Review: Everyday Paleo

Sometimes life seems like a series of happy coincidences. My family has endured my rantings about Paleo-style eating for years.

For the first while, they laughed at me. Or fretted. (No bread? But that’s so unhealthy!) Then they tolerated me.

Now some of them just roll their eyes and don’t offer me ice cream, although I still have to say “No thanks, grandma!” when she asks at nearly every meal during my annual visits, Would you girls like some cereal? (She forgets. But it’s super cute when she calls me and my 40-year-old friend “girls”.)

And others… they aren’t laughing any more. I lent mom a copy of The Paleo Solution. She read it, went cold turkey on grains and dairy, and never went back. Even on a trip to Mexico. No corn, no flour tortillas, no cerveza – and hey! no stomach upset. She held firm during a recent hospital visit. One day, I found her defiantly picking turkey out of the sandwich the hospital cafeteria sent her.

My two sisters are finding that they’re healthier, and so are my nephews and brothers-in-law, when sugar, grains, and dairy aren’t in their cupboards. My little nephews eat smoked salmon and fruit for breakfast. Yes, even the four-year-old. He knows the words “frittata” and “sashimi”. I swear this is true.

Anyway, so, it’s two weeks before Easter. Mom emails me, mildly panicked. It’s her turn to host the big family dinner. She’s gotta feed all of us on the Paleo spectrum along with the more conventionally-minded relatives.

Help! What do I make?

everyday paleo coverAs it happens, I have just the thing. Enter Sarah Fragoso and Everyday Paleo.

A mother of three children ranging from 3 to 15, Fragoso created as a way to keep herself accountable, to try out new recipes, and to build a community of Paleo-style eaters trying to figure out how to implement this way of eating into their (imperfect) daily routines.

Let’s be honest: Few of us want to spend our lives eating out of coolers from carefully measured Tupperware. We have jobs, lives, families, hobbies, commutes, and other demands on our time. How do we eat well, make food that tastes good, and just get our culinary act together… every day?

As the impromptu “head cook and bottle washer” at NorCal Strength & Conditioning, where Fragoso works alongside Robb Wolf and wife Nicki Violetti, she found herself answering more and more questions about how busy parents (and people in general) could make healthy and delicious meals from whole, unprocessed foods. Eventually, she said, “I could either spend three hours after each workout answering people’s cooking questions, or I could just put up a blog.”

The blog was wildly popular, and eventually she got a call from a publisher. The result: Everyday  Paleo, the book.

It’s part cookbook, part life story, part workout guide (there are even workouts for kids, demonstrated by Fragoso’s little ones, and partner workouts, for which Fragoso’s chiropractor husband joins her – demonstrating proper spinal position, of course).

Fragoso offers dozens of easy-to-prepare dishes that are quick, convenient, and tasty. (And many, dear readers, that involve bacon.) Each recipe has a photograph and clear instructions – and often, the instructions are as simple as “Combine all ingredients in a bowl and serve”.

Yep, it’s just that simple. One of Fragoso’s favourite meals is a simple roast chicken and veggies, although she tells me she loves her slow cooker too.

This all sounded too good to be true, so I got on the phone with the former stay-at-home mom turned strength & conditioning coach.

Fragoso, consider yourself grilled!

How did all this come about?

Originally, I started out as a client at NorCal Strength & Conditioning. I’d had lots of health issues and put on a lot of weight when I was pregnant… and then after I was pregnant. After you have a child, people like to bring you food, so I kind of holed up in my house and ate pasta and bread for 3 months straight.

Plus In my late 20s and early 30s, I had weird stuff happening that I just assumed was normal, because everyone else seemed to have similar complaints and not think it was very strange. I had chronic headaches when I got my period, which ballooned into migraines when I was pregnant. Girl stuff – every month I’d get a yeast infection.

I had chronic swelling in my legs, which I thought was hormonal. Eventually I found out my kidneys weren’t working – I had the initial stages of kidney failure.

But mostly I just lived with it. I figured it was normal.

Once I started at NorCal, I was hooked right away. Eventually, I was hanging around so much, I got hired!

For me, the decision to eat Paleo-style was cold turkey. Three weeks after I started, the leg swelling was gone, and it never came back. Headaches went away. I never had another yeast infection.

You must feel like a new person.

Omigosh! I’m so thankful I took “before” pictures!

Looking at my face, seeing the difference in who I am, it’s unreal. mentally, physically, all of it.

Why a book?

I love to write, it’s my therapy and passion. I have a psychology degree and minored in English, so it’s all stuff I love to do anyway. I decided I’ll just start writing and see what happens.

It’s really just luck and putting it out there in the universe. Writing what I wanted to write about. It just all kind of happened. Honestly I’m still reeling from it!

You’re a parent. Tell me about what that’s like – how did you get your family to get on board with you when you changed your eating?

I have been there, with poor diets. I have so much empathy. I’ve totally lived it. I got into such an unhealthy rut, trying to take care of everyone else first.

I mean, it’s already a challenge at dinner, just to get kids to sit down and even be interested in eating in the first place.

Early on as a parent, before I switched, I knew what foods I could get them to eat. It was stuff like macaroni and cheese, or breaded chicken. I had these comfort go-to food items, that I knew I could prep quickly. As parents we feel if we see kids putting food in their mouths, eating what’s on their plate, it’s like, “Mission accomplished, they’re not going to starve.”

Well, initially when you change, it’s not going to look like that any more. Kids won’t want to eat the new healthy foods right away. It was scary for me to think I was depriving them somehow, making them upset, traumatizing them, punishing them with food changes.

But I just felt so much better when I switched to the new style of eating, I just decided if I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it. It wasn’t gradual. It was like, “Hey kids, guess what, all the food we eat is no longer in the house.” I was just that confident about how much better I felt from changing my own diet.

Plus, I started realizing that all these health nuisances my kids were having were nutritional. If I can fix those health problems, it’s worth a few days of whining.

And you know what – it wasn’t as  horrible or scary as I assumed it would be. It’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be, even with picky eaters. There are some secrets.

Oh yeah? Like what?

My number 1 secret is to let them help you in the kitchen. It sounds like it’s almost too good to be true. It’s so amazingly simple. But it plays into the basic psychology of how a child works.

They have basic needs: love, attention, self-actualization, they need responsibility, praise, and of course shelter, food, and clothing. If they have all that other stuff they’ll eat and will be happy and okay.

You have to let them know they’re needed. Part of what they need to help you with is prepping your food. We’ve gotten into this mindset where everything is just handed to us. I know it makes me sound so old to say this, but the younger generation doesn’t realize you have to work to eat.

When your kid sits on the counter with you, and you give them a job and make them feel important, and don’t focus on the fact that you’re prepping broccoli and chicken – if you have them choose the spices and stir it, get excited about what they do, and make a big fuss over what they’ve accomplished… well, it’s amazing what kids will do if you let them help you.

I try to get them excited about making food with me. And sometimes I just put the oldest in charge of dinner.

Now my kids will even eat menudo – and they know what it is, too.

You make it sound pretty easy.

Of course, sometimes it is a struggle. I try and keep things in perspective. I feel so lucky just to have healthy kids and a happy marriage.

A few years ago when I wasn’t as healthy, it was a struggle in that I was working so hard just to maintain my own energy level. It was so much harder to have motivation to take care of my family.

The lesson is really that I need to take care of myself first. I used to think that was selfish. Now, being older and wiser, having things happen, like losing my mom to cancer, I’ve realized that if I don’t care for me first, then the challenges of taking care of everyone else are so much bigger.

It’s still challenging, and at the end of the day I’m tired, but I enjoy it so much more, just because I feel better. I think it’s just really about taking a deep breath, stepping back, and seeing what we do have and how blessed we are.

We get so focused on all the stuff we have to do. We all lose sight of how great parenting is.

What was the process of transition like? Were there challenges?

In the beginning, I really struggled for the first few weeks to find balance.

I’d eat healthily during the week, then gorge myself on Sunday. That’s kind of a popular approach right now to a lowcarb diet, to do that. It made me super-neurotic and unhealthy. It’s not great for you physically either.

It felt wrong and weird, like I was in some sort of strange relationship with food. I’d be all snuggly with my healthy foods during the week, and then ditch them on the weekend for cookies and donuts.

I associated cheating with all kinds of negative things. Eventually I threw that mindset to the side and lived my life more naturally.

I figured out what I could eat that wasn’t Paleo and still made me feel okay. For example, I can have nachos – corn  chips are okay and I feel fine eating them, but if I have anything with gluten, I’m sick the whole next day.

So, the challenge was really to figure out how to live a natural lifestyle without feeling I was missing out on something. I really had to change my outlook and perspective. Instead of feeling deprived, I learned to enjoy what I was eating.

Sugar is addictive. What it does to us psychologically is so crazy and weird. Just getting through the first month of avoiding all crap food helped me stabilize mentally and physically, so I could say, “This is just how I eat”. That helped me get past the difficulty.

We can’t control many things in our lives, but we can control what we do to our bodies with exercise, food, whatever. It’s good in some ways to have that kind of control, but you have to figure out what’s healthy within that control. How do we balance that? Is there any such thing as balance? I don’t want to spend my life on a tightrope. I like having my feet on solid ground.

For me, I just take one meal at a time. If we start looking too far into the future, we get so spun out. “Oh, I can’t eat Aunt Berta’s apple cake when Christmas comes…” We get lost in the future, and how’s this all going to work out and be. Just focus on today. Worrying is the worst thing you can do about anything.

The other thing that’s important is the food in your house.

So many parents say, okay, I’m committed, and then keep the box of cereal stashed in the cupboard, or the box of Pop Tarts. I know from experience that when you’re in a rush, when you’re tired, when you have a crying whiny child, as a parent you will give in, if you have that stash.

It starts that vicious cycle, where your kid knows if they throw a fit and whine, they’ll get their cereal back. Kids are smart. They’ll play you like a fool. [laughs]

Parents have to be tough but understanding. Like anything else in life, if your kid cries every time you’re in the store and you give that child a toy, they’ll cry all the time.

So just don’t have unhealthy food in the house. When the child asks, you gently say, “I’m sorry, we don’t have that any more, but we have this other thing.” Then offer them a healthy choice.

They might not take that healthy choice immediately, but they won’t starve. Just keep with the approach of getting them on board. It’s super important that you don’t have food in the house if you don’t want to eat it.

Even me, if I have wine and dark chocolate in my house at 10 pm and I’m tired and stressed out, then I’ll have wine and dark chocolate. But if it’s not here, then I don’t miss it.

It’s really about self regulating by not having it there. There’s no such thing as willpower.

Where do you get your recipe ideas?

I grew up on a farm. My mom was a health nut, she was a vegetarian on and off for years. I was kind of used to that, the concept of cooking your food in order to eat it.

As an adult, though, I got out of that. I felt I was too busy. I had excuses. I looked for convenience.

When I changed my eating, I realized I had to get creative again. Most people, when they hear “meat and vegetables”, think salad. Or they think about chicken breast and steamed broccoli.

I had to pull from my roots and go back to when I was in the kitchen with my mom, and think about how she’d create these dishes. She was always in the kitchen, trying something new. That was instilled in me.

I love to travel, and I’ve definitely had my fair share of trying new cuisines. Plus, my husband is Filipino and Latino, so we have all those flavours and recipes from his side of the family.

But the great thing is, it’s hard to mess up meat and vegetables, unless you do something crazy! We did feed a couple of things to the dog, though. [laughs]

It really doesn’t have to be boring. I enjoy my food so much more now than I used to. It’s exciting for me.

Our family favourite is my meatloaf, which I used to hate growing up. My mom would make something like a brick with ketchup on top. My husband suggested I try making a Paleo meatloaf, so I make one with fresh basil and onion. No ketchup on top. It’s one of our family’s go-to meals. We also make a great Thai curry soup.

And of course, lots of things with bacon!

What do you tell people when they ask about how you eat?

When people hear “Paleo”, they think I’m on some weird diet or crazy enough to have my kids on some weird diet. What we say is that we avoid processed foods. That’s all it is. Even a loaf of bread, think about how highly processed that is.

So, when I say I avoid processed foods, people understand that that’s healthy.

What’s your favourite recipe in the book?

I can’t really pick my favourite recipe. I’m not picky. I love to eat! I’m just happy as long as I’m full!

sarah fragoso and family cooking

Sarah and family cook together

By the way, here’s mom’s Easter menu. Fragoso would approve. And as you can see, nobody starved.

Fresh veggies
Pickled veggies

Beet-cranberry soup (with coconut milk instead of sour cream)

Roast lamb
Roast chicken
Braised Brussels sprouts and apples
Roasted yams and peppers
Whipped butternut squash
Steamed asparagus

Everyday Paleo berry cobbler
Everyday Paleo pumpkin pie

Date-coconut balls
Fresh fruit