What I Learned from Cooking (Almost) All My Meals from Scratch for 30 Days

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

In January we explored Whole30, the 30-day reset and refocus on whole foods. Whole30 isn’t a diet or a judgment of foods as “good and bad.” It’s actually a short-term reset that has helped many of our readers cook more and figure out the foods that make them feel their best. Here’s a final takeaway from Ariel, one of our editors, who went through the whole program — and cooked a lot more.

Before I embarked on Whole30 this past January, the only thing I could focus on were the things I wasn’t allowed to eat. No added sugar, no booze, no cheese, no bread — that will be the hard part, I thought. But after completing the program a couple weeks ago, I can say the biggest challenge (and also the biggest reward) was cooking every single meal.

What the books and the Whole30 website don’t emphasize for first-timers is just how much cooking is actually required for a successful 30 days. If you want to be super strict about the program — and I mean no added sugar or any trace of soy — then you really have to cook almost everything from scratch. I knew meal planning was important to the program, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the amount of work it would take.

My Experience Cooking Every Meal for 30 Days

I imagine that for some of you the concept of cooking every single meal is already a part of your life, but it wasn’t for me. My boyfriend and I cook frequently, but I also relied on going out for lunch at the office, and ordering in food when I got home late from work or the gym. Most days it would be after 5 p.m. until I really thought about what I wanted for dinner — but when you have to cook all your meals from scratch, this just isn’t an option.

My boyfriend and I cooked almost all our meals from scratch in the 30 days we did Whole30 and, in turn, I became a better a cook. It was definitely hard and time-consuming, and I’ve never run the dishwasher more in my life, but it was worth it. I am now a faster, more confident cook as a result — and definitely less messy. I also finally understand why everyone is obsessed with meal planning.

A couple work lunches (hello, boring salads!) and the RXBARs that fueled me in between meals were the only items I didn’t cook from scratch during those 30 days.

Here are some of my biggest takeaways from cooking every single meal for 30 days. I’m carrying these things into the rest of my kitchen life, even if I’m not cooking every meal.

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

1. Meal planning is therapy.

January was the first time in my life when I consistently meal planned for more than a week. In those 30 days I plotted out every single meal I would consume and the ingredients I needed to make it happen in Google Docs. At first I missed the “spontaneity” of not knowing what I would be eating an hour before dinner, but then it quickly became a comfort I didn’t know I was missing.

Meal planning actually helped me worry less. I realized that I actually had a lot of stress and angst over what I was going to eat every day because nothing was planned. I felt bad that I wasn’t cooking more, but also didn’t think I had time to grocery shop for just one meal and cook it in a reasonable amount of time.

Meal planning didn’t just help me plan meals — it also helped me plan my week. If I already knew I was going to eat leftovers one night, then that opened up time for me to do other things I had been pushing aside, like going to the gym (which is also a stress-reliever for me).

2. Doubling (or tripling) your recipe is key.

If you are one of those people who think leftovers are boring, then it’s time to reconsider. Leftovers are little miracles that give you time and money that you didn’t know you were missing. When I got into a groove with meal planning and cooking, I always tried to make one recipe stretch as long as I could so that I didn’t have to spend unnecessary time in the kitchen.

3. Super-simple, hearty meals will save you.

Listen, you can’t cook something new and exciting every day. Some days are going to require simple, hearty recipes that you know by heart. I made the following three recipes a few times in 30 days, and they really helped me when I didn’t feel like cooking. I always doubled the recipe so it would last for some time.

4. Everyone should have an emergency meal.

There are going to be days when there are no leftovers and you have to cook, but you really don’t want to. That’s when you need a meal you can rely on that requires minimal work and saves dinner. For me, that means an omelette.

(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

5. Cooking from scratch isn’t always cheaper.

While I was doing Whole30, I kept all my receipts in order to see if I spent more or less money than usual. The first two weeks I was shocked to find out that I was actually spending more than usual. I learned I had to double up on more simple recipes (see point #2 and #3) if I wanted to really save money by cooking.

6. You will waste less when you cook more.

While you might not necessarily save money while cooking from scratch, you will waste less. I wasted less food in 30 days because of meal planning. I always knew what was in my fridge, and I planned on using everything in 30 days. I also had less packaging to throw away because I wasn’t ordering delivery and trying to stick to the cheaper bulk sections when grocery shopping.

7. A clean, organized kitchen is an inviting kitchen.

If you want to set yourself up for cooking success, you need to do more than just meal plan and grocery shop. Keeping a clean and organized kitchen is essential for helping you cook more. Yes, this tip might seem a little bit obvious, but I didn’t really understand how necessary it was until Whole30. If I walked into my kitchen and there were dirty dishes in the sink and all my pots and pans were unorganized, I immediately felt stressed instead of excited to cook.

Do you have any lessons you’ve learned from cooking from scratch for an extended period? Please let us know in the comments.