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Whole30 Tips, Shortcuts, and Lessons Learned

Let me come straight out and declare that I don't believe there is no one single nutrition plan or approach that works perfectly for everyone.

Everyone has a different goal. Nutrient needs may vary based on your genetics, activity level, and your health. What's more, the bacteria and critters in your gut may be driving a lot of your nutrition needs based on what they like to dine on!

So, nutrition & food has become a topic just as sensitive as politics. I believe the best thing you can do is keep an open mind, explore, experiment, and see what works for you.

And that I did.

Before #whole30 was all over Instagram, I read It Starts With Food and completed my first Whole 30. This was before I even considered learning about nutrition, and my typical meals were something in a frozen bag or out of a box.

The Verdict: What I learned and gained from adopting a low-inflammatory diet for a 30-day trial:

  • Initially, stress & worry that I'd screw something up or eat something off-plan

  • More stable energy & less fatigue

  • Better recovery from running workouts

  • Drastic reduction in brain fog - which I had no idea I even had!

  • In only 30 days, I kicked my sugar habit. (This was a big shocker - I am a dessert-lovin' fool!)

I wrote this post back in 2013 [with minor updates today] about the things I wish I knew before my first Whole 30 to take the stress & time out of that month.

If you're #Whole30 preppin', here are some hints and shortcuts to help you keep your sanity.

1. Keep a bowl of guacamole in the fridge. Always.

I feel like it's a constant challenge find a healthy fat for my meal, but if I add a scoop a guacamole I have it covered. I made a bowl of guac every 2-3 days so it stays relatively fresh, and once it's made it's easy.

Shortcut: Buy the pre-made pico de gallo at the grocery store, mix with avocado and lime. Done!

2. Enjoy your condiments, just Whole30-fied. Fact: My husband loves ketchup more than any being who ever lived. Opting for condiment-less food was just not an option.

I'm I've made paleo ketchup, mayo, worcestershire sauce, and BBQ sauce that tastes better than the junk I've poured out of a bottle. You can Whole30 just about any condiment!

3. Buy at least a dozen eggs. And then buy a dozen more. Enough said. I won't go out of my way for eggs, but I've eaten lots and liking them more with all my new recipes. Plus, eggs make things stick together (like meatballs!). We keep a dozen hard-boiled eggs on hand at all times because it's a convenient on-the-go snack.

4. Buy squash & sweet potatoes like the world is ending and only a hoard of squash and sweet potatoes could save it. Since I was extremely active in endurance running at the time, I wasn't living on salads, but instead I added plenty of starchy veggies (sweet potatoes, winter squash) in my meals to fuel up.

During the Burning River 100 mile race, I even stuck to Whole 30 by fueling with pureed pumpkin + banana or sweet potato + coconut milk + applesauce at my crew stations (Whole30-high cal). Beats all the sugar in energy gels and the stomach upset from energy drinks & mixes!

5. There's amazing stuff at the farmers market. The farmers has plenty of organics, great prices, and.... allows us to shop local!

I scored a 2.5 pound zucchini for $.50, green beans for $3, and 6 lbs of organic heirloom tomatoes for $10 at my farmer's market. I also stocked up on fresh arugula, peaches, and local grass-fed beef. And the chorizo from the farm down the road was the best, most flavorful I've ever eaten.

At the farmer's market, they're food & growing experts: I chatted with one grower for 10 minutes and she shared secrets about raising tomatoes and tips for growing herbs I couldn't find again on google -- they ALL worked!! At least, my plants aren't dead yet.

6. Have a good (spice) rack. During my whole30 I discovered how much some spices could kick up a meal. Spices have the power to transport boring ground beef into tacos or Italian meatballs for your zucchini noodles!

Some of the spices mostly commonly found in recipes I've been making lately are (in order of popularity): sea salt, cumin, chili powder, garlic/onion powder, black peppercorns, cinnamon, paprika, basil, oregano, bay leaf, and curry powder. On a budget? Don't buy them all, start small and experiment with substituting or omit altogether. There are so many to explore.

When you're using spices beyond garlic powder and salt, that's how you know you're officially cooking like an adult!

7. Make room in your fridge (and have lots of storage containers). I had no idea. I can't get enough storage containers... our pantry's now mostly empty, but our fridge is always working overtime! It's filled with fresh food!

In a perfect world, I'd invest an hour on Sunday to prep meals for the week, and make big quantities when I do cook so I have leftovers and can be a lazy cook the rest of the week.

Tip: Use containers to avoid plastics that leach into your food & wreak havoc on your hormones . BPA-Free? Researchers are even saying BPA-free plastics carry the same risks. Get back to basics with leakproof glass (~$35 on sale or try a convenient lunchbox version).

8. Pick a portable go-to snack. Stash food in the car for when you're hungry and home is still 45 minutes away. And don't go so long that you have to eat ALL THE THINGS when you get home.

Carry a snack on you, or bring one that can hold you over. Line your pockets and purses. I won't judge.

Tip: Always have a go-to snack up your sleeve so you don't even have to think about it.

Foods that keep you full and pack well for the car or airplane:

  • Nuts - try macadamia or cashews

  • Nut butters - Justin's has single-serve almond butter - skip the mess.

  • Lara Bars (caution: eat sparingly) or fruit

  • Cut veggies - carrots seem to travel well and don't get squished.

  • Eggs - but not for long, eat first!

  • Prosciutto - it can go quite a while without refrigeration

  • Epic Bars, or meat bars - it's a bar, made of jerky!

  • Squeeze-pouch baby food - no, that's not weird..... but so so convenient.

  • Plantain chips

9. Don't let it in the house. Speaking of plantain chips... once, I bought plantain chips at Trader Joe's for a friend, and got myself a bunch of bags, too. They were like crack.

Because the Whole 30 helped address my relationship with food, I realized I felt instantaneously good in the moment of eating the plantain chips. But then, I realized that downing a whole bag in a sitting gave me that same icky "I just ate two rows of Oreos" feeling. I had to keep them out of the house altogether if I was going to do this right.

10. Try oil and vinegar. You'll be doing a lot of cooking with coconut oil. Besides plain ol' olive oil, I tried walnut oil for the first time and it has a great taste! Mix it with balsamic vinegar and it's a salad dressing you can't stop eating.

Vinegars are your friend and (most) allowed in your Whole30, but I usually just keep apple cider vinegar & balsamic on hand. If you're not a fan of vinegar, lemon juice is an easy alternative.

11. Live dangerously. Cook! I used to screw up a recipes a lot (almost weekly). Now a few years later, I've got a lot more confidence that I can experiment and be more creative about what I'm making.

Once, I wrecked some baked spinach balls and the "dough" came out really watery and soupy... I added fresh herbs and made them into batter for sweet potato-spinach fritters instead. It all works out!

Don't be afraid to get dirty.

12. Don't be a hermit. (You'll go crazy) I went on two mini-vacations while on my Whole30, and we ended up eating out lots.

It's a challenge, but it CAN be done. Just think of the meal template -- protein, healthy fat, and unlimited veggies. Learn the art navigating restaurant menus (check it out).


  • Chipotle - carnitas salad bowl, with guacamole, mild salsa, extra lettuce, and optional fajita veggies [Edit: carnitas are ok, note fajita veggies cooked in soybean oil which not compliant]

  • Longhorn Steak House - Sirloin steak with baked sweet potato and side salad (hold the cheese & croutons) w/ oil & vinegar dressing

  • Bub's Burgers (Indianapolis) - Any burger, hold the bun. You could try the sweet potato fries, but I'm not sure if that's a cheat.

  • Lennie's (Bloomington, IN - my old stomping ground) - Caribbean ahi tuna salad with oil and vinegar dressing, hold the cheese & baguette

  • Bakehouse (Bloomington, IN) - California burger (nix bun & aoli), sub grapes instead of fries.

  • Cheesecake Factory - Fresh grilled salmon with broccoli, sub side salad instead of baked potato [Edit: white potatoes are now acceptable on the Whole30]

  • Whole Foods/Local Co-Op Grocery - most salad bar items are typically ok

  • Whole Foods - London Broil, cajun roasted sweet potatoes, kale salad (it has cranberries & walnuts). Or, a bunless burger and a baked sweet potato.

  • Mexican restaurants - fajitas - hold the tortilla, sour cream, and beans.

  • The bar - fact of life: I end up at the bar for work functions. I like soda water + lime, and in a small enough glass, it's a good gin & tonic fake-out.

Best advice: If it's a new place to you, research the menu before you go and have your selections made beforehand. Like the list above? Get tons more detail & ideas here.

Tip: Google the restaurant name + whole30 when you plan. You might find someone who blogged about their whole30 experience in that very restaurant.

Do you know some tips and tricks that should go on the list? Comment!

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