Continuing our series for personal chefs that addresses the challenges of meeting the special dietary needs of clients, we have member Katie Parish of Parish Personal Chef Services in Denver guest blogging on creating Paleo diets.

Katie Parish Head Shot

When people hear the phrase ‘Paleo diet,’ most have a preconceived notion of what that means. One of my favorite questions is, “Does that mean you eat bugs?” Um, no. Not to say that there aren’t those who do! What Paleo does mean is a diet made up of whole, unprocessed foods: meat, poultry, seafood, healthy fats, vegetables, fruit, and sometimes dairy. It involves a lot of label reading—the fewer ingredients the better.

Two common misconceptions about Paleo are that this way of eating is low carb and that’s it’s all about meat. True, there is a lot of bacon to be found, but there is also a lot of sweet potatoes, pumpkin, Brussels sprouts, kale, bananas, and apples. Everyone approaches Paleo a little differently, and it’s all about finding what works best for each individual.

Many people who eat using a Paleo template do so because of health reasons. That’s includes me. About five years ago, I had my gall bladder removed, and after that, gluten started making me feel sick. About a year after that, I had to stop drinking my morning latte, because the milk made me queasy. About three years ago, after hearing me describe all of this, a friend suggested that I check out Paleo. I started reading everything I could on the subject, starting with Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution. I decided to try it, and it has made all the difference for me. I lost weight, my A1C numbers came down, my energy shot up, and I didn’t have to go to the bathroom in every store I went into anymore. It took a few months for it to be second nature, but now it doesn’t even occur to me to include grains or dairy when I’m preparing meals.


Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup


My problems were mild compared to what many other people who to turn to Paleo for health reasons have gone through—ulcerative colitis, Hashimoto’s, adrenal fatigue, diabetes, Crohn’s. The list goes on and on. There are even instances of people reversing severe MS using Paleo. Check out Dr. Terry Wahl’s story in her book, The Wahl’s Protocol, or watch her TED talk here:

I currently have three clients eating a Paleo diet. One gentleman has been eating Paleo off and on for several years, but doesn’t have time to cook for himself. He wants to lose a few pounds, and finds that he is most successful if he keeps his carbs under 50 grams a day. Most of what I prepare for him is very low carb, and if I do include something like sweet potatoes, I keep the portion under ½ cup so he knows how to adjust what he eats the rest of the day to stay within his target.

Another client is in remission from stage 3 melanoma. She and her family eat all organic produce, grass- fed meat and dairy, and wild-caught fish. What I prepare for them is primarily meat or seafood and veggies, cooked with healthy fats.

Chicken Sweet Potato Hash

Chicken Sweet Potato Hash

There are many different varieties of Paleo: AIP (the Auto Immune Protocol), Low Carb Paleo, and Primal (includes some dairy). Which one your client will want depends on the reasons that brought them to Paleo in the first place. They won’t necessarily want low carb, especially if they workout regularly, but a lot of people will probably have an idea of how many grams of carbs per day work best for them and their goals. Many people already eating Paleo have done some kind of an elimination diet (either with the guidance of a doctor or on their own using, and have a pretty good idea of how different foods affect them.

The foods that are on the “no go” list for Paleo are there because in many people they can cause systemic inflammation and irritate the gut. For some, just eliminating grains/gluten gives them much more energy and gets rid of the “brain fog.” For others who have more serious health issues, the list of foods that irritates their system can be longer than what is normally eliminated when eating Paleo. For example, someone with Hashimoto’s will probably want to follow the AutoImmune Protocol, which also eliminates eggs, nuts, seeds, and nightshades in addition to grains, legumes, dairy and sugar.

If you’re new to Paleo, here are three steps I think personal chefs should take when they begin to craft Paleo recipes:

  1. Get a Paleo cookbook that includes a chapter on “getting started,” such as:

Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo

Everyday Paleo by Sarah Fragoso

Real Life Paleo by Stacy Toth and Matthew McCarry

The Paleo Approach Cookbook by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD

There are many others out there, but I think these are good for beginners.

  1. Know your substitutions. Many recipes just need a few tweaks to make them Paleo. (Unless we’re talking baked goods. That’s a whole other animal).

Dairy: Coconut milk can be used in many places instead of regular milk. Some clients can tolerate heavy whipping cream and grass-fed butter since they’re mostly fat and doesn’t have as much casein as milk. For those who can’t tolerate butter, ghee can often be used in its place. Cheese usually needs to be omitted.

Grains: Cauliflower is a popular substitute for rice. There are many recipes online for cauliflower “rice.” It is also great in place of mashed white potatoes. Zucchini or sweet potato noodles are great in place of pasta. For thickeners, some options are arrowroot, gelatin, and Mochiko (sweet rice flour, if tolerated).

Sugar: Most sugars, including artificial sweeteners, are off limits. Small amounts of honey or pure maple syrup are considered natural alternatives and may be used.

 Seed Oils: Oils that can be used include olive, avocado, nut oils, palm oil, and coconut. Processed seed oils should be avoided, including safflower, canola, and peanut.

 Legumes: I haven’t found great substitutes for beans and usually just omit them. Peanuts can be subbed with any tree nuts is there aren’t allergy concerns.

  1. Read labels. Many packaged/canned items have all sorts of hidden ingredients. Make sure there are only natural items you recognize on the ingredient list, and no chemicals!
Chicken Salad with Beets

Chicken Salad with Beets

Here are also some great blogs that can help you with the basics and to find some recipes:

All of these bloggers also have cookbooks with some great resources in them.

You have need to have a thorough conversation with your clients before you get started. If a potential client requests Paleo meals, first I like to know if they’re new to Paleo and are looking for guidance from me, or if they are old pros and just don’t have time to prepare the meals themselves.

If they are new, I want to know their reasons for wanting to try Paleo. Do they want to lose weight? Did they just start working out at a Crossfit gym where they heard about it? Do they have health issues they are hoping to address? If this is going to be a big change for them, baby steps may help them ease into it. Pick one thing that they think would be easiest for them to eliminate, and when that becomes second nature, move on to the next.

If they are hoping to address health issues, jumping right in would be the best approach. It’s the best way to see the most benefit in the shortest amount of time. can help here. They have a great plan that lays out what is and isn’t allowed, and lets people know what to expect.

If they have been eating Paleo for a while, I’ll ask what their meals typically look like, and then we’ll have a conversation about “gray area” foods and carb tolerances, including white rice, white potatoes, and full-fat dairy.

On my allergy sheet that I have clients fill out, I’ve added columns for vinegars, oils/fats, and alternative flours.

Here’s a recipe I’ve created that can give you an idea of what a Paleo meal looks like—and the kinds of ingredients that are used. What makes this recipe Paleo is I substituted the original white potatoes and whipping cream with sweet potatoes and coconutmilk, as well as mochiko rice flour for the original wheat flour to make the roux. Many times just a few tweaks need to be made to convert a recipe to Paleo.

shepherd's pie landscape (2)

Lamb Shepherd’s Pie
from Katie Parish
Serves 6

For potato mixture:

3 medium sweet potatoes
½ cup coconut milk (or heavy whipping cream if tolerated)
3 tablespoons grass-fed butter
Pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

For lamb mixture:

1 tablespoon olive oil or coconut oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound ground lamb
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon mochiko rice flour (use if rice is tolerated or sub with ½ cup of the mashed sweet potatoes)
2/3 cup frozen peas
2 teaspoon dried rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Peel sweet potatoes, and place in a saucepan with enough water to cover them. Boil until ready to mash. Drain potatoes and return to saucepan and mash. Add coconut milk (or HWC), butter, nutmeg, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Cover with foil until ready to use.

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion, celery and carrots and sauté until softened. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Next add the lamb and cook until all pink is gone. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Sprinkle the mochiko flour on top to bloom, then mix in to thicken the sauce.* Add more if needed to get desired consistency. Next, add the peas (thawed in microwave, or just add frozen). Finish with the rosemary, salt and pepper.

Transfer the lamb mixture to either a 9×11 baking dish, or 6, 8-ounce ramekins. Top with the sweet potato mixture. Bake in a 350° oven for 30 minutes.

Photos courtesy of Katie Parish

Do you have any questions about special diets, or specifically about Paleo diets?

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