Converting your recipes to paleo

If you are just getting started on the paleo diet, you don’t have to jettison your entire cookbook collection. It might be hard to transform that Betty Crocker yellow cake recipe to be truly paleo, but you can modify some of your favorite recipes for the perfect paleo transformation. Here are some tips for making your top recipes paleo-style.

Replacing butter With paleo oils for cooking

If one of your favorite recipes calls for butter, go ahead and try coconut butter for sautéing, browning, and baking. For recipes that call for higher temperatures, try grapeseed oil instead. Olive oil is fine for low-temp recipes.

Instead of cheese, garnish with something else

A lot of recipes call for cheese as a garnish or topping. Fortunately, there are a few options. As a garnish substitute, try shredded red or white cabbage to add some color and crunch. Missing the smoky, zesty flavors of cheese? Nutritional yeast makes a great substitute for hard, flavorful cheeses like parmesan. Replacements for ricotta and cream cheese can be made from almonds and macadamia nuts. Avocado can be blended into a delicious “cream” sauce. Sautéed peppers, squashes, and other vegetables can make flavorful toppings.

Pasta is out, but your favorite recipe isn’t!

If you are making a paleo meal for the first time, you might be ignoring some of your favorite pasta recipes. You can’t use pasta, but you can still use that recipe! Cooked spaghetti squash, shredded zucchini, and even sweet potato noodles can be substituted into your favorite recipe. For dishes that call for rice, use cauliflower instead.

The perfect flour substitutes...

When starting out paleo, you’ll find that most of your existing recipes call for flour. There are an increasing number of paleo substitutions. The flavor will be a little bit different, but you will like it! If you need to thicken a sauce or dredge meat, try arrowroot starch.

Sweeteners and dessert

Honey and maple syrup provide easy substitutes for unhealthy refined sugars. Although they should be used sparingly, honey, maple syrup, and molasses offer some nutrients and a lower glycemic index. Instead of your usual after-dinner treat, try a piece of fruit instead. If you need a chocolate fix, small amounts of dark (85% cacao) cocoa are ok. For a calorie-free addition to your coffee or tea, stevia leaf works well. If it’s an occasion for something decadent, paleo desserts do exist!

Paleo Shopping List

To go along with your fresh vegetables and meat, make sure your paleo pantry has the following staples:


  • High-quality (organic, cold-pressed) coconut oil
  • High-quality (organic, cold-pressed) olive oil
    • High heat (frying, stir-frying, searing): avocado oil, macadamia oil
    • Low heat (for flavorful finishing/dressing): flaxseed oil, walnut oil

Dairy. Most of this is off-limits!

  • Almond or cashew milk if you like to make smoothies
  • Eggs. Local farm eggs, if possible. Otherwise, cage-free, vegetarian-fed
  • Ghee, or clarified butter. The grass-fed version is a gray area, but is lactose-free; many people use it with no problems.


  • Coconut milk (organic, no sugar added)
  • Pumpkin puree (organic, no sugar added)
  • 100% maple syrup

Bulk foods

  • Cashew, walnut, or almond butter (no added ingredients)
  • Raw Honey
  • Coconut flakes
  • Unsalted nuts and dried fruits for snacking


  • Frozen berries/fruit (organic, no sugar added)
  • Peas (organic), spinach (organic), or other favorite convenience veggies
  • Grass-fed beef, buffalo, lamb patties; or other exotic game

Ingredients for your paleo breads

  • Arrowroot starch
  • Tapioca flour
  • Coconut flour
  • Almond flour

Paleo vegetarian dishes

Because they are the biggest food group allowed on the paleo diet, vegetables play an important role in keeping your meals interesting with a variety of flavors and textures. Learning how to select and prepare many different kinds of veggies will also maximize the health benefits of the paleo diet. Some people, especially those who grew up eating canned or frozen vegetables, may say they don’t like 'em, period. Others may be used to making vegetables palatable using only large amounts of processed cheese or cream. With the right cooking techniques, however, it’s possible to bring out surprisingly delicious flavors that are completely paleo-friendly. Don’t forget that in-season organic vegetables taste better and are often cheaper, too!

Is it possible to be a paleo vegetarian?

If you or someone you’re cooking for is vegetarian, paleo dishes can be tricky, but doable. Eggs, nuts, and seeds are all vegetarian sources of protein, and one or more of these foods will need to be incorporated into every meal for the best nutrition. Vegan paleo options do exist, but the trouble is that almost all vegan protein sources like beans and textured vegetable protein are off-limits. Without eating meat or eggs, it may be difficult for a full-time vegan to get a healthy amount of protein.

Even if you do eat meat, you can serve meat-free dinners a few times a week to save money, live more sustainably, and get the most nutritional benefits from your diet.

Vegetarian paleo main dishes

Try adapting some of your current favorites; for example, with a few easy changes, eggplant parmesan can be paleo. Cuisines from north Africa, India, and eastern Asia all have lots of vegetarian options that can easily be made paleo. Try dishes like coconut vegetable curry or a quick veggie stir-fry. Use squash or sweet potatoes to make a paleo casserole.

Paleo soups

Soups and stews are a great way to stay full on a budget, and dishes like butternut squash soup are naturally meat-free. Take advantage of your crockpot for easy and nutritious paleo dinners that will be ready when you get home from work.

Paleo veggie side dishes

Brussels sprouts are getting popular for a reason! Give this misunderstood vegetable a second chance by roasting it with balsamic vinegar for a tasty, crispy dish that packs a rich flavor and plenty of nutrients. It’s easy to make delicious paleo sweet potato fries at home. Stir-fry or roast diced bell peppers and squash to make a colorful base for meat dishes.

Cooking paleo food for guests

Just because you’ve given up grains, dairy, and other staples of the standard American diet, it doesn’t mean you have to give up dinner parties and potlucks!

If you’ll be a guest at someone else’s gathering, bring your own tasty paleo side dish that is so good, your host won’t even know it’s for a special diet. Always remember that no matter how excited you are about going paleo, don’t try to push your beliefs on others!

If you’re hosting, it’s easy to find paleo crowd-pleasers. To maximize your guests’ enjoyment, it’s usually a good idea to use recipes that are almost paleo to begin with, rather than trying to serve bread and pasta replacements to people who probably eat these things every day. Do it right, and guests won’t even know all those refined carbohydrates are missing!

  • Spiced chicken wings with bok choy slaw
  • Thai-style lettuce cups
  • Sweet potato fritters with nectarine chutney

Paleo dinner party sample menu

  • Start with a charcuterie plate or serve crudités with homemade paleo ranch or guacamole.
  • Customize your salad with a paleo dressing or serve gazpacho or another light vegetable soup.
  • For your main dish, stick with classics like pot roast or paleo pork chops. To change it up, try lamb shanks on-the-bone for a delicious, paleo-friendly dish with a sophisticated presentation. Don’t skimp on paleo-friendly pan sauces to bring out the complex flavors in your dish.
  • Pick colorful side dishes like roasted parsnips and sweet potatoes to round out a healthy and gorgeous-looking plate.
  • Finish the meal with an indulgent coconut chocolate mousse, or make a simple fruit crisp with a grain-free topping.

Paleo’s secret weapon — the crockpot

If you’re eating paleo, the crockpot can be one of your best friends. No longer just in the domain of potlucks, the crockpot can be used to make everything from paleo breakfast casseroles to meatballs and exotic curries. For families on the go, a crockpot is one of the most convenient ways to providing healthy weeknight meals. Here’s why many paleo people use crockpots frequently:

Make Ahead

Ingredients can be assembled in the dish and then refrigerated until you’re ready to start your meal.


Many crockpot recipes need little or no preparation: just add the ingredients in the morning and turn it on! When you get home from work, you will have a nutritious meal ready-to-eat. Breakfast foods can be cooked overnight to make sure that rushed mornings don’t get in the way of starting your day out with the right food.


Cooking meats and vegetables in sauce retains nutrients that would be lost on the stovetop. The rich flavor also means that you don’t need as much salt.

Save money

With a crockpot, you can easily incorporate grassfed meat into different dishes and heat it up later, saving money if you have leftovers.


Using a crockpot is much easier than baking or sautéing; not only can it safely cook unattended, it will give you consistent results with almost no need for kitchen know-how.

Coconut oil and the paleo diet

Coconut oil is a staple of the paleo diet for a number of reasons. It’s an extremely versatile whole food that is full of beneficial compounds. The paleo diet forbids vegetable oils and butter; coconut oil is one of the best replacements. It tolerates high-heat for searing or stir-frying, goes well in baked dishes, and is semi-solid at room temperature: perfect to spread on your paleo pancakes. With its increasing popularity, high-quality coconut oil can now be found at affordable prices online or at bulk shopping clubs. Just remember to never contaminate the jar with dirty utensils or fingers!

The Benefits of Coconut Oil

  • Your heart. Our understanding of the role of saturated fat in heart disease has changed with increasing scientific study. Emerging research has shown that the real culprits likely include refined sugar/carbohydrates and a high ratio of omega 6:3 fatty acids.
  • Wounds and scars. Coconut oil has natural microbial and antifungal compounds that can safely aid wound healing. The high amount of vitamin E and other nutrients can help fade scars and uneven spots on skin.
  • Your skin, hair, and teeth. Many people who are going paleo are also interested moving away from over-processed, artificially-scented toiletry products. Besides simply being a great moisturizer, coconut oil has soothing compounds that can help flaky rashes and dermatitis. It also penetrates more deeply into the hair shaft than commercial oils, making it an ideal ingredient in hair conditioning masks. Coconut oil is the preferred ingredient for “oil pulling,” an ancient practice that clears bacteria out of the mouth.
  • Your resolve. Eating clean can be a challenge, especially at first. Adding more healthy oils like coconut will help you feel fuller and crush cravings.

Why Extra Virgin Coconut Oil?

Like all other oils, coconut oil comes in a variety of grades, from cold-pressed extra virgin, all the way to fractionated/hydrogenated refined products. Getting the first pressing ensures that all of coconut oil’s beneficial compounds remain intact. “Virgin” label indicates unrefined coconut oil. Coconut farming can be intensely destructive to the environment and local communities — which is why, if possible, you should look for a “fair trade” certified brand.