I was so awful at first at finding Whole30 approved recipes that satisfied!
Those first few days of the Whole30 for my husband and low phytic acid anti-cavity diet for me felt like torture.
We were hungry, felt deprived, and every meal was a feat of self-discipline and mad knife skills. (Good thing my kids could help at the cutting board, which eased it a little!!)
We cut a lot of vegetables.
And then everything changed.
It got better.
We got better – at planning more interesting Whole30 meals, at focusing on what we could eat instead of what we couldn’t.
And we totally got used to it.
I shared our first bumbling attempts at a Whole 30 meal plan and finding new recipes back at the beginning, and I’m sure you could see the progression to better meals there already (that first day was rough because I was so unprepared!). In the end of the story you’ll see a progression again, from expanding our variety of great meals of meats, vegetables, fruit and eggs to hitting our stride (and then to getting just a little boring and complacent near the end, but still sticking with the diet without a problem).
Why People Look at us Sideways – the Whole30 Sounds so Restrictive!
Whenever anyone asked what we gave up for Lent a few years ago, after we listed “grains, legumes, sugar, sweeteners, dairy and alcohol” their head would invariably fall to the side and their jaw dropped: “What the heck DO you eat?”
“Meat and vegetables…fruit and nuts…and lots of eggs,” was my husband’s answer. (To heal my cavities I drank extra raw milk and lots of grassfed butter and omitted the nuts.)
But the best part about shaving off some food groups?
As we were going through the Whole30 and Anti-Cavity Plan, one thing we kept saying is, “Well, if nothing else, we’re eating a lot more vegetables!” I bought, chopped, roasted, steamed, sauteed, dipped, and ATE more vegetables than ever, ever, ever before.
It. was. great.
It definitely takes more planning ahead, more thoughtfulness and more time, and as we finished I remember just praying that I could keep it up. In the few years since then, it hasn’t been perfect, and it really depends where I shop that week (Aldi, Costco or Meijer) as to what variety of veggies is in the house, but it’s definitely so much better overall!
Here’s an example of the divide between “normal healthy eating Katie” and “the Whole30 family:”
Before: Dinner is almost finished and I realize that I should get the side veggie ready. I choose a frozen veg from the freezer, peas, broccoli or green beans, and either steam or sautee them. Everyone gets a little pile on their plates, and there’s usually none (or a paltry amount) leftover because I only make just enough for everyone to get a token serving.
After: Side dishes are planned as part of meal planning. Roasted vegetables have to go in the oven almost an hour before dinner, so last-minute stuff just doesn’t work and would end up wasting veggies I already bought. I cut up 3-4 different kinds of fresh veggies per night, and there are often plentiful leftovers – BUT they’re so nicely seasoned and lovely to look at and eat that I’m thrilled to throw them on our griddle and eat them for lunch. So I’m even eating more veggies at lunch (and breakfast!), but without any extra work for those meals in particular.
As you walk through our meals for the last month, many of the ways we’ve cooked creative vegetables are shared on Plan to Eat:
- Aleppo Green and Red Cauliflower Saute
- Roasted Veggies with Dill (& variations)
- Baked Parsnip Cottage Fries
Our Whole 30 and Anti-Cavity Meals
I didn’t keep track of what we ate for breakfast and lunch quite as well after the first few weeks, but we almost always just had leftovers for lunch from a previous dinner. We love that cast iron griddle that always sits on our stovetop – it gets used 2-3 times a day!
- Breakfast: eggs and Monkey salad (cashews, bananas, coconut – with milk for the kids, just yogurt for me because no nuts)
- Lunch: (pictured above) leftover fish wrapped in Bibb lettuce, leftover veggies (check out that gorgeous purple cauliflower!)
- Dinner: Steak Fajita Soup, gluten-free flatbread for the kids and dinner guests
- Dinner: Veggie Laden Shepherd’s Pie (without dairy in the smashed potatoes) – in the photo we piped sour cream on top for me and the kids just for fun; you can do the same with “awesome sauce” on the Whole 30 (half homemade mayo and half hot sauce).
- Breakfast: Grain-free Breakfast porridge for hubby, oatmeal for the kids, yogurt and fruit for me
- Dinner: Shredded Beef in the crockpot (from Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook, p. 66), Simple Seasoned Cauliflower Rice in the Instant Pot, sauteed asparagus (in bacon grease, best ever!), roasted veggies (above) and this roasted red pepper sauce.
Breakfast: Leftover porridge/oatmeal, leftover asparagus and a soft-fried egg, plus red pepper and radish slices.
Dinner: A bust! This blogger said she loved baking eggs in avocados so much, and I even scooped out some avocado but the eggs still went everywhere and then were very tough on top by the time they weren’t runny on the edges. And warm avocado isn’t all that great…luckily we had baked potatoes with lots of butter (ghee for the Whole30), made some extra fried eggs and filled up on that lovely cauliflower dish with Aleppo pepper: Aleppo Green and Red Cauliflower Saute.
Breakfast: Leftover roasted veggies from two nights ago, sauteed with some sausage and egg. Sour cream or awesome sauce on top.
Eating Whole30 with Company
- Lunch, with company: Taco salad (chips for guests), refried beans and homemade Mexican rice for the guests, lots of taco-seasoned beef and veggies for me and hubs.
- Dinner, with company: Curried Cream of Broccoli Soup, GF flatbread from the freezer for the guests, leftover shredded beef to go in the soup for those who ate meat (some of the guests were not eating meat for Lent, so quite a balancing act!), sweet potato fries (the hit of the night!), and Cumin-Scented Cabbage Salad, a new recipe I really enjoyed and still make regularly.
- Breakfast: Fried eggs and sauteed green with leftover sweet potato fries tossed on the griddle, green onions to garnish
- Dinner: Herb-Marinated Venison Backstrap Tenderloin, Garlic Soup, Cajun-Spiced Cauliflower, and Baked Parsnip Cottage Fries.
Dinner: Pork shoulder in the crockpot (from Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook, p. 160), boiled red potatoes, and roasted veggies with dill, above. (Golden beet, turnips, baby onions, Brussels sprouts)
Breakfast: Tastes Like Pizza Breakfast Hash
Date Night on the Whole30
Yep, this photo is super dark, but there’s a really good reason! This was the very start of a routine that we now love – it was an experiment where on date night (which means nobody works or gets on the computer after dinner and we spend time together, at home), hubby and I feed the kids earlier, put them to bed and then have an “adult dinner” after hours. It’s soooo nice!
A crockpot meal or soup works the best because we can keep it hot, so this is slow cooker chicken salsa verde over leftover cauli-rice with bacon-fried asparagus and sauteed red pepper and mushrooms, plus plenty of salsa and avocado that may not have made it in the photo. I had wine. Ha!
The next few days were simple meals:
- fish, baked and sweet potatoes and asparagus on Friday
- Saturday: “sweet and spicy joes” from Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook without any “sweet” at all (who has enough left to freeze? Not me!), potato wedges and sauteed green beans. The “sloppy Joe” meat was served over steamed cauliflower and worked great without the work of “cauli-rice.”
- Sunday: Spaghetti squash from the freezer with sauce and sausage, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.
Dinner: Pork stir fry with cabbage and peppers (pork chops cut into slices), raw veggies, and Mexican cauliflower soup from Ladled.
- Lunch: yummy leftover chicken from the date night on a sturdy lettuce leaf plus garlic soup from Sunday
- Dinner: cheeseburger soup (without the cheese of course, so “hamburger soup” I guess – we served cheese at the table for the kids)
Dinner: Leftovers, yay! This is the sloppy Joe meat from the weekend (it lasted for a number of lunches, packed and hot-at-home, too), over fresh steamed cauliflower, with American-fried potatoes, sauteed asparagus and that cumin-scented cabbage salad. So I guess that was only sort-of leftovers.
The next day Hubby was out with friends and the kids and I had a simple, traditional slow cooker meal of beef heart and tongue with potatoes and carrots (because we bought a portion of a cow last fall and I try to use it all). Easy peasy. (Ok, about that word “traditional” – I meant the basic meat-potatoes-carrots combo, not exactly the cuts of meat…)
Breakfast: Nothing wrong with green veggies at breakfast! Asparagus must have been on sale this week.
Dinner: Salmon or tilapia with St. Peter’s Spicy Fish Seasoning, caramelized onions and avocado, sliced tomatoes, sweet potatoes, asparagus (again, but soooo yummy), a few olives for extra fat, and Garlicky Cauliflower Medallions (on Plan to Eat), thanks to Almost Bananas.
- Breakfast: Eggs and greens and veggies and stuff, but fried-shredded coconut for me…lots of mustard! “breaded” with
- Dinner: leftover cheeseburger soup
Breakfast: These little muffin cups were so yummy – prosciutto, eggs, and spinach, baked, with diced tomatoes.
Lunch: A big salad…and liver for me again. Lots of mustard, some hot sauce, and onions. That’s a grain-free cheesy biscuit, acceptable for me but a no-no on the Whole30.
Dinner: Pizza Meat Muffins (like these Greek meat muffins but the version only in The Healthy Lunch Box which you can download as a printable here, just scroll down a bit to the free preview PDF, baked sweet potatoes and asparagus
The Late Whole30 Rut – it Happens
Can you feel us sliding into a bit of a rut? Lots of white and sweet potatoes, simple veggies on the stovetop…nothing terrible, just not as inventive as we were at first. Maybe that kind of experimenting with new recipes can only be sustainable for a while…
Lunch was leftover beef heart and tongue heated with taco seasoning to make fajitas…My husband would never touch beef heart or tongue if I told him what it was – and I’ve made that mistake previously before all the leftovers were gone – but I just kept my mouth closed. He was so proud of his own fajita salad the next day that he told me to take a picture of it, but unfortunately didn’t think I actually would and stirred it up.
This photo is titled “husband’s pretty beef tongue salad gone wrong” and it of the post-stir salad. Not so pretty anymore.
Dinner was a simple meal that is wayyy too ugly for photos! My in-laws visit on Tuesday, and even though they’ve had this a million times at our house, I’m sure, my MIL asked that day, “This is good, what is it?” So it’s a winner – but it’s found only in our kids cooking class materials!
Wednesday was leftovers from something, and on Thursday hubby was out with friends again, so the kids and I had grain-free cauliflower mac and cheese. Yum!
Breakfast at least once a week was this grain-free breakfast porridge from The Healthy Breakfast Book. The porridge uses sweet potatoes, squash or pumpkin, which my husband will not eat but likes in this (phew!), coconut milk, eggs, coconut flour …it’s super easy to put together, very filling, and a nice change from eggs for breakfast.
Big breakfast hash with veggies and eggs, Clementine.
For dinner, my 6yo daughter got inspired to head up a “fruit salad making brigade” and she and I worked together to create this for dinner:
She was proud of herself and her awesome knife skills as a 6-year-old, as was I, and it was a yummy addition to our salmon with avocados, tomatoes and cilantro, parsnip fries (the kids like them and I feel desperate to have something other than white potatoes sometimes!), and sweet potato wedges for dinner:
Dinner: The kids will be glad to see Sunday pizza come back, someday (not yet!) but this soup is so delicious and warming, I can’t explain it but that’s always the word I think of when I eat it.
Chicken Turmeric Soup with Cabbage and Coconut is a winner any day of the year!
Some Favorite Whole30 Meals
Dinner: Some of our favorite meals from the Whole30 are coming back around in the rotation – these French fries taste even better than they look, and caramelized onions on a burger with a fake-o portabella mushroom “bun” on the bottom? So delish, as were the roasted veggies, with lots of leftovers for breakfast and lunch the next few days.
There’s something reassuring about looking in the fridge and seeing leftover veggies that I can easily incorporate into meals – I highly recommend it!
Dinner: More spaghetti squash from the freezer with no-sugar sauce, ground meat, a new recipe for Simple Braised Root Veggies, and more of the cumin cabbage salad. We really like the cilantro in that recipe!
My husband was not a huge fan of the veggies at this meal, although I thought they were lovely, but a few days later he reheated them and put a few eggs on top, and all that yummy runny yolk made him say something like, “Mmmm, nothing like a big huge bowl of veggies!”
And he wasn’t being sarcastic.
Yep, things changed around here. For the better!
Dinner: Fish, sauteed green pepper, mushrooms and bok choy, boiled red potatoes and cabbage salad. The mess on the right is hubby’s awesome sauce, half mayo and half Frank’s Red Hot. I think he’s going to marry Frank someday, and it’s all because of the Whole30…
We had fish on a not-Friday because I had lentils sprouting for our traditional Good Friday supper. My husband had already gotten in his 30 days, and we decided we’d introduce well-sprouted lentils as a first step back to a normal diet.
Breakfast: leftover sweet potatoes with Swiss chard, soft fried eggs and avocado – we also had little homemade sausage patties but I forgot to put one on the plate before I took a picture.
Dinner: crockpot shredded beef (lightly Mexican seasoned chuck roast) from Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook – I was going to just do a homestyle chuck roast with potatoes and veggies in the crock, but (a) this recipe was just too yummy and (b) I wanted something other than white potatoes. It’s paired with parsnip fries and roasted rutabaga, turnip and golden beet cubes, plus homemade guacamole on the meat. I don’t really miss the tortilla chips at all!
Transitioning off the Whole30 – Introducing Foods One at a Time
Our traditional Lenten Good Friday supper: Hearty Lentil Stew. Served over baked potatoes:
Happy to report that neither of us had any digestive reactions to bringing lentils back! It’s best practice to introduce food groups that you’ve cut out basically one at a time. That way you get a chance to see if you react poorly to anything and it really makes all the sacrifice of the Whole30 worth it if you learn something!
Everyone enjoyed the sloppy joes so much that we had them for Easter Saturday dinner, served with leftover parsnip fries that didn’t fit on the cookie sheet the other day, shredded hashbrowns, steamed cauliflower (under the meat mix) and avocados. This is one of my kids’ plates, and I just had to take a picture because I’m often struck by how many veggies they choose for themselves (this is the 3yo’s pile, and the 9yo has at least double that amount of raw vegs every dinner!) and the variety they’ve kept up with us during this grain-free, legume-free time.
You can see that there are lentils in the sloppy joe mix – since I was sprouting, I sprouted double what I needed. I used half in the hearty lentils and cooked the other half to add to more meals, using a few cups of those in the sloppy joes (in the same pot) and freezing the rest for later. It felt like a relief to NOT serve two pounds of meat at dinner and still feed everyone!
Tell Him What He’s Won, Rod! (Results of our Whole30)
Maybe it’s the “Diet is Right” game show?
When I first posted about our Whole30 and Anti-cavity plan, I said that “worth it” would include this:
- 3 healed cavities
- lost weight, 10-20 pounds would be nice for hubby, 8-10 for me and a flatter tummy (I’m 4 mos. postpartum)
- improved digestion (hubby has Crohn’s Disease, although it’s really not active and hasn’t been for years, but we always figure a Lenten “reset” is a good idea)
- more energy
- reduced sugar cravings
- a new love for vegetables
- one I forgot: I hoped my candida itchy spot on my neck/hairline would disappear.
Did we Make it to the Showcase Showdown?
Here were our results:
- Cavities – I have almost no tooth sensitivity, and I was nervous but very optimistic that I at least made progress if not met my goal! The Cure Tooth Decay book claims that cavities can be reversed in as little as SIX WEEKs, and I did the cod liver oil, upped raw milk consumption, upped grassfed butter, and liver supplements (use the code KS10 for 10% off!) for two months, plus no grains/no sugar/no legumes/no nuts for seven weeks. We kept up on almost all parts of the diet for transition week because we wanted to gradually re-introduce all the foods my husband gave up (more on that below). Plus I didn’t want to reverse any reversing that I might have gotten going by stopping the good habits before getting the X-rays!! Drum roll…here’s the x-ray proof of my cavities being “arrested” which is as good as healed!
- Weight loss – my husband lost 15 pounds and was so motivated by that to keep up the good habits. I’m excited for him!
- My tummy immediately felt flatter and less bloated just in the first week. Some of my pants are more comfortable. But I barely lost a single pound. That’s a bit disappointing, but I also gave myself grace because I know nursing mamas are supposed to hold onto some extra body fat. I eat like a pig, truly, and it’s not quite nice enough weather to be walking regularly. I was only about ten pounds over pre-baby weight during the diet, and I didn’t expect to lose five of those pounds until I wean based on past experience. Nine months to put it on, nine months to take it off. Grace.
- Digestion – tough to say. Grain-free diets in the past have always loosened up my stool a great deal, and I was surprised it didn’t this time. Apparently exclusively breastfeeding an infant can have that effect though, so I’ll just celebrate the fact that I rarely felt that awful “I’m too full” feeling, even after eating a great big meal. I’m pretty convinced that it’s grains that do that to people. I didn’t miss it. My husband did not see any drastic change in his digestive output either, although perhaps a slight decrease in frequency, which is generally 4x/day or more.
- Energy – impossible to measure! I think I was less likely to feel like I was falling asleep during the day, but I was also trying to get more sleep (sometimes successfully, sometimes not, for which I blame the baby and the blog). My husband did not see any increase in energy either, but he was training for a 25K and the long runs always wipe him out.
- Sugar cravings – My husband had a huge decrease in his yen for sugar, or at least more willpower against it according to his own assessment. Since this first Whole30, he drinks coffee only black, never adds sweetener to his plain yogurt, and avoids (or regrets) most cake, cookies, and candy. He used to use a lot of stevia but even cut that mostly out. It’s awesome! As for cravings, mine did not go anywhere. I still wanted chocolate after every meal by the end as much as I did on Ash Wednesday, and the kids’ Easter candy looked awfully tempting!! I tended to satiate those cravings with dried figs, or I would just buzz through the kitchen and grab a piece of cheese. Hopefully the figs weren’t too much for my teeth! I’m really happy to hear that my husband thinks his willpower has gotten a good workout and grown stronger.
- New love for vegetables – holy cow, do we ever! I did notice that as the weeks wore closer to Easter, the creativity in the vegetable arena waned a bit, the number of choices at dinner died down, and we were relying on white potatoes dressed in different costumes more and more. But we still are eating far more vegetables and more variety than we were before, so as long as I can “stay on the horse” of meal planning and focus intentionally on including vegetables, I think we’ll be okay. Once Farmer’s Market season hits, I’ll be swimming in lovely local, fresh produce, so that will make it a lot easier. It’s something that certainly ebbs and flows through the seasons of our lives.
- Candida – the itchy spot isn’t gone, but I think it’s improved a lot as far as scaliness, I’d say by about 50%. But I’d say in the next breath that it’s possible that’s just wishful thinking, too, because it’s so subjective. I ate plenty of cheese, mushrooms, dried fruit, etc. that wouldn’t be allowed on a true anti-candida diet. (The Gut Thrive diet, however, did finally get that spot to disappear completely, hallelujah!)
- Eczema was another one I didn’t mention in the first post, but that my husband definitely hoped would improve. He has some painful eczema on his hands and some annoying flakies in the corners of his eyes and inside his ears. The Whole30 often helps people improve skin issues, so he even took a “before” pic on his camera (I teased him that he was acting like a blogger), but nothing really improved. Disappointing. (Gut Thrive also didn’t help that, phooey.)
Now to continue reaping the benefits…
Coming Down off the Mountain After a Whole30
I remember watching my little brother, about 5 years old or so, run down a sand dune.
Ever so incrementally, his line of center began to shift, bit by bit, until it became clear that his little legs could not keep up with the forward motion his head was experiencing.
Everyone could see what was about to happen.
He ran “down the mountain”…and he bit it.
We don’t want to come up with mouths full of sand after all the sacrifices of a Whole30. We’re going to learn from it.
Rather than simply go back to whatever we were eating before, we are slowly reintroducing one food group at a time and watching for any negative reactions (or positive ones – something could give one of us more energy than before too).
We started with those lentils and then had a few other bean meals that week, properly soaked and long-cooked.
It’s nice to have my beans back. And we’re eating fewer white potatoes.
Because the Whole30 doesn’t allow any baking or bread-substitutes (like grain-free pancakes, for example), that was an easy one to get right back in. My husband didn’t really think the Whole30 helped his yen to comfort-eat (although he did not attempt the recommendation to avoid snacking between meals, so that’s not Whole30’s fault).
We had these grain-free coconut flour huckleberry pancakes on Easter Saturday morning…then again on Easter Sunday for lunch because they were so good! I think I hit the sweet spot with them, with no sweetener. (I put maple syrup in the pictures, but we topped them only with ghee, butter, or applesauce.)
We also much enjoyed having these grain-free pancakes, and I especially appreciated the ability to get more orange veggies into my husband, because they’re healthy carbs to eat after working out.
We introduced white rice, with no negative side effects.
For a while after a Whole30 he always stays away from dairy such as adding extra cheese to things, saying, “I’m cool with skipping buns and bread pretty much for good now.” The weight loss is motivating and he hates to lose that!!! Eventually the cheese (and even buns) always come back, although typically not as much as in his diet from his 20s.