Wondering how to get started with the paleo diet? Here are the paleo for beginners basics you need to know to successfully start – and stick with – the paleo diet, including understanding paleo, how it differs from the keto diet, and even some tips for paleo grocery shopping, meal plan ideas, and easy paleo recipes.
The paleo diet is a great choice no matter whether you're looking to kickstart your New Year's goals or just want to live a healthier, clean eating lifestyle. This paleo for beginners guide will help you learn the ins and outs of the paleo diet, complete with everything you need to know about getting started with paleo.
If you're looking to feel healthier and more energetic, here are the paleo for beginners guidelines you need to know. You'll find answers to the most frequently asked questions about the paleo diet. You'll also find quick and easy paleo recipes to help fill your meal plan and get you started on the right foot. So you can skip all of the overwhelm and get started with healthy eating success.
This post contains affiliate links for your convenience. Please read my disclosure for more info.
What is the Paleo Diet?
The first step in understanding paleo for beginners is understanding what the paleo diet is (and isn't).
Contrary to popular opinion, the paleo diet is not all about eating meat. It's about eating healthy, whole, natural, real food.
You'll be eating lots of vegetables as well as a moderate amount of high-quality proteins like eggs, fish, chicken, turkey, beef, and pork. You'll also eat fruit, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats like avocado and olive oil.
On the flip side, you'll be steering clear of processed foods with chemical additives and artificial ingredients. You'll also be avoiding inflammatory foods containing dairy, gluten, grains, and refined sugars. Yes, that means you'll be skipping traditional store-bought bread, flour, rice, corn and other grains, as well as beans, and legumes (including soy and peanuts).
The great news is that making this switch from inflammatory and processed foods to nutrition-packed ingredients usually brings a serious boost in energy and focus. Those ingredients that you'll be skipping may actually be leaving you feeling tired and rundown!
Given the ingredients that are eliminated with the paleo diet, those with gluten-sensitivities, dairy-sensitivities, celiac, or allergies to wheat, soy or peanuts often find this to be an ideal diet option.
And there are so many easy paleo recipes to try. Finding a recipe to suit your tastes should be easy, even when you're a beginner on the paleo diet!
Paleo for Beginners: What do I need to know?
When you're a paleo beginner you'll want to start with looking at what's in the foods you're currently eating. You may be surprised to find what's in the ingredients list!
I remember feeling like gluten, grains and refined sugars seemed to be hiding in practically everything I picked up. Of course, once you learn what to avoid and how to read your food labels it becomes so much easier to meal plan and grocery shop.
You'll want to stock your paleo pantry with compliant foods, so you have all the paleo ingredients on hand. You'll also want to grab your list of paleo foods to get you ready to shop for pantry and fridge staples. After you decide to go paleo, your first shopping trips will be focused on buying the ingredients you need right away, while also slowly building your supply of pantry staples over time. You'll quickly find that you'll be shopping the perimeter of your grocery store, spending a good chunk of time looking at whole foods in the produce, meat and seafood department.
Of course, not all whole foods are created equally. You'll want to focus on purchasing the highest-quality ingredients available. Buy fresh in-season produce, organic meats, and sustainable seafood whenever possible. I do try to buy organic produce, especially for the dirty dozen.
Shopping for healthy ingredients can be expensive, and, depending on where you're located, it can also be time-consuming to actually source compliant ingredients. If this is the case for you, there are great online alternatives to traditional grocery stores (I've saved over $1000 on my paleo and keto food shopping online).
Paleo Diet vs. Keto: Which should I choose?
If you find yourself asking the paleo diet vs. keto question, you're not alone.
This is one of the most frequently asked questions from those who are new to the paleo diet. Speaking from my own experience, I've found paleo a little easier to follow long-term, though I tend to cycle between keto and paleo (it's the best of both worlds). On both, I maintain a diet that's grain-free, gluten-free and based on whole foods, plenty of veggies and limited dairy. In that respect, both the keto and paleo diets are quite helpful for people like me who have food sensitivities, allergies, and other ingredient intolerances. Of course, it’s ultimately about learning which diet works best for you.
I've followed the paleo diet for many years, so I've had plenty of time to explore recipe modifications that keep me feeling happy and satisfied. With dessert recipes like Mexican chocolate mousse and paleo "bread" recipes, I don't even miss my old way of eating at this point. I feel like I can have my (gluten-free) cake and eat it too. And it tastes oh-so-much-sweeter because I feel so much better!
So, where are the differences between keto and paleo diets?
The big difference between these two diets is that the keto diet is designed to be a strict, low-carb, high-fat approach to weight loss and dieting. Its goal is to get your body into a state of ketosis. In a nutshell, ketosis shifts your body into a fat reserve-burning mode (versus our more typical carb-burning mode). When you follow a keto diet you'll stick to keto-compliant foods, follow extremely restricted carb intake limits (typically in the ballpark of 20-50 grams per day), and increase your healthy fat intake to help your body adjust to burning fat as fuel.
As far as compliant ingredients go, the biggest differences between the paleo and keto diets are found with dairy, sugars, and fruits. While the paleo diet restricts all dairy ingredients with the single exception of ghee, keto diet followers can have full-fat dairy (like yogurt, heavy cream and cheese). And while the paleo diet allows natural sugars like honey and maple syrup, the keto diet only allows low-carb sweeteners (think ingredients like stevia and monk fruit). Finally, if you're a fruit lover, the keto diet might be challenging – you'll be restricted to low-glycemic fruits like blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. In comparison, the paleo diet is much less restrictive around your fruit selection.
What about the similarities between paleo and keto diets?
Of course, there are also similarities between these two diets. There are many foods - and recipes - that overlap and can be enjoyed on both the paleo diet and the keto diet. And both diets avoid foods that are typically higher in carbs like processed foods, fast food, and junk food.
Between these two diets, the paleo diet tends to be the least restrictive. This makes it a great choice if you want to dip your toes into a low carb diet, without needing to track macros. While all the recipes I post on Cook Eat Well are paleo-friendly, many are also keto-friendly. And with so many healthy foods that cross over between these two diets, there's no reason why you couldn't mix some keto recipes into your weekly meal plan!
Paleo for Beginners Tips to Getting Started
Of course, it's always a good idea to check in with your doctor whenever you decide to change your diet. It will help you understand any current restrictions for your health. And help you establish a baseline, so you can see how a healthier diet based on eating whole foods actually helps you improve your health over time.
Ready to get started? Here are the top tips I recommend for those new to paleo:
1. Begin With Easy Paleo Recipes
The best way to start is to just try making a paleo meal. Simple, right? Choose a couple of easy recipes, pick up your paleo ingredients, and give those healthy recipes a spin. And with kitchen gadgets like the Instant Pot and slow cooker, easy paleo recipes are even easier. Even if you're really busy and completely strapped for time. Even on incredibly busy weeknights! If you can carve out even 5 minutes of hands-on prep time, you have enough time to make a quick paleo recipe (like this Instant Pot salsa chicken).
2. Meal Prep Your Paleo Meals
Another easy way to get started is to cook your meals in advance. If you're really struggling to find time during the week, try setting aside an hour or two on the weekend to meal prep some of your paleo ingredients for the week ahead. You'll often find me prepping a whole chicken (this is the easiest "roast" chicken recipe!) for shredding in my lunches. And it only takes 10 minutes to batch prepare this freezer-friendly cauliflower rice. Soups, stews and even muffins are other perfect candidates for meal prepping in advance. Just throw them in the freezer until you're ready to serve them!
3. Choose Paleo Recipes You Actually Like
Of course, an important part of being able to stick with the paleo diet is actually enjoying the food you're eating. Try looking for healthier versions of your favorite recipes. Whether that's pulled pork sandwiches or café-worthy banana bread, it really doesn't matter. The key is finding recipes that you love and feel great serving. It's not so hard to stay on track when you can't wait to cook up your favorite dishes!
4. Meal Plan for (Paleo) Success
Once you start to gather recipes that you love, you'll begin to build meal plans that support your new healthy eating goals. Meal planning can sometimes feel overwhelming, but it can also free you from stressing about what's for dinner. Armed with meal planning best practices (like planning to plan!) will help keep this activity easy and stress-free.
Simple Paleo Recipes to Kickstart Your Meal Plan
Once you get to the point that you're actively building your paleo meal plan, you'll want to start gathering paleo recipes to refer back to during planning sessions. With these handy paleo recipe collections on hand, you'll be ready to breeze through planning your paleo meal plan.
7 Paleo Breakfast Ideas
Quick and easy breakfasts are one of the biggest challenges when you first go paleo. Luckily, with these fast paleo breakfast ideas will make mornings a breeze. You'll be covered no matter whether you choose a smoothie, granola or meal prep some freezer-friendly breakfast sausages.
10 Easy Paleo Snacks
These quick, easy paleo snack recipes are the perfect choice if you're planning for a mid-afternoon treat. Whether you're in the mood for some paleo snack mix, a gluten-free muffin, some deviled eggs, or a dip served with crunchy veggies, these easy snack ideas are a perfect choice.
10 Easy Paleo Dips & Salsas for Entertaining
Guac lovers, rejoice! Many of your favorite dips and salsas are still fair-game for snacks or if you're entertaining a crowd. These easy paleo dips and salsa recipes are perfect no matter whether you're planning for game day or your afternoon snack. You'll find guacamole, baba ganoush, salsa recipes and more!
10 Easy Healthy Paleo Lunch Ideas
Of course, your paleo meal plan wouldn't be complete without healthy paleo lunch recipes. Each of these paleo lunch recipes is loaded with fresh ingredients, protein and plenty of healthy fats. Perfect for keeping you energized and full until it's time for dinner!
5 Easy Paleo Dinners
If you only have a handful of "back pocket" paleo recipes, let them be these ridiculously easy paleo weeknight dinners. These recipes require just a few ingredients, a little hands-on prep time and all can be on the table in 30 minutes or less. Perfect for busy weekday dinners!
30 Paleo Instant Pot Recipes
Paleo cooking is so simple when you have an Instant Pot in your kitchen. There are paleo instant pot recipes for everything from soup to chicken cacciatore to pot roasts and beyond. There's no excuse for being short on time – these paleo instant pot recipes are all fast, easy and delicious!
20 Paleo Air Fryer Recipes
These satisfying paleo air fryer recipes are the perfect alternative to traditional deep-fried dishes. Think crispy sweet potato fries, chicken nuggets, and even Buffalo chicken wings with ranch dressing! This is a great option if you're looking for healthier options that won't leave you feeling deprived of your favorites.
25 Paleo One-Pot Meals
One-pot meals are the perfect type of dinner to serve if you're feeling zapped for time or energy. Whether you prefer chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, salmon or vegan dishes, this paleo one-pot meal recipe collection is the perfect solution when you just want to skip creating a pile of dirty dishes.
30 Easy Paleo Crock Pot Recipes
What could be easier than a paleo crockpot recipe! These easy paleo crockpot recipes are perfect when time is tight, but you still want a healthy home-cooked meal. You'll find main dishes, soups, sides and more. The best part? These recipes require very little hands-on prep.
Easy Paleo Meal Planning (Perfect for Beginners!)
And if you want to skip the time-consuming task of building and managing a paleo meal planning, you may just want to enlist the help of Real Plans. This handy meal planning app offers an easy way to not only set up a paleo meal plan but also set further dietary restrictions (like nut allergies, for example). You can read more about my take on this paleo meal planning tool here.
Getting Started With The Paleo Diet
So, there you have it. With this paleo for beginners guide bookmarked, you'll be armed with all the need-to-know tips for beginners, including quick and easy paleo recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.