A Cooking & Grocery Shopping Strategy for the Whole30

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Hey everyone! I’m Matt’s wife, AKA FreeFitGal, and I’m writing this post because a number of our friends & family are starting a Whole30 in January 2014, so I wanted to offer them the advice that I wish I knew going into my first Whole30. For most people, the most daunting thing about a Whole30 is all of the cooking. I’m going to lay out our cooking strategy below, and hope you can use it as a starting point for deciding how to make cooking work for you on the Whole30.

*Before we start, I want to say that Matt and I don’t always eat ‘breakfast foods’ for breakfast. In fact, I would say that 95% of mornings Matt eats leftovers from dinner for breakfast. Since that might be too ‘advanced’ (aka crazy) for most people on a 1st Whole30, I’m going to lay out this plan with actual breakfast foods for breakfast, but know that there are other options if you have a flexible mindset.

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Limited Cooking Days

A common complaint we hear from friends new to Paleo is that after somewhere around 5-14 days, they are so tired of cooking, cleaning up their kitchen, and planning meals that they’re ready to never cook again. I totally understand, and I agree that is not a sustainable system. Instead, Matt and I cook on Sunday afternoon and Wednesday night, in big enough batches to have meals for the rest of the week. Since our time is more flexible on the weekends, we don’t always have leftovers enough for every weekend meal, but we have more time to cook each meal, so it’s not a problem.  We try to do all of the prep for the different dishes we’re making at the same time, get things cooking at the same time, stir/mind each meal during relatively the same time period (depending on how long things take to cook), and then put all the leftovers away and clean. You’d have to do this every night, for every meal if you didn’t cook in batches, so a lot of time and effort is saved this way.

*This plan requires Tupperware. A huge amount of Tupperware. Like, if you know someone hosting a Tupperware party, they are about to be very happy they invited you. We invested in about 3 of these Pyrex sets over time, and they serve us well. I like portioning things out into individual servings on the day I cook rather than when I’m running around in the morning.

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Do the Math

Before I even look at recipes/think about what I want to make, I plan out the exact amounts of food and servings that I need to get me to the next time I want to cook. This way I save money, as food does not go wasted, and don’t find myself in the dangerous situation of not having food & feeling the urge to eat out or break the Whole30 rules.

Here is an example scenario: I want to cook on Sunday afternoon to get me through to Wednesday evening, when I will cook next. There are 9 meals I need to account for (Sunday dinner through Wednesday lunch), with 2 servings per meal (myself and my husband), to equal 18 servings of food. I’m planning to make 3 different recipes on Sunday, so I’m going to determine what I need for each:

Breakfast (3 meals, 6 servings)- If I make breakfast ahead of time, I almost always make a frittata or mini crustless quiche in muffin tins.  I like 3-4 eggs per breakfast, Matt likes 4-5. 4 eggs per breakfast x 6 servings = 24 eggs, so I need to buy 2 dozen. I also want about 1 cup or more of veggies per meal, so I need to buy about 6-8 cups of veggies. (If I plan to just make a quick breakfast, I’ll usually scramble eggs, put a few slices of bacon in the microwave, and have a cup of fruit, so I’d just figure out how much of each I need to do that. It takes less than 10 min for me to cook that).

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Lunch/Dinner (6 meals, 12 servings): I’ve now got 3 lunches and 3 dinners left to cover. I plan to accomplish this by making 2 different ‘meals’ to rotate throughout the week. I don’t usually distinguish between lunch & dinner food, I’ll eat similar leftovers for both (the smell of warmed up chili for lunch will make your whole office jealous, for realz). I am also a huge fan of one pot meals (stew, chili, roast with veggies, etc.) just for the ease of preparation. First, I need to determine how much I need of everything. Due to Matt’s insanely high protein consumption, I try to plan for about ½ lb of meat per serving. You might only need 1/3 lb per person, but give yourself some leeway to see what it takes for you to feel full. So: 12 servings x .5 lb meat= 6 lb meat (about 3 lb per recipe). 12 servings x  1-2 cups of veggies per serving= let’s say 18 cups veggies (9 cups per recipe).

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Pick Recipes, Figure Out What You Need

Now that I know what I generally need to buy, I need to figure out the specifics. My examples are going to be very easy ones to show you that the cooking doesn’t have to be rocket science, but we often use recipes from our favorite cook books including Well Fed, Well Fed 2, Paleo Comfort Foods or by finding recipes online using Google searches (read online recipes carefully even if they say “Paleo”, they may not be a fit for your Whole30).

Breakfast is pretty easy- I need the eggs and 6-8 cups of veggies. I’ll pick veggies that go well with eggs, like bell peppers, onions, mushrooms  & spinach. I’ll probably use just salt and pepper for seasoning but you could do a fajita or Cajun spice mix for extra fun & flavor.

Lunch & Dinner I’m going to make 2 different recipes- Chili and a Crockpot Roast. This is because my strategy for big batch cooking is 1 meal in the oven, 1 on the stove, 1 in the Crockpot. For the stovetop Chili, I need 3 lb of meat (ground beef) and 9 cups of veggies. I’m following my own simple recipe for this one, so I’ll use 3 cups diced tomatoes, 2 cups tomato sauce, 2 cups diced onions and 2 cups spinach for my 9 total cups of veggies. This is a bean-free chili, but the meat & tomatoes will make it plenty hearty. I’ll season it with my signature easy chili blend of spices: 2 parts Chili Powder, 2 parts Paprika, 1 part Cumin, salt & pepper to taste. A big batch like this will probably be 4 tbsp Chili Powder, 4 tbsp Paprika, 2 tbsp Cumin. The Crockpot roast will be even easier- I need a 3 lb roast of my choice (pork, beef, whole chicken or chicken thighs) that will sit on a bed of veggies- probably 4 cups sweet potatoes, 4 cups carrots & 1 cup onions. I’ll throw in a bay leaf, maybe 1-2 cups of chicken broth or water to keep things moist, and salt & pepper. A little garlic powder or onion powder on the roast if you like. Snacks With this much food I don’t really need snacks, but I might buy some berries, nuts, apples, jerky, etc.  just to have around in a pinch.

Shopping List

My shopping list now looks like this:

  • 2 dozen eggs
  • 3 lb ground beef
  • 3 lb roast of choice
  • 1 bag onions
  • 1-2 bell pepper
  • 2 zucchini
  • 1 pkg mushrooms
  • 1 lg can diced tomatoes
  • 1 reg can tomato sauce
  • 1 bag spinach
  • About 3 sweet potatoes, depending on size
  • Bag of baby carrots
  • Any spices I need
  • Refined coconut oil (no smell/coconut taste) for sautéing onions, cooking, greasing pans, etc
  • Snacks if desired (fruit, nuts, jerky, etc)

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Wrap Up

After you’ve got the ingredients, it’s a pretty simple matter of chopping, cooking, cleaning and putting it all away! If you have a partner to cook with it all goes even faster, but with one meal in the Crockpot, it’s not too hard to put together the other two recipes at once. If that’s too much or you are cooking on your own and have attention issues (*cough* Matthew Myers *cough*), get the Crockpot going early (it can take 4-5 hours for the roast on high or 7-8 on low). Then, get everything prepared and get your chili simmering. Stir your chili every 10 min or so while you’re prepping the frittata. Once that’s in the oven, set a timer for it and periodically stir/check until each meal is done! Eat your Sunday dinner from one of the meals you prepared, then pack all the leftovers away in the fridge!

I hope this helps take some of the initial fear out of the Whole30- with a plan, it’s a really manageable lifestyle that will hopefully give you great health results! Let us know what your other questions/concerns about a successful Whole30 are, and I’ll do another post for you soon!