5: Menu Planning

Section 5: Menu planning
Menu planning is a bit of a pain. The problem is the pre-preparation. Lean meats need to be cooked, low-carb veggies boiled. You can’t whip up a sandwich or unwrap an energy bar, and we’re also not relying on filling plates of carbs like rice or potatoes. To make matters worse, we’re trying to eat six times a day. In a pinch you can eat canned tuna, salmon, sardines, turkey ham and other pre-packaged proteins, but they are the lesser of two evils–processed foods high in sodium and possibly preservatives versus cheating or entering starvation mode. The solution is pre-cooking in bulk, then portioning and storing meals in Tupperware or Ziploc bags.

If you are a dedicated and spartan individual, you could cook up 36 chicken breasts and 15 pounds of broccoli and be done for the week. Most of us need more variety. It probably won’t be the variety you are used to when grains, dairy, and starchy vegetables are taken out of the equation. Your meals will consist of a portion of protein with a side of low-carb vegetable, seasoned to you liking. For instance, this is what 50% of my meals look like on a given day:

Two way caveman diet meal.

A simple lean protein and low-starch veg caveman diet meal.

I can say that outside of this simple meal of one meat and one vegetable, there are four other meals I routinely eat. If I have time I will cook creative meals like turkey Bolognese over zucchini “spaghetti” or Jambalaya with riced cauliflower. A related meal here would be the stir fry, mixed veg and a protein flavored with garlic, ginger, a little soy sauce etc. The next category is a quick salad: some dressed mixed greens topped with canned tuna or diced ham. For breakfast I do a lot of egg-white omelets filled with meat, spinach, mushrooms etc. Finally the emergency ration, just eating a can of tuna or pack of ham.

This Menu Planning tutorial explains how to create a shopping list for six day’s worth of food based on your needs. It does not cover recipes.

I plan my menus using an online diet journal. Most online diet journal will have the same features as FitDay, which I will be using here.


Let’s use our mascot Cavey here as an example of someone who needs to shed a few pounds. He is six foot tall, weighing in at 220 pounds, 40 years of age. Using the BMR calculator we find he has a Basal Metabolic Rate of about 2000 calories. We create a deficit of 10% and come up with 1800 calories a day he will be allowed to consume. So over a six-day week he will consume 10,800 calories (1800 x 6). At <50g of carbs or less a day, that gives him <300g of carbs a week.

Now we can begin to create his weekly menu using a diet journal. I know he will be on <300g of carbs or less a week and must eat 10,800 calories. Below is a screenshot a Daily Food Log from FitDay. Normally you input what you eat on a daily basis. But I use it a bit differently. I use an empty Daily Food Log page to calculate what I can eat over a six-day week. This becomes my weekly shopping list.

A week's worth of Paleo foods calculated using FitDay.

A week's worth of Paleo foods calculated using FitDay.

The first thing I do is input the proteins. I want them to be lean and I want some variety, so for six days I choose six different types of lean proteins: chicken breast, turkey breast, chicken liver, shrimp, canned salmon, and egg whites. You could chose any lean proteins you want, I only use these as an example.

I will want to mix and match my vegetables, so I will go for some standard low-carb vegetables including broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and mushrooms.

Then finally I add what will be flavorings to make the meals–onions, garlic, and canned tomatoes. Onions are a little high in carbs (that’s why they caramelize, the sugar) so I will have to watch how much I use in a meal.

Now I just begin to plug in some amounts in the FitDay Daily Food Log. I prefer to use grams to measure my portions, but the choice is up to you. My goal is to create a list of foods for six days that gives Cavey 10,800 calories with <300g of carbs. I fooled around with this for about fifteen minutes until I found the balance he needed in the screenshot above. Then I went out shopping:

One Week of Caveman Diet Foods

A Week's Worth of Grub: All the Foods on Cavey's FitDay Food Log

Getting this right will take practice. As I said, I started with the proteins first. Since I’m about the same height and age as Cavey, I know from experience that if I eat six servings of lean meat or fish a day, the portion will be around 150g per meal. This means Cavey would need 900g of lean meat or fish a day, 5400g per week. Since I have six proteins, I began then by giving every one of my lean proteins an amount of 900g, this got me in the ballpark and from there I tweaked it as I added the carbs. Below are the protein amounts I ended up with, almost spot on to my guesstimate of 5400g.

Food Name
Chicken, breast, skin not eaten
Turkey, breast, meat only, roasted
Chicken liver, braised
Shrimp, cooked
RIO Nat. Canned Salmom
Egg, white only, cooked50whites
Total (not counting egg whites).5250grams

Again, from experience, I know that a low-carb vegetable portion per-meal on average is about 150g for a guy like Cavey. So again we use the same process as above and find Cavey will also be needing 5400g of vegetables a week. Cooked vegetables have more carbs than raw, as cooking breaks down insoluble fiber and frees up more carbs, so if you plan on cooking your broccoli, make sure you input it as “broccoli, cooked” and not “broccoli, raw.”

Wanting some variety, I listed seven different types of vegetables, and then started with a baseline of 770g (5400g/7 vegetables) of each vegetable per week, which at least got me in the ballpark.

Now I tweaked both the proteins and carbs for about 5 minutes until I neared 10,800 calorie and <300g of carb mark. As mentioned, this is my shopping list. You lose 20% of water loss when cooking proteins, so if you need to eat 2 pounds of turkey breast a week, you should be buying 2.5 pounds.

You will have different needs than Cavey, unless you are a 220 pound, 6 foot tall 40-year-old male. But you should be able to find a balance using Cavey’s example as a base. But you can also start with your daily menu and expand that over a week’s time, as we will explain next.

Again using FitDay, Let’s look at what a daily food plan would look like, Cavey’s six meals over a course of one day. This will also help you understand how you can calculate a week’s worth of food from starting from a day’s worth of food. (Or you can calculate what you will eat for one day and just shop on that one day, you don’t need to do a week’s worth of shopping.) In this example we are going to reach Cavey’s daily target of 1800 calories and <50g of carbs mixing and matching most of the food from our weekly list.

Six meals over a course of a day, calculated using FitDay.

Six meals over a course of a day, calculated using FitDay.v

Below are the six meals broken down for you:

7:00amEgg white omelet with mushrooms and canned salmon.
Chicken livers braised with onions, brussel sprouts.
12:00pmGrilled chicken breast with steamed broccoli.
3:00pmRoasted turkey breast with brussel sprouts.
6:00pmChicken livers braised with mushrooms.
9:00pmShrimp baked with garlic.

In the meals above I ended up adding some olive oil to my grilled chicken breast and baked shrimp, something I did not calculate in my weekly breakdown, so I must make sure to add that to my food log now. I don’t bother adding herbs, spices, salt and pepper, but would add lemon juice, vinegar, hot sauce, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce–there are hidden calories and carbs there. Oil adds the calories fast: two tablespoons of olive oil is equal to 100g of salmon and a cup of broccoli. There is nothing unhealthy about oil, but if you are trying to lose fat there is no reason to go out of your way to add too many more fats to your diet.

Cooking Tips

On Oil
Don’t use soy or sunflower oil, only use rapeseed/canola, olive oil, or walnut oil. Good and bad oil is a broad, maze-like topic we won’t cover. It is fully and painfully explained in many nutritional books and in The Paloe Diet book as well. Let me save you some time by stating the conclusion of these books: Don’t use soy or sunflower oil, only use rapeseed/canola, olive oil, or walnut oil.

Be Prepared
The biggest blunder is finding yourself hungry and it’s time for a fueling and you don’t have a thing in the house to eat! And through personal experience I can attest that it happens all of the time. This is why I prepare a weekly menu and do it all in one go, but I understand this won’t work for everyone. Prepare for this eventuality by stocking up heavily on canned tuna, salmon, sardines, and packaged hams. Frozen veggies can also be kept for such occasions, like broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, mushrooms, and spinach. Such an emergency meal can be whipped up in a few minutes using a microwave. And when I mean stock up, I mean like buying five cans of each, so you don’t run out in a day. And canned only in their own juices or the good oils.

Away from Home Base
If you’re out and about and suddenly find it’s meal time, a quick pop into a grocery store will afford you with a package of luncheon meat or pack of tuna in water. Check the ingredients and get packaged meats lowest in fat and with the least preservatives. Some of these do have carbohydrate fillers, avoid them. But don’t rely on canned or cured goods; they are high in salt and preservatives. You mainly want to be cooking up your own fresh lean meats.

In order to save time, I pre-cook off most of my proteins. I roast ten chicken breasts or grind up three pounds of turkey breast and saute it with onions and garlic, or I might form burgers with half of the mixture instead. This lasts for a week in the fridge.  These proteins are a neutral base I use to form a variety of different meals. I add canned tomatoes flavored with basil and oregano and I have something Italian. Add garam masala and presto, I’m sitting in a Bombay cafe about to be approached by beggar children. Add chili and cumin and canned salsa, and my Latino fantasy is finally coming true.  I like to cook my vegetables “to order,” but they could be pre-cooked as well.

And one last note on proteins. Don’t buy any pre-ground meats, even if it says “Ground Turkey Breast.” The butcher will have added fat to this mixture. Grind turkey at home (I use a food processor, not a grinder) or have the butcher grind it for you.

At the Office
You will be eating throughout the day. Packing up your meals in separate pre-portioned meals in Tupperware containers is a good solution, but it won’t stop people from rolling their eyes when you start on your third lunch.

Really Quick Protein Powder Solutions
Flavored Protein powder is a good fast meal, a couple scoops in water can do the trick. The fake vanilla or chocolate flavoring might also quell some cravings. Look for all-whey protein powders without aspartame.

Final Note on FitDay or Other Diet Journals
They are great tools. Fill in what you eat religiously. “Follow your dreams. You can reach your goals; I’m living proof … Beefcake, BEEFCAKE!”

Look over my sample month-long Caveman diet I used to lose 15 pounds in a month to get some more ideas. and I think you will get the hang of what you can do, the variety and so forth you can pull off with some repetition. Happy dieting!

Section 1: Introduction to the Caveman Diet
Section 2: Introduction to Dieting in General
Section 3: Introduction to Weight Loss
Section 4: The Caveman Diet to Lose Weight
Section 5: Menu planning
Section 6: Exercise