If there’s one skill we all gain on the AIP, it’s cooking! When we’re focused on consuming only the most nutrient-dense, clean, anti-inflammatory, high-quality whole foods to support healing, we’ll often necessarily be doing so in our own kitchens. For many of us, realizing that we can’t find AIP-approved foods at restaurants or grocery store delis can at first feel like a burden. But in this second post in my mindset series (see AIP Mindset: Optimism, Hope and Healing and AIP Mindset: Getting Beyond Feeling Deprived and AIP Mindset: Putting Myself First) I want to encourage you to look beyond those feelings of frustration so your kitchen can be filled with healing and joy!
When I began Paleo and later started the AIP, I did so having grown up with a familiarity and love for cooking at home. My family struggled financially when I was young, so eating out was a rare privilege, and even as a teenager, I often cooked meals for my whole family. If you’re like me, you’ll understand that this comfort in the kitchen puts us at a competitive advantage. If we already know our way around, we can easily get beyond the feeling of cooking as a burden burden simply by swapping a few ingredients or adapting our old favorites.
Another benefit to cooking familiarity is the ability to multitask. I often listen to an audiobook, chat on the phone with a family member or friend, or monitor my kids’ piano practice while I’m cooking. All of these activities add more enjoyment to the time I spend chopping, seasoning, roasting, sauteing, steaming, mixing, and serving. And, this ability to enrich my cooking time with other pleasant activities makes me look forward to cooking even more.
But I know that for many others, this isn’t the case. When we lack confidence in our cooking skills, cooking can feel stressful and requires more of our attention. But, we can overcome this feeling of cooking as a burden by thinking about our time investment in the kitchen differently. One mindset shift I’ve seen work time and again is embracing our kitchen as the center of our healing. It’s really the premise behind my second cookbook, The Healing Kitchen. When our pantry and fridge are filled with nutrient-dense, nourishing foods that our bodies are craving, it’s completely within our power to cook amazing meals that quite literally help us heal. That’s pretty cool!
Cooking for ourselves eliminates any stress or negativity that might surround eating out during the elimination phase of the autoimmune protocol. When we know each and every ingredient in a given dish, we can be sure we won’t have a negative reaction and can eat without fear of discomfort. Plus, cooking allows us to make just what we and our families like. Seeing the satisfaction on a loved one’s face after you’ve made an amazing meal is a feeling unlike any other!
And, the more we cook, the more familiar it becomes, the more comfortable we get in the kitchen, the more we can feel removed from the effort of cooking and instead enjoy the process, relax into a meditative frame of mind as we chop and stir, and incorporate fun into meal preparation. So hang in there, because practice makes perfect!
Beyond this mindset shift, there are practical steps we can take to move past seeing cooking as a burden. I’ll detail a few below.
Make a Plan
Meal planning is simply the best way to minimize the time you spend in the kitchen and make the most of your grocery budget. Often, meal plans allow us to creatively use leftovers, so we actually spend less time preparing food in the long run. If we’re working to get in a certain amount of organ meats, seafood and vegetables each week, meal plans also allow us to make sure we’re meeting these goals throughout the week. Those nutritional milestones really add up over time, and contribute to our overall healing!
Whether you choose to outsource your meal planning to a service like Real Plans, use the meal plans in The Paleo Approach Cookbook or The Healing Kitchen or meal plan yourself with your favorite recipes, the most important aspect of meal planning is to choose meals our families like and stick within our budgets. The advantage of pre-made meal plans is that many include nifty features like cooking timelines, prep directions and tips, which can be very beneficial for cooks who are new or simply overwhelmed.
If you’re interested in having a template made for you, Real Plans is the most customizable, versatile and user-friendly tool I’ve found. They’ve got a great AIP recipe collection and I love that I can include my own recipes, and you can easily add recipes from myself and other bloggers like PaleOMG, Nom Nom Paleo and Autoimmune Wellness too!
Stock Your Pantry
Having a stocked pantry can help us avoid the urge to eat out, which is the best way to derail our progress and demoralize our kitchen adventures. Instead, start making a list of the pantry staples you use most frequently and be sure not to run out of these foods. “Cooking” can be as simple as pulling together a few pantry staples to make a balanced meal of protein, carbs and fat.
In many cases, an AIP meal can be pulled together quite simply from what we have on hand. Cooking doesn’t have to be difficult—I often eat a can of sardines with some plantain chips and raw veggies for lunch. I keep those ingredients on hand at all times so I know I don’t have to stress about meals.
One Stop Paleo Shop is also an amazing resource for easily identifying AIP-compliant ingredients and portable foods since they have an entire AIP section of their online store that I’ve vetted myself! Whether you’re looking for dressings, sauces, snacks or staples, One Stop has got you covered!
I also gathered a few of my favorite Paleo and AIP pantry staples together in this post, called 15 Must-Haves For Your Paleo Pantry. Read it to find out a little more about my pantry strategies and staples, and where I find the best deals on those items! Hint: Thrive Market has 25%-50% discounts on hundreds of Paleo staples. They don’t have an AIP section, so you’ll need to read ingredients lists on products you aren’t familiar with, but they’re a great place to save tons of money and have quality ingredients shipped straight to your door!
Your family’s specific tastes will often dictate what you cook most frequently, and I find that having a good rotation of go-to recipes is the best way to make cooking a simple affair. This might mean we bookmark or print out a few recipes from our favorite AIP bloggers, keep tabs on a few go-to’s from our favorite cookbook (may I recommend The Paleo Approach Cookbook and The Healing Kitchen again?) or write down our favorite way to modify a pre-paleo favorite.
I balance my own recipe testing and more elaborate meals with the staples my family loves week-in and week-out. A few of these are the 50/50/50 Burgers (hello, nutrient density!), Epic Tostones, Thai Beef Lettuce Wraps and Roast Chicken and Chicken Bone Broth. In fact, I love roasting vegetables simply with a little olive oil and salt on a pan at between 400 and 425° because it takes very little time to prepare and is totally delicious.
When we know a dish will turn out beautifully and are familiar with the time it will take to prepare and cook, time in the kitchen suddenly becomes something that is much more within our control. It’s not a burden, but a neat trick we can pull off with a few ingredients and a little time!