when I get super busy, I find myself reaching for the same meals over and over again. I wonder, am I doing myself a big disservice, or is it really just macronutrient levels that matter?
Macronutrient levels are important, but let's not downplay the importance of micronutrients.
If you are eating the same thing over and over again, you may very well develop a deficiency in one or more mirconutrients. In fact, I be quite surprised if you didn't.
Personally, I eat the highest quality foods as close to 100% as I can (I think I'm consistently at about 90% or so)
Here's what makes the bulk of my diet (in no particluar order):
meats, veggies, eggs, fruits, cheese, nuts, salads, dairy, oils, starches
Some people in Paleo don't eat fruits, nuts, dairy or starches. Funny, since that makes up probably half my diet and I'm fine with all of those.
Everybody has different looking eating programs. But I think it's a good idea to get your nutrients from a wide variety of foods and keep it whole and as pure as possible.
I think as long as you have all your macronutrient bases covered (which is really hard to do eating from a small pool of foods) that the emphasis on variety is more to prevent boredom with the diet. Cheating due to the monotony of eating the same stuff over and over is one of the common gripes people seem to have with this diet, which is totally stupid due to the billions of food combinations you can create with paleo foods.
if you don't have any food issues, intolerances etc. I'd say you'd be fine other than the issue of boredom. Those with intolerances can become intolerant to foods that aren't rotated.
I'm also a glutten for repetition, I know it tastes good, easy to make so I'll just do what comes to mind and isn't much effort, especially if I'm starving!!
variety is the spice of life!!
Food variety is important, but to a certain degree. Grok probably varied quite often, but didn't have a range of foods as big as ours. He probably lived days on the same thing from time to time. Eating the same thing over and over again every day is bad, but there's nothing wrong with having a food you eat very regularly.
Take a look at some tribes nowadays, some eat mostly sweet potatoes, some only eat meat and fat, some eat lots of animal fat, ... They all have a food they eat very often, and they're still in great shape.
Let's remember that the Paleo diet is an ideal based on hunter-gatherers. When they gathered food they were eating a wide range of diverse species of plants. The level of biodiversity in hunter-gatherers far exceeds ours simply due to the fact that the land was overgrown with teeming wild plant life rather than farms, houses, roads etc. I think this means that we need to eat more plants for their micronutrient content and medicinal properties.
I suspect plants were a large part of our diet in Paleo times because they can't run away, thus they remained a reliable food source that we could always lean on in times of need.
Furthermore, our human biology is strikingly in sync with plant biology. Our cells contain mitochondria - so do plant cells. We need high levels of oxygen in our cells to produce energy. Plants need carbon dioxide. We breathe in what they produce and they require the byproducts of our metabolism. We share a symbiotic relationship with all vegetation on earth.
A great way to expand your range of gathering is to drink herbal teas. We have the ability to gather plant matter from all corners of the earth so we should take advantage of it. Our ancestors were bound to their respective geographic region. Consuming a high amount of phytochemicals likely turns on all the right genes, optimizing their performance. Who knows how these plant chemicals work together to help the body heal and perform? It's never been tested. At one point I was drinking 6 herbal teas per day - from India, Africa, Japan, the US. I like Traditional Medicinals brand.
In addition to plant biodiversity, try to change up things when you focus on macronutrients as well - particularly the fats and proteins. There are different ratios of essential amino acids in all meats as there are varied fatty acid profiles.
For fats - focus on the Omega 3's. You can get those from fish of course but what about all the different kinds of seafoods? Shrimp, lobster, eel, crab, squid? What about the mollusks? Farm-raised mollusks are cheap and they are safe because they must eat zooplankton or they die. The big food co's can't keep them alive on soybean/corn oil based food. Clams, mussels, oysters, scallops...all loaded with Omega 3's and different combinations off essential amino acids.
For proteins - you can do far more than the usual eggs, grass-fed cow, chicken, turkey etc. Consider game meats - bison, deer etc.
Also consider varying flavor with herbs and spices - this adds to biodiversity and greater micronutrient intake. Do fruit based sauces that combine the flavors of mango, kiwi, orange etc.
The Paleo Diet does require a bit of creativity but you can make it limiting or limitless.
It's up to you.