Friday, August 15, 2014

The Unofficial Whole30 Survival Guide

I get a lot of comments from people who want to start Whole30 but feel nervous about planning and preparing meals. Some are worried about what to eat; others are concerned about the time commitment. Honestly, it does take determination, time, and effort to prepare Whole30 meals, but there are ways to make things easier on yourself. Here are my top tips for getting started and staying on track. Even if you aren't doing Whole30, these tips can work for any healthy eating plan.

TIP 1: Stock your fridge and pantry with approved foods. This seems obvious, but it's crucial to your success. Check labels on condiments, spices, and canned goods. Throw out, box up, or hide banned foods. Shop for quality proteins, fresh produce, and healthy fats. I usually buy eggs and 2-3 types of meat per week. I buy a good balance of grab-and-go veggies (carrots, snap peas, mini peppers, cherry tomatoes, etc.) and veggies that I prefer to steam, sauté, roast, or bake (sweet potatoes, cauliflower, yellow squash, broccoli, etc.). I buy veggies in every color. I also like to buy one new veggie per week that I've never eaten. For fats, I stock avocados, avocado oil, olive oil, coconut oil, and coconut milk. I keep cashews and almonds on hand for emergency outings. During the first week, focus on familiar foods. As you gain confidence with the program and start feeling creative, branch out and try new things. Stock up! If your only options are approved, you won't give up on a whim. Even if you have a moment of mental weakness, you won't be surrounded by temptations. Giving up will be so much work that you'll just stick with the program, and your mind will regain control.

TIP 2: Make a basic meal plan. This is especially important the first two weeks, when it's easy to fall back into old habits of eating prepackaged foods or grabbing take-out. You don't want to hit the 5 o'clock hour and find yourself standing in front of the fridge—or worse, out and about—with no plan for dinner. Set yourself up for success by brainstorming a few ideas at the beginning of the week. Your meal plan can be as simple or as detailed as you like. Personally, I just jot down a few traditional meals I want to re-create in Whole30 form. Sometimes, I work from my list; often, I don't. But having a list means I'm never frantic or uninspired. Your plan could be much more detailed. It could list every meal and include a shopping list. Do what works for you! Where can you find ideas? Start with simple, familiar dishes than you can adapt to fit Whole30. This will make it easier to get your family on board. You will see tons of inspiration on IG and Pinterest, but don't get overwhelmed. For the first week, focus on adapting dishes and foods you already like. Not every meal will be creative or glamorous. It's okay to eat the same thing over and over again if it's working for you. I didn't really start experimenting until week two, and each week, I felt more confident and creative. You will, too! When inspiration strikes, don't be afraid to deviate from your plan. Your plan is just a protective net to keep you from giving up.

TIP 3: Prepare food in bulk. When you start Whole30, you may feel like you never leave the kitchen. The minute you finish the dishes from one meal, you start chopping veggies for the next. Who has time for that? The best way to avoid this cycle of meal prep is mass production. There are several ways to approach this, but all options ultimately save you time in setup and clean up. Option 1: Schedule 1-2 prep days each week (for example, Sunday and Wednesday). Some people use prep days to prepare full meals (either fully cooked or freezer meals). Then they divide out potions for the week. This is a fabulous solution if you work full time or spend your evenings away from home. I take a more relaxed approach to meal prep. I like to keep two precooked meats (e.g., grilled chicken, pulled pork, or ground turkey/beef) on hand to use for lunches and quick dinners. I also like to chop veggies for salads, breakfast scrambles, casseroles, and soups (e.g., onions, red peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and yellow squash). Once in a while, I make paleo mayo to use in sauces, dressings, and dips. This is usually enough prep for me, because my meal plans are flexible and I have time to cook in the evenings. Option 2: Double your recipes. When you cook, make twice as much as you think you and your family need for one meal. (I always quadruple my recipe for veggie rice, because it goes with everything.) Leftovers will be your salvation for snacks, lunches, dinners on the run, even breakfasts. If you spend a lot of time away from your house, divide leftovers into individual portions instead of throwing a whole casserole dish in the fridge. This makes it easy to grab food on the run. If you get tired of eating the same foods over and over, refresh your meals by combining ingredients. Or team up with a Whole30 buddy, and swap meals.

TIP 4: Don't be afraid to make substitutions. Before Whole30, I didn't cook anything without a recipe. If I was missing an ingredient, I gave up or sent my husband to the store. Not anymore! My Whole30 kitchen adventures have taught me that almost any protein can be substituted for any other protein and any veggie for any other veggie. This advice applies to regular recipes and Whole30 recipes. Don't toss out favorite family dishes just because they include a couple of off-plan ingredients—adapt! Use yellow squash in place of corn. Try pineapple juice, medjool dates, or homemade apple sauce in place of brown sugar in a sauce. Make cauliflower rice or mashed sweet potatoes instead of regular rice. I've found that this is actually the easiest way to introduce healthier foods to my family: just start with a small change to a favorite meal. If you're working with a Whole30 recipe, adaptations are even easier. Missing a spice? Leave it out, or open a few others and smell them to find an appealing stand in. In addition to saving time, this tip also saves money. By making substitutions, I use my food more efficiently, and I spend less time at the store, which means I buy fewer unplanned extras during the month.

TIP 5: Pack your own food. If you're following a strict nutritional plan (like Whole30), don't leave your meals to chance. You may end up starving or caving to the hunger pains. Whether you're running errands or attending a social gathering, get in the habit of packing your own food. Option 1: Keep a go-pack in your fridge stocked with protein, healthy fats, and veggies. Take this with you whenever you leave the house, even if you think you'll be gone only 1-2 hours. You never know when your schedule will be hijacked, and you don't want to be stranded without food. If you haven't already, invest in an insulated lunch bag and ice pack. Some of my favorite on-the-go foods include grilled chicken strips, hard boiled eggs, avocado, almonds, carrots, snap peas, mini peppers, and apples. You could also toss in a Ziplock bag of leftovers and a fork. Option 2: Plan ahead for social situations when you aren't in charge of the meal. Don't assume there will be something you can make work. Offer to bring a dish to share. Bring your own main course. Plan your meal to mimic what's being served (less obvious = fewer questions).

TIP 6: Invest in rubber gloves. The down side of making nutritious meals from scratch for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is that you'll produce a lot of extra dishes. Even if you're careful, you'll probably fill your sink twice as fast. Do yourself a favor: invest in some durable rubber gloves. I like the fashion-forward designs from The adorable printed cuffs are also practical, keeping your arms safe from suds during those awful moments when you have to check the garbage disposal. Tips for avoiding dishes: (1) Use your crockpot. (2) Eat raw veggies straight off the cutting board. (3) Bake individual meals in a pie dish, and eat from the dish. (4) Meal prep twice a week (see TIP 3). (5) Store leftovers in a Ziplock bag, and eat from the bag. (Yep, sometimes I do that.) (6) Teach your children to wash pots and pans so you don't have to.

TIP 7: Let go! Be adventurous. Whole30 has strict rules, and that scares off a lot of people. But these limits are actually a portal to creativity. Don't get hung up on what you CAN'T eat. Focus on the first rule: eat real food. Imagine the possibilities! Be brave. Try new foods and flavor combinations. Experiment with foods you've always hated—you may discover your aversions are all in your head. If a food combination makes you curious, try it! Relax and enjoy this experience. Don't overthink it. Accept that you will have to devote more time to food. Don't fight it or resent it. Have fun! Soon it will become second nature.

No comments:

Post a Comment