When I introduce people to a paleo or primal template of eating, the initial tendency is to interpret it as restrictive. But just because you’re limiting poor choices, doesn’t mean that you need to forsake variety. One of the simplest ways to maintain diversity on you plate is to make use of the combo meal.
Remember the combination meal at Chinese restaurants?
This was a system of ordering in which you were given a long list of dishes separated into 2 columns that you could order family style. Typically you were offered a choice of one dish from column A and two dishes from column B. At its surface this might seem like you are ordering from a limited menu, but this system actually made for an astounding number of meal combinations.
Let’s say column A had 10 dishes and column B consisted of 16 dishes. Now let’s say the first entrée in column A was Twice Cooked Pork and you chose the top 2 dishes from column B to accompany it. If you just went down the line in column B, choosing successive pairs, that makes for 8 different meal combos with your Twice Cooked Pork alone. But you can see how your options could quickly escalate when you start mixing your choices from column B. For example pairing your Twice Cooked Pork with dish 1 + dish 3, then dish 1 + dish 4, then dish 1 + dish 5, and so on. Next, you could pair column B’s dish 2 with every other dish on the list, and then do the same with the third dish, and on down the line. And remember, we’re still working with just the top entrée from column A. I’ll leave it to those of you who are better at math than I am to figure out the total number of meals you could assemble from this menu.
Luckily, you don’t need to fill up 2 columns with 26 different choices to get you through a typical week.
When I cook on the weekend, I like to make a few main protein dishes along with several veggies and other sides. A recent Sunday in the kitchen netted me breakfast sausage patties, mini meat loaves, venison burgers, sautéed chicken thighs, string beans, broccoli, cauliflower, hard boiled eggs, and chopped fresh salad veggies (cucumber, radish, carrot, bell peppers, cilantro, and olives) along with plenty of freshly washed lettuce. When I’m cooking, I’m not really thinking about specifically matching one veggie with a certain protein. It’s more about having plenty of options on hand to throw together a quick and easy combination meal.
Breakfast might be chicken thighs and cauliflower, while dinner could end up being meatloaf with broccoli and string beans.
In addition to choices in food, the other key to keeping things interesting is to have plenty of seasonings, spices, and sauces on hand to keep the flavors fresh. I spice my food when I cook it, but I also like to use a variety of hot sauces and flavor toppings to fine-tune the taste on my plate.
Your dishes don’t need to be elaborate. Remember, you’re going for convenience here as much as anything else. Roasted, braised, or sautéed meat paired with steamed or roasted veggies is as easy as it gets. If you’re stumped for ideas, or just not that skilled in the kitchen, 2 of my favorite paleo cookbooks are Nom Nom Paleo and Practical Paleo.
Don’t be afraid to camp out in the kitchen for a few hours and just have at it. Anything that you can’t consume during the week can be frozen for later.
Cooking day definitely requires a bit of planning and an investment of your time, but even if the kitchen isn’t your comfort zone, you can grow to love it. I usually listen to podcasts while I’m cooking, but sometimes I just put on some good music and get lost in the process.
What might be initially be seen as a chore actually ends up being an enjoyable experience. So what do you say? Are you ready to try your hand at creating your own palette of combo items? It might seem like a lot of work, but when you get it right your meals will no longer feel monotonous, and you’ll never be at a loss for healthy things to grab when hunger strikes.