I did a little diet update yesterday, but the lovely Eliza commented that she’d love to know more about how I even know what to cook and what to keep in my kitchen, so I thought I’d do a more in-depth review of all of the tips and tricks I’ve learned so far.
This is going to be a long and detailed post, so get yourself some (healthy) snacks, grab a cup of tea, and maybe whip out a pen and notepad to write anything down that is helpful to you. And feel free to comment with questions!
First off, we’ll start with what to read.
The first book, It Starts With Food, vastly changed the way I look at what I eat and how it affects my body. Let me tell you: I am a huge critic of diets. I come from a family that is generally obese, and along with my parents I have gone through quite a few diets, and seen the effects of diets that don’t work as my mom tries doctor prescribed diets and they fail. We’ve done the South Beach Diet, I’ve done Sparkpeople calorie counting, tried my hand at Weight Watchers points, my parents have done fat free diets, gluten free diets, diabetic-centered diets, etc; my aunt has tried Slimfast and other such diets… basically, you name it, someone in my family has probably tried it. And failed.
So when I see or read books that are centered around changing the way you eat to lose weight and feel better, I’m generally skeptical. I did a lot of research and reading up on the website and blog posts of other people who have done Whole 30’s before I bought the book.
And going into It Starts With Food, the first thing I noticed was that it’s not about losing weight. There are no empty promises that you’ll lose ten pounds in five days (so unhealthy, by the way!) if you eat such-and-such a way, or emphasis on how many inches you can lose if you cut this or that from your diet. It’s not centered on weight loss at all.
Yes, weight loss is a side effect of doing the Whole 30, but it’s not the main focus. The main focus is your body’s health. Getting your insides to work properly. Balancing out your very messed up hormones. Slaying the demons of junk food. Teaching your mind to listen to your stomach, teaching your brain to make healthy choices. I gained so much knowledge of the hows and whys of the way my body, brain, guts, and hormones work with food, and it makes so much sense.
The Whole 30 isn’t a diet: it’s a sustainable way of life. You can eat this way for the rest of your days and be healthier than you ever would be eating the foods you eliminate. And that’s something pretty much any other diet book out there can’t say.
If you want to read a quick summary of what the Whole 30 is, and what all is covered in It Starts With Food, click here. But I highly recommend getting the book however you can, because it’s a very informational and helpful read.
And then, once you’ve read It Starts With Food, you should immediately get your hands on a copy of Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love To Eat.
See, I love to eat. I always have. Food is great. And also, I hate diet food. I dislike salads with balsamic vinegar. I’m not a fan of fat-free. I like creamy, savory, sweet, salty, flavorful foods. And the beauty of Well Fed is that every recipe (so far, anyway) is bang-on delicious.
Want proof? Allow me to tell you the story of how I really, really hate carrots. Raw, cooked, smothered in brown sugar, I’m just not a fan and I never have been. But then I came upon Melissa’s recipe for Cumin-Roasted carrots, and I fell in love. So deeply in love that I ate most of the batch I cooked, and then turned around to make more.
That’s how good she is.
Once you’ve read It Starts With Food and gotten a copy of Well Fed, you should also print out these helpful sheets: the Quick Start Guide, the Shopping List, the Seasonal Produce Guide, the Pantry Stocking Guide, and the Meal Planning Template. These are all things I have tacked to my fridge, and they’re super helpful when you’re getting started and have no idea what to buy, how to start, or how much you should aim to eat. There are a few more templates at the bottom of this page, if you need them, but those five are the most helpful to me.
Next, let’s take a look at what I keep in my fridge continually, and a few recipes and cooking tips to help you get started.
The above is what my fridge and counter looks like the day I go food shopping. (Okay, that last picture is Kombucha choices at the store… but I’ve tried most of them.) Almost all three shelves and the drawer in my fridge are taken up with veggies, my fruit basket is usually overflowing, and I generally have around 10 pounds of meat in my freezer. Plus about two dozen eggs. And we eat almost all of this stuff in a week.
It can be really daunting at first to realize how much you’re going to buy for just one week, and you might be afraid that you’re getting too much, that it’ll go bad, that it’ll be super expensive, or that you will have no idea how to cook all those vegetables in an appetizing way. But don’t fear! Once you’ve eliminated dairy, grains, sugars, alcohol, and legumes out of your diet, you eat way more veggies than you ever have before AND things start to taste a whole lot better than they once did.
It will also take you a few tries to get the amount of food you’ll need based on how much you and whomever else lives with you eats in one week; the first week of shopping, my husband and I went back to the store three times because I hadn’t gotten enough food. So the next grocery trip, I bought about double what I had the first time.
You might also worry that it’s going to be expensive, but don’t despair! I generally withdrew and spent about $80 on my pre-Whole30 diet, but since I’m not buying dairy or grains or junk food any more, I only spend about $20 more. Meat is definitely the most expensive thing on the menu, and since we’re poor I can’t buy organic as much as I’d like to, but I stick to finding the leanest, cleanest cuts, and honestly… I find the cheapest one that I know will still be good. If you need some help getting started, read this article.
On to a list of what I generally always have in my kitchen and on my grocery list:
- a bag of frozen chicken tenders (This lasts me up to three weeks)
- a bag of frozen fish, usually tilapia (This also lasts about three weeks)
- at least one nice chunk of salmon
- at least one good cut of steak
- 4-5 pounds of various ground meats (beef, turkey, pork) (Great for breakfasts, especially!)
- At least an 18 pack of eggs, but I make quite a bit of scrambled or boiled or deviled eggs as well as homemade mayonnaise, so we usually need more.
Veggies: Note– the veggies listed are staples that I like and know I can always use. Find your favorites, and keep them always. It’ll make your life a whole lot easier.
- Sweet potatoes (these are a life-saver if you’ve got someone in your house who loved rice/bread/white potatoes!)
- Broccoli (this has lots of fiber and is super for lunches when you’re in a pinch and need something filling.)
- Cauliflower (also filling!)
- Asparagus (good grilled for dinner, or fried with eggs for breakfast!)
- Green beans (fresh)
- Jicama (this is a new one, but it can be used in so many ways, and it’s very filling)
- Carrots (to make carrot sticks for my carrot-loving husband, and cumin-roasted carrots for me)
- Cabbage (red and green; this is surprisingly good fried for breakfast)
- Little bell peppers (Not my favorite, but they’re very high in vitamin C.)
- Spinach, fresh bunches (not bags, they go bad too fast), and frozen.
- Whatever other fruit looks fun (Mangoes, cactus pears, star fruit, blueberries, blackberries, grapefruit. Whatever.)
- Homemade Mayonnaise (From which can be made all sorts of dressings, or can be eaten by itself as a dip. It’s seriously the best mayo ever)
- Garlic, fresh (A lifesaver for when you just want a quick but flavorful meal)
- Chives, fresh (again, great flavor to a quick meal. I love them in eggs.)
- Ginger, fresh (so good.)
- Dried spices: basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, chili powder, paprika, mustard, chives, garlic salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, Chinese Five Spice Powder, cumin, cocoa powder (unsweetened), and pretty much any other spice you can think of. I’m an addict to spices.
- Canned olives
- Canned pineapple
- Canned coconut milk
- Extra Light Tasting Olive Oil (to make the mayo, recipe below)
- Coconut oil
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Clarified butter (recipe below)
- Dijon and regular mustard
- Tomato sauce, tomato paste, diced canned tomatoes
- Nut butters: cashew, almond, macadamia, hazelnut
- Coconut flakes
- Lemon juice
- Lime juice
- 3-4 flavors of Kombucha
- Bengal Spice Tea, Mandarin Orange Tea, various others that just look good (be sure to read the ingredients, as some teas add honey)
- Water (put lemon, strawberries, cucumber, or mint in for some fun!)
So on top of all of that, there’s always something in rotation that I saw at the grocery store and grabbed just because it looked fun. Most recently we got some cactus pears, and I stupidly didn’t scrub the skins and/or wear gloves when I was peeling them. I’ve still got little clear hairy invisible slivers in my fingers.
Now that we’ve got that list of what’s in my kitchen, let’s take a look at what I cook.
My staple meals are almost always a meat+two veggies+ fruit if we feel like it. Below are a few easy combinations I cook up when I don’t feel like getting fancy:
- Frozen Meat+Oil or Clarified Butter+Minced Garlic+Salt: cook at 350-375 for around 20-30 minutes, and presto! Delicious. This works with any meat you want to cook- pork, chicken, beef, fish, whatever. It’s easy, it tastes great, and it’s good for you.
- Sweet potatoes+minced garlic+oil+salt(and sometimes rosemeary or chili powder): chop the sweet potatoes into cubes, fries, or coins, and shake in a bag with your oil, spices, and salt. Dump onto a cooking sheet, and bake at 350/400 until they soften up (about 20-30 minutes), then pop under the broiler for about 4 minutes till they’re crisp on the top. Eat with panache.
- Asparagus+oil+garlic+salt (seeing a pattern here? oil, garlic, and salt are lifesavers!) Snap the bottoms off of your veggie, pop in a bag with your oil and spices, shake, and dump onto a cookie sheet. Bake at 350-400 until the tops start to blacken (20ish minutes, sometimes less). They’re really good on their own, or dipped in homemade mayo.
Note: The above three combos are one of my favorite meals to make. While the meat cooks on the top rack, you can slide a tray of sweet potatoes and a tray of asparagus into the middle tray, and cook it all at the same time. Start your sweet potatoes first as they take slightly longer, unless you’re eating steak. Then, do that first. Once all the meat and asparagus is done, pop the potatoes onto the top rack and broil.
- Eggs+asparagus+tomatoes+chives+salt+coconut oil: chop your asparagus into little 1/2 inch bits (or so), and fry in the oil until they start to get soft. Meanwhile, crack your eggs into a bowl with chopped tomato, minced chives, and salt. Once your asparagus is ready, dump the egg mixture in and cook until done. (my favorite breakfast or lunch option. Quick, filling, and delicious!)
Variation: replace your asparagus with spinach, and chives with basil. Chop the spinach into small pieces, then dump all of the ingredients into the pan at once and cook.
- Ground meat+chili powder+paprika+garlic/onions/chives, or all three+salt: mix it all together, and crumble the meat as it cooks until it’s good and done. Fill a plate with spinach, olives, salsa, tomatoes, avocado (or guacomole (salsa and avocado, smashed), and maybe even some pineapple if you feel adventurous. Add the meat, and voila! Taco salad.
- Ground meat+dill seeds+dried dill leaves+basil+salt: mix it all up, and fry your meat in patties until done. Top with homemade mayo, tomatoes, spinach/lettuce, olives, onions (if you so desire), and Dijon mustard, and eat with a side of yummy sweet potato fries and some fresh cubed cucumber. If you’re missing a bun, try portabella mushrooms (I’ve seen this done, but never tried it.)
- Chicken or fish+diced tomatoes+salt+garlic+basil+oil or clarified butter: throw your chicken in a pan and top it with oil/clarified butter, then dump the tomato and garlic on top. Salt, add the basil, and cook at 350 until the chicken is done.
- Thawed fish+lemon+clarified butter+salt&pepper+garlic (optional): grab yourself a few squares of aluminum foil or parchment paper. Place your fish in the foil/parchment, and brush with melted clarified butter. Top with lemon slices, salt, and garlic, and cook at 350 until the fish is nice and flaky.
- Cabbage+coconut oil+salt+garlic: fry in a pan until soft and tasty. Try not to eat the whole batch.
- Jicama+limes+salt: peel the Jicama, and chop into fry-like pieces or cubes. Squeeze lime all over it, and salt to taste. Eat.
- Chicken+butter/oil+lime+lemon+mango+salt+garlic(optional): Top your chicken with the oil/butter and sliced lemon and lime, salt, and cook at 350 for 20 minutes or until done. Add the freshly cubed mango, and enjoy!
As you can see, I use garlic a LOT. And it’s a bonus that it’s good for you. (If you’re wondering whether we’re a *ahem* smelly household because of it, don’t worry. Your body adjusts and you don’t emit any less-than-pleasant airs.) The rest of the time, I heavily experiment with spices and ingredients. I tend to stand over my meat and just grab a random spice jar, shake it on, and hope it tastes good.
On to recipes I’ve used so far! I tend to be a wing-it cook, so I haven’t used too many, and I tend to only visit the blog of the Well Fed author more than anywhere else for recipes because I love them. But below are the best things I’ve found so far.
- Homemade Mayo: this is essential in your kitchen! It can be the base for many great dips and dressings, or it can be used on its own to top pretty much anything. I love it, and I make a double batch weekly.
- Various sauces: use this list to make up whatever sauce you feel like eating at that particular moment. They’re all delicious.
- Cumin-Roasted Carrot Coins: I hate carrots. But these are heaven. Cook them, I dare you. (Disclaimer: my husband is skeptical. But he almost always prefers raw veggies, and rarely likes the cooked ones.)
- DIY Ghee (clarified butter): this is another essential. And it smells so good when you’re done that you’ll want to eat it with a spoon. (Note: first, it will most likely take longer than she specified to clarify your butter. It took mine about 25 minutes. Second, to clear up confusion: butter, as a whole, is totally off the list. But clarified butter removes any milk solids and leaves pure golden nutty good fat, which has no dairy in it and is wonderfully delicious.)
- Not a recipe, but this Quench Your Thirst article is a great help if you need ideas on what to drink.
- Also not a recipe, but this list of lunches a Paleo Mom cooked for her kid’s school lunches was totally helpful in figuring out what to do for lunch.
Whew! I know this is a ton of info, but I have one last little section that I think is super important: structuring your food into your life: work, mornings, and social situations.
First off, eat breakfast Eat a good portion of protein and veggies, and if you’re still wanting have some fruit. My favorite daily breakfast looks like this: eggs+tomatoes+basil/asparagus+chives/garlic, a teeny fruit salad of strawberries+kiwi+oranges+bananas sprinkled with coconut flakes (I aim for under a cup of fruit). Eating a good breakfast will set the tone for the rest of your day. I speak from experience. If you don’t eat enough breakfast, you’ll be hungry at 10am, and tired. Then you’ll snack but it won’t be fulfilling, even with healthy foods. Then at lunch, you’re starving and there’s not enough food, and you want more snacks at 2:30, and you’re tired again. And by dinner, you’re just cranky.
So eat breakfast.
Second, make sure to pack a filling lunch. I tend to grab two pieces of chicken or a slightly-bigger-than-palm-size of meat (which I almost always cook extra with the rest of my dinner from the night before. Makes life easier!), along with sweet potato fries (a small amount), cauliflower or broccoli, and homemade mayo dip of some sort, and a little bit of fruit. This keeps me happy until dinner.
Third, don’t eat anything past like 8pm, because it’ll turn into munchies and it’ll keep you awake. So avoid that.
Fourth, for optimum satisfaction, make sure your meals include the proper amount of protein veggies, and fats. Those three things are super important and will keep you full and slay the urges to eat bad foods.
Fifth: social situations are freaking hard, yo, but you can do it! If you know you’re going to a party that won’t provide healthy food, eat beforehand. We made the mistake of attending a graduation party hungry, and they served lasagna, salad with dairy-based and sugar-full dressing (and cheese), and cake. The only thing we could eat was the “rabbit food” off the veggie tray, and it was miserable.
If you’re going to dinner with someone, make sure they’re aware of your diet restrictions in the nicest way possible (at least for the Whole 30, after which if it’s just not worth it to explain and you’re willing to take the consequences, deal with it) and ask if you can possibly help out by bringing some sides that you can eat. For the family gathering at Easter, we knew the only thing we’d be able to eat would be the salad (which didn’t have added dressing) and the meat, so we brought deviled eggs and our own salad dressing, and it worked out perfectly!
Sixth… have fun! You wouldn’t believe how much easier it is to cook, eat, pack lunches, consume breakfast (I’ve never been a breakfast person, ever, but now I crave it), and just live. You don’t have to count calories, you don’t have to feel guilty, and food will start tasting amazing. Get creative with your spices. Use them relentlessly. Find your favorites. Don’t force yourself to eat salad with balsamic vinegar if it makes you want to barf. Revel in your food choices, and feel the good you’re doing for yourself.
Finally, and very importantly: don’t hang on to the foods you can no longer have. Seriously, it’s only thirty days, and after that you can test those foods you miss and see if you still want them. You’ll live. Don’t do your 30 days with the ball and chain of longed-for junk food hanging around your ankles. It will make your life miserable and you won’t discover the joy of eating food that makes you the best you can be. Yes, you’ll miss certain foods like crazy (I miss half and half. SO bad. But I don’t think about it too much.)
With that note, here are a few of the benefits so far of eliminating the five “bad” food groups and eating only foods that make me healthier:
- More energy. This was the very first thing I noticed. Pre Whole30, I had zero energy throughout the day. I woke up tired, I got sleepy around 10:30, I’d often wish I could doze off while driving home, and when I got home I just wanted to collapse and take a nap. Now, I’m awake and energized from 7am (still haven’t gotten the hang of being wakeful by 6am, but I’m working on it!) until 10:30pm, and sometimes I annoy my husband with how hyper I can be when he’s ready to sleep.
- Freedom from the scale. I took my measurements and weight the day we started, but I haven’t measured or weighed myself since. I am pretty sure I have lost weight, as I’m using a smaller notch on my favorite belt, but I can’t tell. Yes, I am itching to know if I’ve lost weight, but I don’t feel the fear of having to weigh in weekly any longer! I don’t have to. I know my body and I know I feel good. That’s what matters.
- Freedom to eat. Oh, I love food. I love that I don’t have to fear what I’m eating. I’m not afraid that my food is going to go straight to my hips, make me sleepy, give me a headache, or rot out my teeth. I love eating and not worrying about any of it. It’s beautiful.
- Cleaner teeth. So this one is weird, but I hate the feeling of sugary teeth. I loved sugar, but that gritty feeling was the worst! And it’s gone. Clean food, clean teeth, happy me.
- Confidence. That I can eat this way forever, that I am promoting a healthy lifestyle, that I am becoming a healthier person. It’s all good.
So, any questions? Feel free to comment or email me. Seriously. Ask me anything and I will answer! Because I totally want to convince you to do this with me. It’s worth it.
Have a beautiful Friday!