that’s fine. But if I’m going to have to order none of this, and none of that, and hold the other thing, then I’m ordering something completely different, so I might as well just go ahead and order something completely different. Don’t get hung up on the thing you always used to eat but have to make six changes to to bring in line with your plan. Instead open yourself to trying something new that’s naturally closer to your goals. You could order breaded chicken over cheesy rice with a side of beans minus the bread and the cheese and the rice and the beans, or you could just order the grilled salmon with steamed broccoli. Save yourself, the waiter, and the cookstaff some trouble and make the right decision.

2. Think outside the box. Recently my parents really really wanted to take me to a new Hot Italian Beef Sandwich restaurant they’d discovered. They were all excited to share this new experience and they wanted to go out as a family and have a nice meal. Now I knew that everything was going to be served on a loaf of bread, but I didn’t rain on their party. I got excited with them and went and ordered a sandwich like everybody else with double meat and veg. Then when I got my food I just dumped the meat and veg off the hoagie, tossed the bread in the trash, and ate my huge pile of delicious food with a fork and a knife. Great meal, great family time, no worries about “breaking the rules.” Don’t get self conscious, don’t think you have to “clean your plate.” Just eat the stuff you do want to eat, and don’t eat the stuff you don’t want to eat.

3. It’s ok to go “off plan.” There are no “Paleo Police” waiting to issue you a ticket for eating a croissant. There are no “Paleo Ninjas” waiting in the bushes to ambush you if they see you enjoy an after dinner mint. One piece of cheesecake isn’t going to give you diabetes. If you want to eat something that you know isn’t good for you, then make a decision. Either do what’s healthy, or what will make you happy. The whole point of this lifestyle is improving your quality of life. Sometimes that means resisting that sugary dessert that you know will make you sick later. Sometimes it means enjoying a nice evening out and not concerning yourself with nitpicking every aspect of every meal every day of your life. If you feel like you’re in prison, then stretch your legs. In my experience, those foods you’re avoiding will probably taste delicious, and then make you feel a little gross later that night, and over time you just won’t want to eat them that much anymore. In some ways, once you’ve detoxed from the Standard American Diet, the best way to reduce the urge to eat poison is to give in to it every once in a while. It’ll remind you why you made that decision in the first place.

4. It’s ok to have allergies. If you’re really concerned about cross-contamination of foods or that little bit of cheese sneaking on to your plate, just tell the waiter that you have an allergy. Most waitstaff are still unfamiliar with the Paleo lifestyle and trying to explain it to them is likely to cause more confusion than it clears up. But they have people tell them they have food allergies all day. Waiters are used to hearing that and communicating it to the people in the kitchen, who are all used to taking it into account when preparing food. It doesn’t matter if you actually do have a food allergy. Just tell them you’re allergic. It’s like a code. Everybody in the food industry is familiar with the idea of food allergies, and nobody will give you any trouble for it. And they’re a lot more likely to listen, because they also don’t want to face legal liability for ignoring someone’s allergy and causing them to have a medical emergency.

5. Eyes on your own plate. No one likes the vegan who starts screaming and spitting and throwing red paint on everyone who eats a burger. Nobody wants to be proselytized to while they’re eating Ooey Gooey Butter Cake. Enjoy your dinner and let other people enjoy theirs. Don’t make any rude comments or “helpful” suggestions unless they’re solicited. If you keep making healthy choices for yourself, people will be asking you for your advice soon enough anyway. You don’t have to force it on them. For now, eat your steak and mushrooms and let them eat their pizza and be content in the knowledge that you are making a healthy and delicious decision for yourself, and that’s all that’s any of your business. It’s easy to get excited and want to share the good news, especially when you start experiencing the benefits of this lifestyle. But it’s also easy to turn other people off of it by being a pushy jerk. If you really want to do your friends a favor, let them come to this on their own in their own way at their own pace. They’ll be a lot more open to it in the long run, and more likely to accept it and stick with it. You be the change you want to see in the world, and let other people eat their meal in peace.

6. Try not to be a jerk. Most people in your society aren’t eating like this. Most waiters aren’t used to getting these types of special orders. Most cooks aren’t familiar with these dietary restrictions. This is still a relatively new cultural phenomenon. Be patient with the people at the restaurant. They aren’t trying to ruin your meal and they’re making minimum or even sub-minimum wage. If you want it done right, do it yourself. At home. In your own kitchen. If you’re going to eat in someone else’s kitchen, then accept that someone else is doing the work and try to be gracious with the results. Within reason of course. I’m not saying if they drop your food on the floor you should say thank you and eat it up. I’m saying if your chicken was grilled on a flat-top they also warm burger buns on, or if there’s a tablespoon of shredded parmesan on your chicken breast, or if there’s some milk in the mashed potatoes, then eat the parts of the meal you’re comfortable with and do a better job ordering next time. Don’t let one instance of one tiny portion of something that other people eat all the time ruin your meal or a nice evening out. Take it in stride and roll on. Next time you’ll know to communicate more clearly with your server, or order something else, or maybe just eat somewhere else all together. Tonight, just enjoy your meal.

Breakfasts are pretty easy. You can get an omelet most places. Eggs, meat, veg. Watch out for milk in the eggs and the oil they use on the hashbrowns, sometimes they drench the potatoes in vegetable oils. Most of your “average nice” restaurants, like Friday’s and Applebee’s and Outback have a variety of steak and chicken and fish dishes you can order pretty easily. Places like Qdoba and Chipotle are a breeze, just order the salad bowl with just meat, lettuce, veg, guacamole, and salsa. Jimmy John’s will let you order any sandwich as a lettuce wrap. And of course if you absolutely have to fall back on something, almost everywhere has a salad you can order. Spend a little time doing some research on your own beyond this blog post. Google things like “Best Paleo Restaurants,” and “Eating Out Paleo.” Robb Wolf has a great e-book on this topic called The Paleo Dining Out Guide available for only eight bucks. Prepare ahead of time with a little knowledge and you won’t have any anxiety, or difficulty, when it’s your turn to order.

Let us know what you do when you eat out!

Eating in the Food Court

I recently started a new job at the local shopping mall. One of the great perks of my new job is a paid lunch as long as I stay in the mall. So my first week I went down to the Food Court to see what my meal options were. As part of my Paleo lifestyle I’m trying to avoid eating (mostly in this order) grains, dairy, processed sugars, and beans. And I realized pretty quickly the restaraunt options available in the Food Court were not exactly “Paleo friendly.”

I had my choice of,

a Taco place
a Cheesesteak place
a Pretzel place
an Ice Cream shop
a Gyro place
a Chicken Sandwhich place
a “breaded stir fry” Chinese place
and a “hibachi grill” Chinese place

So I walked around and looked at each menu at each restaurant and determined what my choices were. Now, for starters, I’m an adult. I can eat whatever I want. Certainly if I wanted to eat tacos or cheesesteak sandwiches or pretzels or ice cream, I can. And those would all be delicious. And it would have been much easier and there’s nothing wrong with any of that. But rather than just give in to that, I wanted to see what better choices I could make.

I could eat a taco salad at the taco place with just lettuce and salsa and meat and guacamole. I could eat a chicken salad at the chicken sandwich place with meat and fruit and lettuce and veg. I could order a gyro without the tzatziki sauce and just dump out the meat and onions and eat that. Or I could go to the hibachi grill place and order a double order of veg instead of rice.

I ended up at the hibachi place. The veg was steamed cabbage, carrots, and broccoli, and the protein was plain chicken. They did pour a little teriyaki sauce on at the end of the cooking which probably contained both soy and sugar, so it wasn’t a perfect decision. But it ended up being a huge meal of steamed vegetables and (mostly) plain grilled chicken breast. It tasted great, it filled me up, and I felt a lot better than if I’d eaten the breaded Chinese chicken, or the supreme burritos, or a pretzel the size of my head.

When you’re under duress or your choices are limited, it can be difficult to make healthy decisions, and easy to justify making unhealthy ones. But even in those circumstances you can still make better, healthy-er decisions. Or eat the ice cream. You get what you pay for.

I’m looking forward to trying some of my other Paleo friendly Food Court options. And to trying to find some new ones. There are other restaurants at the mall I haven’t looked at yet, and ways I can make simple adjustments to some of the dishes I may have overlooked originally to fit them into my plan.

When have you been in a situation where you had limited options and had to find a creative way to make a healthy choice? What are the fallback foods that you rely on when you’re in a pinch? How do you eat Paleo when you’re stuck eating fast food? Leave a comment below!