My husband is 6’5” tall and naturally thin and athletic. He runs daily, teaches yoga and practices it daily, and does pushups and jumping jacks for fun and to clear his mind. My daughter is an active five-year-old with typical five-year-old picky tastebuds. I am a 5'3″ woman who has struggled with her weight for the majority of her life. My husband and I were vegetarian for several years, even through my pregnancy and nursing of our daughter which I think may be a reason why she has been slow to try or like meats and seafood. My husband is lactose intolerant, but we always have goat milk, goat cheese, and coconut-based frozen treats on hand; our daughter drinks goat milk happily but lives off kid-friendly cow dairy foodstuffs like cheese quesadillas, string cheese, and strawberry yogurt. We don’t drink soda unless it’s in a cocktail and we’re out somewhere, we’re not a dessert after dinner family, and when we do buy chips and cookies they and/or natural ingredients.
In all honesty, I thought we ate pretty healthy. For breakfast, I’d have oatmeal with coconut oil and maybe some fruit and coffee. When Emerson wakes, I’ll make her a PB&J or toast with butter and a yogurt and a glass of water with her vitamins. When I pack her lunch for camp (and next week KINDERGARTEN!) it’s usually PB&J again (luckily she likes whole grain bread), a box of 100% juice, and two sides (string cheese, Goldfish, pretzels, fruit, a couple Fig Newtons, etc.). For dinner, we try to eat together but a couple times it’s often me feeding Emerson at 6:30 (leftover chicken, maybe some steamed shrimp, plain pasta, drained and rinsed beans straight from the can, maybe pizza, various veggies just steamed/nuked and water) and then Karl and I eating at 8:45 when Emerson’s in bed. Emerson’s snacks are usually fruit; berries are the preferred snack in the summer, winter is often apples with peanut butter and Karl often makes smoothies with goat milk, ice, and various frozen or fresh fruit.
Adult dinners are usually a protein, a vegetable, and sometimes a starch. My husband is famous for making every dinner seem like Thanksgiving with too much food. He’ll cook a beer can chicken on the grill AND steam shrimp AND roast potatoes AND steam green beans AND make a salad full of nuts and chickpeas and bacon bits and goat cheese. While this made for easy lunches the next day of leftovers, I would often eat more than I wanted to taste it all, and show appreciation for his hard work.
My biggest issue was what I ate when I wasn’t home. While I would occasionally gorge on table water crackers and goat cheese or a bag of organic potato chips or leftover pasta my breakfasts and lunches were my true downfall. I’d be running late in the morning from hitting snooze 100 times, so I’d stop at 7-Eleven of McDonald’s for breakfast and a sugary iced coffee drink and gobble it all down in DC traffic. I’d have another cup of java at 10am at the office, with vanilla coffee creamer and Splenda, and sometimes a snack size candy bar from my boss’ office. Lunch was what I could grab quick from the places within a block of the office – Subway, Chipotle, sushi, a premade salad from one of the cafes, or the pay-per-pound hot and salad buffet. There’s a drug store on the main floor of my building and I’d often go down there for a pick-me-up of a jarred Frappucinno, maybe a bag of candy, or if my day was really bad, a bag of Tostidos and a jar of queso. With a Starbucks on every street corner, it was easy to treat myself to a Java Chip Frappucinno (done light, no whip, but Venti please thank you) in the afternoon or on a Saturday after Emerson’s ballet class. When I went out with friends, it was a time to stop counting calories and I’d enjoy all the fatty brunch goodness, all the wine or Jack and Gingers, all the potato chips and nachos and midnight McDonald's or Silver Diner runs.
So what did I eat when I went Whole30, and what did my family eat?
I planned two weeks ahead of time to do Whole30, and I didn’t ask my husband but told him I was doing it. If my doctor said I had to start a certain diet, I wouldn’t ask permission and I treated this as a health issue not a diet/weightloss scheme. To get him on board, I printed out recipes, PDFs from the Whole30 site, bought a cookbook, and regularly shared with him factoids I learned from reading the book. Karl is the primary cook and grocery buyer in the family, so I needed to win his support. By time I was ready to start he still thought it was ridiculous and complicated, but agreed to make dinners that COULD be Whole30 (like he’d make a separate side of pasta or eat his with a bun).
We already used mainly coconut and olive oils and we don’t fry foods very often, so that wasn’t a hard transition. The biggest change was smaller less obvious issues like Worcestershire and soy sauce, nitrates, carrageenan, canola oil, and the hidden bad ingredients in everyday condiments and snacks. No, can’t eat that can of soup, nope can’t eat that brand of smoked salmon though this one is okay, yep we need to buy organic hot dogs, nope can’t eat that potato salad or your fabulous salmon marinade. But having prep time, I could research alternatives – homemade mayo, coconut aminos, brands without nitrates.
We used the two weeks to clean the kitchen of a lot of non-plan foods and learn how to cook with new to us ingredients like coconut aminos or ghee. We didn’t try to be Whole30, but dip in a toe and realize these new foods weren’t so bad and some of the recipes could be downright delicious.
There’s no way you’ll be successful with Whole30 if you don’t prepare by having your home full of delicious compliant foods. Delicious is key. Start off with things you know you’ll like; while Whole30 is a great time to try new foods, if you don’t have meals you can rely on you’re going to get frustrated. I made it MY responsibility and no one else's to have the kitchen stocked with what I needed, even if that meant grocery shopping at 11pm after a long day at work. What I bought to prepare:
- Coconut oil
- Coconut milk – my grocery had the Polar brand full-fat for $1/can so I bought 10!
- Protein – organic ground beef, Italian sausage, chicken thighs, organic hot dogs, organic bacon (if it was on sale I bought extra and froze), smoked salmon (my local grocery has three brands and the mid-priced one had no nitrates/nitrites), frozen tilapia fillets, flash frozen mussels and shrimp
- Avocados (I started with 4)
- Eggs (two cartons)
- Jarred and canned olives – the cheapy type, the fancy type, and everything in between
- Sweet potatoes (my grocery has a microwavable bag of four sweet potatoes that makes things super easy)
- Salsa (check the ingredients)
- Marinara (check ingredients first)
- Fresh vegetables – zucchini, a spaghetti squash, onions, cucumbers, fresh spinach, green peppers, celery, carrots
- Frozen vegetables – chopped spinach, whole green beans, peas, broccoli
- Fruit – cherries, blueberries, raspberries, plums, watermelon
- Regular as well as extra virgin olive oil
- Sliced raw almonds
If your local grocery doesn’t have a lot of these ingredients, don’t despair and head to Amazon! There’s tons of grocery items on there with lots of reviews to pick the best thing. A few I ordered:
The Day Before
I cooked up ground beef and put it in the fridge. I cooked up a packet of bacon, drained the fat to keep for cooking and put the slices in the fridge. I hard boiled three eggs. I cut up celery, carrots, and peppers for easy crudité snacking. I poured one can of coconut milk in a mason jar to take to work, and two more cans in a jar to keep in our fridge at home. And I packed my lunch – no excuses! As for what I ate:
After my walk I’d be starving, so it was easy to make a big breakfast. Psychologically, pulling out the big frying pan seemed complicated so I’d take a small saucepan, coat the bottom with ghee or bacon fat (we pour it into a Pyrex container and keep it in the fridge for cooking) and cook up three eggs. My favorite egg combos:
- Over wilted spinach
- With half an avocado, bit of thinly sliced red onion and smoked salmon
- Chop up two leftover pieces of bacon and a bit of chopped onion
- Made into hash with a leftover already cooked sweet potato and some leftover protein from dinner
- With green pepper, onion, and shredded leftover chicken
- With ground beef, salsa, and sliced black olives
I’d drink a glass of water before my walk, one right after, and one with breakfast. Whole30 says to make coffee part of a meal, but it was really hard psychologically to not have my travel mug for the commute so I bent the rules and had mine about 30 minutes after breakfast, with coconut milk. A big thing I need to stress is you need to get out of your head that only CERTAIN things are for breakfast. Veggies can be downright delicious with eggs or other proteins and I got to where broccoli before noon sounded awesome.
Once I went to Chipotle and got a burrito bowl no beans or veggies (wasn’t sure what they were cooked in), no rice, but got steak, guacamole, salsa and lettuce. Once I went to District Taco and got pretty much the same. Twice I forgot my lunch and went to the pay-per-pound buffet and made a big salad of veggies, crumbled egg, grilled chicken, oil and vinegar. Otherwise I brought my lunch. A few things I ate:
- Shredded lettuce, tomatoes, ground beef, avocado, onions, jalapenos and a bit of ranch dressing
- Leftover sweet potato with ghee, ground beef, fresh spinach (heat for 90 seconds so everything gets all delish and melded)
- Smoked salmon, avocado, thinly sliced red onion and hard-boiled egg
- Ground beef with marinara, black olives, fresh tomatoes and spinach, all cooked together
- Spinach, hard-boiled egg, tomatoes, cucumbers, any other fresh veggies, sliced almonds, avocado
- Shrimp cocktail with a side salad
Dinner is Karl’s domain and he used this opportunity to get creative with both the grill and the crock pot. A few favorites:
- Crock Pot chicken (just chicken breasts and a container of salsa, makes for great leftovers over lettuce)
- Zoodles (Karl and Emerson had regular spaghetti, I’d spiralize zucchini, we’d share the same marinara)
- Grilled mussels (melt a little ghee for dipping)
- Taco Night (we’d grill chicken or make ground beef and have a station set up. Karl and Emerson would have tortillas and shredded goat cheddar, Emerson may have some black beans, and I’d just put meat in a bowl and veggies and olives and avocado on top)
- Grilled or steamed shrimp (something Emerson would eat; Karl would roll into a wrap with veggies, Em would eat plain with a side of veggies, I’d eat often on a salad)
- Steak and baked sweet potatoes and a veggie side (usually whole green beans since Emerson will eat them)
- Coconut aminos glazed salmon with grilled asparagus (if it gets crispy, Emerson will even eat one or two! Usually we’d just give her a small bit of salmon, a handful of beans, and some green vegetable)
- Grilled chicken thighs and roasted Brussels sprouts or another roasted veggie (often would just give Emerson some leftover non-roasted veggie, though we found she liked roasted broccoli and roasted baby carrots)
- Whole roasted chicken with mixed potatoes (potatoes became compliant near the end of my Whole30 and we enjoyed it with the little bags at the grocery of baby white, red, and blue potatoes – Emerson would eat red and white and liked chicken breast) and usually a side salad or some sautéed spinach
Veggies can be the hardest things for many families to incorporate. We normally eat a lot but can get into a rut. Some of the fun veggies we ate during Whole30 that were far more interesting than microwaved green beans or peas:
- Spray fresh asparagus with olive oil (I have a Misto and it’s great), sprinkle with kosher salt and put on the grill or roast until they get crispy and a bit blackened
- Fresh Brussels sprouts, cut in half (or baby carrots, or broccoli heads), combine with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until done to your liking, stirring occasionally
- Put a bit of olive oil in a pan and cook up some chopped garlic (your choice the amount), then add bunches of spinach, as they wilt down, add more, sauté and add if you wish, a touch of nutmeg or crushed red pepper.
- Do the same thing, but with cherry or grape tomatoes
- Spiralize zucchini, sauté with olive oil or ghee, garlic, finely chopped onion and crushed red pepper. If you like creamy spicy sauces, at the end add a couple tablespoons of coconut milk
- Steamed artichokes with Whole30 Hollandaise
- Zucchini cakes (there’s lots of recipes out there that use almond or coconut flour, we just did shredded zucchini, eggs, and spices and fried them up in bacon grease, though coconut oil would also be great) served with Old Bay mayo because gosh knows why, they do taste like crab cakes
- We did this recipe for broccoli fritters because we felt terrible tossing the broccoli stalks, but with coconut flour and they were good!
- Spaghetti squash; I liked it with coconut milk and crushed red pepper, it's good cold with salsa, warm with marinara, or sauted with olive oil and garlic
- Zoodled zucchini, squash, sweet potatoes (hello sweet potato baked curly fries!)
Whole30 and My Family
Getting my husband on board at first was a struggle. I'll admit the first week we didn't eat together very often. I was so hungry once I got home from work I had to start cooking right away, while he liked to eat more like 8-9pm. So I would cook early, make enough for both of us and if he didn't want it, I'd take it for lunch the next day. I never got mad at him because though this was for my health and our future, I didn't let him have a say in the situation. So instead of getting angry or frustrated, I just made my own meals and bought my own groceries. But the thing is, Whole30 isn't as complicated and crazy as people imagine it to be and after seeing me make delicious and uncomplicated meals, he got on board.
Emerson is at an age where we can say try, and if you don’t like it, that’s okay as long as you tried. Whole30 was excellent for this because she tried steak, salmon, potatoes, asparagus, and cooked carrots either for the first time or again and enjoyed them. However, we always had in the fridge already cooked pasta, drained beans, peas, and various fruit so if she wasn’t feeling adventurous there was a backup plan.
I didn’t stop buying her normal food, but I did choose to not buy that which would tempt me. Pasta is a weakness, but I like some types more than others so I’d get her plain spaghetti, farafelle, and ziti which aren’t my favorite. I can put a hurting on Triscuits, Wheat Thins, table water crackers, and Cheez-Its so I’d buy her Ritz and saltines which I don’t like. I bought her yogurt in small containers so I wouldn’t be tempted to take a scoop from the tub; the same for cheese – we only bought string cheese or goat cheddar so I didn’t grab a handful of mozzarella. Instead of ice cream pops we bought popsicles. I taught Emerson to take her plate into the kitchen after she ate and run water on it, even if there was still half a piece of pizza, a bunch of veggies, or a pile of beans. If it was covered with water I couldn’t nosh. Karl and Emerson don’t have a sweet tooth but like M&Ms, so they bought peanut butter ones (I don’t like) to prevent temptation and Karl had them be the only chocolate in the house. We also took a break from fig Newtons and stuck to pre-packaged sweet treats I don’t like, such as Bunny Fruit Snacks.
Karl helped me out by keeping potato and tortilla chips out of the house, and Karl was far more accepting of Whole30 dinners since he could eat whatever he wanted for breakfast, lunch, and snacks since I wasn’t home to witness it. We also decided that cutting down on dining out not only would make Whole30 easier, but save money for groceries.
If you don't have family support for Whole30, you are NOT alone. The Whole30 community on Facebook, the Whole9 forums, blogs, and other message boards is immense and so friendly. Don't give up before you have begun, do some online research, create a support system, it CAN be done!
Though Karl does 90% of the grocery shopping, Whole30 shopping was my responsibility. I couldn’t then be angry if he forgot to get avocados, and I knew the fridge would have things at the ready for me to eat. Sunday nights I would prep, cooking up ground beef or chicken, making sure I had coconut milk for work, cut veggies to quickly grab. I didn’t wait to eat with Karl the nights he taught because I knew late-night eating meant more chance for me to eat off Emerson’s dinner plate.
I was very careful to never say diet in front of Emerson. When she’d offer me a bite from her plate and ask why I refused, I’d say I don’t want any right now, I’m saving my appetite for dinner, something where I never said her food was bad or my body was bad or that there was anything different. When she asked to order pizza for dinner, I didn’t mention how I couldn’t eat it but suggested a place that had salads or plan-friendly entrees for me and something she enjoyed as much as pizza like chicken fingers or shrimp. In fact with Whole30 as a whole, Emerson hardly recognized the change. She never tasted the difference between ghee and butter, didn’t notice that she was the only one eating pasta or pizza. We didn’t mention it, she didn’t analyze it.
It's easy when starting a new diet or lifestyle change to immediately see the problems with it. Oh gosh, I'll be cooking for three! What will I do for the post-swim meet pizza parties? I hate coconuts/avocados/red meat! But honestly because Whole30 is simple foods and not a bunch of pre-packaged, pre-portioned foods, it's actually easier to incorporate it into your family's diet. I won't get preachy about what your family eats, but the food you eat on Whole30 is really most of the food you should already be eating. Like Karl and Emerson, it's easy for them to add bread, rolls, tortillas, pasta, and rice to their meals without sacrificing your Whole30. If they had dessert, I left the table to do something else (because we all know an apple is NOT equal to cookies or ice cream). Yes, that's added temptation but as the graphic says in my last Whole30 post, nothing tastes as good as healthy feels, and if you can hold off for just 30 days you can try those things again (and if you're like me, after 30 days you may not miss them!).