Whole30 Essentials: 21 Things You Need KILL It!
Without a doubt, one of the most daunting aspects of the Whole30 challenge is figuring out what you're going to eat! Even though I was excited to start my first round, I was incredibly intimidated by the prospect of creating delicious, flavorful, crowd-pleasing (I have a husband and three children) meals without cheese, butter, sugar, grains, and legumes. Once I dove in, however, I realized it wasn't nearly as scary as it appeared to be, and these days, even when I'm in between cycles, I choose to conform to the Whole30 guidelines the majority of the time.
I wanted to create this post of personal staples in order to serve as a starting point for those new to the program. Every item is approachable and easy to find in most conventional grocery stores. Removing the initial guesswork allows folks to gain more confidence and realize this challenge is not as rigid as it seems. In addition to the list itself, I've provided helpful links to recipes, so people learn not only what to buy but how to use it. In the end, it's all about empowerment, right? You can do this and I want to help you succeed!
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Coconut Milk: can be canned, shelf-stable, or refrigerated, just make sure there's no sugar, carrageenan, or any other prohibited ingredients. Great for putting in coffee and adding to various dishes like my Creamy Asparagus Soup and this Thai Vegetable Curry by Cookie and Kate. If you're having trouble eating your veggies, Thai and Indian curries are a great way to eat a bunch at a time and play around with spices!
Potatoes: Eat 'em mashed, chop 'em up and add them to hearty hashes or soups, or stuff 'em with a filling of your choice, it's really up to you! You can bake a bunch at one time and eat for several days. One of my favorite ways to use russet potatoes, for example, is to fill them with eggs, bacon, and vegetables for a satisfying breakfast! Watch this quick tutorial to see how I do it.
Eggs: Whether they're hard-boiled, poached, fried, or scrambled, they're ending up in my belly. They're also one of the cheapest ways to stay Whole30-compliant. I always, always, ALWAYS have at least a dozen on hand.
Homemade Mayo: Another use for those eggs I just mentioned? The mayonnaise. I swear, once you make your own, you may never return to the pre-made stuff again! Yes, it's that good. Plus, you can use it for salad dressings, egg/tuna/chicken salads, and dips.
Protip: Make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature; if any element is even a little bit cold, you'll end up with an oily mess rather than a fluffy mayo.
Clarified Butter/Ghee: Yes, you can have butter while doing the Whole30! All you have to do is melt it and remove the fat solids. It takes a bit of time, but the end result is delicious and imparts just enough buttery flavor to keep you satisfied! Want more info? Head here to the read the Whole9 Butter Manifesto and watch a tutorial on how to make your own clarified butter.
Infused water: For many folks, drinking water is a challenge, which is why adding a bit of flavor can go a long way! I like to put a few thin cucumber slices to the big water pitcher I keep in the refrigerator. Other tasty additions are strawberries, lemons, limes, thyme, and mint. You can even combine flavors to create more depth!
Honorable mention: LaCroix Sparkling Water! All the flavors are good, but I'm partial to the Lime, Mango, and Berry essences.
Seafood: I'm partial to shrimp, salmon, and ahi tuna, but I'll eat just about any type! If you gravitate toward chicken and beef, throw in a seafood meal to change things up and beat the boredom. Need a quick meal idea? Try this 30-Minute Shrimp Stir Fry from PaleOMG! (Omit or find a Whole30 compliant fish sauce)
Chicken: I know it's expected, but I had to include it because it's so damn easy to find, cook, and eat! Many folks like breasts, but I prefer thighs because they have more flavor. No matter what cut you choose, I suggest cooking a large batch. In a pinch, I'll simply oven-roast and enjoy as a main dish, in chicken salads, or soups. If I have time and I'm feeling decadent, though, I'll make Nom Nom Paleo's Cracklin' Chicken. If you like fried chicken, try this ASAP! It's especially good at winning over the non-Whole30 folks.
Chicken stock/bone broth: no matter what you call it, this is worth the effort! I've got a tutorial here if you'd like to see the process. Whether you make your own or buy it premade, having stock on hand is definitely something to keep nearby. Use it for soups, add it to mashed potatoes, poach chicken, and about a million other things! If you're worried about using it before it goes bad, freeze some of it and reach for it as needed.
Shoulders, Butts, and Roasts: These large and often inexpensive cuts of meat are a major staple in our home. Yes, they require a bit of planning in order to become edible, but if you can get past that, you'll be rewarded with several delicious meals! For example, our family loves this Chile Verde recipe from Williams-Sonoma. It takes a few hours to slow-cook, but once it's done, our family can get at least two meals out of it, plus the leftovers I take to work for lunch. The prep is minimal and the cook-time is mostly hands-off so I'm not babysitting a pot on the stove. I love it! If you prefer beef, try this Mexican Pot Roast Taco recipe by Tyler Florence! When I'm doing the Whole30, I like to eat it with shredded cabbage, cauliflower rice, and guacamole, which is the perfect segue to my next staple...
Avocados: guacamole is life, sure, but that's not the only way I like to eat these bad boys! They're a beautiful addition to salads, of course, but I also like to eat 'em by themselves, with just a splash of sesame oil, salt, and pepper. They also make a tasty, creamy, dairy-free soup like this one from Primal Pal!
(Paleo) Bacon: One of the main gripes people have with the Whole30 is the lack of bacon. Enter: Wellshire Farms Paleo Bacon. Everything in it is real, honest-to-God food that is deliciously compliant, so go forth and prosper, friends! I found it at my local Whole Foods, but if you don't have that store near you, head to Wellshire Farms for ordering info.
Proscuitto: This exquisitely-salty meat is one of my favorite things to eat, whether I'm doing the challenge or not. You can certainly cook it until crisp, or fill 'em with eggs like Nom Nom Paleo, but my favorite way to enjoy is wrapped around a date. One or two of those makes a great savory-sweet snack (in moderation, of course).
Nuts: I like crunch, and sometimes an apple or celery stalk just isn't going to cut it. When that happens, I'll happily reach for a small handful of pecans (or walnuts, but not too often). In moderation, this is an awesome snack to keep on hand, especially if you travel and need to have healthy food nearby.
Ground meats: I know it's not as glamorous as a steak, but we love it! Our family regularly enjoys meatloaf, burgers, chili, tacos, and hearty meat sauces, thanks to this inexpensive product.
Garlic and Onions: These are in just about every savory meal I make! They add depth and bite, depending on the variety. From soups and stews, to sauces, dressings, and dips, chances are, there's garlic and/or onions present. Some interesting things to try: roasting the garlic in the oven until soft and then combining it with mayo to make a delicious aioli or or using it to infuse olive oil. Don't be afraid to get creative! Open a cookbook or magazine and see how you can incorporate the Whole30 into a new recipe.
Tea: When I decided to do this program, I knew I'd need to replace my nightly glass of wine. At first, I scoffed at the thought of making a cup of tea, but it really became a soothing, calming ritual. I'll drink just about any flavor, but I'm partial to chai varieties like Celestial Seasonings Decaf Coconut, Crafters & Co Vanilla Chai, and Teavana's Maharaja Chai/Samurai Blend.
Honorable Mention: Celestial Seasonings' Gingerbread Spice is heavenly, but generally only available in stores during the holidays.
Immersion Blender: The handy little gadget gets so much love from me! It's powerful, versatile, easy to clean and great for small spaces. Primarily, I use it to make smaller batches of mayo, dips, sauces and soups, but the possibilities are endless!
Grocery Store Apps: Diving into the Whole30 can be expensive if you let it, but there are ways to curb spending. Almost every store now offers digital coupons, either through an app or by registering your loyalty card on their website. I don't care which method you choose, but pick the one that best suits you and go for it, especially for the store you visit the most! For example, Whole Foods has an app that regularly offers $5 (or more) off of staples like produce, dairy, canned goods and meat. If you combine that with a sale price and whatever deals are in their coupon book, you'll save BIG!
Dutch Oven: Words cannot describe how grateful I am for our dutch oven! It's our stockpot, slow-cooker, and cast iron skillet all in one. I can even make bread in it (when I'm not doing the Whole30, of course)!
Chef's Knife: When we moved from a house in Phoenix to an apartment in Denver, we had to downsize our kitchen items drastically. However, we held onto our knives because they are some of the most important tools we have. Among them, the chef's knife gets at least once a day. I highly keeping one on-hand, as well as a sharpener and a medium to large cutting board. Trying to saw through a sweet potato or cube meat with a dull steak knife is no way to spend your time, trust me. Plus, it's dangerous!
I could keep adding to this list indefinitely, as the Whole30 continues to challenge and inspire me, but I wanted to keep this list relatively short and easy to digest. Yes, there are certain limitations, but within those confines, the world will open up to you, I promise! If you need a bit more help and encouragement, check out my Whole30 Resources; I've got tips, recipes, shopping lists and more! And when you're ready, take my Happy Whole30 email course—it's five days of FREE content designed to help you prepare for a successful new health journey.