18 Power Tips to Avoid a Paleo Vacation Disaster

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Vacations are a paleo nightmare, and I’m about go on one. Family events, long days traveling and sightseeing and access to foods not normally available to me full of childhood memories and nostalgia present a triple threat to my paleo status. This won’t be the first time I’ve vacationed paleo, however, so let me share my tips with you.

A vacation from paleo?

I know some people go on vacation and consider it a holiday from their regular discipline and maybe that works for them but for those of us who need to stay on the paleo path more consistently, some warrior thinking is required.

As someone who finds that once a small boundary is breached the whole carefully constructed set-up comes crumbling down, I need to have multiple strategies if I’m not to gain ten pounds in as many days, get swollen, in pain and foggy-brained while reaching with ever-increasing regularity for the wheat, sugar and dairy that comfort me, give me energy and make me happy as I steadily feel worse and worse.

Warrior thinking

I give serious thought to how I handle my food choices while on vacation – it is not a normal situation and requires a degree of consideration over and above what we regularly deal with. Here are eighteen of my ideas; I thought perhaps they might help you and stimulate a few more of your own. Steal them, build on them, even let us know your favorite paleo vacation strategy in the comments.

Power Tip #1. Have a vacation plan.

You plan how to get to your vacation, you plan how to spend your vacation. So why not plan how to eat on your vacation? Perhaps you write your plans down in a calendar or keep a folder with the information you need. Do the same for your vacation eating plans. It will create commitment, prompt organization, and stimulate strategies and action.

Power Tip #2. Choose a vacation with the paleo lifestyle in mind.

Keeping paleo can start before you book anything. Target the vacation that will be paleo in principle. One where you camp, hike, get out in nature. It is much easier to resist temptation if there is none. :-)

Power Tip #3. Self-cater as much as possible.

Rent a cottage or suite where you can prepare your own meals. It might cost a little more but eating-in will more than offset the cost and, of course, you get the health benefits of eating your own paleo food which are gold in themselves.

Power Tip #4. Re-read this post and this post.

Apply as many of the strategies to your home-away-from-home as you can.

Power Tip #5. Buy or take a crockpot.

The idea of coming home after a long day sightseeing or traveling to cook a meal is enough to make the most hardiest of us paleo peeps run to the pub. But if you pop the meat and veggies in a pot in the morning and it is ready for you when we get back, that problem is sorted.

I am buying a crockpot on Amazon before I go and will have it delivered to the farm where we stay. It will be there when we arrive. It will cost me about $50. One meal in a restaurant will cost me at least that so, again, it more than pays for itself.  When we leave I shall either give it to a relative (and will borrow it back next time I’m there) or I’ll just leave it in the cottage. In this respect, consider a crockpot a consumable.

Power Tip #6. Keep to your regular routine as much as possible.

Plan, shop, prepare food like you would at home. Make meal plans, shop the local supermarkets (shopping the perimeter, of course) and make the same meals as you normally do.

Power Tip #7. Focus on communication not consumption.

This is a great reminder for any occasion but particularly if you are visiting long-distance family. Use this time to connect with those people. Stand away from the food, pay attention to your company, put on your listening ears and really communicate.

Power Tip #8. Decide when, where, and how great your indulgences will be.

Do this before you travel. If you are going to Italy, for example, and simply have to have some pasta or real Italian pizza, or you’re going to New Orleans and have to have a beignet or Po’boy, do so but use your self-awareness to set limits that make sense for you. How often will you eat it? How much will you eat? Is there a certain city/restaurant/day or celebration that will be the impetus for your indulgence? Ask yourself these questions and write them down in your vacation plan.

Power Tip #9. Stick to your rules by adapting your behavior.

Limit your exposure if necessary. In England, people can’t seem to go more than an hour or two without a cup of tea and a slice of cake judging by the number of tearooms and cafes. Even Westminster Abbey in London has a teashop – it is bizarre to sit on a stonewall dating from the 16th century while eating a scone made early that morning. Anticipating the threat may mean learning where the tea room is located and avoiding it, skirting the periphery and refocusing your attention on the real reason you are there. Be vigilant, notice how you focus on your food, stop yourself, and redirect you thoughts. It’s kind of like distracting a child who insists on doing something he shouldn’t. :-)

Power Tip #10. Get exercise.

No, not your regular workout – although you can do that if you really want to: I’m talking about walking, getting out and about in the fresh air. Just build it into your day. Stand instead of sit, take stairs instead of elevators, walk in the countryside, around the sights, the theme park, on the beach. You have plenty of time and probably good weather. No excuses on this one.

Power Tip #11. Pack your own food.

Take as much food with you as you can. If you are driving, put it in your cooler. Again, buy the tools you need if necessary – I will buy a cooler for our trips around the UK when I get there. Hardboiled eggs, nuts, jerky, veggies, fruit, dates, cold (good quality) sausage are good travel foods.

Power Tip #12. If you are flying, take an empty large water bottle through security.

Fill it when you get to the other side. Keep drinking from it. If you are worried about constantly using the bathroom, plan ahead if you can: book aisle seats a few rows from the bathrooms but you probably won’t need them much. Ask the cabin crew to refill your water bottle throughout the flight. I regularly fly long distance and the difference keeping hydrated makes and the effect on minimizing jetlag is amazing. It also has the benefit of filling you up so you are less inclined to eat the airplane food. I use these water bottles all the time – I get them in CVS but you can buy them from Amazon.com.

Power Tip #13. Eat a decent sized meal just before you leave.

If you are full you are less likely to eat airport and airplane or roadside food plus you get to eat real food not processed crap.

Power Tip #14. If you are flying overnight, put on your eyeshades.

Go to sleep before the food comes around. The temptation of the food cart and the boredom of the flight make for an unhealthy combination. Eat some coconut oil to feel satiated and get some sleep instead.

Power Tip #15. Eat your airplane meal with care.

You might think you are only going to eat the paleo aspects of the food but faced with the prospect of a long flight, the incessant boredom and lack of movement, chewing on that rock hard, cold bread roll can suddenly seem quite exciting.

Find out if you can select an airplane meal that is more paleo-friendly before you go. You can order low sodium, gluten-free and other types of meals on many airlines.  Personally, I’ve found starving to be preferable to the gluten-free versions but the low sodium alternative often works. Remember, you can always eat the pats of butter if you’re really stuck. ;-)

Power Tip #16. Stop being a people pleaser.

So many of us go along with what others want to do on vacation (and in life.) We aren’t really doing what we enjoy but do them anyway in order to fit in with the crowd (or family.) This leads us to look to food to relieve our feelings and it becomes the emotional antidote to our boredom and stress. We focus on it because we’re not focused on what works for us and food becomes the pleasure principle or reward for doing something we don’t particularly enjoy.

I noticed I was doing this recently when I entertained some visitors from out-of-state and in the past I have struck a deal with my husband who loves theater (I don’t) to stay in exotic B&B’s when we attended theater festivals because I love the breakfasts! Do activities you enjoy. Really think about what you want to spend your time doing and do them. Go off by yourself if you need to.

Power Tip #17. Know your weak spots…and avoid them.

Our society is sooooo focused on food. We are exposed to it everywhere we look and eating becomes an activity in and of itself – especially on vacation. Consider past vacations – how did you approach food and eating? Is food a recreational event or fuel for life?  How can you change how you spend your time so that food takes less of a leading role on your vacation?

Answer these questions and identify where your downfalls occur. Maybe problems occur at places like food trucks/stalls, airport cafes, certain places with a heavy concentration of restaurants: identify your weaknesses in advance and plan to avoid them, replacing them with activities that don’t offer such distractions.

Power Tip #18. Remember you’re not perfect.

As I write all these great tips, I find myself saying, ‘Yeah, but it’s my vacation. I wanna eat some cake. Waahhh!!!’ My inner rebel is, well, rebelling and that generally leads to an ugly mess.  It’s hard for people, especially women, to put their needs ahead of others and for mothers it is just plain difficult to have the opportunity to do so.

We can’t always control our environment, especially on vacation. So relax and accept you’re not going to be perfect. Do your best, haul in your crockpot, make lists and think ahead. Set yourself goals that are doable and not stressful. Just thinking about how you are going to handle your food while on vacation will result in an improvement in your eating habits and remember to take a long term view. Ask yourself, ‘Am I eating better than on my last vacation?’

Confession time…

Two years ago, before I went paleo, my vacation saw me eating (deep breath) three Mars Bars back-to-back: in my (rather weak) defense they taste different in the UK. I know I’m not going to do that this time. I’m absolutely certain of it. But will I eat a slice of buttery shortcake with a cup of tea at a café in London at the end of a long day sightseeing? Probably.  Will I eat the naan bread my Indian uncle makes as part of the Indian food fest he prepares in honor of my family’s visit? It would be churlish not to.

But will I also make a few meals in my crockpot rather than go get fish and chips? Definitely. Will I bring my favorite British food goodies (probably should call them ‘baddies’) like tiffin, scones, flapjacks and pasties into our cottage to eat? No. Will I gobble up huge amounts of food on the last day of the vacation just because it’ll be two more years before I get to taste them again? Absolutely not. And doing even just one of these things will be an improvement on my last visit! (Don’t judge ;-)) Small things can make a huge difference. Baby steps, baby.

What paleo failures have you had on vacation? Or do you have a ‘devil-may-care’ approach to it all? Or maybe you’re at peace with it and are simply not tempted – lucky you. Tell us in the comments!

If you know someone going on vacation and keeping paleo, please pay it forward and share this post on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or Google +. Please. There are buttons in the floating sidebar to your left.

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Alison Golden writes on the topic of paleo over at Paleo/NonPaleo. She aims to share ideas, inspire and motivate readers by teaching them how to live paleo in a non-paleo world. She is also the author of the bestselling book, The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo, a unique tool that gives the reader hundreds of strategies to navigate the learning process to successful paleo living.

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul May 22, 2012 at 9:15 am

Hi Alison, Staying with Paleo on vaction seems to me to be easier than when I’m at home – there my non Paleo spouse is always trying to tempt me with carbalicious goodies! On holiday, usually at a 5 star resort I eat Paleo with a vengance from the buffet – meat and veg, or just order the meat and veg – no potatoes, especialy not fries and fruit for dessert – not a problem! We’ve just returned from a short break in Malaga where we ate brakfast at the hotel – bacon, eggs, tomatoes and a little fruit, skipped lunch and went out for dinner – either steak, fish or lamb with vegetables, no dessert, just strong black coffee. It can be done!

Paul

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Alison Golden May 22, 2012 at 9:21 am

Really? Easier? Wow, that’s cool. I have the reverse of your situation – going from a house with no carbs, to places with all those carbalicious goodies (baddies) you mention. :-)

One thing I didn’t mention in my post is developing the ability to forage which you appear to have down to an art. This applies to paleo in general not just when on vacation, of course. A Mediterranean 5-star buffet sounds like the perfect place for a paleo eater…
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Karen May 22, 2012 at 9:21 am

If the weather in Britain is good, you could barbecue as well — when we barbecue we do veggies as well as the meat and fish. Long skewers of cherry tomatoes, cubed eggplant and zucchini, and quartered onions are great (can you eat tomatoes?). If the weather is warm the supermarkets have huge ranges of semi-prepared meats (which may not work for you) as well as sausages, steaks, fish and so forth. Does the farmhouse have a barby?

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Alison Golden May 22, 2012 at 9:25 am

No I don’t think so but your point is well taken, K. Thanks! BBQ is a great option for traveling. As a former cattle drive cook, I should know that, huh? ;-)
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Monique DiCarlo May 22, 2012 at 9:44 am

Great tips, and since we’re going to a log cabin in a State park and will bring most of our food, the only temptation might be an ice cream when on a little road trip. Based upon a comment here above, I wondered: is there a website for “Paleo or Primal Singles?” now that might be a great dating site! I would love to have a future primal buddy! Namaste, Mo

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Alison Golden May 22, 2012 at 9:48 am

Funny you should say that, Monique, I had an email from Suz this morning. She runs PaleoConnect. It isn’t a dating site but a site where anyone can find paleo peeps in their local area. Might be just the thing for you! http://www.paleoconnect.com/
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Leslie May 22, 2012 at 5:44 pm

My husband thinks paleo is ridiculous and frowns on my attempts to keep eating healthy, as crazy as that sounds. When we go away to a particular destination we usually get a rented condo or place with a kitchen which means I can cook a decent breakfast and we can cook some dinners. We went on a cruise recently and I had eggs with smoked salmon for breakfast every day :-) There was usually something on the menu that I could have and just not eat the grain or starch portion. It is difficult but not impossible in a world that caters to vegetarians and vegans but not paleos.

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Alison Golden May 22, 2012 at 6:29 pm

My husband thought that about paleo once, Leslie and not he can’t stop talking about how brilliant it is, so there is hope. :-) I love eggs and smoked salmon. Pity I can’t afford to eat it every day…
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SARAH May 22, 2012 at 5:57 pm

I have just returned from 2 weeks in Singapore and found myself ordering meals with rice, chicken and vegies and just not eating the rice – was not as hard as I thought for a one-time rice lover. Knowing I will feel crap afterwards seems to halt the cravings! The breakfast buffet was great with lots of choices, macadamias in my bag to munch on during the day and dinner out always provided a paleo choice. I did cheat once on a bowl of Tom & Jerry’s and ate chips (potato now and then doesn’t seem to bother me) when vegies were not available. The end result is I gained not one pound while my non-paleo husband gained 9 kg!!

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Alison Golden May 22, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Way to go, Sarah! I hope that hubby of yours gets on board soon! :-)
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Paula May 23, 2012 at 10:36 am

Timely. Recently had this debate with someone who insisted my anti-grain mentality and meal/snack pre-planning ruins vacations. I replied “I don’t judge you, or tell you not to be who you are when you are on vacation. Why would you expect me to not be who I am on vacation? I am me – here, there, anywhere. I’m not going to stop being me.”

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Alison Golden May 23, 2012 at 11:40 am

Way to go, Paula! Love it.
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Erin D. May 23, 2012 at 11:02 am

Alison, I love your tips and your realistic, sensible approach in delivery. Bravo and thank you!
I believe it was tip #1 about planning. My mother in law is a reall “foodie” (fortunately some of her foodie attention is going into gluten-free and primal directions). years ago we were planning a trip that wouldn’t take place for a month or so. She started to immediately map where and when we would be eating. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry since it seemed such a ridiculous notion. But, lo and behold, it made things easier!
We are vacationing to visit my grandmother (if I didn’t know better I would think she was fatting us up for auction whenever we visit). This is the first time visiting since going paleo/primal. She knows a bit about how we eat…but I can see her lip curling now!!
Your tips will come in very useful!

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Alison Golden May 23, 2012 at 11:40 am

Thank you, Erin. I have always been sensible, people remarked on it when I was a child and Alison is a very sensible name, don’t you think? :-) I’m so glad I’m not the only one to plan out eating stops. I find it essential to keep me ‘on plan’ but I do wonder if I appear slightly neurotic. It is just so much easier to take away the unknown factor and I’ve learned for myself and observed in others that surprise is the un-doer of many a resolution. Thank you for commenting.
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Caleigh May 23, 2012 at 2:11 pm

What great advice! I will definitely use these tips the next time we go camping. We spent this May Long camping with another couple and I promptly gained 5 pounds the minute we popped up the tent trailer! I had a funeral to go to the day we left for the park and between the big breakfasts, lunches and suppers, the trips to the co-op market for spices and such (plus a bag of dark and white chocolate chunk cookies…yikes) and the lack of exercise (my friend is heavily pregnant AND I forgot my airbrace)….well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty LOL! But I’m determined to do well this summer. Preparation is key!
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Alison Golden May 23, 2012 at 2:47 pm

It is, Caleigh. Preparation is the key to just about everything, I find. :-)
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Stormy @Maoomba May 24, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Hi Alison,
These are great suggestions! I find it fairly easy to eat well when I travel – at least internationally – once I reach my destination (I am a big fan of self-catering, as well, and love exploring local produce and meats). It’s the in-betweens – on the plane, on the road, during excursions, etc. – that are challenging if you don’t pack enough of your own food. I agree – planning is essential. Thanks for the tips!
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Alison Golden May 24, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Hi Stormy: You’re right about traveling. I think the critical word is ‘enough.’ I find I always eat more than I intended because journeys themselves are boring. So I tend to pack what I think we’ll need and then a bit more. If we end up with a few things curled up in the bottom of the cooler, that’s preferable to being caught short and buying junk we find on the way. Thanks for commenting!
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Lisa May 24, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Hi Alison,
First time in here – and I found this great post !! Will keep getting back! :-) For our summer travel, I actually checked the menues on several hotels before picking one. We live in Europe – and traveling to Cyprus – so this wasn’t too difficult. Mediteranian food is great! Any type of egg + plenty of fruits for breakfast and also the evening menu gives plenty of choice for us. So that would be my “tip” – check the hotel homepage for their restaurant menu’s before booking (or e-mail and ask).

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Susan Plocher June 5, 2012 at 8:14 am

Trust me – this is GOOD advice. I was in such a hurry last weekend to get out the door to the soccer tournament that I didn’t take the time to prepare. I didn’t know if we had a fridge in our room (we did but I didn’t take the time to find out) I didn’t pack a cooler, I didn’t have the stuff on hand to make emergency rations. Nothing. I left on the trip blindly hoping it would all work out. It didn’t. I basically starved the weekend or lived on sugar and nuts and KIND bars b/c I can’t eat gluten and I can’t eat dairy, fast food makes me sick and there weren’t options at the grocery store. DON’T DO THIS! I learned a valuable lesson here – I will NEVER be unprepared again – even if I have to take off work to make plans. Thanks SO much for these great ideas and timely advice. Blessings to all on your vacations this summer! :-)

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Alison June 5, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Hi Susan! Wow, that sounds tough. I have tried the it-will-all-work-out approach many times myself and it never does. I constantly remind myself that warriors never go into battle with that frame of mind. Not if they expect to win.

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Donna Cole June 16, 2012 at 8:54 am

Alison could you get a Tesco (or other) delivery to your cottage in advance? Or is the lure of the home supermarket trip too much to ignore?

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Alison Golden June 16, 2012 at 10:06 am

I could! In fact my mum has an online account so I could use that. Hmmm, what a good idea! I could happily pass on the supermarket trip, there will be plenty of other chances and particularly as there is a village Co-op close by where we stay which I send my kids daily to (and which they love – we don’t have the equivalent in the US.) So hmm, I might do that, especially as I plan to make up my meal plans just before we go. Thanks for the idea, Donna!
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jess jk July 12, 2012 at 8:12 am

Thanks for all of these thoughts. I am currently planning a trip to Italy next year in the fall. And I know that Italy is full of PASTA. I hope that I can be strong and eat some new and interesting meat dishes while I am there. I also plan to stock on things like larabars and bring some jerky with me for snacks.

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Mickie July 12, 2012 at 9:39 am

OK…so I’m going out of country tomorrow, but not for a vacation. My husband and I are going with a group from our church to Brazil for a mission trip. I will have little to no control on what is fixed for me to eat. Others are cooking for us, and I have heard it will be lots of rice and beans. I have had little to none of these for almost a year. I’m really not focused on the food because I have other more important reasons for the trip, but is there a way to “minimize the damage,” so to speak? And should I have a plan of attack for when I return home, besides just getting back on my normal food plan? Thanks!

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Christie July 13, 2012 at 4:54 pm

One more tip, which I’m hoping will save me on my upcoming Europe vacation – TELL PEOPLE YOU EAT PALEO (especially your travelling companions). I find my problems arise when I’m left alone with sugary foods – when there’s other people around they provide some degree of accountability. My travelling companions (Mum and Hubby) know and support the way I eat (even if they’re not paleo themselves), so I’m hoping that accountability will help me make reasonable choices while we’re away. Also, I’m working on getting my mindset right. We’re doing a 10 day Mediterranean cruise, and I know from experience how much food is available on those ships. I’m trying to tell myself “all that food increases your chances of being able to find good paleo options” rather than “think of all the yummy food on the boat that you won’t be able to eat”. I mean, the chocolate buffet might be amazing, but it’s not like if I pass I will never be able to eat chocolate again…

Oh, and I thought I was doing the right thing by ordering gluten free meals on my Royal Brunei flights between Australia and Europe. I really hope you’re wrong about them being awful!! Would I be better off trying a low sodium or diabetic meal?

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Amanda July 16, 2012 at 5:48 pm

I went to Mexico for a wedding in June. I loved the sun, being outdoors, swimming and other activities. All of the buffets made it easy to choose paleo items. (I told myself that if I really wanted something non-paleo, I could go back for it anytime. I hardly did.) I felt full of energy, didn’t need to sleep as much as I do at home, slept better in less time, my fingernails grew like crazy!

Rule 19: have FUN!

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Alison Golden July 19, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Great rule, Amanda! I agree and especially on holiday.
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Helen August 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Because of this very post (that I read AFTER my vacation to Sweden), I ordered a slow cooker from the UK (amazon) today! The price turned out to be about half of what I would pay in the only store that sells these in Norway (including postage and toll). Cant wait! A week from now we will all be out of the house 3 days a week, and with 4 desperate and hungry people coming home from work and kindergarden – I believe this will be our salvation! And to make the matter ever earsier – some great people have made freezer slow cooker recipes (you chop up all (or most of) the ingrediences and freeze them in zip lock bags. I think I love my slow cooker already – even before it has arrived…. :)

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Alison Golden August 5, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Who are these wonderful slow cooker freezer people, please tell! :-)
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Helen August 6, 2012 at 5:31 am

Here are some examples:

http://melissafallistestkitchen.blogspot.no/2011/09/freezer-cooking-slow-cooker-meals.html

http://mamaandbabylove.com/2011/04/05/freezer-cooking-with-slow-cooker-recipes/

This has unlimited possibilities.. We are VERY buzy in the morning (takes ages to get our 1 year old and 3 year old out of the house..) But even we will have time to take a bag out of the freezer, add water (or whatever) and put the clow cooker on…

:)

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Helen August 6, 2012 at 5:32 am

(Not necessarily Paleo recipes – but easily changed into Paleo)
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Kirsten April 19, 2013 at 9:48 am

what a great idea about the crock pot!! I will definitely do that. When I go on an airplane with a meal, I order a gluten free one, but most of the times all I can eat are the salad without dressing, and a couple of bites, but it at least keeps me away from getting stuck with pasta! My survival kit was beef jerky, a bag of nuts and dried fruit (apples) and dried coconut flakes. It allowed me to actually eat food. Would have been lost without it! Thanks for your continually great posts !

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