Here’s How I Approach Cooking on Whole30

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

For 30 days this month we’re exploring Whole30, the 30-day reset and refocus on whole foods. Whole30 isn’t a diet or a judgmental labeling of foods as “good and bad.” It’s actually a simple reset that has helped many of our readers cook more and figure out the foods that make them feel their best. Read more about our coverage here.

The first time I did Whole30, I meal-planned like a champ. Breakfast was (and still is) easy, lunch was typically leftovers from the night before or some stuff to make a salad, but I always struggled with dinner.

There are plenty of Whole30 recipes that you can find in the official cookbooks or on the internet, but there’s something about these recipes that leaves me feeling unsatisfied. The truth is, I kind of hate the idea of searching for diet-based recipes; I suppose that I always feel like I’m going to get a watered-down version of what I actually want. I feel like I am depriving myself of something, which is the opposite of how I’m going to turn a program into a lifestyle.

Instead of following my gut, I was following the rules and that just wasn’t going to work for me. So what did I do about it?

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

How I Approach Cooking on Whole30

Now, on my third round of Whole30 in a year, I’ve come to think about things a little differently. My mantra for delicious, satisfying cooking on Whole30 has become “let my stomach guide me.” I decide what I want to eat, then figure out how to make it Whole30-compliant.

In other words, I go stomach-first, not recipe-first.

Wait, but isn’t this how we usually eat anyways? Yes! That’s exactly the point. By feeding into certain cravings, instead of ignoring them, Whole30 becomes sustainable. For me, it’s uplifting — a chance to flex my cooking muscles and get creative in the kitchen — especially when eating out is all too convenient.

After my first Whole30 round last year, when I meal-planned like a pro, I realized that this wasn’t about giving myself a strict blueprint about what I was eating and when. It became a lesson in mindful shopping (i.e., knowing what was allowed and what to avoid because I genuinely felt better without it). When I started to embrace this, I freed myself from the shackles of meal-planning and grocery list-making and started to actually enjoy it. I started to wander the aisles just like I do at the farmers market, letting what I see inspire me and letting my stomach be the guide.

Once you’re over that initial sugar-detoxing hump and can confidently walk past the bakery section without blinders on, shopping feels a little different. It actually can become an exercise in “yes I can” instead of “no I can’t.”

If I’m feeling like pasta, it’s zoodles or swoodles with compliant marinara sauce and sausage or meatballs. Wings? Baked with a dry rub until crispy then tossed in melted ghee and Frank’s Red Hot (yes, it’s compliant!). Thai? Use a sugar-free curry paste (Thai Kitchen brand red curry is good) and coconut milk plus Red Boat fish sauce and lime. Want a taste of the tropics? I even made a Jamaican Goat Curry that was compliant without changing a thing. Mediterranean is a breeze with grilled meats and herbs (use cauliflower rice instead of couscous and dress with tahini instead of yogurt). Mexican is easy — just opt for everything in a bowl (I see you, Chipotle-lovers).

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I believe that there are very few dishes that you can’t make in a way that are both delicious and compliant.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

How Grocery Shopping Makes Whole30 Easier

Now, not everyone has the time or ability to go shopping on a whim, which brings me to my second learning: Having a well-stocked fridge and pantry can save you from unsatisfying meals.

I make sure that when I start a round of Whole30, I go on a mega-shopping run and fill my cabinets and fridge shelves with things I know I can eat and things that won’t go bad immediately if I don’t get to them for a few days. That makes it easy to find a quick snack or toss together lunch in the middle of a busy day.

Wondering what I keep around? Here are a few of my favorite things.

  • Snacks: RX Bars (higher in protein than Lärabars and great pre- and post-workout), apples and almond butter, almonds, and citrus (because they last a long time!).
  • Pantry staples: Rao’s brand marinara sauce (seriously the best jarred pasta sauce I’ve ever had), Frontera Brand Salsa (also the best jarred salsa I’ve ever had), EVOO, coconut oil, and ghee.
  • Meats: Brat Hans chicken sausages, compliant bacon, frozen shrimp, whole chicken (one in the fridge, one in the freezer), pork chops, and ground turkey. You can find most of these vacuum-sealed, so even in the fridge they’ll last a few weeks.
  • Veggies: Boxed baby kale or greens (for salads, sautés, and smoothies), broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, onion, root veggies (especially sweet potato). Again, most of these will last a long time so you don’t have to use them immediately.

Whether you’re a first-timer on your last few weeks or a seasoned veteran, I encourage you to try these things out and see if they change your experience. Start thinking with your stomach first and let that guide you to a new way of cooking for Whole30.

30 Days of Whole30: We’re kicking 2017 off with 30 days of Whole30. Why Whole30? It’s not a permanent diet; it’s not a prescription for eating. It’s just 30 days of eating whole foods and exploring a more purposeful, mindful approach to food. Read more here on what Whole30 is and how to follow along.

What do you think about these tips? How do you keep things interesting in the kitchen during Whole30? Let us know in the comments!

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