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 January 1.
A few things to keep in mind:
1. This is a Whole30 Meal Plan… and it’s not. 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 Well Fed 2 — and as you’ve probably noticed in reading my food logs in the past — I eat the same kinds of foods at all of 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 created a complete shopping list. I went through the recipes and made a list of everything you’ll need to make the food below, and it’s in a PDF so you can print it out, cross out the things you don’t need, and add whatever else you think you might want to nosh. You’ll definitely want some stuff in your kitchen that’s not included in this blog post or shopping list. I’m talking about lovely nibbles like coconut chips or black olives, or luscious in-season citrus fruit, or a vegetable that catches your eye at the farmer’s market. Download the Week 1 Shopping List.
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. Below 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 my cookbook 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 the people 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. (Want more ideas for keeping it simple? This post has tons of meal ideas that don’t require a recipe.)
This Food Plan is based on two components: (1) Hot Plates, which are essentially meat+veg sautés you can make on-the-fly, and (2) Bulk Recipes that make scrumptious dishes in larger quantities so you have leftovers throughout the week. The combination of both means you can fight boredom and have your own personal menu of choices to choose from every day. Your fridge is about to become your favorite restaurant.
The info below lists the recipes I recommend you make for a week’s worth of meals, plus a step-by-step plan for getting it all done in about two hours. 3-2-1… GO!
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 until 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! Here’s my recommendation for your week:
Ground Beef: 2-3 pounds, browned in a skillet with lots of salt, ground black pepper, and garlic powder.
Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs : 2-3 pounds, roasted 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: Cook a bunch of veggies and store in the fridge. All of these (except the spaghetti squash and sweet potatoes), get a basic Steam-Sauté treatment:
Spaghetti Squash (how-to video for cutting spaghetti squash)
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.
Italian Pork Roast: This recipe yields tender, flavorful pork that’s great on its own and works well in Hot Plates or salads, too.
Silky Gingered Zucchini Soup: Soups are one of my favorite ways to get extra vegetables without even really thinking about it. This is a favorite 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.
I made a shopping list that includes all the ingredients for these recipes. Be sure to give it a once over to add additional stuff — like veggies and fruit to supplement these recipes — and to remove stuff you already have in your pantry. Download the Week 1 Shopping List.
Cookup: The Plan
If you want to cook all of the stuff listed above and want to spend the minimum amount of time in the kitchen, there’s a plan below for how you can do it. This should serve 2-4 people for the better part of a week, give or take a meal or two. The recommendations included here are the way I cook for my husband (6′ 5″) and myself (5′ 4″) to keep us going through work days, strength training, walks, and yoga.
NOTE: This is pro-level cooking organization. It requires you to fire up the stove, the oven, and 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 chopping and stirring. You can do it!
On The Menu
Here’s the comprehensive list of what you’re making in this Cookup:
Roasted Chicken Thighs
Olive Oil Mayo
Roasted Spaghetti Squash
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Italian Pork Roast
Browned Ground Beef
Moroccan Dipping Sauce
Silky Gingered Zucchini Soup
1. Sharpen your knife. Get out your cutting board, some baking sheets, and a non-stick skillet. Drag your slow cooker out of the cabinet. Dust off your blender. Fill your water bottle. Turn on your tunes.
2. Take an egg out of the fridge to come to room temperature for the Olive Oil Mayo.
3. Preheat the oven to 400F for the chicken thighs, roasted spaghetti squash, and sweet potatoes.
4. Wash and cut the broccoli and green beans you are going to steam-sauté.
5. Collect an array of storage containers and jars for the finished food.
1. Get the Italian Pork Roast going. We’re easing into it with a simple one. This takes almost no hands-on time and will yield massive amounts of protein. Season the pork roast and plunk it in the slow cooker. [Italian Pork Roast Recipe]
2. Start the Chocolate Chili. Make the chili all the way through to the end of the recipe so it can simmer on the back of the stove while you do the rest of the kitchen work. [Chocolate Chili Recipe]
3. Get the chicken and veggies in the oven. Place the chicken thighs on a large baking sheet, sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. On another baking sheet, place the cut spaghetti squash and a few whole, unpeeled sweet potatoes. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of water around the squash. Slide both baking sheets into the oven and set a timer for 30 minutes.
5. 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 generously with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Cook, breaking up clumps with a wooden spoon, until it’s no longer pink. Remove the meat to a storage container, but keep the pan where it is. Time to steam-sauté those veggies.
Did your 30-minute timer go off yet? Check the chicken and veggies in the oven. The chicken should be golden brown and sizzling. The squash should be tender to the touch. If yes, remove the chicken and squash from the oven, but slide the potatoes back in for another 20 minutes. If no, set the timer for 5-10 minutes and keep the chicken and squash in the oven.
6. Steam-sauté your veggies. Put 1/2 cup water in the hot pan, bring it to a boil, and add the broccoli. Let it steam-sauté for 5-7 minutes, then remove. (While it’s cooking, you can take a quick meditation break. Close your eyes, and do 10 rounds of slow breathing: in for 4 beats, out for 4 beats, completely filling and emptying your lungs. Comfort and joy, right here.) When the broccoli is tender, remove it to a storage container, add another 1/2 cup water to the pan, and cook the green beans. Repeat as necessary. While the veggies are cooking, make the Moroccan Dipping Sauce. [Complete Steam-Sauté Instructions]
Time to check the chicken, squash, and sweet potatoes again. How are they doing?
7. Make the Moroccan Dipping Sauce. While the green beans are steaming, whip up a batch of this sauce that doubles as salad dressing. Moroccan Dipping Sauce Recipe
8. Make the Silky Gingered Zucchini Soup. This is last because by now you might be sick of cooking. If you are, give yourself permission to skip the soup. But if you’ve still got gas in the tank, make the soup and let it simmer while you get ready for your cooldown. [Silky Gingered Zucchini Soup]
Are your sweet potatoes out of the oven? They should be finished by now.
Pack It Up
As your simmered and roasted dishes finish up, place them in BPA-free storage containers (like these) 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 TheKitchn and TheDailyMeal.
I also recommend you make a list of all the food you just cooked and make a list to hang on your refrigerator door. It’s an excellent reminder of how completely badass you are — and it makes it easy to review your home menu of deliciousness.
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, including Hot Plates and more ideas for how to do a Weekly Cookup.
Well Fed 2: More Paleo Recipes For People Who Love To Eat: my second cookbook of Whole30-approved recipes, including 15 meatball recipes, 8 sauces to make with homemade mayo, and adaptations for the autoimmune protocol (AIP).
Great Ingredients: No Recipe Required: a roundup of delicious meals you can make pretty quickly and without following a recipe
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.)
Stupid Easy Paleo Whole30 & Guide To Clean-Eating Challenges: Steph of Stupid Easy Paleo is supporting the Whole30 on January 1. You can read her rationale here, get answers to FAQs here, and download her 14-page guide to make the Whole30 a little easier.
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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