As promised in my last post, here's Part II about our Whole30 experience. If you are interested in my long-winded recap of our great experience, read it here.
Fair warning, all of these food pictures were taken on my phone, initially just to send to my mom to show her what types of stuff we were eating, since she eats this way often too. Then I realized I could use them on ze blog. Either way, they are terrible and not completely representative of what we ate. But I'm sharing them anyway.
(Also, apparently, as I write this, it's become a how-to type of thing... sorry for the presumption... it's just coming out that way)
As I said before, the Whole30 takes a lot of planning in order for you to be successful. You must have healthy foods ready to go ahead of time, always prepped, if not cooked, since convenience is sometimes required. We always cooked our sweet potatoes for breakfast the night before, as well as our protein for lunch, as Tony needed to be able to pack it in the morning. Planning is key.
I used these templates for meal planning. I got really excited about it the first week, then I slacked to doing it only a day or two at a time. Longer term is always better, but it just didn't always happen. A few times, we really struggled to come up with food in a timely fashion or with limited groceries. But we never deviated, even in those pinches.
I also found that we were really creative at the beginning, trying new recipes and mixing up our veggie selection. As we got into it, we started to rely on the same staples. This wasn't bad, but I'm looking forward to continuing to try out new recipes now that there's not so much pressure.
What I loved about the Whole30 is you eat as much as it takes to fill you up. There are guidelines, but if you are hungry, you eat. You don't watch calories or fat or anything like that. Ingredients are truly the only thing we care about now. Fat makes food taste good, and when the right kinds of fat are used, it leads to a healthier you! (mmm ghee)
Here's my rundown.
What You Eat
- Protein, Veggies, Fruit, Healthy Fats. There's actually a shopping list online that helped us navigate the best choices. We bought a ton of meat. We bought a ton of veggies. We ate our weight in coconut-based foods and avocados. We went to the grocery store probably 3-4 times a week, since certain things, like romaine lettuce, are things you only want to buy every few days. Plus, we would fill our fridge and then eat it all! We used to see veggies die a slow death in our fridge. Now, we can't keep it stocked!
- It's not allll unprocessed. There are some things that you can eat that are processed minimally. Some condiments and sauces are approved (just check the ingredients and beware of soy, sugar, and anything you can't pronounce (carrageenan, i'm looking at you!)). I designated an approved shelf in our fridge for such things (the Dijon mustard is lurking - he's not approved because of the wine...).
Tips for Food
- Stock up on staples.
---Oils: We went to Atlanta to the big farmer's market there to stock up on a lot of things we knew we would need, before the month began. We got coconut oil, evoo, and ghee as our oils to cook with. We had actually never used coco or ghee for cooking, but we really like both and plan to use them exclusively (with evoo), moving forward. This is actually a really easy way to incorporate this way of eating into a regular diet. I learned a lot of nasty stuff about soy and veg oil and fake butter. These oils aren't cheap, but if you find them in bulk, it helps. Vitacost also has an amazing deal on coco oil (thanks Janna for the tip!)
---Nuts: These make a great snack, salad topping, recipe addition. We got a variety at the farmer's market for cheap, and they lasted us the whole month.
---Meat: We watched sales and stocked up then, getting grassfed/natural when we could. Tony always portioned out the meat into servings for two before freezing so it was always ready to go. He would cut tenderloins into chunks or strips for easy meals, and froze some ground meat into ready-to-go burgers or meatballs. This helped a ton!
---Veggies & Fruits: We quickly learned what things we would need to grab a bunch of (sweet potatoes apples, bananas, squashes, bell peppers) and what we would need to keep coming back for (lettuce, kale, berries, avocados).
- You can probably make a lot of things you used to buy pre-made. Dressings were big for us. We ate a salad most days for lunch. Since there are nearly zero dressings that don't have sugar or soy in them, we had to make our own. There are lots of recipes out there, but I usually found myself just using what we had, usually a vinegar and oil base with green onions or garlic or mustard or orange. Food processing or just whisking usually did the trick. We also made guacamole all of the time - it's so very easy to do (I don't follow a recipe, I just use avocado, lime juice, salt, pepper, and garlic and mash with a fork). Salsas, marinades, etc!
- SPICE IT UP! Tony and I have always used a lot of seasonings on our food (ok, well, he taught me about that. I never did til I met him). We love garlic and pepper and fun stuff like smoked paprika. When you're eating meat that isn't hiding nicely inside a pasta jungle, it's important that it tastes really, really good. Don't be afraid of seasonings and try new, exciting ones.
- Find approved shortcuts. For instance, it helped so much to have many of those condiments seen in our fridge up there. The lime juice was used in marinades and dressings and guac and all kinds of fun stuff. It saved time (and it's pure lime). The Red Boat fish sauce smells like death, but adds an Asian flavor we were so missing without soy sauce. Nearly all vinegar types are approved (we love rice vinegar).
- Little things add a big punch. Things like ginger or green onion can really take a dish up a notch.
- DIY the veggies (almost all of the time). Since we were already spending a small fortune, it was so much better for us to buy the head of lettuce, the full-sized veggies, the whole carrots, the dirt-crusted bagged potatoes, and the like, and chop from scratch. Sure, in a busy world, this isn't always practical, but it's more cost efficient. The only thing I deviated from with this was broccoli slaw. It was a great salad topper, easy and cheap. The end.
Ok, so what did we eat, exactly??? I kept the meal plans, so I know exactly, but here are some samples. Anything that was recipe-based, I've linked it (and most are pinned on my Whole30 board). All others were imagined by us. Unimaginatively.
- Eggs & Sweet Potatoes - this was my staple. We did the potatoes all kinds of ways - diced, hash (with little luck), wedges, strips. We always coated them in coconut oil, seasoned (usually nutmeg/cinnamon/pepper) them, and baked (400, 10 minutes each side)
- Sausage & Sweet Potatoes - Tony can't eat eggs without gagging. This posed a breakfast problem. So we decided to buy natural, preservative-free sausages. Technically, they weren't Whole30 approved because they have less than 2% of sugar (none shows up in the nutrition table - the sugar is used for the curing process). This was one of those things where you weigh your options and make the best choice you can. I don't think that sugar hurt him. It was either we made this one exception, or we didn't do the Whole30... the pros outweighed the cons.
- Blueberry Breakfast Clafouti - my mom discovered this one. Weird, but so good and a nice sweet change. This saved me when I was so sick and would never have been able to stomach scrambled eggs.
- *We weren't super adventurous in the morning, because we eat pretty early and not a whole lot is palatable then.
- Things we didn't care for: Egg Muffins and Faux-tmeal (it was okay, just not for morning)
- Salad with lots of veggies and grilled chicken - this was a staple. We tried to mix up the veggies we put on there, the dressings, and the flavor of chicken. But there were many times when I cursed my salad bowl and felt like a very angry rabbit.
- Taco lettuce wraps - so good! We love Mexican, so this was a nice way to eat it. It's basically taco meat with lots of diced veggies cooked in, guac, and homemade salsa in an iceberg lettuce wrap. Ignore the corn in this picture (that's not approved - this was a practice meal before we actually began).
- Turkey Burgers with red onion and guac - I never thought I would be the type who could eat a burger without the bun - or the cheese! But I did. Smothering it with guac and a grilled red onion really helped!
- Pesto Spaghetti Squash Noodles with Chicken - we loved this one. I got many recipes from this site. It was easy to make the pesto, and a spag squash is so easy to roast up. Her recipe is easy to follow.
- Fajitas - Well, the chicken and veggie part, anyway!
- Leftovers would be a good lunch, but we never seemed to have much.
- Meatballs with homemade red sauce - easy to pre-make and freeze!
- Coconut chicken or shrimp - soooo good, feels like a cheat! A little bit of work and a little oily, but so tasty. Make a dipping sauce from pineapple or mango and coconut milk!
- Roasted shrimp. Can't go wrong here (we splurge to buy wild-caught instead of farmed when it comes to seafood).
- Seared pork chops - we don't really eat this usually, so this was a nice change-up
- Indian crockpot chicken - totally amazing. Would have been even better with some naan, though! This was basically bone-in chicken breasts, coconut milk, Indian tangine spices (we have a pre-made mix) in the crockpot all day. We would eat this anytime! It looks gross but tastes great.
- Butternut squash soup - Perfect fall dish that you can pair with your protein. Saves and freezes well.
- Paleo chili over sweet potato fries - I prefer my chili on Fritos and coated with cheese... But this was good. Very good, in fact!
- Stuffed sweet potatoes (minus the cheese) - These are great vessels for all kinds of goodness. Shred some chicken, add your veggies, and insta-meal.
- Pork tenderloin carnitas - another crockpot easy recipe. I'm sure Tony added extra spice, but this recipe helps get you started
- Grilled mahi with a mango chutney - Easy enough!
- Many lunch and dinner items overlapped
- Skewered, grilled peppers and pineapples - sweet and delish!
- Roasted cauliflower - I liked to make mine spicy! Freezes well.
- Roasted butternut squash - I love this squash! I made both morning versions (cinnamon, nutmeg) and dinner versions (savory, spicy)
- Sauteed veggies in coconut oil - yellow squash, zucchini carrot, and peppers. The oil makes it a little sweet!
- Fruit - any kind - a recent fave was sliced honeycrisp apples with almond butter
- Veggie sticks
- Lara Bars - we probably abused our privileges on these. They are so good and so convenient They are supposed to be for emergencies, so we ate them with care. (Check the ingredients as only certain ones are approved due to things like added vanilla!)
- Monkey mix - sliced banana, shredded coconut, crushed nuts
Random Things We Discovered
- Ginger is amazing!! Why didn't we eat this before?? We have the ground kind, but the best is grated fresh off the nub.
- Coat salads with dressings instead of drizzling. Since we were using thin, vinegar-based dressings, we found it was best to shake the salad with the dressing for better coverage Why didn't we do that before??
So, what's our plan moving forward?
Well, glad you asked. The book suggests you reintroduce key food groups post-Whole30. We did this with dairy and gluten. Luckily, Tony and I didn't have any major health issues that we were looking to solve, and these food groups didn't make us have any crazy symptoms, beyond general guilt for eating them at all! Believe it or not, when I had cheese, it was kinda meh. Bread, on the other hand, I was alllll about it.
From about Day 2, I made the declaration that if I had to choose, I would go dairy free, but could never give up grains. I stand by this statement.
So the good news is we can safely (relatively speaking) eat all of these things in our diet - if we want. Yet, we've decided we don't even really want to all that often We felt good on the Whole30 and realized we could do with a lot less cheese and pasta and bread and the like. We will probably stop buying cheese and pasta with regularity, and instead, treat it like a treat. Having a burger out? Yes! I will have cheese and a bun!! Eating Mexican out? YES! I will eat me some cheese dip. But neither of us want to have these things as integral parts of our at-home, everyday diets. It feels good to be relieved from the grip of feeling obligated to cheese everything I eat.
We'd like to keep eating a majority of our meals as close to Whole30 as possible. We don't want to put a number on it, but I'd say probably 80/20...
Here's what we're going to try to follow.
- Dairy only occasionally - won't buy it regularly
- Wheat in moderation - as a side, only sometimes, in limited quantity
- Yes! to coconut oil, ghee, evoo - out with soy-based oils
- Legumes like beans in moderation
- Dessert as a treat out! Not at home.
- Make healthy substitutions - baking with almond/coconut flour, gluten-free pasta or quinoa, gf breads
- Ditching the soy unless it's intentional - soy sauce, tofu - occasionally
- Non-gluten grains in moderation - corn, rice, quinoa
- Better choices when dining out
One of the biggest changes I noticed was the disappearance of my need to snack. I rarely ate much protein, so I was never full between meals. This was especially apparent after breakfast - no wonder, considering I just ate sugar and empty carbs. I don't need to snack now that I eat eggs. I stay legitimately full until at least 1pm. I want to permanently change my breakfast routine. Sure, some days I'm sick of eggs and might have a homemade muffin or something instead, but I'm not going back to my cereal ways.
For lunch, I now have more confidence to make myself something legitimate and healthy. No more Ramen or cobbled-together cracker, cheese, pasta combos. I want to continue to eat salads and protein.
Luckily, I now see other options for afternoon snacks, beyond crackers or granola bars. I would much rather have an apple or something now, really I would (nearly all of the time... I'm not perfect you know!)
For dinner, our meals will remain pretty much Whole30. We will eat so many more veggies than we ever used to, and grains will no longer take center-stage. Yes, if we are having tacos we will probably use corn tortillas. If we are eating that Indian chicken, we will probably have some rice. But these will be respectable portions, seen as a complement and not a requirement. We aren't buying ice cream for our nightly routine any more.
I admit that I got a sort of pride wheeling my shopping cart around Kroger. I truly shopped the perimeter, and my basket was filled with so many produce bags. A woman once told me she admired my stash of squashes. She said too few people appreciated them. I felt happy to be included in the club.
So there you have it!! Our Whole30 experience in a long, convoluted nutshell! Please do share your thoughts/experiences/questions in the comments! This was such an inspiring, perspective-changing thing for us, and it will shape the way we eat, and the way our kids eat, for years to come.
If you are on the fence, I say do it! Find a month where your commitments are slim and you can devote yourself to being a slave to your kitchen. It's tough, but so worth it! You can even find ways to adapt these sort of ideas to your own family, in your own way, without going all in.
Read your labels, know what's in your food, and be a happy, healthy you! Yay! Virtual high fives in slow-mo for everyone!
You can read my post about One Month Post-Whole 30 here