Home / Favorite Products & Reviews / RHR: How to Make Paleo Cooking Fun, Easy and Filled with Umami—with Michelle Tam

RHR: How to Make Paleo Cooking Fun, Easy and Filled with Umami—with Michelle Tam

In this episode we discuss:

  • Michelle’s new book: Ready or Not! 150+ Make-Ahead, Make-Over, and Make-Now Recipes by Nom Nom Paleo
  • Tips and tricks to encourage people to start cooking
  • What is umami?
  • Setting up your cooking environment for success
  • Pressure cookers and other essential kitchen tools
  • Transitioning your kids to eat Paleo
  • Making Paleo foods fast, easy, and approachable
  • The Nom Nom Paleo app

Show notes:

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Chris: Michelle, it’s so fantastic to have you here. I cannot believe I’ve never had you on the show yet. What’s up with that?

Michelle: I don’t know, I feel like I’ve been on your show because I listen to it all the time.

[laughter]

Chris: I feel like you’ve been on it too. I’m really excited about this. It’s going to be a nice break from all the sciencey, medicine stuff I’m usually talking about.

Michelle: That’s probably why you don’t have me on [laughter] because I don’t deal with the sciencey, medicine stuff.

Chris: You retired from that a while ago.

Michelle: I did. I pretended it didn’t exist. [chuckle]

Chris: Yeah. Well, you know what? I think it’s interesting because these days, especially as we get ready to launch the Health Coach Training Program a little bit later this year, I’m just really tuned in to how important … I mean, I’ve always been tuned in to this, but I’m even more focused now on the importance of not just food from the perspective of “Why … What we should eat?” but actually how to do it. Because it’s one thing to tell people what to eat, and it’s another thing to actually make it possible, to give them that support. And I think you’ve always focused on that so much in your work and your first book and now your new book, Ready or Not! 150+ Make-Ahead, Make-Over, and Make-Now Recipes by Nom Nom Paleo, is really all about that, isn’t it? Just giving people … making it more accessible for people.

Michelle’s new book: Ready or Not! 150+ Make-Ahead, Make-Over, and Make-Now Recipes by Nom Nom Paleo

Michelle: Definitely. I think I leave all of the science heavy lifting to you and a bunch of other people who are way smarter and way geekier and love to dive in to all of the journal articles, whereas I just focus on the food. Because number one, I’m, like, I’ve been a foodie my whole life, but I didn’t really start cooking until I went Paleo. And I only started cooking because I realized I couldn’t really eat out or get delivery if I was eating Paleo. And because I’m so picky, I was like, “Shoot, I gotta get good at this.” And how … what do I do till I get better at cooking?” And I think everybody … I think cooking is a practice, and it’s something that you have to work on every day and you get better with practice, but I think people forget that. And so, with our blog and our book and our app, we really try to make it as simple and easy as possible. We have a picture for every single step, we have cartoons, we have funny jokes in there so it’s just not intimidating.

Chris: Right. Yeah. And I so appreciate that about your work. Kids love your books. They love to flip through ’em and it makes it really fun and accessible, like I said.

Michelle: Yeah, that was the secret mission of our books, is to get kids excited about cooking. People are like, “When are you gonna make a kids’ book?” I’m like, “Well, these secretly are kind of kids’ books.” Because we kind of … and especially with our new book, we tried to make it even more of a comic book format. But it’s really funny because I got an email this morning from someone who was like, “I’m a long-time reader, and I noticed you had a poop emoji in your book, and I was not super happy about that.” I’m like, “I’m sorry, but I actually … we did that on purpose because our kids, our two sons, love it, and every kid who has seen that page just thinks it’s the funniest and most taboo thing. And we’re gonna keep that.”

Chris: Well, yeah, there’s the book Everybody Poops, which is a must-have on every kid’s bookshelf, right?

Michelle: Totally. It’s the best. It’s the best book.

Chris: You gotta just get over that, whoever wrote that, with all due respect.

Michelle: Right. No, I understand where she’s coming from, I think she’s like, “To be respectable.” I’m like, “No. I’m not looking for respect.”

[laughter]

Chris: You gave that up with the whole pharmacy thing, huh?

Michelle: Yes.

Chris: But of course, now … I want to talk, actually, a little bit more about kids, but let’s leave that for a second because I think kids and Paleo is something you also have to focus on. You have two kids yourself, and unlike me, when Sylvie was … our daughter was born, she was born into Paleo. So, we didn’t have the difficulty …

Michelle: You were lucky and smart.

[chuckle] [overlapping conversation]

Chris: Lucky is pretty much what it comes down to. [chuckle] And so we didn’t have to go through that whole transition thing. So I wanna come back to that because I know that’s really challenging for parents and that you have some … you have an interesting experience because I think for one of your kids it was easier than the other, so I’d love to chat about that. But first, let’s just maybe talk a little bit about some of the most important things you’ve discovered in your work: helping people to learn to cook for themselves and cook healthy and nutrient-dense Paleo type of food. Because you’ve been doing this for a while now, as you said, a couple different books and an app, and you’re out and about talking to people a lot. What are some of the biggest factors that you’ve determined make a difference for people when they’re taking this on? Especially if they’re coming from a background, like many Americans now, where they just … they don’t even know how to cook an egg. They’ve never cooked, and it’s terrifying for them to step into the kitchen and try to do this.

Tips and tricks to encourage people to start cooking

Michelle: Totally, and it’s so funny because people say, like … food television is the most popular it’s ever been, but people actually cooking, it’s probably at the lowest it’s ever been.

Chris: That’s so interesting.

Michelle: Yeah. So I think …

Chris: It’s like a voyeuristic thing, huh?

Michelle: Right. And I think people love food, and it brings back all these memories, but actually doing it is a totally different thing. I totally understand because I love food porn, and watching all these awesome food documentaries and stuff, and I love going out to eat. And so I think for most people it has to be really visual and really easy, and I think the recipes have to be super well-tested, so that all of their time and energy and money that has gone into cooking actually results in something delicious, at least delicious enough so that they’ll do it again. Because I know myself. I will buy … I mean, I have tons and tons of cookbooks, and I will pick a recipe and I’ll buy all these expensive ingredients, and it’ll take forever and then the end result won’t be delicious, and I’m like, “Forget it, I’m never gonna cook again,” like that was such a waste of all of my resources.

[chuckle]

Chris: We’re the same way. It’s a bummer to spend all that time and energy for it to not come out well. I’m likely to just not go back to that. And sometimes even to that cookbook author. I like to give people a chance, but I totally know what you mean.

Michelle: And so I think that’s what we have always tried to do. Henry, my husband, is … he’s the guy behind all of the visuals and the cartoons and the photos and the layout. My whole concentration is I want it to taste really, really good. And to make it really, almost foolproof for people to get through the recipe. And I think having a blog and having instant feedback really forces me to do that. I think that’s just what we’ve done, I think as we’ve kind of been … We just did our second cookbook, but with the second cookbook we were really … we really did want to make sure that every single step had a picture and that it’s fun and it’s not crazy and intimidating, and it doesn’t have to be perfect, and I tell people you should totally use shortcuts when you can, and I try to tell people which ingredients have umami because that’ll naturally make your food taste better, and it’s as simple as …

Chris: Well, let’s just stop right there because I think there are probably a few people listening to this who don’t … who’ve never heard that word or who’ve maybe heard it and don’t know what that means.

What is umami?

Michelle: Umami is the fifth taste besides sweet, salty, bitter, and did I already …? I think I did all four.

Chris: Sour?

Michelle: Sour. Yes! [chuckle] So it’s that other taste. That indescribable deliciousness or savoriness …

Chris: Savory …

Michelle: Sometimes it’s called meatiness. But it’s basically, what … it’s the ingredients that make your food taste delicious. Tomato paste has a ton of umami, bacon has tons of umami, most meats have lots of umami …

Chris: Mushrooms.

Michelle: Yes. Dried mushrooms especially have a lot of umami, fish sauce. And so these are things that I stock in my kitchen because you just add a little bit and it will just make everything taste better. They have this institute in Japan where they study umami, and they’ve discovered that if you combine ingredients with the umami, it exponentially increases the deliciousness. I use that to my advantage. In most of my recipes there is always fish sauce, and I’ll throw in some tomato paste or something extra, just because it adds so much flavor. And I think if people just knew these shortcuts, things … And as they practice more, and they feel more comfortable cooking, that they’ll just kind of … it’ll become second nature. It’s not like I love cooking, people will assume I love cooking and people reach out to me and are like, “Hey, would you like to do this, like, pop-up?” and I’m like, “No.” [chuckle]

Chris: Absolutely not.

Michelle: No, I love to eat and if you wanna do a pop-up I will show up.

[chuckle]

Michelle: But I cook to kind of feed my family, but it’s not like this passion, [chuckle] it’s out of necessity.

Chris: Yeah. And if you’re going to do it, you do it well. I mean, that’s the thing, it’s like, you love to eat, as you said before, so that’s why you needed to learn to cook, because no one was cooking the food that you then understood that you needed to eat, and that’s a really good reason to learn to cook, is just to be able to nourish yourself and feed your family and do it in a way that’s enjoyable. I love that about your book because I think you hit on a really important point which is, I think about it in a similar way to like, if someone’s trying to lose weight, we know that if you rely on willpower alone, it’s not going to be very successful. What you really have to do is change your environment. For example, you shouldn’t have a bunch of junk food in the house because at the end of the day when you’re tired and you’ve been at work all day and been making a lot of decisions and you have … you’re experiencing what we call decision fatigue, and you get home and there is a big bag of potato chips there or a pint of ice cream in the freezer, [chuckle] chances are you’re gonna eat it.

Michelle: Yeah. I’ve been in that position.

[chuckle]

Setting up your cooking environment for success

Chris: We all have. I think with cooking it’s like what you just said is so true, it’s a lot about setting up your environment for success. If you have the umami flavorings nearby, and you have some of the right kitchen tools that make things easier, which I want to come back to, and you have the right ingredients on hand, you can put something together in a relatively short period of time with not very much effort and it will still taste good. But if you haven’t done that preparation and you haven’t created that environment, then it’s going to be hard.

Michelle: Yeah. I think that’s also something we try to address in our new book. It is called “Ready or Not!” because we wanted it so that no matter what state of readiness you’re in, you should be able to find something that you can cook. Obviously, the best position would be where you’re kind of ready, where you’ve set aside a day where you’ve made a bunch of sauces or you’ve made some proteins that you can remake in a bunch of different ways throughout the week. But there are tons of days when you’re not ready and so we have a whole section in our book where everything can be made in about, I would say, 30 minutes, but realistically, it’s probably 45 minutes from start to finish, without any pre-made ingredients. Just so there are no excuses. We try to say our cookbook is the no-excuse cookbook because even if you don’t know how to cook, there are step-by-step pictures for every single recipe. If you have no time, we have recipes for that. If you are a meal planner, we have meal plans for you. So there is … [laughter] there should be no excuse.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah, and I love … I’m looking at the section now, which is … it’s basically a recipe for your kitchen, like what do you need to have in there, plants, animals, healthy fats, fermented stuff, flavor boosters, a lot of which are the umami ingredients that we talked about before, and then some of the tools that make things a lot easier. We have talked a little bit about the Instant Pot, which I think has now just blown up beyond … I think it just went nuts, in large part because of you. Have they hired you as an ambassador, given you some equity in their company, or what?

Pressure cookers and other essential kitchen tools

Michelle: No. People think that I’m their spokesperson. No. They’ve sent me Instant Pots before, and then I’ll reach out to them and say, “Hey, I’m doing this giveaway. Can you send one to these people because I don’t wanna send stuff myself.” [chuckle] But I think I just get really excited about things, and then I want to tell people about it, and that’s what happened with the Instant Pot. I had a traditional stove top. People think the Instant Pot is some magical thing, but really it is just an electric pressure cooker. It does other things, but I only use it as an electric pressure cooker, and that’s all I recommend people use it as because I think you can … There are better slow cookers out there, but if you can slow-cook something, you might as well do it under pressure because it’s faster and it’ll taste better. I used to have a stove-top pressure cooker, and I was telling my sister who’s an actual chef, I was like, “This is amazing. You can make oxtails and all these cheaper braising cuts faster and tastier.” But it’s a pain because I have to babysit it on the stove. She’s like, “Oh, you should get an electric pressure cooker.” I’m like, “What?”

Michelle: And so, she told me about hers and she actually didn’t have an Instant Pot. She had another brand and I’m someone that really likes to do my research on the best-rated for the best price, because I was raised by thrifty Chinese immigrants. So I went to a site that I really like because I was pressure cooking, called  . She had … I think she’s always reviewing different pressure cookers, and she reviewed the Instant Pot. I was like, “Wow, this looks pretty cool.” And I looked on Amazon and the reviews were good. It had a stainless steel insert, which was something that was different from other electric pressure cookers. I’m like, “This sounds pretty cool. It’s well-rated. The price is right.” And so, I bought one and then I was like, “Wow, this is amazing. But the interface is terrible.” So I think I had to show people how to use this thing. But I just thought it was such a life-changing device. I also used to love sous vide, and I know you were one of the original sous-viders too.

Chris: I was until I blew that for everybody with the … [chuckle]

Michelle: No, I know, with your “plastic might not be so good.” I’m like, “Oh, shoot.” [laughter] I don’t think I can use this as much as I would like to. So then the Instant Pot, because I think everyone loves slow cookers and the whole idea that you can throw stuff in, set it, and forget it. And with an electric pressure cooker, you can do the same thing but it cooks faster and even if you’re not around, it’ll keep it warm but it doesn’t overcook it like a slow cooker does.

Chris: Yeah. That’s the big difference. I’ve used slow cookers for years. When I first heard about the Instant Pot, I think, from you and also Stephan Guyenet was an early adopter. I was like, “Big deal. It’s a pressure cooker.” [chuckle] And then, when I got it, I mean we use that thing every day and it’s … for everything from cooking vegetables like kale, it makes it really tender.

Michelle: Yes, and fast.

Chris: Fast, yeah. You just set it and forget it too. Like carnitas. I saw you just published an Instant Pot Carnitas recipe  and so, we’ve done that as well. It’s just one of those game-changing devices.

Michelle: Like soup, we have soup all the time just because it’s so fast. I can dump in a bunch of vegetables. I can have something cooking while we’re sleeping, when I run out. I think it’s just great. [chuckle]

Chris: Absolutely. And that makes a huge difference. That’s the difference between you having a hot finished meal when you get home and not. [chuckle] And then calling for take-out that you probably don’t really wanna eat or shouldn’t eat because there’s nothing ready.

Michelle: And you can save money. People are always like, “Oh, it’s so expensive to be Paleo.” But now, you can buy the cheaper, braising cuts and they will turn out amazing.

Chris: So delicious. They’re more flavorful in many cases than the lean cuts, of course.

Michelle: Right. And then, there’s all that collagen, so you don’t have to buy all that powder.

Chris: Win, win, win, win, for sure. So what other kitchen essentials would you put high on the list, like if you were on a desert island, what would you take … What would you take with you along with your Instant Pot?

Michelle: So the Instant Pot could do many things. [chuckle] Obviously, I like my cast iron skillet. So I actually tried with this new book to not put any crazy stuff, because there’s tons of amazing stuff that’s coming out all the time, but I think rimmed baking sheets, I love, just because you can roast vegetables and you can roast meats. But I think the game changer to combine with the rimmed baking sheet is to have a stainless steel wire rack, because it will elevate stuff, it doesn’t get soggy. Even if you don’t have a convection oven that has a fan that circulates all of the hot air, by just elevating the food, I think it makes it taste better. And it’s funny, they didn’t have stainless steel wire racks until pretty recently because I think I first found one only at a specialty store. I’m like, “This is amazing, now I can scrub them and throw them in the dishwasher, and it won’t flake off like the chrome or nonstick ones.” But now you can totally find stainless steel [chuckle] for your racks everywhere, which is amazing.

Chris: We have a bunch of those too. I think you do this as well, but it’s a great way to cook bacon.

Michelle: Yes.

Chris: The roast … So the bacon’s not just getting super soggy in the bacon grease, it actually falls down under the rack, and then I know you have the recipe for Mok Mok Wings where you use that, where you use the racks and the dish, so that’s super. We use those a lot too and I agree that that’s really … That’s gotta be really high on the list. So we got the Instant Pot, we’ve got the rimmed baking sheets and the racks.

Michelle: I think a good knife.

Chris: Good knife has gotta be up there.

Michelle: And then people always say, “Which knife?” I’m like, “That’s one where you need to go and go to a store and pick one up.” Because one might be really well-rated, but people’s hands are different and it just has to feel right in your hand.

Chris: Like a tennis racket or something. [chuckle]

Michelle: Right. Because I have some which are really highly rated, but my hand isn’t super big, and so it’s really unwieldy when I use those knives. What else do I love? I have some kind of lame things that I like, I really like my hot water kettle, [laughter] like the electric one.

Chris: Yeah, no, that’s huge, yeah. Do you have one where you can set the temperature?

Michelle: I do, I do.

Chris: Yeah, I have that too.

Michelle: I splurged. I got a mid-range one, and then I splurged and got the Breville, and I like that one a lot. [laughter]

Chris: Yeah, I’m a coffee aficionado, so having the right temperature for the pour-over is super important.

Michelle: Yes, Henry is as well, and so we have a nicer burr grinder. But coffee, it really makes me a little too jittery, so I don’t drink it as much as I used to. And then I really … I also think a good convection … I mean I guess it’s technically a toaster oven, but they call them countertop ovens now, I love. And the convection ones, they say are better than air fryers. An air fryer is kind of like the new cool appliance, but the convection toaster ovens work much better. And I feel like I’m always using my oven, and then I can use my toaster oven just because for whatever reason I don’t mind cleaning up a rimmed baking sheet as much as I mind cleaning pots and pans, and I don’t know why that is. I don’t think it’s that much more, I just hate it. And so if I can throw it on a sheet pan, I will roast it.

Chris: We do the same thing, I mean, almost every meal we’re using both ovens. We wouldn’t … We often, if we’re roasting a piece of meat, for example, on a low temperature and then we want to have some asparagus or something that we also roast, then that goes in the small convection countertop oven. I agree that would be definitely in my top five too.

Michelle: Yeah. And then I love … I guess tongs I use a lot, and silicone spatulas I use. Oh, my meat thermometer, I think is probably my favorite thing.

Chris: I was just about to ask you about that. Do you have a Thermapen, or what do you like?

Michelle: I have a Thermapen. They have these new MK4 Thermapens, [laughter] which is … it is an improvement on their classic one because I think it goes to sleep, but as soon as you touch it, it lights up, it’s backlit, it’s pretty cool.

Chris: Right. It comes back on. I got one of those too. I had a beef with Thermapen because we had two or three of the earlier versions, and they all broke and stopped working, and …

Michelle: And they’re expensive.

Chris: They’re expensive. We sent it in. At least they were good about it. They replaced them, but then, the last one that you’re talking about, Mark 4, is such a big improvement for the reason you mentioned. It turns on automatically, and you don’t have to close it and open it to turn it on again, which is always a pain. And for those that don’t know about them, they’re instant reads, so if you put them in a piece of meat, they immediately tell you the temperature instead of having to wait a few seconds, which can make a difference if you really care about how your meat is cooked.

Michelle: Yeah, and I think it’s more important when you’re cooking delicate things or expensive cuts. But if you’re using your Instant Pot and using braising cuts, you don’t need it.

Chris: Yeah. You don’t need a Thermapen. I use it for grilling mostly, and then sometimes in the oven. What about a nice crock … Dutch oven?

Michelle: Oh, a Dutch oven. Oh yeah, yeah, those are great. I think there’s always … The two really fancy ones are Le Creuset and Staub. But Lodge makes a really good one for a good price. Way cheaper, but they do chip. Because I did buy a Lodge and I was like, “Wow. This is $200 cheaper.” [chuckle] But then, when I actually use them, I’m like, “Oh, look, I just chipped it.” So I think that the more expensive ones, they are an investment. But I think they have lifetime guarantees. And like the ones I’ve had, I’ve had for 10 years without any problems.

Chris: So we had a Le Creuset. We have a lot of Le Creuset stuff because I don’t spend money on partying or a lot of other things that people spend money on. So I’m like, I’m gonna treat myself right when it comes to kitchen stuff, and because that we spend so much time in the kitchen. And we had a skillet for like … that we’ve had for at least 10 years. Because I think I had it even before I met Elanne, we’ve been together almost 15 years. So it was around for a long time, and it started … the coating started to come off, and I sent it in to Le Creuset and said, “This coating’s starting to come off.” And they were like, “Oh, sorry.” And they sent us a brand new one.

[chuckle]

Michelle: Yeah. No, they’re really good about customer service.

Chris: Wow, that was incredible, yeah. So I mean even though they are more expensive, it’s the type of thing you could have for a lifetime or many, many years.

Michelle: Right. I think they’re depending on you to get off your butt and package it and send it, which is a limiting factor for many people. But I think when you spend that amount of money, you’re like, “No. It has to stay forever.” Yeah.

Chris: Yeah. I’m sending it in.

[laughter]

Chris: Yeah. Okay. That’s great, I think that will be helpful for people because often, when people are just getting started, they don’t know really where to apply their resources, what’s the best place to spend the money that they have budgeted for this. And so I think the …

Michelle: But I’m also like you. I don’t spend money on anything else. I only spend money on food and things related to food. Like, my clothes are super-old.

Chris: Places to go that have different kinds of food to eat.

Michelle: Yes, no, I will do that. But I don’t buy fancy clothes, I don’t buy fancy bags. I’m like, “Ugh.” I think my kids are embarrassed by how I dress, they’re like, “Mom, are you wearing your pajamas?” I’m like, “Kind of.”

[laughter]

Chris: Yeah, yeah. I mean it’s … I think we can agree on that, there’s not much … We’re both pretty food-focused. Okay, let’s go back to kids because that’s a question I get a lot from my patients, people who know that they need their kids … I have, unfortunately, a lot of kids as patients who are dealing with behavioral mood disorders, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorders, sensory processing disorder, on the autism spectrum, a growing number of kids dealing with even obesity and diabetes and autoimmune disease, it’s really heartbreaking, and the parents know that diet is a major contributor and they want to make the change, maybe they’ve even made the changes themselves, but they’re still cooking separate meals for their kids.

Transitioning your kids to eat Paleo

Michelle: Yeah. I was doing that until …

Chris: Yeah. Tell us a little bit about that transition.

Michelle: So Henry and I both went Paleo in 2010, but I don’t think we got the kids on board until two thousand … let’s see, when … probably a year later. And it was only because … and I’ve heard this story from so many other people, it’s like, “We made something separate for the kids, but I would not eat the leftovers.” And it actually made me really sad, and I was like, “Why am I feeding something to them that I won’t eat myself? That’s not okay.” And I hate making a separate meal because I’m lazy. So we’re going to just have one family meal, just like my mom did, because my mom never made us something different or separate. And we just ate what she made. But here we are giving our kids a choice, and I understand, it’s hard. No one wants a fight at the dinner table. You’re tired, everybody’s tired, and everyone’s over-scheduled.

Michelle: But I think we just made this pact that this is what we’re going to do, but we did compromise in that everybody had to agree on what we were eating. Whereas before, I’d be like, “I’m gonna make this super-spicy weird whatever, for Henry and me. And then you guys can have your whole-grain nuggets or …” So now everything that I cook and everything that’s on the blog or in our books are all tested on the family. I mean, obviously, if it’s a spicy thing, we’ll tone it down for the kids. But we just opted to do that, but we also didn’t want to go super-crazy about it because I think Henry did try to do it.

Michelle: Because my younger son is very picky and he was, I think, three at the time, that we got them on board, three or four. And so he had had all sorts of delicious bad processed foods until then, and he didn’t understand why we couldn’t have that anymore. And this is back when I was still working nights. And so I was sleeping during the day, and I was like, “I don’t know how we’re gonna get Ollie on board.” And Henry was like, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” And so I guess while I was sleeping during the day, he decided he was going to just have … like cold turkey, we’re just gonna do what … eat Paleo. And I think he had this stand off with him, with our younger son, he’s like, “Well, if you don’t wanna eat … You live under our roof so you have to do what we say.” And so my younger son literally got up and said, “Well, I’m not gonna live here anymore,” and he ran outside.

[laughter]

Michelle: And slammed the door.

Chris: Yeah.

Michelle: And you’re like, “Huh.” And he actually was not eating anything, and so Henry was like, “Okay. We gotta figure out how this works.” So for him, we had this bridge where we knew that he loves scrambled eggs and he likes roasted broccoli. And so there’s this really great children’s book called Bread and Jam for Frances that’s, I think, from the late ’60s, and it’s about this little badger who tells her mom, who makes wonderful meals, that all she wants to eat is bread and jam. So the mom says, “Okay, I’ll give you bread and jam for all of your meals and we’ll eat what we’re gonna eat.” And so eventually, she got tired of it. So we were like, “Well, we’ll make scrambled eggs and roasted broccoli his bread and jam because we’re okay with it.” And it’s not super hard to make, and he eventually got sick of eating the scrambled eggs and broccoli, and so now he eats what we eat. I mean he eats super slow at meal time, but he finishes it. [chuckle] And so I think that’s just his way of exerting his will …

Chris: Protest.

Michelle: Yes. And of course, when he goes to my mom’s house, who now also cooks Paleo for the kids, he will eat super fast, just to needle me a little more like, “Wow, when PoPo makes my food, I eat really fast.” I’m like, “Well, that’s great.”

[laughter]

Chris: Yeah.

Michelle: But I think before, I used to stress out about what the kids ate because I wasn’t taking full responsibility for what they were eating. But now that I know that they … like, I make their breakfast. I pack their lunches. I make their dinners. So I’m in charge of probably 85 percent of what they’re eating and I’m very happy with how they’re eating 85 percent of the time I’m in control. So when I’m not in control, I let them make their own decisions, and I don’t freak out if they eat non-Paleo stuff. But my younger son does have … I suspect the two of us have celiac, but because I went Paleo before I actually tested myself, [chuckle] I can’t say that I am. But I know that I have the gene and he has the same exact symptoms I do.

Chris: Yeah.

Michelle: And so we both just avoid it. And he’s really good about self-regulating. And I think that if you model good behavior, you’d be surprised at what your kids follow and pick up.

Chris: You know, that’s been pretty interesting to me with Sylvie because she … We had a little bit different experience because, as I said, when she was born we were already eating Paleo and she just came into that, and we never had any separate meals. From day one, she was eating cod liver oil and liver when she was a kid. Her first solid food was an egg yolk, and then after that it was liver and it was mainly …

Michelle: To all new people who haven’t had children yet, this is what you should be doing.

Chris: This is what you do.

Michelle: Yeah.

Chris: However, of course, now she’s six-and-a-half years old and she’s out in the world. And it’s not like … It was so much easier, in a way, when she was up until like two or three because we had complete control …

Michelle: Yeah.

Chris: … over every single thing that went into her mouth. She was just home mostly with us and wasn’t going to birthday … I mean, if she went to birthday parties, she wasn’t as outwardly focused on what other people were eating. And now she is, and of course, she’s been exposed to the kinds of foods that other kids eat. And a few things about that: Number one, it is interesting when a kid grows up eating mostly real food or gets accustomed to that, I think their palate changes, just like ours does when we don’t eat sugar. And when she … sometimes we let her eat. If she goes to a birthday party, we tend to … if it doesn’t have any gluten in it, we will sometimes just say, “Yeah, go ahead and eat that.” And she’ll often take a few bites and go, “Eww! This is just like so sickly sweet. I don’t like it.” And so we end up bringing something for her. But there are also times when she really wants to eat something that we don’t really particularly want her to eat, and I’ll admit, for me, it’s been a little bit of a struggle and a learning experience, and I’m still learning to let go and just be easy with it because what I definitely don’t think is good for kids, or adults for that matter, is a really obsessive focus on it.

Michelle: Yeah.

Chris: It’s like if you …

Michelle: Because they’re gonna sneak it. [laughter]

Chris: Absolutely. They’re gonna start sneaking it. They start lying about it.

Michelle: Yeah.

Chris: They start … It’s a control thing, like you mentioned, a protest, like a way of using food to then assert their will, and I just don’t want her to have that kind of relationship with food.

Michelle: Yeah.

Chris: So I think …

Michelle: But I also think we have taught them about how the food affects them and actually to notice. Because I know back when we weren’t really sure how sensitive Ollie was to gluten, like, we’d go, “Well, let’s make sure he has a good breakfast and then if he eats this cake or whatever later he’ll be fine.” But he would eat it and then he would have this sudden meltdown, or his stomach would hurt. And so we’d be like, “Hey, look, this just happened two hours after you ate it. It’s probably related to that. And you don’t normally feel this way when you eat other foods.” And so I think he recognizes that there are direct consequences from eating certain foods, and I think he sees in his classmates that there are a lot of … I didn’t notice it when I was growing up, but I notice it a lot more just helping out at the schools, there really are a bunch of kids who just … They are on the spectrum, or they can’t sit still, and they can’t focus. And a lot of it is related to … Obviously, there are lots and lots of other factors, but part of it is how they are being fed. And I think that their parents really are trying to do their best. And they’ve been told a certain thing from their caregivers and their doctors and it’s just a hard … it’s a hard thing.

Chris: Yeah. There’s a whole spectrum there. There’s people who are trying and then there’s people who are just not aware at all.

Michelle: Right.

Chris: It’s not even on their radar. We were just on a trip and we went in for breakfast and there were a couple of kids sitting next to us, and they were eating Frosted Flakes and doughnuts was their breakfast, and Sylvie looked over and she actually mentioned something, she’s like, “Papa, they’re not gonna feel very good after this breakfast.” [chuckle] We’ve talked to her a lot about that too, and she’s also aware of how foods affect her. It’s painful when I see that because, my guess, of course I don’t know, those kids might be fine, but they … My guess is they have some health issues. And in my mind, that’s so obviously connected. But I think a lot of parents are not actually making that connection between what their kids are eating and how they’re behaving.

Michelle: But it is also a really hard thing to do. Like, if there are so many convenient foods that you can quickly buy and are packaged, and they’re all labeled, and they say they’re healthy, and there’s whole grains, you know what I mean? And they are packed with DHA or whatever. You know what I mean? And so it’s just easy for people to do that, whereas to start cooking all your meals and doing meal prep. And it’s a hard thing to do. I totally understand. But it is super important.

Chris: Yeah, yeah, no doubt. Again, just coming back to your focus, it’s … The message I’ve always gotten from your work is it doesn’t have to be hard. You do have to put in some effort, especially in terms of preparation, but once you have done a lot of that preparation, it can be surprisingly easy and also fun. You can get the family involved. There are often pictures of your kids in your books preparing food with you, which is really cool.

Making Paleo foods fast, easy, and approachable

Michelle: Well, [chuckle] there are lots of pictures of my kids in my book because I think people … families like seeing that families are doing this. But my kids don’t really help out that much. [chuckle] They help out a little bit, but not really. They eat everything, but they’re not super excited about cooking.

Chris: That’s their job. That’s their job.

Michelle: Yeah.

Chris: That just varies from kid to kid too. And Sylvie has gone through phases that way, like there was a time where I couldn’t do anything in the kitchen without her wanting to do it.

Michelle: Oh, yeah, when they were littler, I felt like they did. But now they’re older, they’re like, “Mmh.” [chuckle]

Chris: Yeah, they’ve got other stuff going on. [chuckle] And that’s as it should be. Anything else that you feel like people who are maybe somewhat new to cooking, are feeling a little overwhelmed by it all, they should know?

Michelle: I think one thing that we always tell, especially if you have kids, like with our book, because it’s bright yellow and bright red and it’s filled with pictures and cartoons, if you don’t know how to get your kids interested in this kind of food, just check out the book from the library. You don’t even … Obviously, it would help if people bought my book. But don’t even buy my book. Go to the library and check it out, and then just leave it on the coffee table, and kids will just be attracted to the book just because there’s a big cartoon on the cover. And once they start flipping through the pages and seeing the pictures of the food, that is one of the biggest things that I’ve … In terms of feedback, that I’ve gotten from parents and families who weren’t sure how to get their kids interested in real food is that they just put a book down and without saying, “You need to read this book. This is how I want us to eat,” just leave it there, and they start flipping through it and they are like, “Wow, this looks good. Can we make this?” And so it secretly gets them interested. And then when it’s their idea that they want to make something, or try something, they’re way … or at least if it’s in their mind that they came up with the idea that they wanted to do it, they’re way more open to trying it.

Chris: That’s for sure. I love this section too, the emergency SOS recipes. Those are Paleo and fast food. So let’s talk a little bit about that, because when people hear like, “Oh, it’s gonna be 45 minutes or an hour,” they get home, they’re …

Michelle: No, it doesn’t have to be that hard. It can just be … I almost feel like … Okay, so one day you may have to make something ahead of time. But if you make my Kalua Pig, which is just a big pork shoulder that shreds, and you can freeze it, you can fry it up and it turns into carnitas, and you can throw it on lettuce wraps, or grain-free tortillas. And we call them left-tacos, because we’re using leftovers to make tacos. There’s just lots of different ways to make your leftovers exciting. We have a whole section on different sauces that you can put on things, different salad dressings. But if you have … we always have lettuce in some form in our refrigerator and a bunch of raw vegetables that can be quickly turned into a salad. And then you just throw on some leftover protein and you have dinner.

Chris: Yeah.

Michelle: It really doesn’t have to be that hard. And then if you wanna get a little fancier, you could do something like Ollie’s Cracklin’ Chicken, but that is not even fancy. It literally is chicken thighs, you remove the bone and you can go to your butcher and they can take the bone out for you, and you flatten it, and you fry it, and the skin gets all crispy, and it’s super delicious and there’s no crazy technique or any crazy seasoning. It’s just knowing that you can fry chicken thighs for a long time to get super crispy skin and the fat underneath renders out. And the meat doesn’t overcook because it is thigh meat. And kids love that. Ollie’s friends will come over and I’ll make Ollie’s Cracklin’ Chicken and nobody bats an eye. They just think it’s like fried chicken.

Chris: Mm-hmm. Yeah. I mean, it’s amazing how simple … how simple it can be, and how simple meals like that can sometimes be the most delicious. Because you just … especially if you’re getting really good quality ingredients, because the flavors really stand out even more, in some cases.

Michelle: Yeah.

Chris: Yeah. Well, cool. I’m really excited that you did this book, we actually have … we ended up with three copies somehow [laughter], which I’ve given a couple away, which is … People have been … Those have been very happy people who received those, and we use the book a lot. And I think it’s … Both of your books are just must-haves on the shelf if you’re interested in this approach to cooking because they are so accessible. There are so many different levels. If you have more time and more energy, you can really get involved and do some more detailed recipes. But if you’re … it’s 7:30 and you just got home, you can turn to the SOS section and just whip up something that’s still gonna be really satisfying and nourishing and it’s the kind of book you can just open to any page and find something good. So thanks for all the work you’re doing in making this practically accessible for people and helping them to actually enjoy their relationship with food. Because I think that’s such a big … I really agree with Michael Pollan and his focus on cooking and just how … if we really just … if we all cooked. I mean is there any question whether we’d be in this place where we are now, with the epidemic … I don’t think we could be with chronic disease. 

Michelle: Yeah.

Chris: If people just cooked more, we’d be a lot better off. It’s so simple when you put it that way.

Michelle: Right. But it’s a pain. I totally understand. And so we try to take away as many pain points as possible. [chuckle]

Chris: Absolutely. And tell us a little bit about your app. We haven’t talked about that at all yet.

Nom Nom Paleo App

Michelle: Oh, the app. [chuckle]

Chris: But I love the app. Yeah, I know that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax. But …

Michelle: Well, the app was our first foray into anything besides the blog. And it is only on Apple devices because we self-financed it. And it’s really expensive, or at least back when we did it in 2012 it was really expensive.

Chris: Yeah.

Michelle: And we call it a cookbook on steroids because you can swipe through every step. And it’s fun and we update it every time we have a new recipe on the blog. There are app-specific recipes on there. You can create shopping lists from it. It’s not super-dynamic, like a meal planning app. But you know, you pay one $5.99 price forever, and you just keep on getting new recipes. [chuckle]

Chris: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it’s great and there are, of course, some people who are like, “Book? What’s a book?”

Michelle: Yeah.

[laughter]

Chris: So it’s good that there’s a whole ‘nother way of accessing this and lots of people have iPads in the kitchen now and lots of recipes on them. So it’s awesome to have a whole ‘nother way of accessing all these different recipes. So Michelle, thanks for joining us. Anything in the works now? Or are you taking a well-deserved break?

Michelle: No. I mean, there’s … We’re always working on our blog, because we’re always coming up with new content for that. But no, Henry’s like, “Hey, are we working on our next book?” Because each of our books takes three years to do because we do everything. But I’m like, “No, I’m not even done promoting this latest book.” But I know that eventually we’ll probably work on a next book. But right now, we’re just kind of … we’re just kind of working on our own little Mom and Pop blog stuff.

Chris: Yeah. Great. Well, that’s fantastic too, and I love all the work that you do there as well. I often share your posts to people.

Michelle: And the feeling is mutual. Anytime anyone ever asks me about any sciencey stuff like, “You should go to Chris Kresser.” Like, “Is cholesterol bad for me?” I was like, “Chris Kresser has this really great series on that.” Like, “What about my gallbladder?” “Chris Kresser has something about that.”

[laughter]

Chris: Well, that’s great, because anytime anyone has a cooking question, I send them your way. And the fact is, more people are … want to know about that than all the sciencey stuff. So keep doing that work.

Michelle: Well, I think you give them the reason to actually … to actually cook. Because nobody wants to cook. But when you realize that your health depends on it …

Chris: Yeah.

Michelle: You’re like, “Okay, well, maybe I should do it.”

Chris: “Maybe I should do it. And maybe I’ll figure out how to do it.”

Michelle: Yeah.

Chris: Great. All right. Well, thanks so much Michelle, again, for being with us. And the book is Ready or Not, 150+ Make-Ahead, Make-Over, and Make-Now Recipes by Nom Nom Paleo, and definitely a must-have. Go out and get it. I assume it’s in bookstores and everywhere, Amazon, and everywhere else.

Michelle: Yes, it is. It’s everywhere books are sold. [chuckle]

Chris: Okay. Well, thanks again, and we’ll have you back soon. I really enjoyed this.

Michelle: Me too. Thank you.

The post RHR: How to Make Paleo Cooking Fun, Easy and Filled with Umami—with Michelle Tam appeared first on Chris Kresser.

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