Applied Culinary History: How To Go Paleo At College

Think the freshman 15 is unavoidable? Maybe you've been spending too much time with the Greeks. Ditch those guys and transform your body with something even older: the paleo diet!

Pop Tarts, popcorn, and poppin' bottles. Sound familiar? Sure it does; these are the staples of many college diets. However, another P-word has recently been gaining ground among students, after already winning over plenty of people in the fitness community and a small army of A-list celebs. I'm talking about paleo.

The Paleolithic diet?you may also know it under labels like primal, Stone Age, and caveman?has a brutish reputation of demanding meat, meat, and more meat. It's actually chock-full of all the good veggies you know you should grub on, and it allows you more dietary flexibility than you might expect. What exactly does it mean to "go paleo?" Is it even possible while you're in college?

With some research and reasonable expectations, the paleo lifestyle is doable, even for someone whose life is a series of trips back and forth from the dorm to the cafeteria. It may even help you sport a stack of celebrity abs that'll help you conquer that co-ed you've been eyeing since before Thanksgiving (turkey, sweet potato, butternut squash?those are all Paleo, by the way).

Curious? Let's get historical.

Paleo 101

The fundamentals of paleo dietary systems can be summed up in two commandments:

  1. Thou shalt eat whole foods from the following categories: meats, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and some fruit. A small amount of starch is OK.
  2. Thou shalt not consume dairy, sugar, legumes (including peanuts), or any products containing wheat or gluten.
Meats, Vegetables, Nuts and Seeds.

The exclusion of wheat, dairy, and legumes centers on the idea that these products were developed or cultivated by humans, so they are not what our digestive systems are meant to handle. Paleo advocates attribute a host of maladies?depressed immune system, heightened inflammatory response, whacked-out hormones, and awry bowel movements?to the presence of these franken-foods in our diet.

At this point, most people find themselves wondering exactly how they'll construct their paleo meals. It turns out you've had plenty of them without realizing it! Ever order the ol' eggs-and-bacon with a side of fruit? How about a chicken fajita salad? Both are paleo.

Dairy, Legumes, Sugar, Wheat and Gluten.

Remember when you went on a date and ordered grilled salmon over a bed of leafy greens? Your cutie may have ordered paleo with the top sirloin, fresh veggies, and a sweet potato. In either case, it looks like you're already well on your way.

A Caveman Caveat

Eat clean all the time?it's so simple, right? Except that it's also pretty strict, so before going any further, I'm going to offer a caveat: Going HAM (literally) on Paleo is admirable, but due to the unpredictable nature of college eating?and funding?it may not be possible for you to immediately become 100 percent Paleo. This is especially true on nights out; alcohol is not paleo, with the exception of a little red wine.

Why am I saying this? I don't want you to beat yourself up, try to live up to an unreasonable ideal, or put yourself in a position where your only choice is not to eat. Paleo man was a person much like the rest of us, without certain luxuries.

College is a time to try things out and wear your identity on your sleeve. There are countless diets out there, and none of them are perfect. While you're at school, it's perfectly acceptable to cherry-pick what works for you?what makes you feel and look better?and not cram yourself into a certain label. Remember, what we're all after is something that works for our lifestyle.

Paleo Battlefield 1 The Cafeteria

OK, so you wander out of your cave, cramming for A&P and walk over to the school cafeteria. Do your paleo dreams stand a chance in the land of hamburger buns and hairnets? Definitely, as long as you enter with a plan.

Here's a guide to keep in mind when you piece together your plate:

  1. Start with your protein allotment: one or two palms full.
  2. Load up on leafy green veggies.
  3. Allow yourself a piece of fruit or starchier carb like potatoes or yams.
  4. Garnish with healthy fats like oils or topped with nuts or seeds.

Paleo In the Cafeteria

  1. Start with your protein allotment: One or two palms full.
  2. Load up on leafy green veggies.
  3. Allow a piece of fruit or starchier carb, like potatoes or yams.
  4. Garnish with healthy fats, like oils, nuts, or seeds.

Let's take a look at how this would actually play out in a dorm situation:

  • I grab my tray and head toward the custom stir-fry line and order a good portion of chicken, and maybe a bit of shrimp. This is my protein.
  • I tell the chef I'd like all the veggies tossed in. Now I'm good on veggies.
  • I make a pit stop at the salad bar to grab a few pieces of fruit?one for now, the other for later.
  • Finally, I sprinkle a few sliced almonds over my stir-fry, and/or pack some for a quick snack later.

Paleo Battlefield 2 On the Go

Sometimes, fast food isn't avoidable?especially if you are in a car full of drunk peeps all clamoring for the golden arches.

"Sometimes fast food isn't avoidable, but you have options."

If you find yourself driving toward that all-too-familiar drive-thru lane, don't fear. Play it like this:

  1. Go salad style; hold the cheese and croutons, and ask for extra meat instead, or:
  2. Get a burger with extra lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, and sans buns, cheese, and mayo. Look for a double patty with bacon if that's in the cards. Opt for sliced fruit on the side if it's available. It's not perfect, but it's satisfying, and you could do a lot worse.

If you stop at a gas station, you have a lot more options. It's easy and not too expensive to cobble together a mobile paleo meal at the mini-mart. Just look for:

  1. Canned tuna, either beef or turkey jerky (pick the one with the least ingredients), or Ostrim, which is a meat stick made from ostrich and lean beef.
  2. Fresh fruit. Most places will have a few apples, oranges, or bananas in a basket for sale.
  3. Nuts (except for peanuts) with little to no seasoning. The closer to "whole and unprocessed," the better.
  4. If it's your thing, unflavored pork rinds are also a paleo-acceptable option.

Paleo Battlefield 3 Training

Paleo is a great system to support muscle-building and is well-suited to intensely training athletes. Ask your local army of CrossFitters if you have any doubt.

"Paleo is a great system to support muscle-building."

If your goal is to put on a bit of caveman muscle, here are a few tips to help you get there:

  1. Make sure you have a good bit of starchy carbs like sweet potato, yam, or fruit an hour or two before your training session.
  2. Immediately after your training session, have a low-fat, moderate protein, and high-carbohydrate meal. Try a mix between regular and sweet potatoes, plus that cafeteria banana you stashed in your car.
  3. Depending on how easy it is for you to gain lean mass, you may also want to include additional starchy carbs and/or fruit in your subsequent meals in order to illicit muscle growth and help you recover from your training regimen.
  4. If you have a hard time gaining weight, here's my tried-and-true paleo ace: healthy fats. Add an extra tablespoon of coconut or olive oil into your cooking; it can make a difference. You could also opt to blend almond or cashew butter into your protein shakes for an added calorie boost!

Paleo Battlefield 4 At Home/In The Dorm

If you want to go paleo, you have to cook. Trust me, this isn't a bad thing. Here are a few freshman-level eats you can throw together in even the measliest dorm kitchen.


The Avocado-Egg Hybrid

View Recipe Here


Taco Salad Wraps

  1. Dice all vegetables; like mushrooms, onions, peppers, and fresh garlic.
  2. Sauté diced ingredients with a little oil and seasoning. Use cayenne, rosemary, sea salt, and cracked pepper. You could go with straight-up fajita seasoning out of the packet.
  3. Brown ground meat.
  4. Once onions begin to caramelize, combine sautéed vegetables with ground meat.
  5. Wrap with lettuce. Add a bit of salsa verde and sliced avocados to round out the wrap.

Taco Salad Wraps PDF (14 KB)


Paleo Pancakes

View Recipe Here


Mashed Cauliflower

This is a strangely delicious and surprisingly convincing potato substitute?even if you think you hate cauliflower.

  • 1 head of Cauliflower
  • Seasoning (sea salt, oregano, and cracked white pepper; and for fats, grass-fed butter, ghee, or coconut oil.)
  1. Dice cauliflower into thumb-sized pieces and steam until mashable.
  2. Using a food processor, blender, or sheer brute force, mix all the ingredients together to desired texture.
  3. Season to taste and eat immediately.

Mashed Cauliflower PDF (13 KB)

Recommended For You

5 Nasty Food Additives You Must Avoid!

Ever catch yourself struggling to pronounce ingredients on food labels? Learn which ones should never make it to the checkout line.

How To Choose Your Best Diet

Stop blindly following someone else's nutrition protocol with middling results. Start making a nutrition strategy that works specifically for you!

Grounds For Debate: The Truths About Coffee

Here's some conversation fodder to make you seem smart the next time you're by the office's communal coffee pot.