Last week I talked about my love of freezer cooking with Once a Month Meals. It is so convenient to have a freezer full of meals that just need to be tossed in the oven or the Instant Pot and are ready to be served. All of the meals I made on my most recent freezer cooking day are Whole30 compliant.
What is Whole30?
If you don’t know what Whole30 means, let me fill you in a bit. With Whole30 you eat no grains, no dairy, no sugar (real or fake), no legumes, no alcohol, and no seed oils. Essentially you fill your plate with meat, seafood and eggs; plenty of healthy fats; lots of vegetables; and a small dose of fruits. You even have to make most of your own condiments!
I recently read the book It Starts with Food, which is the science and explanation behind the Whole30 program. I highly recommend that everyone read this book so that you can understand how your body works, how your food affects your body, and how to make the best choices regarding your food. However, I don’t necessarily believe that everyone needs to do a Whole30.
The Whole30 program is supposed to give your body a 30 day “reset” to help you overcome any bad habits and emotional ties with your food and give your body a chance to recover and heal from the damage that foods have caused. After the 30 days, you slowly reintroduce the “forbidden foods” back into your body to discover what, if any insensitivities you might have to certain foods. This knowledge would then allow you to make informed decisions about your food moving forward. For example, if you know for certain that every time you eat sugar your face breaks out, you can decide for yourself whether that cupcake is truly worth it or not. No shame or guilt, just informed decision making.
I do believe this process can be extremely beneficial for many people. I know that many people struggle with emotional eating and overindulging, especially on foods that provide supranormal amounts of sugar, carbs, and flavors that are not found in nature and that cannot be handled well by our bodies. There are also many who are dealing with major health challenges like skin issues, digestive ailments, seasonal allergies, or chronic pain. The Whole30 reset was specifically created just for these types of circumstances.
Should Everyone Do a Whole30?
I am not, at this time, interested in doing a Whole30 reset for myself. I don’t personally have major habits and emotional challenges with food, I actually don’t like to eat many sweets, and I’m not currently struggling with any major health issues that I feel would benefit from the reset and testing phase of the Whole30.
However, I do intend to implement more of a Whole30 style of eating into our family lifestyle. I definitely believe that overall it is a very healthy way to eat. The point of the Whole30 is to give your body a reset and then a chance to discover what, if any, foods your body might be sensitive to. After that, you move forward with the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t for your body, and your new healthy eating habits. There aren’t major rules and restrictions after the initial 30 day reset, just guidelines and knowledge to help you make informed decisions about how best to fuel your body with the food you eat. This is the way I believe people should always eat.
There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding what is actually nutritious and not. There are a lot of fad diets and programs that put unrealistic (and often unhealthy) restrictions on your eating. And there is a multi-billion dollar supplement industry that is making a killing off of quick fixes and promises that either don’t work, don’t provide long-term results, are unnecessary, or lead to even worse habits, hangups, and overall health. I don’t believe any of this is necessary or required for good health or for reaching a desired body composition.
What Does Healthy Eating Look Like?
What is required? Fueling your body on a regular basis with the most nutritious, real foods possible. Not overconsuming foods that cause a supranormal hormonal and digestive response in your body (all the “foods” that have been created in labs to taste really delicious and be so addictive that you can’t stop until you’ve eaten the entire package). Staying away from foods that cause problems and sensitivities for you personally. And moving your body once in a while. It’s all important, but it really does start with food. You can’t out-exercise a poor diet.
So while I can see the benefit of a 30 day reset like the Whole30 recommends, I don’t believe it’s a required step for everyone to live a healthy life. It is extremely restrictive and difficult, which is not a terrible thing, there are harder things in life. However, I’m not a fan of taking extreme dietary measures just because it’s the popular thing to do. If you can find a healthy food freedom without following a strict Whole30, then that is the entire point.
One of my favorite concepts in the Whole30 is their suggestion of how to fill your plate at mealtimes. It is so simple and easy to follow. You put a palm-size serving of meat on your plate, then fill the rest of your plate with vegetables. Also, make sure that all of the food is prepared or served with a good amount of healthy fats. That’s it.
Aiming to eat most of your meals like this is an incredibly healthy way to live and an easy format to follow. What I don’t like about the Whole30 method is all of the rules and restrictions. They can be really helpful for those who need to find out their food sensitivities and heal their bodies, but if you’re just trying to eat healthier or lose weight, rules and restrictions tend to cause more harm than good.
Find a Balanced Way to be Healthy, Not a Diet
If you give me a list of things I can’t have and I’m constantly stressing out to make sure I don’t even have a drop of a “forbidden” food lest I have to start my 30 days all over again, that makes me feel deprived, anxious, and scared about messing it all up. This is far too close to a diet mentality, even if they call it a “30 day reset”.
My favored approach to health and wellness is to focus on the good. I make sure that I fill my plate with lots of vegetables, healthy fats, and good quality meat on a regular basis. If I’m craving something sweet, I’ll grab a bowl of strawberries. However, if I’m at a birthday party at my friend’s house and she serves cupcakes, I don’t have to stress and worry. My health is not determined by a single cupcake, but by the choices I make on a regular basis.
This is called living a sustainable, balanced healthy lifestyle. Develop good habits that allow you to regularly consume the nutritious fuel your body needs. However, if you are in a situation where you want to celebrate, indulge, and enjoy something that isn’t as nutritious you can decide to make an informed decision, completely guilt and stress-free.
Recipe Ideas for Healthy Family Dinners
I do intend to share more about how this balanced healthy lifestyle works on a daily basis in future posts. Today though, I want to share with you the “Whole30 compliant” meals that I created on my latest freezer cooking day. We have tried several of these recipes already and they have been quite good.
If you are used to eating a Standard American Diet or following outdated nutrition recommendations (like the food pyramid) it can be a little intimidating and overwhelming to imagine how to create meals that don’t involve multiple servings of grains and minimal amounts of fats. These recipes have been very helpful for me to spark my creativity in creating healthier meal plans for my family. I hope they can provide you with some fresh new ideas and possibly take away some of the overwhelm if you are trying to move toward a healthier lifestyle yourself.
Buffalo Chicken Spaghetti Squash Casserole – just like it sounds, shredded chicken combined with spaghetti squash and flavored with buffalo wing sauce and ranch dressing. Similar to a chicken spaghetti casserole, but with a buffalo sauce flavor.
Instant Pot Cherry Balsamic Beef Short Ribs – for some reason we were expecting a BBQ ribs style meal here, even though cherry and balsamic do not sound very BBQ-y. So if you try this one, take the traditional ribs idea out of your mind. This ended up being very similar to steak and the flavor really was delicious. I served this with some roasted white and sweet potatoes and used the sauce to drizzle over the potatoes too. Yum!
Instant Pot Chicken, Sweet Potato, and Butternut Squash – you definitely don’t need an Instant Pot to make something like this (it just makes it faster). But this was a full meal of yummy chicken with lots of tasty winter veggies.
Instant Pot Cilantro Lime Chicken – this just makes the chicken, so you’ll want to add some veggies to make this a full meal. I sliced up some onions and bell peppers and made some cilantro lime broccoli rice to make this similar to a burrito bowl.
Instant Pot Granny’s Italian Beef – this one also just makes the meat for your meal, so you’ll want to add some roasted veggies or something to go along with this one. Also, the cooking time in the Instant Pot wasn’t nearly long enough. You’ll need to cook at high pressure for about 55 minutes and do a natural release.
Instant Pot Juicy Roast Chicken – I can’t wait to cook this one next week. I plan to roast some carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower to go with this chicken. The chicken itself is marinated and cooked in a lemony-dijon mustard sauce with lots of fresh herbs. I’m going to guess it will taste amazing!
Instant Pot Stuffed Pepper Soup with Cauliflower Rice – My daughter is very excited to try this soup because she loves bell peppers. This meal is loaded with healthy vegetables (don’t worry, there’s meat in it too).
Paleo Pizza Casserole – when I made this I assumed it was just going to be a paleo spaghetti (uses spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti noodles). However, the spices that you add help to make it more pizza-y.
Roasted Chicken with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon – this was really good, but we felt it needed more bacon. Everything is better with more bacon!
Today’s Action Step
Decide to start implementing healthier meals into your life. Browse through some recipe ideas to find things that your family might enjoy. Create a meal plan that includes more vegetables and fewer grains (this post can give you a little more insight on why it’s better to fill up on vegetables than grains).
Have you tried doing a Whole30 before? Share your experience in the comments.