My Go-To Paleo + Zone Diet Recipes

Sometimes I feel silly posting recipes because there are SO many other wonderful Paleo food blogs out there that I don’t want to be redundant. But then I remember that not everyone loves Googling as much as I do (no really, I love it), and that maybe you all aren’t already inundated with paleo recipes and could use a few new ideas from places you might not usually search.

While I am not really creative enough to come up with my own recipes on a regular basis, here are my go-to recipes that I’ve been using in the last 6 weeks while we’ve been on The Zone Diet.

(click the photos to be taken to the recipe site)

Paula Deen’s Baked Tilapia

1 4.5-oz fish filet from this recipe = 3 blocks protein, 1 block fat

Paula Deen's Baked Tilapia


I know, right? Most people don’t really think Paul Deen when they think Paleo. But this baked fish recipe is SO easy and straightforward that we find ourselves making it at least once a week. The best part is that 1. Tilapia is pretty dang cheap and 2. If you aren’t in the mood for tilapia, this recipe works for any kind of fish.

In order to make this more Zone-friendly, we do not use butter cooking spray at all but instead just line the cast iron skillet with tin foil. Usually this means we lose most of the skin but we typically just feed the fish skin to Luna anyway. Almost all fish is 1.5 ounces per protein block, so a typical fish filet is usually about 3-4 blocks. Then we will put 1/3 tsp butter*, aka one block of fat, on each filet (a very small pat of butter, in other words).

*Butter is not technically strict paleo, but we buy organic, grass-fed butter and use it anyway because we like the flavor better than ghee. To each their own but know that if you want to be STRICT paleo, you need to use ghee or coconut oil instead.

Pan Roasted Chicken Thighs from Epicurious

1 chicken thigh from this recipe = 3 blocks protein, 1 block fat

Healthy Pan Fried Chicken Thighs

If we aren’t eating fish, we are typically eating chicken thighs. While thighs are a little fattier than chicken breasts, I prefer the flavor and I think they are generally juicier. Also, I LOVE this recipe for leftovers and eat chicken thighs for lunch at least 3 times a week.

Instead of vegetable oil, we typically use butter or coconut oil. I prefer to use coconut oil because it doesn’t burn as easily as butter, but it does leave a little bit of a sweet coconut-ey taste. Also, with these types of recipes, I don’t feel bad about using a little extra fat because I know that most of it will stay in the pan after I’m done cooking. We also mix up the spices we use; my favorites are garlic powder and mustard seed, Brandon likes rosemary and thyme or curry.

I have found that an average chicken thigh will typically have almost exactly 3 ounces of meat on it, even if it is bone-in, which makes one chicken thigh equal to 3 blocks of protein.

Warm + Crunchy Kale

1 1/4 cup kale from this recipe = 1 block of carbs + 1 block fat

warm kale from the ascent blog

Ok so this one doesn’t have a link to the recipe because I mostly just made it up.

I freakin’ love kale but have a hard time eating it raw–it’s just a little too fibrous for me. However, I found myself compulsively over-cooking it and ending up with a big glob of chewy kale that was just not tasty. So I found a middle ground.

1 1/4 cups of cooked kale is about the equivalent of 2 big handfuls of raw kale. I pull the kale leaves off the stems and rip them into small pieces, then put them into a warm pan that has about 1/3 tsp of melted butter at the bottom. After tossing the leaves in the pan to distribute the butter, I will pour about 2 tbsp of water into the pan and put a lid on it for about 60 seconds.

I only cook the kale until it has changed from raw green to vivid, shiny green. Once it is shiny, I turn off the heat and put the kale into a bowl, then add about 1 tablespoon of Amy’s Sesame Ginger salad dressing. You can add any dressing you want or just use balsamic vinegar.

Something to note is that if you are eating this with a large meal and need 4 or 5 blocks of carbs, you might not want to use kale for more than 1 of those blocks because the kale is going to really fill you up. I typically eat kale with my 3-block lunch and accompany it with a grapefruit or an apple.

Ok, what the heck else do we eat?

Apples or bananas and almond butter. 1 apple or 2/3 banana + 2/3 tsp (about 1 knife-full) almond butter = 2 blocks carbs, 2 blocks fat

Eggs + Bacon. 1 egg = 1 block protein, 2 pieces of bacon = 2 blocks protein + 1 block fat

Grapefruit. 1 grapefruit = 2 blocks carbs

Progenex. 2 scoops of More Muscle = 3 blocks protein + 1 block carbs. If you add a 17.5-ounce can of coconut water (which I never do because I can’t stand the stuff, but…), it will become a complete 3-block meal.

Stir fry. This is a little trickier to zone but the most effective way we’ve learned to do it is to put in the same number of blocks of each veggie. Thus, we might make a 10-block stir fry using 2 blocks of onion, 2 blocks of red peppers, 2 blocks of carrots, 2 blocks of broccoli, and 2 blocks of kale. Then we know that if I serve myself about 1/3 of the pan of veggies, I am getting about 3 blocks of carbs because there are 10 blocks total in there and they are equally distributed.

The approximate recipe for this example would be:

1 small onion

1.5 large red peppers, diced

4 medium carrots, diced

2 medium heads of broccoli, chopped

1 large bunch of kale, chopped

Mashed sweet potatoes. 1 cup (~2 large scoops or about 1 medium sweet potato)= 5 blocks carbs, 3/5 cup (~1 large scoop or about 1/2 medium potato) = 3 blocks carbs. I will make a big bowl of mashed sweet potatoes at the beginning of the week and then bring leftovers to work for lunch almost every day. Typically I will also add a small pat of butter in there as well to add a block of fat.

Salad. Zoning salad can be a little tricky because if you aren’t careful, you can end up staring down several heads of lettuce and entire bunches and bundles of raw veggies for just one meal because, turns out, veggies are super low in carbs. This is typically a good thing, but not if you are trying to get all of your carbs from just raw veggies. If we do salads we will typically do them on the side, as a 2-block salad is about the equivalent of a 2 large handfulls of romaine lettuce + 1 medium carrot  + 1 medium tomato, or the romaine lettuce + 1/2 tangerine and 1/2 apple.

Geeze that’s a lot of info! I hope that gives you guys some new ideas for paleo/zone today. What are your go-to paleo meals?

  • Laurie

    I’ve been eating zone (as well as doing crossfit) about a month and half and can definitely see the results in my body as well! Nutrition definitely makes a difference! The hardest part about starting the zone was figuring out how many blocks I should have at meals/snacks. I’m 5’10″ and pretty athletic and have been doing 3 block meals with a 1 block afternoon snack and 1 block evening snack- the recommended amounts for a medium female. Being 5’10 I’ve questioned whether or not that would be considered a medium or large female. How many blocks do you typically eat per day? Occassionally I find myself hungry between meals/snacks and I want to make sure I’m getting enough calories for the type of exercise I am doing. Any thoughts? :) Thanks!

    • clairechapman

      Hey Laurie! I am 5’3 120ish lbs and I typically do 3-3-2-3-1 on days I don’t WOD out and 3-3-2-3-3 on days I do WOD, with my 3 block evening snack being 2 scoops of progenex more muscle with a banana post-WOD. I started at 3-3-1-3-1 and just found that it wasn’t enough to get me through the day, and increasing just one extra block in my afternoon snack made a big difference, plus it made me feel like I didn’t have to wait so long between breakfast and lunch because I would still get a decent snack before heading home from work. Hope that helps!

      • Laurie

        Thanks! That definitely gives me something to think about! I have thought about adding a 1 block snack mid-morning because that is when I usually start feeling hungry. I typically do my WOD at 5am (eating 3 block meal after class) and on those days I find it seems like a reaaaaally long time between breakfast and lunch :) I’m currently pretty satisfied with 3 block meals but may start to play with snacks a bit to see what works best. Being new to the sport, I love hearing about your zone and CF experiences! :)

  • Holly

    Hey just saw you were on Women of Crossfit = Strong on FB! Congrats lady!!

    • clairechapman

      Haha thanks! My blog just about crashed from that post… But hey, I’m not complaining :)

  • LaurenJamison

    Just found your blog and wanted to say hey! I’m a beginner crossfitter living in Rapid City, SD. Boulder is one of mine and my hubs most favorite places on earth! Anyway, hello from a new reader!

    Visit me at!

    • clairechapman

      Hey Lauren! Glad you’re here :) And your blog is so frickin cute!

  • Simone

    Oh ehm gee. Thank you. I was just wishing this morning for some specific zone insight from you! I pin a ton of paleo recipes, but never seem to get around to a lot of them — and I figure that trying to learn how to cook AND trying to start zone AND trying to just eat regularly in general (I do not eat often enough!) was too overwhelming. Thanks for some simple starting blocks!!

    By the way, I posted a totally envious blog post of my own about you and your zone progress the other day – I hope that’s alright. :)

    • clairechapman

      Haha I love it! I read your post and I have to say that I definitely also struggled with super sporadic eating and that was another big reason why I started the zone. Before zone, I would end the day and have eaten like an egg, 2 bananas, and half a jar of almond butter and that’s it… Sure, it was technically paleo but I was getting barely any protein or nutrients! And Brandon (who is in school full-time with classes that go until 6 or 7 most nights) would end the day just being starving because his food prep process was so disorganized. And to be honest, at first zoning was a BIG time suck, but after about a week it became second nature to weigh and measure, and now it feels like it actually takes LESS time because I go into a meal already knowing what components I am going to need. If you are interested in getting started, I would just start with zoning on weekends and maybe one dinner per week just to get the hang of it. That’s how we did it. And then once the weighing and measuring process becomes more efficient, you can transition into trying it with busier meals like breakfast.

      • Simone

        Thanks for the suggestion! I’ve been trying to pack more zone-friendly meals for my long days at school (I liked the turkey, apple, peanut butter suggestion in the article) but I can see how the weekends would be an easier place to start. I think I’m in the “small female” category, so 2-2-2-2-2, but I haven’t even looked at what I’d make so my boyfriend could eat zone-friendly too. And maybe on CrossFit days I should look at the “small athletic female” category. I’ll have to experiment :)

  • Jennifer

    Love this! I’ve always had an easy time prepping breakfast and lunch and know I can control portions there easily. But dinner was always a challenge since it was dinner for two; I may re-think trying this zone thing since it will be easier to control dinner portions.. thinking, thinking, thinking..

    • clairechapman

      Just do it already! Zoning is really not as big of a deal as I think you think it is… except that it is a big deal because it really, really works. DO IT. Blog peer pressure!

  • Angie

    That kale sounds delicious!

    Check out my newest blog post, I nominated you for an award:

  • Lisa

    Someone needs to write a zone-paleo cookbook already!

  • Bridget Dolce

    How can you figure out blocks on things like clif bars?

  • Michelle

    Love your blog!! Thought I would share one of my favorite zone recipes that I wrote about, thanks again!!

    Take Care,


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