It’s not that easy to be likened to Martha Stewart. So for Michelle Tam to be called “The Martha Stewart of Paleo” (by the New York Times, no less!), you know she must be the real deal. See, Tam (along with her husband, Henry Fong) is the co-creator of the award-winning and wildly popular food blog, Nom Nom Paleo. The power couple also has an app, two New York Times bestselling cookbooks, and a James Beard nomination.
Before all this, though, Tam got a degree in nutrition and food science from the University of California at Berkeley, and a doctorate in pharmacy from UCSF. For more than a dozen years, she worked the graveyard shift at Stanford Hospital and Clinics as a night pharmacist. Once she had kids, she started to notice her muffin top (her words, not ours!) and how impossible it was to get rid of it.
She bought fitness magazines and home exercise videos and, although she lost weight, she was starving, grumpy, sluggish and still had a tummy. Her husband stumbled upon paleo and, after watching his success with it, she decided to give it a try. Now, she’s literally written the book on paleo (books—plural—if you want to be technical). These days, she finds herself with plenty of energy and no more muffin top.
We caught up with Michelle to learn more about paleo, her go-to kitchen tools, and more.
What does paleo mean to you?
At its core, paleo is about trying to eat real, naturally occurring ingredients that are healthful rather than harmful. Biologically, our bodies respond best to real, whole, nutrient-dense foods like plants, meat, and seafood—all of them packed with the nutrients our bodies evolved to thrive on. It was only after industrialized food production and lab-engineered edibles took over our diets that the ”diseases of civilization“ exploded. Today, wheat, soy, sugar, and highly processed foods continue to drive up rates of autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, and obesity. But by getting back to eating real food, we can stay healthier and happier.
What is it about paleo that speaks to you so much?
What I love about paleo is that I don’t need to stress out about counting calories, balancing macronutrients or starving myself to get healthy. Although paleo isn’t specifically intended to be a low-carb or weight-loss diet, by filling our plates with deliciously nourishing foods like vegetables, meat, seafood, and healthy fats, we can eat until we’re satiated and still improve our body composition and overall health. For me the key benefits of following a paleo diet have been increased energy to keep up with my kids, better sleep, improved cooking skills, being more mindful about how food is raised and how it affects me—and no more muffin top!
People often to use paleo and Whole30 interchangeably. How would you explain the differences?
Paleo and Whole30 are very similar in that both prioritize eating whole, unprocessed, nutrient-rich, nourishing foods and avoiding foods that are more likely to be harmful than healthful. In fact, most of my recipes are Whole30-friendly!
Whole30 is a strict 30-day reset that has specific guidelines on what foods are permitted and what are not. Simply put, Whole30 is paleo without the treats and desserts. After the 30 days are over, you systematically reintroduce back potentially problematic foods to see how they affect you.
Paleo, on the other hand, is meant to be a long-term and sustainable way of eating. Some folks eat an occasional paleo treat when they’re celebrating a special occasion or eat white rice once in a while. I always recommend that folks new to paleo complete a Whole30 to figure out which foods work best for them.
How do you make paleo work when you’re crunched for time during the week?
As a former night shift worker and current busy mom, I’m all about getting quick and easy meals on the table! For busy weeknights, I love sheet pan suppers, Instant Pot meals, stir-fries and hearty soups. Anything that can be cooked in one pot or pan also leads to fewer dishes to clean and that’s a win-win in my book!
I’m not organized enough to prep all the ingredients for every upcoming meal, but I set myself up for success by making a big batch of protein and a sauce or dressing that can be reused in a variety of ways during the week. For example, I will roast two chickens at a time or make a big batch of Instant Pot Kalua Pig, so I can remix them into inventive dishes later in the week without too much work on my end and no complaints from my kiddos. I always have a jar of my All-Purpose Stir-Fry Sauce ready to go, so I have no excuse not to cook!
I’ve also learned that cooking extra for leftovers is key. I like to call the subsequent weeknight meals “Leftover Makeovers” and they might take the shape of a casserole, frittata, stir-fry, or “leftacos.”
What’s your strategy for dealing with picky eaters in the family?
I used to make the kids something different at suppertime, but I soon realized that I didn’t have the time or patience to be a short-order cook. Plus, I wasn’t eating my kids’ leftovers because they weren’t healthy and it’s not okay to serve them something I won’t eat myself. These days, I only serve one family meal and everyone has to eat it. It might take some trial and error to see what works for everyone, but it’s worth it in the end. All my recipes have been tested on the whole family and if Ollie (my resident picky eater) likes it, I know it’s a hit!
What are some of your favorite paleo recipes from your site?
My Instant Pot Kalua Pig, Ollie’s Cracklin’ Chicken, Instant Pot Bone Broth, Magic Mushroom Powder and All-Purpose Stir-Fry Sauce. All of them are building blocks for delicious meals throughout the week. Leftover makeovers for the win!
Are there any kitchen tools or gadgets that help you stick to the paleo lifestyle?
Yes! I love a good kitchen gadget! Some of my faves include:
- The Instant Pot: Pressure cooking is a game-changer—especially for busy home cooks like me. When I’m short on time but hankering for dishes that normally take forever to make (like bone broth, tough cuts of meat, braises and stews), I turn to my Instant Pot. You can set it and forget it like a slow cooker, but the resulting dish is tastier!
- A good chef’s knife: With a well-balanced chef’s knife in the palm of your hand, you can slice and dice with the best of them!
- An immersion blender: Whipping up sauces, condiments, and pureed soups is a cinch with an immersion blender. Plus, it saves you from having to drag out a big countertop blender.
- A silicone spatula: Traditionalists swear by their wooden spoons, but I’ve come to prefer flat-edged silicone spatulas that are heat-resistant and can scrape out every last drop from your pots and pans.
- Kitchen shears: Although knives deliver more precise cuts, kitchen shears offer speed and power. I use shears for everything from snipping fresh herbs to removing the backbone from a chicken.
- Rasp grater: It’s fantastic for finely zesting citrus or shaving frozen ginger to create a flavorful snow that melts into hot dishes.
- Food processor: If you find yourself buried under an avalanche of ingredients to cut into small pieces, a food processor may well be worth the splurge.
- Breville Smart Oven Air: I use this countertop oven more often than my wall oven! Plus, you can use it to as an airfryer or dehydrator!
- Instant-read thermometer: The only way to guarantee that your protein is perfectly cooked is to make sure it reaches the right cooking temperature. If you’re just starting out in the kitchen and cooking up high-quality meat, invest in a reliable instant-read thermometer.
- Rimmed baking sheets + stainless steel wire racks: I use rimmed baking sheets to roast meat and veggies. I normally prop my roasting proteins on a stainless steel wire rack because they cook more evenly. The racks are especially handy because you can also use them to cool, rest and drain food.
What are some paleo-friendly groceries you always stock up on?
Quick, easy and nomtastic meals are the key to long term kitchen success!
- Frozen cauliflower rice: I love having bags of cauliflower rice in the freezer so I can quickly whip up fried “rice” or heat it up as an easy accompaniment to my favorite stir-fries.
- “Emergency” greens: Although garden-fresh produce is best, I always stock up on frozen organic vegetables, pre-washed organic salad greens and packaged baby kale and spinach. If I know I have ready-to-cook vegetables on hand, I have no excuse not to eat them.
- Flavor boosters: Dried spices and seasonings, fresh herbs, dried mushrooms, tomato paste bacon, coconut aminos, vinegars/citrus and fish sauce are all shortcuts to deliciousness!
- Healthy fats for cooking: I love stocking ghee, avocado oil, coconut oil and olive oil for cooking.
Before we go, what’s your single best tip when it comes to making paleo-friendly meals?
I always recommend that folks stock their pantry with ingredients that naturally boost umami. Umami is one of the five tastes that humans experience—along with sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. (It’s Japanese for “savory taste.”) But more importantly, umami is the key to effortlessly delicious cooking. Some paleo-friendly ingredients that are high in umami are tomato paste, dried mushrooms, fish sauce, coconut aminos (a soy sauce substitute) and seaweed.