This week’s tester is: James Ursini from Arlington, VA. James is married to the beautiful Noreen and is the father of an adorable 2 year old named Jacob Anthony. James works for Marriott Hotels and Resorts as the Front Office Manager for the JW Marriott in Washington DC. 

James works out at Ballston CrossFit in Arlington, VA. “In my spare time I enjoy being outside, staying fit, cooking (and I am not just saying this because it’s for Nick!) I also enjoy, golfing, snowboarding, music, hockey and most of all enjoying time with my 2 year old son Jacob Anthony and my wife Noreen” James shares.

Here is what else James had to say about his Paleo experience:

“I heard about the site when I started to eat paleo about a year and a half ago (and immediately signed up to get access to all the recipes!) I did a nutrition challenge at my Crossfit Box and never looked back. When I first modified my diet I was looking for recipes and I came across Nick’s website. It was great! I loved how he made healthy cooking fun and he was fun to watch and learn from. I have spread the word to my friend about his site and to everyone at my box and again in the nutrition challenge I did this year. Eating Paleo and cooking dishes from websites like Nick’s, I have managed to loose almost 30 lbs!”

“I have cooked a lot of Nick’s Recipes, from making his Mayo, the Colorado Chilli, the “Kickin’ like Van Damme” bacon wrapped chicken fingers, the breakfast gallimaufry, shrimp and sausage stuffed zucchini, and several more! My favorite is the Colorado Turkey Chili. I can now make that in almost 10 minutes with minimal prep! It’s flavorful, good for a few days (doesn’t last that long) and filling!”

“Eating Paleo has changed my outlook on what I pick up and eat every day. Since I started eating healthier, my family has as well, and in turn we have started to raise my son that way. I have read articles, researched and learned more about Paleo and similar diets, how the body reacts to what you put in it, and with Crossfit, how eating Paleo, and just generally healthy, impacts your performance in the box and life. It’s a lifestyle change I am glad I made. I have altered it recently a bit for my everyday life, but keep the basics. Doing a challenge like this, incorporating all the healthy items and ease of cooking flavorful, hearty dishes, sets me right back on track for going back to Paleo, and continuing to be, eat and live healthy in all aspects of my life!”


Approximate Meal Plan Cost As Prescribed:

Chain grocery store (Kroger): $185.00
Warehouse store (Costco or Sam’s): $154.00

The amount you will spend will depend on your geographic location and how much you rely on bulk purchases. As an example, you can get 1 quart of extra light olive oil at Kroger for $19.99 or you can get 4 quarts at Costco for $16.50. You follow? Meat and produce will also be less at the warehouse stores, but might require you purchase more than you’ll need for this plan.

Customize Your Plan and Shop It Up!

I have created a customize-able grocery list in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. Even if you’re not good with Excel, I’ve set it up in a foolproof way that even “The Jo!” could handle. Follow these instructions:

  1. Open the document and click on the tab at the bottom that says “Menu item & Ingredient Brkdown”.
  2. At the top, you’ll see the number “1” in bold just below each menu item. You can change this number to correspond with the number of portions that you’d like to make. Say you want to make a double batch of the Sweet Chorizo Hash with Eggs and Guac , change the “1” below the Slaw to a “2” and it will double the listed ingredients for you.
  3. Click back to the tab that says “Meal Plan 16.20 Grocery List” and your quantities will be updated.
  4. Print out the grocery list from the first tab only.
  5. Compare what you need to what you have on hand and finalize your list.

Then, head to the grocery store and make your purchases swiftly and efficiently.

Step-By-Step Instructions:

I want you to knock this out in one shopping session, two cooking sessions, and one short finishing session. I’ll explain these now, but want you to scroll down to the notes on each meal below. They are listed under each picture.

In cooking session one:

  1. Prepare your Beef and Butternut Braise, place it in the slow cooker, set the slow cooker on a foil lined sheet pan, and place it on your counter or in your garage to cook overnight.
  2. Prepare the Lime Seared Skirt Steak with Avocado Pico. Enjoy this as your meal and store any leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or freeze up to 6 months.
  3. Clean up the kitchen and pat yourself on the back for a day well done.

In cooking session two:

  1. Portion out the Beef and Butternut Braise. Refrigerate or freeze your portions and clean out the slow cooker. Prepare the Southwest Chicken and place into your slow cooker. Place on a foil lined sheet pan, and place in it your garage or leave it on the counter to cook for the next 10 hours.
  2. Prepare the Fajita Pie. Portion out and properly store in the refrigerator for up to one week or freeze up to 6 months. This is a great freezer meal!
  3. Prepare the Shrimp Scampi with Spinach and Cherry Tomatoes. Eat this meal as your dinner and portion out and properly store any leftovers in your refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  4. Portion out the Southwest Chicken once it is finished cooking. Store these in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze up to 6 months.
  5. Clean up the kitchen and polish up that sink!

In finishing session:

  1. Prepare the Sweet Chorizo Hash with Eggs and Guac. Enjoy this as your breakfast and refrigerate any leftovers.
  2. Sit back and take it all in. Your Paleo Bank Account is stocked and now you are a Culinary Ninja who is ready to tackle life with energy, clarity, and confidence. Be sure to tell your friends about!

Beef and Butternut Braise

Notes: “I truly enjoyed how easy it was to make. Just mix and place into the slow cooker. I enjoyed the vegetables associated as well. The squash, beef mix was simple and deliciousthis weeks tester stated.

James did find it was a bit bland. He thought it could have used some more seasoning. Next time he plans to add some more spices to it, potentially some rosemary, basil or thyme. Great idea James! We always love it when people make slight changes to try something different. Culinary ninja skills at their best!!

James spent 15 minutes prepping this dish, with a cook time of 8 hours.

Lime Seared Skirt Steak with Avocado Pico

Notes: “This was a great, easy to make steak dish packed with flavor. The lime on the steak was perfect to accompany the pico. I loved the choice of steak as well. Not too filling with the flank” James said.

“I added some pepper to the steak, as I found that in the prior recipes I needed some additional seasoning. I think it helped, just something basic. I may try next time with the super radical rib rub!” James noted.

He spent 10 minutes prepping the meat and the guac and 20 minutes cooking the steak.

Southwest Slow Cooker Chicken

Notes: “Another easy to make, set and forget meal” the tester shares.

“I was going to substitute breasts for the full chicken but we opted for the full this time. It was great flavor with the bacon and garlic in the bottom and the additional spices to everything. I used the super radical rib rub for the seasoning since I was missing one or two and it gave it a slight kick which is what I loved and wanted. Next time I will definitely try the chicken breasts and also cook for 8 hours. Everything was a bit mushy (to say the least) when it was finished and I wanted more bite from all the vegetables,” he said.

James spent 20 minutes prepping this meal, and cooked it for 10 hours.

Fajita Pie

Notes: “I loved that I finally got to make this dish. I chose it because I kept putting it off as it was more time consuming but the result was great! The flavors are all there, the sweet potatoes are awesome, it is really like Sheppard’s pie! The portions that I have left over are also amazing,” James said.

James didn’t make any major changes for his version, but said “this was the most time consuming dish he chose, but worth it in the end!”

He spent 30 minutes prepping this dish, and a “long time” cooking his pie. The suggested cook time is 20 minutes in the oven, plus making the meat mixture for the pie in the skillet, approx. 20-30 additional minutes.

Shrimp Scampi with Spinach and Cherry Tomatoes

Notes: “This was a simple and delicious dish; the flavors were all there and it was not particularly garlic-y like other shrimp scampi” James says.

James said he would use less wine than his creation used. The dish calls for 1/4 cup of white wine and he noted that he used a whole cup instead. I bet it was a bit strong, eek!

The tester spent 15 minutes prepping his dish, with a cook time of 10 minutes and yielded 2 portions.

Sweet Chorizo Hash with Eggs and Guac

Notes: “I am a breakfast guy and this was fantastic. My wife particularly loves it also. It was so simple, we could even make it for my son and substitute the spicy chorizo in the future. The Guac was AMAZING! It was so simple and we both said it was the best guac we have ever had” James states.

He spent 5 minutes prepping and 15 minutes of cook time. The recipe yields 1 – 5 block portion.

Here are some of the pictures James took along his testing journey:

Groceries for 16.20
Prepping the meals
Meals plated and portioned
James, Noreen and Jacob Anthony

Thank you James and family for being a part of our Meal Testing process! The story you shared about how eating Paleo and making life changes is inspiring and motivational. We appreciate your time and effort and look forward to having you do another round later this year.

From Nick:

Nice work, James! I love your story! It is pretty much like a testimonial for this site. While we are still building the foundation, stories like yours are what keeps the fire fueled to produce more content and continue along the Paleo Path.

I admire what you are doing for your family and glad that you share the site with your friends at the gym. Anyone who is in the service industry, especially at a Marriott property, has a special place in my heart as I worked at one for 3 years back when I was newly married. I hope that you and your family can move out to Reno and head up the Customer Service department at Paleo Productions. I know JW is cool and all, but Paleo is the future, right?

Thanks again for taking time to share your experience with us. I hope that we can play hockey together someday and follow it up with a cooking session. Even if you beat me on the ice, I’ll take you in the kitchen… 😉

“Keep It Paleo!”

Your Pal,

Paleo Nick

On the Road To Regionals with an amazing team for an epic camping trip

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