I had so many wonderful things to say about my Whole30 that I decided to split the blog post into two parts. Part one was a general Q and A about our experience. This post focuses on the method behind my meal planning madness!
Establishing routines in the kitchen is challenging, but changing established routines is even more challenging. I did not cook at all until I got married but over the last ten years I have learned to cook, embraced cooking and found my own cooking “style.” There are some recipes that I can cook on auto-pilot. If I need to do the week’s grocery run on the fly, I can usually do a basic grocery store sweep without a list because I am steeped in routine. So taking on the Whole30 challenge felt alot like meal planning repentance. I literally had to stop going in one direction, turn around and head 180 degrees in another direction. I realized this when I thought we could jump in the deep end and try doing the Whole30 last November.
I was in over my head and I knew it. So I spent the end of 2014 researching, gathering, planning and preparing for this truly radical life change.
I got the books: It Starts With Food, Against All Grain, and Meals Made Simple; I started following blogs like nomnompaleo.com, theclothesmakethegirl.com, and meatified.com and I also reviewed my own “staple” recipes to see if any were Whole30 compliant (I found one) and if any could be modified a bit to be compliant (there were a few).
As I found recipes I liked, I collected them in Evernote. If you do not have Evernote, get it. It’s a very easy way to keep track of recipes but you can use it for all kinds of things. I use it primarily for meal planning. I have a “stack” called Food and within that stack I have several other “notebooks” (e.g. new recipes to try, rotation, menus and lists, party food, etc.) Even before Whole30, I spent time each week intentionally searching for new recipes and saving the ones that are appealing into the corresponding Evernote notebook. Also I get a TON of food blog emails. And follow a TON of food blogs on Facebook. So whenever I see something appealing I quickly paste it to Evernote and its there waiting for me when I go to plan our weekly menus.
The bottom line is: using Evernote and Whole30 approved recipes, I made a plan and then I worked the plan. I pretty much planned all the dinners for the month before we even started. That way I could just choose from a list that I already “vetted” and decided would be a good dinner for us. This made weekly planning super easy. I typically grocery shop weekly on Fridays (my husband’s day off) and then spend the afternoon organizing and prepping for the week. This takes up a good chunk of the day but it makes life so much easier throughout the week.
On a daily basis, I try to do a little bit here and there throughout the day so I am not stuck with one big dinner effort during the “crazy hours” of 4-6 pm. While kids are eating breakfast and lunch, I will chop some veggies or get some chicken marinating or whatever. I do a little bit as I go throughout the day. For Whole30 I stepped it up significantly. Did alot more veggie prep on weekends and tried to make my sauces and ghee once a week when Brian was home to help with the kids. Most of the time, nap-time is food-prep-time. Depending on what’s for dinner and how the kids are doing it doesn’t always work that way. But once the afternoon rush quiets down and I no longer hear the Disney channel on my TV I turn off all the noise and I go to work, enjoying the sounds of only my knife against a cutting board. Cathartic, you see?
Another practical point is that it helps tremendously to have the right kitchen tools and accessories. Tools are fun and make things SO MUCH EASIER. Some kitchen tools I used during my Whole30, if not daily, then weekly include:
Immersion Blender (lovingly referred to as emulsion blender)
Ninja (for blending and processing)
Whisks of many sizes, my favorite is the mini
Cast Iron Skillet
Le Creuset 5 qt dutch oven
Good Knives (we use Shun)
Mason Jars (for ghee, coconut milk, mayo, ranch catsup etc.)
Keep in mind, I did not go out and buy all this for the Whole30, I collected my tools over the last 10 years of cooking. I have written about my love of kitchen tools and gadgets on my blog many times!
Also, on Whole30 you have to be flexible, which sounds funny to write since the rules are so ridged. But here is what I am talking about: flexible on Whole30 means that sometimes you eat dinner for breakfast instead of breakfast for dinner. You may throw that left over taco meat in with some eggs for a quick scramble. Or you throw a bag of frozen broccoli in the microwave for five minutes and have that for your lunch (or breakfast). You learn to love your homemade condiments (that are already prepped and ready for use) and discover that the old lady from the Franks hot sauce commercial was right ;)
I said this on one of my photo posts but I found GREAT freedom within the rules. Once the headaches and sugar cravings subsided it felt good to stay on track and I looked forward to feeling better and better each day. It was fun to learn to make things I had never made before, like mayo and ranch dressing and frittata. It was a pain to find things without the off-limits additives (SUGAR FREE BACON HELLO) but I got good at reading labels and building my own internal database of new (Whole30 approved) go-to foods. I never would’ve thought that I would enjoy things like butter and coconut milk in my coffee or almond butter on apple slices, but I also never would’ve tried those things if not for Whole30. And now I have some new “better for me” food choices at the top of my mind. It no longer requires a lot of extra effort to make healthy choices. It is becoming more natural.
So technically speaking, I survived my first Whole30 by developing a plan, working the plan, prepping during free time and when I had extra hands around to help, and putting my kitchen tools to good use.
I will say that, other than keeping my kids fed, bathed, napped and somewhat educationally stimulated, my life was dominated by Whole30. I don’t think this was a bad thing necessarily. But I did not have time for much else and that was OK with me for a short period of time. And now that I have new routines established and a pantry and fridge with Whole30 Approved staples, it feels much more natural to continue cooking this way. I fact, it was such a big shift in so many different ways that its almost easier to continue on eating clean than “going back” to old ways.
I am 6 days into “life after Whole30″ and so far I would say we have maintained a 90% Whole30 compliant diet. We started reintroducing foods, more so to see if there was a reaction rather than to reincorporate those foods on a daily basis. So far we have tried non-gluten grains, KIND bars, and a tiny bit of cheese and so far the only real reactions were to corn tortillas (for me) and the KIND bars (for both of us). I have many more thoughts on reintroducing foods, recipes I love and other Whole30 “hacks” I want to share, so it appears that I have a lot more blogging to do! Thank you for sticking with me!
Exciting update: several friends have encouraged me to start a food blog and I have decided to do just that! It has been a dream of mine for some time to narrow my blogging focus and try to do something more substantial and less self indulgent with my blogging so I am going to attempt this food blogging thing and see where it leads us. Stay tuned for more info on that!
Click here to read part one of this series.