Whole 30 for Dummies: Meal Planning
It was day 3 of a trip home to Chicago. My brother flew my whole family in to see my nephew’s last wrestling tournament of the season. My parents and other sibling, who all live in Arizona, and I were getting ready to fly back to our respective homelands when my parents decided to forego sitting down at Chili’s for dinner and instead got sandwiches from Jimmy Johns. Upon seeing this unholy sight I immediately ran to the bathroom and burst into tears. Chili’s has fajita vegetables and chicken. Jimmy John’s has everything wrapped in gluten and sugary condiments. Chili’s is Whole 30 approved. Jimmy John’s is very much not. After 15 days of Whole 30 and 3 days of unplanned meals while traveling, my body entered into a very real and entirely irrational state called “hangry.”
I made it out alive with an emergency trip to a Greek restaurant that serves grilled chicken and a well-planned next week at home in Nashville, but I tell this story to illustrate a very important lesson. The absolute backbone of your Whole 30 experience (besides bacon) is going to be meal planning. You will not get by without carefully calculating each thing that will go into your body everyday, because you can (and will) go from zero to hangry very quickly, and Lord help us all if there is not a handful of almonds or kale chips nearby.
Here are a few of my hard-earned lessons about Whole 30 meal planning.
1. You do have time.
One of the hardest barriers for me to get past in meal planning was believing that I didn’t have time to do it. I work 50 hours or more every week and almost never get a day off, so how am I supposed to squeeze in a shower let alone spend half a day chopping and cooking vegetables? One of my biggest takeaways from doing Whole 30 was the realization that you will make time for things that are important to you, and your body really should be one of those things. I have a four-hour gap on Sunday afternoons between church and a weekly babysitting obligation, and I have started grocery shopping and prepping in that time. Find a couple hours per week that you can commit to planning for the rest of your week and then make that into a habit that you can maintain after you have crossed the finish line of Whole 30.
2. Don’t wing it.
Hopefully we are past the point of stating that you should never go to the grocery store without a grocery list, but planning out your meals for Whole 30 has to go a little further than just jotting down a couple of items that you’re thinking you may need. In order to not be wasteful with the food I buy, and to not add unneeded stress to my weekly routine, I started spending a little bit of time on Saturdays planning and writing down every meal and snack for my week, and making a grocery list based on that. This can be a fun time to flip through recipes and find new things to make (and look forward to!) while also making sure you are going to get everything you need at the grocery store. I promise, your Wednesday afternoon zombie self will thank your energized weekend self for being so organized and diligent.
3. Work with a couple of ingredients per week.
Find recipes that overlap ingredients. If you’re going to make a kale salad for lunch on Tuesday, see if you can find a breakfast recipe with kale or make some yummy kale chips. Both your wallet and your sanity will thank you if you don’t overload yourself with a ton of ingredients every week because none of your recipes are similar. In the same vein, I encourage you to try new things but don’t make every meal something completely new. New recipes take time and require a lot of ingredients you probably don’t have. Incorporate a couple new recipes per week, but mix them with recipes you know well or have made before.
4. Make a lot.
Realistically, you are not going to be able to make all the food you need for the week on a Sunday afternoon. You are going to have to prepare a lunch or dinner here and there throughout the week. The key to not burning out on having to make a complicated recipe for every meal is to make a lot of whatever you’re making. If you have a chicken recipe planned for Wednesday, instead of just preparing one serving, make three so you are covered for the rest of the week. Whenever you oven roast a pan of vegetables, put a lot of them in so you have side dishes that you can conveniently heat up later. Crockpots are super user friendly and can prepare enough food to feed an army—if you can, utilize one for maximum leftover coverage.
5. Make it fun.
I kid you not, I look forward to cooking. As crazy and inhuman as this sounds, it is not because I love taking up a lot of time and energy preparing food after I have worked all day, it is because I have turned it into a time to unwind. I put on a podcast or some music and let myself relax and create space to process the day. You can turn on the TV or listen to a new record—find something that makes you look forward to cooking! Some day in the very near future, after you have completed Whole 30 but are still cooking kick ass meals, you can pour yourself a glass of wine to enjoy whilst chopping brussel sprouts. Until them, pop open a La Croix.
[Photo by Chelsey Satterlee.]
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