I really don’t understand meal plans. I mean, conceptually, I get it. When you’re starting a new eating plan, an expert tells you exactly what to eat and when to make it a little easier. But practically speaking, it makes no sense to me.
WHAT IF I DON’T WANT TO EAT SALMON ON MONDAY?!
However, I understand the desire to have a more concrete plan than “eat clean food,” especially for someone new to paleo or tackling a Whole30 for the first time. So this post is a description of what I’d do if I was going to do the official Whole30 that’s starting on August 1.
A few things to keep in mind:
1. This is definitely not a meal plan. It’s more of a food and cooking plan. I’m not going to tell you what to eat when, but I have made recommendations for foods you’ll want to make sure you have in your kitchen and recipes I think make the Whole30 easy and delicious.
2. I haven’t specified things like breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks. As I explained in Well Fed and as you’ve probably noticed in reading my food logs in the past, I eat the same foods at all my meals. If I want breakfast food at dinner time, I break out the eggs. And my breakfast is usually chicken, sautéed with sweet potatoes and collard greens, with a side of zucchini soup. I’m not suggesting that the Whole30 means you have to eat zucchini soup for breakfast. I’m just saying you’ll probably have more fun if you stop thinking of foods as appropriate for a particular meal. Eat what you want when you want it. (As long as it’s from the Whole30-approved list, of course.)
3. I haven’t provided a complete shopping list. There are two reasons for this, and I hope the first one doesn’t make me seem like an asshole. (Fingers crossed.) I think grocery shopping is a very important part of the commitment to eating real food. The first step in feeding yourself well is hunting and gathering, and that means making your shopping list, then committing to it. Why would you leave it to me or anyone else to tell you what to buy?! (Am I an asshole?) Second, you’ll definitely want some stuff in your kitchen that’s not included in this blog post. I’m talking about lovely nibbles like coconut chips or black olives, or luscious in-season strawberries, or a vegetable that catches your eye at the farmer’s market (Hello, fennel!).
4. You’ll probably need more food than you think. The Whole30 may limit how often you eat in restaurants, not because you can’t, but because eating at home is usually less stressful and more delicious. Here are some rough guidelines for how much protein and veggies you need to feed yourself each day; for more on this food math, you might want to check out Well Fed or this post called “Stocking Up.”
Per person, per day, you need approximately:
3/4 pound to 1 1/2 pounds of protein
6-8 cups of vegetables
Think about who you need to feed and adjust your shopping and cooking accordingly. I guarantee you that you’d rather have more food than you need (you can always pop it in the freezer until you’re ready for it) than to run out mid-week when you’re tired and hungry. If you’re cooking for ripped-to-the-max CrossFitters, they eat more of everything than a “regular” person. If you’re cooking for just yourself, you might want to cut quantities in half, or freeze half of the larger recipes below.
This might seem complicated and overwhelming now, but after a week or two, you’ll be a pro. Relax! You really can’t do it wrong. I promise.
5. Keep it simple. You don’t need to follow a bunch of complicated recipes to eat well, and I recommend that during your first week, especially, you make it as easy on yourself as possible. That’s why I encourage you to make Hot Plates (see details below) and a few simple recipes that yield large quantities so you have lots of useful, yummy leftovers.
The basis of cooking in our house is Hot Plates. It’s basically this:
Protein + Veggies + Fat + Spices + Sauce = Meal
With that in mind, I cook a pile of protein and bushels of vegetables to store in the fridge ’til it’s time to eat. Then I quickly sauté whatever I’m in the mood for and top it with spices and sauces to jazz it up. Easy-peasy. Here’s my recommendation for your first week:
Ground Beef: 2-3 pounds, browned in a skillet with lots of salt, ground black pepper, and garlic powder.
Chicken Thighs or Breasts: 2-3 pounds, grilled or baked, with lots of salt, ground black pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.
Tuna, Sardines, Shrimp: Stock up on cans of tuna (my favorite is Genova Tonno, packed olive oil, no extra ingredients), sardines (my fave are Crown Prince, skinless and boneless), and shrimp (I defrost frozen, wild-caught in the fridge for last-minute meals).
Cooked Vegetables: I cook a bunch of veggies and store in the fridge. All of these (except the spaghetti squash), get my Steam-Sauté treatment:
Greens: kale, collards, spinach, or chard
Raw Vegetables: These are great for salad plates, snacks, and as add-ons alongside a Hot Plate:
Sauces: A drizzle of something luscious turns meat and vegetables into something you really want to eat. These three are very versatile and quick to make:
Sunshine Sauce: like Asian peanut sauce, without the annoying (anti-nutritious) peanuts
Olive Oil Mayo: so much better than store-bought, and perfect for salad dressings, tuna/chicken salad, or dolloping on top of grilled meat
Moroccan Dipping Sauce: fresh, a little spicy, and fast to make; excellent drizzled over Hot Plates and doubles as salad dressing
More Ideas for “No Recipe Required” Meals
You can find lots more detail and tons of ideas for Hot Plates in my cookbook Well Fed. The links below provide ideas, inspiration, and how-to advice:
In addition to Hot Plates, I think it nourishes the soul to have some home-cooked, comfort foods in the fridge. The great thing about all the recipes I’ve listed below is that they taste better the longer they sit, so you’re guaranteed delicious meals all week long.
Chocolate Chili: This is one of my most popular recipes, and if you double it, you can freeze half to have chili on-demand.
Silky Gingered Zucchini or Golden Cauliflower Soup: Soups are one of my favorite ways to get extra vegetables without even really thinking about it. These are favorites of mine for breakfast, but if that’s too weird for you, just eat a small bowl before lunch or dinner, or as a snack.
Cookup: The Plan
If I was cooking all of the stuff listed above and wanted to spend the minimum amount of time in the kitchen, here’s how I would do it. NOTE: This is pro-level cooking organization. It requires you to fire up the grill, the stove, the oven, and maybe the slow cooker all at the same time. Put on some favorite tunes, get yourself a big glass of water, take a deep breath, and start rattling those pots and pans. I have complete faith in you — you can do it!
1. Important prep. Preheat the grill for the grilled chicken. Take an egg out of the fridge to come to room temperature for the Olive Oil Mayo. Preheat the oven for the Roasted Spaghetti Squash and sweet potatoes. Wash and cut whatever veggies you are going to steam-sauté.
2. Get the Stovetop Pork Carnitas and/or Italian Pork Roast going. This takes almost no time and will yield massive amounts of protein. Get the carnitas to the simmering point and/or season the pork and plunk it in the slow cooker.
3. Start the Chocolate Chili. Do all the prep on the chili so it can simmer on the back of the stove while you do the rest of the kitchen work.
4. Get the veggies in the oven. Put the squash on one baking sheet and the sweet potatoes on another. Roast ’em!
5. By now the grill should be hot. Season the chicken, put it on the grill, and set a timer. You now have 5-7 minutes to make homemade mayo. Make the homemade mayo!
6. Time to flip the chicken. Flip it, set a timer for the chicken, and make Sunshine Sauce while the chicken finishes on the grill.
7. Brown the ground beef. Crumble the ground beef into a very large skillet — I like non-stick; you do what makes you feel comfortable — season it with a generous hand, and cook until no longer pink. Remove the meat to a storage container, but keep the pan where it is. Time to steam-sauté those veggies.
8. Steam-sauté your veggies. Put 1/2 cup water in the hot pan, bring it to a boil, and add the first veg you want to cook. Let it steam-sauté for 5-7 minutes, then remove. Add more water to the pan, cook your next veggie. Repeat as necessary. While the veggies are cooking, make the Moroccan Dipping Sauce.
9. Make the zucchini or cauliflower soup. This is last because by now you might be sick of cooking. But if you’re still going strong, make the soup and let it simmer while you clean up from the wreck you just made of your kitchen. Great job!
10. Wrap it up! As your simmered and roasted dishes finish up, place them in storage containers and pop them into the fridge.
Remember: Despite what your grandma might have told you, it’s better to put freshly cooked food in the fridge while it’s warm; let it cool slightly on the countertop then get it into the fridge. Your homemade food is safe to eat for about a week. For more on food storage safety, visit this link at TheKitchn and this one at TheDailyMeal.
Double Remember: You want to store your food in BPA-free containers. I like these a lot.
So there you have it: Week 1. And ya know, if you like it, you could just repeat it for Week 2.
Just in case you need additional ideas, support, and motivation, here are a few more tidbits to help make your Whole30 as tasty and stress free as possible.
Well Fed: Paleo Recipes For People Who Love To Eat: my cookbook of Whole30-approved recipes
Well Fed 2: More Paleo Recipes For People Who Love To Eat: my second cookbook of Whole30-approved recipes
30 Reasons to Whole30: In case all this talk of cooking has stressed you out, here are 30 reminders why the Whole30 is worth it.
The Whole30 Daily: a kickass daily email subscription service that sends detailed info and helpful tips to your inbox every day of your Whole30 (Full disclosure: Dave and I worked on this with Melissa and Dallas, and it’s really, really good.)
30 Days of Whole30 Meals from Nom Nom Paleo: she has excellent taste, so shamelessly stealing her meal ideas is an excellent idea
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