Top 10 Whole30 Tips

Because Whole30 alumni never stop talking about Whole30, friends and family are bound to get curious about this thing that you just can’t shut up about. Wasn’t that just a New Year’s Resolution? It’s March now, why are we still talking about this so much?

We had such a good experience with Whole30 that we want to keep living Whole30-ish. (Welcome back legumes, corn and rice! RIP dairy and most grains. Cheers to a little wine.) And now, it seems like some people around us are getting inspired to try it too. And I want to be helpful and share some of what I learned in the process, so here are my Top 10 Whole30 Tips! There are some links and recipe ideas throughout.

1. Buy the Book & Get Social

The Whole 30 book lays out all the rules, has shopping lists and meal plans, and lots of recipes. It’s such a helpful guide, and I wouldn’t recommend trying the program without it. At least a few days before your start date, study the rules, familiarize yourself with what is and isn’t compliant (your new favorite word), mark some pages for reference, and pick a few recipes that you want to try. My copy is full of post-its with notes and recipe tweaks, and I referred to it literally every day for 30 days. I checked in on the Timeline every day to see what to expect at each stage  – and I found it so helpful to know that feeling extra cranky or tired some days was just part of the program, and not just me. You will likely hate everyone and everything on Day 4, so try to plan accordingly!

There are also some great resources online, and I recommend bookmarking the Whole30 “Can I Have” list in your phone so that you can refer to it while grocery shopping or dining out. Also check out their official Instagram pages (@whole30recipes & @whole30). I follow a lot of food people (duh) and found that it helped when I unfollowed some of the more unhealthy food pages, you know, the ones that are filled with donuts and ice cream and pretty cupcakes every day. So I followed a few new Whole30/clean eating/healthy living accounts, and now that you can follow hashtags I also followed #whole30, #januarywhole30 and #iamwhole30 for some daily inspiration. The hashtags were a great way for me to find fellow Whole30 newbies as well as experts.

It really helps if you have a friend, partner, or coworker committed to doing the program along with you. Teamwork makes the dream work! Keep in mind that the first week is hard, and you’ll be tired. Support and camaraderie is nice. But once you get through that, you’ll start feeling better and better.

2. Purge & Restock

Purging your kitchen of the stuff that you’re eliminating for the next 30 days is a great way to get in the right mindset for your mission ahead. I ceremoniously trashed the sugar I used to put in my coffee every day (habit fully broken, by the way!), the bread, the cheese, the milk, the butter, and the tortilla chips while listening to Beyonce singing “Boy, Bye!” but the soundtrack is optional (encouraged, but optional!).

Check the labels on everything in your fridge and pantry. Sorry friends, but Sriracha has sugar in it. So do many mayos, mustards, salsas, and tomato sauces, and definitely ketchup. This is good practice for all the label reading you’ll be doing in grocery store aisles over the next month and probably for the rest of your life.

If you don’t want to trash some unopened stuff, at least hide it in the back of the cabinet. Then start replacing these things with compliant items, ideally the day before your start date so you’re prepped and ready for Day 1. I’ve heard that Whole Foods has an entire Whole30 section, so be on the lookout!

Some key staples always on my shopping list are:  eggs, chicken or salmon, sweet potatoes, avocados, broccoli (and all other favorite veggies), onion, garlic, baby spinach, coconut milk (canned 100%), coconut oil, canned diced tomatoes, bananas, green apples, almond butter, raw almonds, dried cranberries (sweetened with apple juice), compliant hot sauce (ideally one that’s just peppers, vinegar, and salt), vinegar (balsamic, apple cider, and red wine are all allowed), and a range of spices (curry, chili, paprika, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric – you still need to check the labels on spices! Some contain corn starch or wheat).

3. Put an Egg on it

You’re going to wake up on Day 1 and be like ok what do I do now… and the answer is EAT, so it’s a good thing that you stocked your kitchen with compliant items! If you have time to wake up a little bit early and make yourself an easy easy egg breakfast, do it. You can even pre-chop some veggies like a red onion and a bell pepper the night before to make a morning scramble come together super quickly. If you know that you will absolutely not be cooking for yourself in the morning before work, prepare something the night before, like this frittata or just some hard boiled eggs that you can bring along with you (don’t forget the salt and hot sauce!).

As someone that doesn’t eat a lot of meat, eggs are a very easy protein source for me to keep around and throw on top of anything, breakfast or not. I do a lot of roasted vegetable medleys topped with a fried egg — that can be any meal of the day! An avocado and compliant hot sauce always pairs well with any of these egg dishes. When in doubt, just make some eggs.

A favorite discovery was this sweet potato egg dish: Just scoop out a baked sweet potato, mash it in a bowl with a little coconut oil and sea salt, and top with one or two over medium eggs and hot sauce. SO good.

4. Keep it Simple & Make Big Batches

You don’t get extra credit for making 30 new recipes during your 30 days. You’ll burn yourself out if you try to do too much, so my advice is to keep it simple. Find a few key compliant things that you enjoy making and eating, and stick with what’s working for you. Focus on some favorite proteins (for me that’s salmon or chicken), find an easy preparation method (I like to roast everything), pair proteins with fresh salads or roasted vegetables, and top with rotating dressings or sauces (see #5).

Top bite sized broccoli and cauliflower pieces with olive oil, sea salt, and red pepper flakes. Roast at 400°F for 25 minutes. Repeat. Not pictured: line your pan with parchment paper for easy cleanup.

Be sure to make everything in double batches. If you’re roasting a head of broccoli you might as well add cauliflower too and have leftovers the next day. It’s just as easy to roast a few big sweet potatoes as it is to prep one. Double your sauce recipes then keep leftovers in jars in the fridge. Make sure you have a tall stockpot for soups and chili, so that you can always max out the portions and have lots of leftovers.

My method for baking big sweet potatoes: quarter them, microwave for 5 minutes, then wrap in foil and bake in a 400°F oven for 30-40 minutes. Keep them in the fridge for a few days for easy meal additions!

If you’re getting bored or feeling motivated to try something new, seek inspiration from the recipes in the Whole30 book or their Instagram feeds and put something fresh in your rotation. Just try to make everything as easy as possible for yourself!

5. Get Saucy

A great way to mix up your meals is to get some staple compliant sauces going. One fantastic sauce to keep around is Tahini. Tahini paste is just sesame seeds, therefore compliant. To make it into a yummy sauce you add salt, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley or cilantro. No cooking required, just some mashing and mixing.

Get the full sauce recipe here, then use it to top chicken, salmon, roasted veggies, or as a dip for raw veggies like tomato and cucumber. Tahini is the new hummus (sorry, chickpeas are legumes).

Coconut Curry Sauce is another one of my favorites that  goes well with almost everything. It’s easy to make too. Check out my post with the recipe here.

There’s a recipe for Romesco Sauce in the Whole30 book that I also love. It has a nice texture with the nuts, and a really great zing to it with the spices and vinegar. Pair it with zoodles and shrimp like in the link, or try it on chicken and eggplant. There’s a whole sauce section in the book, which includes buffalo, ranch, and pesto, so pick out some faves!

7. You Can Whole30 That

You don’t have to stop eating everything you’re familiar with, but you may have to modify your old stand-bys. My first big Whole30 swap was my morning coffee, which I have always enjoyed with a lot of cream and sugar. The book has a good point on this subject, which is are you sure you actually like coffee? Valid, Melissa Hartwig, valid. I initially thought that I would give up coffee in the process because I probably wouldn’t really like it if I couldn’t have cream and sugar. Instead, I swapped in coconut milk and boosted the spices (turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon).

It took me a couple days to adjust to the different texture of it and to get used to the absence of sugar, but I have started to really enjoy it. I’ve always liked all the coffee drinks that end in “spice” and this combo of spices is a home run for me. And newsflash: coconut milk is delicious! Nut milks are also allowed as long as they don’t have any sweeteners in them.

Have some regular recipes or cooking methods you use that call for lots of butter? Just swap in ghee, coconut oil, or olive oil instead. If you want to make a soup (or curry, or anything) creamy, use coconut milk. Leave out the sweeteners and opt for herbs, spices, or a squeeze of fresh citrus instead. If you’re used to having grains as a side, try cauliflower rice, or make a potato-based dish instead. Try making a sauce you normally buy premade yourself so you get all the flavor and none of the junk. You’ll become a recipe and ingredient scanning pro, and be able to tell right away whether you can easily Whole30 it or not.

8. Snacking is Better than Failing

Snacks are discouraged on Whole30. Personally, I have always been a big grazer so I knew this would be tough. My goals for the program weren’t as much about breaking bad food habits as they were about evaluating the elimination of certain food groups, so I didn’t feel like having a snack would derail me as long as the snack components were compliant. This will be different for everyone, but in my opinion, snacking is better than failing. To be clear, I’m not talking about potato chips, paleo sweets, or pre-packaged snacks, which are clearly prohibited on Whole30.

Especially during Week 1, I felt like I needed more snacks while my body was adjusting to new fuel sources. It’s also important to always have something compliant with you, whether you’re on a road trip, at work, at the beach, on a plane, or at the movies. Sometimes, you just gotta snack! And better to have something compliant in your purse than break protocol in a moment of desperation and have to start over. My go-to compliant snacks are trail mixes of nuts and dried fruit, usually raw almonds with unsweetened dried apricots or apple juice-sweetened cranberries.

Now I’m going to tell you a little secret. Almond butter stirred with a splash of coconut milk and a sprinkle of sea salt is magical. Top a sliced banana or green apple with this stuff and you’ll feel like Whole30 hasn’t denied you anything. Don’t go overboard, because this could fall into the category of “food with no brakes”. But really, you’re welcome.

If you’re looking for something more savory, try hot sauce on raw almonds. Seriously, it’s like healthy hot cheetos. Or avocado sprinkled with hot sauce and sea salt. (Yes, my hot sauce consumption went way up during those 30 days!) Or cucumber and carrots dipped in Tahini.

9. Use Everything

I already mentioned that leftovers are precious. Think your leftovers all the way through. For example, if you roast a whole chicken at the beginning of the week, that one lil chicken can get you through the whole week with a little creativity!

Try this roasted chicken recipe with olive oil instead of butter. Slice some of the breast meat and put it on top of a fresh spinach salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, olive oil and balsamic for lunch. Have another portion of the chicken for dinner, with a side of baked sweet potato and roasted broccoli.

The next day you can shred some of the chicken to use in a salad with compliant mayo and other mix-ins of your choosing (try grapes, cilantro, and chopped nuts). When you’ve used all the chicken meat, save all the bones and start a batch of bone broth. Incorporate your home made broth into this big batch of chili. Refrigerate half the leftovers and freeze the other half. You’ll get a few days out of the chili, and have some frozen on hand in the future when you’re in a pinch.

When you start thinking like this, meal prep comes a lot more easily.

10. It Gets Easier

Week 1 is hard. Shoot, it will already feel hard on Day 3. You’ll be tired and cranky and want to eat all the non-compliant foods you can think of and go drink wine with your friends and throw your Whole30 book in the trash. It gets better and it gets easier. When you understand the reasons behind how you’re feeling, it’s easier to push through.

In the first week, your body is switching fuel sources. You’re used to running on sugar and carbs, and your body is used to burning those for energy. But when you deprive your body of the sugar and carbs it’s used to, it’s forced to find a new source of energy — fat. You want your body to burn fat, but you have to give it a chance to switch gears. In the meantime, you’ll feel tired and crave carbs. When you feel tired, sleep if you can. When you have cravings, eat something compliant instead. Then, your body will start using its new fuel. Suddenly, you’ll start to feel better, and then you’ll start to feel amazing. A fog lifts from your brain, you feel fully awake and switched on, and you have what feels like unlimited energy. Whole30 calls this Tiger Blood. It can come in a surge of motivation to check things off your to-do list, start a new activity, go for a run, or do jumping jacks in the middle of your office.

Get a calendar going and cross off the days as part of your daily ritual. A visualization of the countdown really helped me! Just get through the first week and your Tigers Blood will be around the corner. Then focus that newfound energy on healthy activities, exercise, and meal prepping. And the 30 days will be up before you know it. Over time, your cravings will literally be turned off. You’ll find it’s easier to pass on the wine and the bread, and you may not even want dessert by the time you’re allowed to reintroduce it. It’s an empowering change, and it only takes a month to achieve it!

Bonus Tip: A Word on Socializing

You CAN eat out in restaurants during this month. But you will be kind of annoying when you do. Make sure you’re well educated on what you can and can’t eat before you go out. If possible, preview the menu online and figure out how to Whole30 it. Don’t make it the job of your server to tell you everything that’s Whole30 on the menu – that’s your responsibility. Keep your “Can I Have” guide handy, and Google is your friend when you come across something you don’t know on the menu. What’s in chimichurri again? A quick Google search for a recipe will tell you it’s compliant.

Usually ordering sauces and dressings on the side and swapping sides of grains or fries for veggies or salads is a pretty safe bet. If you wind up with a plain piece of meat or pile of vegetables, you can always ask for balsamic, an easy way to jazz it up that most restaurants should have on hand. You may also be able to get away with bringing a compliant sauce with you. Channel Beyoncé and have hot sauce in your bag (swag).

Also try different ideas for socializing other than dinners and happy hours to make avoiding alcohol easier. Suggest going for walks, bike rides, hitting the beach or pool, or something else around town you’ve been meaning to try. You may surprise yourself with all the new things you can accomplish in a month without alcohol and hangover days. I think you’ll find that good friends will be supportive, and you might end up re-evaluating some friendships if anyone isn’t. If you can’t hang out with someone sober…are you really friends?

Now pick your start date, commit, and start counting down to the Tiger Blood! Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions or if I missed a topic you’re curious about. Also check out my previous Whole 30 posts for more thoughts on the subject:

Halfway to Whole30
Whole30 Squash-Stuffed Peppers
Whole30 Sweet Potato Chili
Whole30 Coconut Curry Sauce
Whole30 Sweet Potato & Caramelized Onion Frittata
The Whole30 (or 45)

You got this!

© Cook it Pretty 2018

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Chicken Bone Broth

Bone broth is kind of buzzy in food and nutrition circles these days. There are health benefits ranging from improved gut health to better skin and nails. I love it because the flavor you get from a home made batch is above and beyond anything store bought, you can control what’s going into it, and it really enhances your home made soups.

The process is easy, but it does take a lot of hands-off time – basically an entire day of simmering – so it requires some planning. The method for getting the most health benefits out of your broth is slow and low. Cooking at a low temperature for 12-24 hours ensures the highest amounts of nutrients, minerals, and collagen in your broth.

It’s great to incorporate this as a step in your meal planning, which I learned doing Whole30 in January. If you’re going to roast a chicken (or buy a pre-roasted one), definitely retain the bones and plan on making broth and then soup later that week. And of course making it yourself ensures that it’s compliant if you’re doing Whole30. Give this broth recipe a try, then make this Whole30 Chili with it, or my Pumpkin Soup (if you’re not doing Whole30!).

Chicken Bone Broth

Bones/carcass from 1 whole chicken
2 Carrots, roughly chopped
3 Stalks celery, roughly chopped
2 Onions (white or yellow), roughly chopped
1 two-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 one-inch piece of fresh turmeric, peeled and roughly chopped
6 Fresh cilantro stems
1 Sprig fresh thyme
2 Tbs Apple cider vinegar
10 Whole black peppercorns
1 tsp Salt (Himalayan or sea salt)

Add all ingredients to a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer covered over low heat for 12-24 hours. Strain the broth through a mesh colander, removing and discarding all solids. Transfer the broth to several jars and/or measuring cups and allow to cool to room temperature before refrigerating uncovered for several hours, allowing the fat to rise to the top. Scrape off the fat with a spoon and discard. Cover and keep refrigerated. Should last about 5 days in the fridge, or freeze for up to 6 months. I like to pre-measure the broth in the containers for easy addition to recipes, especially before freezing.

© Cook it Pretty 2018

The Whole30 (or 45)

We did it! The milestone of 30 days without alcohol, sugar, dairy, legumes, and grains came with surprisingly little fanfare, because we weren’t as desperate for the foods we gave up as we expected to be. In fact, by the time we reached 30 days we were saying, let’s just keep this going. We didn’t have cake or ice cream or pizza to celebrate. It’s a crazy thing, and certainly not what I expected, but Whole30 can make you feel so good that you don’t want to give that up.

What do I mean by feeling good? Lots of things. I sleep better and more deeply. I am more awake in the morning. I have higher and more sustained energy. I feel clear-headed. I feel motivated. I feel switched on. I have more social energy. I feel social without alcohol (an important distinction). I want to exercise. I want to be outside. I started new activities. I feel more productive. My stomach is flatter. I’m less bloated. My skin is smoother, softer and clearer. I can speed read the hell out of food labels. I am super aware of and more educated about what’s in my food. Things taste sweeter to me naturally. I don’t have strong sugar cravings. I feel less dependent on coffee. My hunger is not hanger. My hunger is less desperate. My stomach never hurts after compliant meals. I never feel like I’m in a food coma.

The feel-goods are good. Really good. Good to the point that I now have a fear of losing them! Ack, I don’t want junk food or sweets, what if it takes away all the good feels I earned?? I even felt a little fear having my first drink in a month. Is it worth it, my little inner voice of reason wondered? And it kind of wasn’t. I had 2 glasses of Prosecco that didn’t taste great to me, and I felt like absolute crap the next day. Headache, stomach ache, so so tired. This is not what a celebration should feel like!

Also, reminder: Whole30 food is GOOD! I do not feel punished or like I’m going without or hungry. In fact, I was hungrier before with all those empty carbs and sugars. One thing I learned right away is that something I’d been eating was really making me bloated, to the point where I would feel huge even if I didn’t look it. Just a few days into Whole30 and I noticed that feeling had gone away, and it stayed away. After 30 days, there was a noticeable visible difference. That alone is motivation enough for me to complete the reintroduction process to evaluate the food groups one by one to find out which type of food did that to me. (Is it cheese? I hope it’s not cheese. It might be cheese. Ugh I’m so sad already.)

The reintroduction phase is what takes the “Whole30” to actual Whole45, but I guess that doesn’t have as nice a ring to it. You have a day of eating things from one category (such as dairy or grains) and then go back to the Whole30 food for 2 days while you evaluate any symptoms that might pop up. Many people seem to skip this part, but I am just as interested in this phase as the first 30 days. When else will I have this clean slate to work with? I mean I really need to know…is it cheese?! I have to get to the bottom of this.

So far, we’re still eating (delicious) Whole30 for the most part, and dabbling in wine and legumes. Let’s see how this goes! Cheers to the Whole30, and onward into the Whole45!

Here are some of the recipes that carried us through:

Sweet Potato & Caramelized Onion Frittata

Coconut Curry Sauce for Chicken, Veggies, or Fish

Sweet Potato Chili

Squash-Stuffed Peppers

© Cook it Pretty 2018

Whole30 Sweet Potato & Caramelized Onion Frittata

When I first dove into the super supportive and informative Whole30 community on Instagram, I came across a video from one of the coaches saying “when it gets tough, clean your house and make a frittata.” I didn’t totally get it at the time, but from my new vantage point on Day 29, I definitely do!

First of all, my tiny kitchen is in a constant state of madness because of all the meals going through it, and because of my lack of a dishwasher. (Insert no-dishwasher pity party here.) So the first step for me accomplishing anything is to clean up so I have room to make something new. Secondly, making a frittata is helpful because it’s easy and you can throw in whatever you already have, it will last you through a couple days, it’s highly portable, and can be eaten for any meal of the day. It’s oddly comforting to know you have one in the fridge ready and waiting for you!

I like this particular frittata because it includes caramelized onions and a sweet potato crust. That may sound complicated but it’s really not, and just makes whatever else you put in it taste extra awesome. Caramelizing onions does take a while, but you can mostly leave them alone while you’re doing other stuff, and I think it’s worth it.

The “crust” is just thinly sliced sweet potato pieces arranged to mostly cover the bottom and sides of a baking dish. Bake it on its own first. Don’t worry too much about how it looks, it will be completely covered with other ingredients.

Then you add in your caramelized onions and whatever other veggies you have on hand, and top with whisked eggs.

Back in the oven, and done. I was concerned about it not tasting good the next day, but it keeps really well. And is extra yummy when topped with (compliant, of course) hot sauce. More detailed instructions below!

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Whole30 Sweet Potato & Caramelized Onion Frittata

2 Tbs Ghee, Coconut Oil, or Olive Oil, divided
1 Sweet Potato, peeled, halved, and sliced thin
2 Small or 1 Large Onion, sliced thin* (yellow, white, or red)
1 Red Bell Pepper, sliced thin*
1 Zucchini, sliced thin*
1 Handful Mushrooms, sliced thin*
1 Handful Baby Spinach
12 Eggs (approximate, may change based on the size of your dish and size of your eggs)
S&P
Whole30 Compliant Hot Sauce for serving

*If you have a food processor with a slicer attachment, it works great for a nice thin slice on your veggies. If not, just go small and thin so that they’ll easily cook through.

Preheat oven to 400F. Add 1Tbs of the cooking oil to a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the sliced onions and stir to coat. Turn down to low heat and continue to stir occasionally for about 45 minutes, until caramelized. Meanwhile, add the remaining 1 Tbs of cooking oil to a baking dish, coating the bottom and sides. Arrange the sweet potato slices in the bottom and along the sides of the dish, overlapping slightly for more coverage. This is your “crust”. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes, then set aside. Keep stirring those onions. Add remaining vegetables to the baking dish, and top with the onions when they’re ready. Whisk the eggs together with salt and pepper in a large bowl, then pour over the veggies in the baking dish. If the eggs don’t quite cover the whole dish, whisk together a couple more and add in until covered. Return to oven for 25-30 more minutes, until cooked through in the center and slightly browned on top. Serve with hot sauce and enjoy!

Note: This recipe is very flexible on the additional veggies you use. Feel free to use whatever you like best and have available. Only thing to keep in mind is the size of your slice, ensuring that they’ll cook through with the eggs.

© Cook it Pretty 2018

Whole30 Coconut Curry Sauce

I’m married to someone who realllyyyyyy likes sauces and condiments, which I knew would be a challenge when we started Whole30. Spoiler alert: most store-bought condiments, dressings, and sauces contain sugar, sweeteners, wheat, and other weird stuff you don’t want on your salad. I figured hey, I’ve always thought about making my own mayo and ketchup…now’s the time! I’m also not above going to dinner with compliant mustard in my purse (a thing that has actually happened this month).

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Making mayo is a lot harder than anticipated (that’s probably for another post…), but I’ve found a few easy and tasty sauces that I keep falling back on to literally spice up our healthy AF meals. 25 days worth of them, OH BY THE WAY!

This Coconut Curry sauce, which is inspired by a recipe from the Whole30 book, is an easy add-on for fish, chicken, and veggie bowls. So you might as well go ahead and make a big ol’ batch of it to keep on hand for flavor emergencies. The sauce lover in the house heartily approves this message!

Whole30 Coconut Curry Sauce

3 Tbs Coconut Oil
1 White or Yellow Onion, diced
4 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 1/2 Tbs Curry Powder (yellow works, try what you got!)
1 1/2 Cups Canned Diced or Crushed Tomato
3/4 Cup Coconut Cream*
Juice of 1 Lime
S&P to taste

*You can buy cans of coconut cream, or refrigerate a can of coconut milk for a couple hours, which allows the cream to collect at the top to be easily scraped off.

Heat the coconut oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and stir about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Add the curry powder and quickly stir with onion and garlic, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes until slightly thickened. Puree mixture with a hand blender (or transfer into a food processor or blender). Transfer to a mixing bowl and let cool 10 minutes. Stir in the coconut cream, lime juice, and salt and pepper. Serve over grilled or roasted salmon, chicken, or veggies and keep the remaining sauce refrigerated in a jar for the next meal in need of a flavor kick. Enjoy!

© Cook it Pretty 2018

Whole30 Sweet Potato Chili

There are a few key ingredients that I feel deserve a lot of credit for getting us halfway through Whole30 successfully: avocado, sweet potato, and coconut milk. They make everything better. This sweet potato chili recipe employs all three. It was such a hit, I even ate it for breakfast the next day.

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Weird things happen to your appetite on Whole30, and one thing for me is that I no longer care if something is “breakfasty” just because I’m eating it in the morning. I was eating nonstop egg breakfasts the first week or so, and then I had this switch and I just started eating whatever was available from the previous day’s dinner.

My hunger also feels much different from what it used to be — I was a constant grazer, snacker, and packer of granola bars in my purse, because I would often feel crazy hungry out of nowhere. Now, when I feel hungry it’s a calmer version where I just feel like “ok I should eat something soon, let’s see what I can make.” Whereas before it was like panicky FEED ME ANYTHING NOW hunger. The difference is before my body was running on sugar sources, which are no longer available. Now it’s learning to burn other stuff instead. Crazy, right?!

Whole30 or not, this recipe is hearty, healthy, and delicious and can be enjoyed for any meal of the day! If made with vegetable broth, it could be vegetarian and vegan. (I used home made chicken broth because I worked hard to make it and it was oh so tasty.) It’s gluten free, grain free, sugar free, and dairy free. Enjoy!

Whole30 Sweet Potato Chili
Double batch for lots of leftovers.

2 Tbs Olive Oil or Coconut Oil
2 Onions, finely chopped
6 cloves Garlic, minced
2 tsp Cumin
2 tsp Chili Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Sea Salt or Pink Salt
1 Red Bell Pepper
2 handfuls Baby Spinach
4 cups Sweet Potato, peeled and cubed
2 cans Diced Tomatoes (check labels to make sure there’s no added sugar)
4 cups Broth of your choosing (as long as it’s Whole30 compliant)
1/2 – 1 cup Coconut Milk (canned organic is good, always check for added sugar)
1/2 cup Cilantro, chopped
1 Avocado (at least!)

Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute. Add the spices, salt, and pepper and stir. Add the bell pepper and let cook 1 minute. Add spinach and cook down for 2 minutes. Add the sweet potato and mix well. Mix in the tomatoes and then add the broth. If there isn’t enough liquid to just cover the potatoes, add a little water. Bring the heat up to high until the liquid begins to boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer covered for 1 hour.

Make sure that the sweet potato pieces are soft all the way through. Add more salt or seasoning if necessary. Stir in the coconut milk to your preferred consistency. To serve, top with fresh cilantro and avocado slices or cubes. Enjoy for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

© Cook it Pretty 2018

Whole30 Squash-Stuffed Peppers

When someone is on Whole30 you’ll definitely know it, because all they can talk about is Whole30 and what they’re eating and how they’re feeling. Sorry. We can’t help it. Because the program injects you with newfound energy and motivation, I’m actually writing blog posts again for the first time in almost a year. I’m not here to convert anyone, I’m just feeling inspired to cook and to write, and finding some pretty good healthy recipes along the way. If you’re interested in a little more what/why/how, read my Halfway to Whole30 post.

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This stuffed pepper recipe is the first one I made for Whole30, and definitely the cutest. I was inspired by a recipe in the actual Whole30 book, but that one included ground meat. I didn’t have any and kinda didn’t want it anyway! So I did a veggie version with butternut squash as the staple of the “stuffing” part. Because Whole30 doesn’t allow dairy or any grains, this recipe is vegan and gluten free. It’s also sugar free, which sounds like a no-brainer but most tomato sauces contain sugar!

I was very happy with my very first Whole30 recipe! It was flavorful, filling, cute, and colorful. I usually make a “southwest” version of stuffed peppers but that included beans and corn so that was out…and this was a very yummy alternative. You could use a similar process for all kinds of different fillings, either veggie or carnivorous. And because the presentation is so nice, this would be a good choice if you happen to have guests to serve while you’re on your crazy health kick. Enjoy!

Whole30 Squash-Stuffed Peppers

4 Large Red Bell Peppers
3 Tbs Olive Oil
1/2 Onion, finely chopped
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
Handful Baby Spinach
2 Tbs Tomato Paste (double check that yours doesn’t contain sugar)
1/4 tsp Cumin
1/4 tsp Chili Powder
1/2 tsp Sea Salt or Pink Salt
1/4 tsp Ground Black Pepper
1 cup Butternut Squash, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350F. Slice the top of each pepper, and remove the white pith and seeds, keeping the pepper intact so that you can fill it with goodies later. If they don’t stand upright, slice off a thin layer along the bottom to make it flatter, being careful not to make a hole in the bottom of the pepper. Place the peppers and tops in a deep baking dish lined with parchment paper (or drizzle the pan with oil if you don’t have parchment paper). Roast for 10 minutes, then set aside.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook about 3 minutes while stirring. Add the garlic and cook one more minute. Add the spinach and cook until leaves are wilted. Add the tomato paste, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Add the squash and cook 5 minutes until softened.

Spoon the veggie mixture into the bell peppers and return to the oven, roasting for 10-15 minutes, until the peppers look wrinkly. There may be extra filling, which you can reserve to eat later. (Leftovers are always a win on Whole30!)

Optional: Top with Tahini Sauce like this one. It goes well with everything!

© Cook it Pretty 2018

Halfway to Whole30

It’s January, so I’m sure all of you have a friend doing a new fitness class, a dry month, or a social media cleanse. I’m your friend doing a weird new food program thing, and the thing is Whole30. I have never been this friend before; this is new territory for me. In fact, I’ve always been pretty anti-diet and pro-balance, pro-everything in moderation, pro-winging it, and definitely pro-baked goods. Whole 30 — which is no sugar or sweeteners, no dairy, no grains, no legumes, and no alcohol for 30 days — is not really something I was ever interested in before, but here I am, halfway there, in the thick of it all, amongst all my dirty dishes and compliant ingredients and daily notes and meal plans. So…

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Why are we doing it?

Recently my husband has had some weird reactions that we suspect are related to food sensitivities. We’ve been doing a lot of food and health research, and have definitely hopped on the “food is medicine” train. It just makes sense that what you put in your body has effects beyond making you heavier or skinnier or less hungry. There’s MUCH more to it than that. So we kind of tried gluten free and sort of tried cutting down on sugar and halfheartedly skipped drinking a few times. When we were good, we would see results. But, as is our way, we were kind of just winging it and broke the rules whenever it was the more convenient thing to do. Especially over the holidays. Because pie.

Enter Whole30, which is an elimination protocol (don’t call it a diet or the Whole30ers will come for you). Elimination is important in order to learn how certain types of foods are affecting your system, and Whole30 takes into account categories I hadn’t considered as possible culprits, like dairy and all grains. I felt that we needed something structured like this to really get to the bottom of things, and liked that it was only for 30 days, after which there’s a reintroduction phase. That just sounds more doable to me than “never eat sugar again!”

Then, on New Year’s Eve, I just happened to notice that my mother in law had the Whole30 book sitting on her shelf, and I asked if I could borrow it.  Then a good friend said she was doing it. Then my husband said he wanted to go aggressive on the no sugar thing after the holiday. So, pretty much the stars just aligned with a little New Year’s motivation and we committed. But…

What can we even eat?

I think it’s normal to focus on all the things you can’t have, and in the beginning it feels like what the hell am I supposed to eat then?! It was hard for me to let go of things that I’ve always considered “good for me” that I also really like, like yogurt (dairy), honey (sweetener), quinoa (grain, ancient or not), and chickpeas (legumes). The only way to get over that I think is just to commit and remind yourself that it’s only a month, and focus on what you might get out of just trying it.

So we focus on what we can eat, broadly: meat, seafood, eggs, fruit, vegetables, and healthy fats. Specifically, you can still drink coffee, but you have to hold the sweetener and the cream (coconut milk is my friend). You can have eggs and meat and all the veggies you want (including potatoes!), but cook them in olive oil or coconut oil rather than butter. You can have avocados all day long, but you’ll have to hold the toast part. You can have sauces and dressings, but you’ll probably have to make them yourself to avoid all the sweeteners and weird additives out there.

Side note: This part has been very educational, and if we get nothing else out of this experiment, we have learned a lot about reading labels. I was already somewhat into this, but my eyes have been even further opened to all the gross stuff that gets put into your food when you’re not making it yourself. In short, you’re probably being tricked into eating a LOT more added sugar than you think, and wheat, soy, and corn are in nearly everything that comes pre-packaged. There’s sugar in bacon and lunch meat and sausages and ketchup and mustard and mayonnaise…it’s not just desserts you need to be aware of.

What are we actually eating?

All of the eggs.
Poached, fried (in olive oil or coconut oil), over medium, scrambled, with veggies, with spinach, with (compliant) hot sauce, with avocado, repeat.

Veggie Stuffed Peppers
Find my post with the recipe here.

Roasted Chicken with Tahini Sauce
Tahini (made from sesame seeds) is compliant, so I found a simple tahini sauce recipe and made a big batch to put on everything! We’ve had it on the stuffed peppers, chicken, and salmon.

Sweet Potato Chili
Chili with no beans? Avocado makes everything work. Find my post with the recipe here.

Coconut Curry Salmon (and chicken)
Much like the Tahini sauce, this sauce makes everything taste special! Find my post with the recipe here.

Turmeric Ginger Butternut Squash Soup
Find the original recipe here – I swapped the type of squash for butternut and used fresh turmeric rather than powder.

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In short, we’re eating a lot. I’m cooking a lot, buying a lot of groceries, and washing a lot of dishes. Because I enjoy cooking, the program has so far been a great inspiration in the kitchen. Finding ways to “Whole30 something” can be fun and creative. Documenting it all helps me stay into it. And feeling positive results and seeing them in my husband is super motivating.

At the halfway point, we are feeling good and not really missing much other than maybe the occasional wine and cheese night, or the ease of reaching for a pre-packaged crunchy snack. I’m seeing now how convenience tends to drive a lot of our food choices. But I feel lighter and more energetic, I’m sleeping better and I get out of bed more easily in the morning. I’m excited to see how the second half of the experiment goes.

Any other Whole30ers out there?

© Cook it Pretty 2018

Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies: Comfort Food Calling

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Life in Dubai means traveling a lot, exploring as much as possible within a direct flight radius. I started 2017 in California, and since then visited the Taj Mahal in India and went skiing in Kazakhstan. It’s only February. I love our adventures and trying local specialties wherever we go. I can’t say I loved the fermented horse milk in Kazakhstan, but hey, I tried it. Whenever I come home, I unavoidably go through a powerful comfort food craving phase. Usually that means allll the pasta, and a lot of baked goods.

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Which brings me to these cookies! Soft, chewy, sweet, pumpkin spicy cookies. This recipe is based on a good friend’s famous oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. She makes them every time my college girlfriends get together, or we make them together. They’re always amazing, and I can only speculate that they’re the magic glue of our long term friendships!  So she gets all the credit for introducing me to this magic formula. Also she’s a doctor so she knows what’s good for you. I just made a few tweaks to put pumpkin and spices in the mix. I was skeptical at first about keeping the chocolate chips in with the pumpkin, but you’ll just have to trust me that pumpkin apparently goes with everything.

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Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 48 Cookies

1 cup Butter
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Brown Sugar
1 Egg
1 cup Canned Pumpkin Puree
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 cups Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Ginger
1/2 tsp Cloves
2 cups Whole Oats (not steel cut or quick cooking)
12 oz (1 bag) Chocolate Chips
Sea Salt for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Allow the butter and egg to come to room temperature. Cream the butter and combine with the sugar, egg, pumpkin and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices, and oats. Add dry ingredients gradually to the butter mixture, mixing well to combine. Finally add in the chocolate chips and mix together.

Usually by this point I’m nearly full because I’ve tasted so much dough…but I shouldn’t recommend that because of raw eggs being bad or some such nonsense…

Spoon the dough into evenly sized balls on a cookie sheet, pressing them slightly flat into, you know, cookie shape. If desired, sprinkle the dough with a bit of sea salt before putting in the oven. Bake at 375F for 8-10 minutes. If I’ve learned anything by moving so much lately, it’s that ovens vary wildly. Start low on the timer and check for doneness.

Let cool and enjoy with milk (of the non-horse variety)!

©Cook it Pretty 2017

Make Thanksgiving Easy Again: Easy Turkey

Easy Turkey | Cook it Pretty

Two years ago I hosted my first Thanksgiving without parental supervision, and I did a lot of research on turkey roasting techniques. The combination of all the tips and tricks I found resulted in a successful approach that I’m ready to confidently share with you.

Easy Turkey | Cook it Pretty

You’ve probably seen blogs and magazine articles telling you to do everything from turning the turkey upside down to cooking it straight out of the freezer. Cover it! Don’t cover it! Baste it! Basting is over! Stuffing will kill you! Flip it! Change the temperature 10 times! Buy a million gadgets you’ll only use once a year! Hosting a big meal is stressful enough without all this conflicting information. I’ve boiled everything down to one tip for you: DO LESS.

Easy Turkey | Cook it Pretty

The only thing that is difficult about being in charge of the turkey is that you have to do some pre-planning. If you’re hosting Thanksgiving, my guess is you already know that you have some planning in your (very near) future. In Dubai I only have access to frozen turkeys so I do not get a lot of choice in the matter and the following tips and techniques are for frozen turkey. Some thoughts to get you started:

  • Buy your turkey as early as possible. If your turkey is frozen, you’ll need to allow for 3 days of defrosting in the fridge. But people, this isn’t hard! All it does is sit there and take up all your fridge space for a few days.
  • Don’t double-brine. Did you know that most frozen turkeys are already in brine? Check the labels and you’ll likely see something about the ingredients including salt or salt water – that means it’s been in brine. So lucky you, you do not need to brine it again.
  • No special equipment required. As long as you have a roasting pan that is big enough for your turkey, you’re good to go. While things like roasting racks can be nice, you don’t have to have one. My method doesn’t require a baster either. One thing that’s nice to have is a meat thermometer, in case you’re anxious about things like serving your loved ones undercooked meat (raises hand).
  • Plan around oven space. Turkeys take a long time to cook and will dominate your oven on Thanksgiving day. Plan any other dishes you’re making around the idea that your oven will be in use most of the time. Things like pie can be easily made the day before to avoid conflicting oven time. Stuffing can be prepped the day before and baked after the turkey comes out. Consider vegetables cooked on the stove top, such as sauteed green beans, rather than a roasted dish that requires oven time. Or farm out your other oven dishes to guests, potluck style.

So you have your turkey defrosted and your suitably sized pan, your other holiday dishes under control, and you’re ready to go. Where to begin? Read on!

Easy Herb Roasted Turkey

Defrosted Turkey
2 Onions, halved then quartered (you want big pieces)
3 Celery stalks, chopped into 2-3 inch sections
Butter, softened
S&P
Herbs of choice (I like rosemary, sage & thyme)
1/2 Orange, quartered

Calculate your cook time
Cook time = 15 mins x #lbs. For example, a 15lb turkey will take 225 mins or 3 hours 45 mins. Preheat your oven to 325F.

Prep the pan
Place the onion and celery chunks in the bottom of the roasting pan, reserving some onion to be later placed inside the turkey. These will serve as your roasting rack, raising the bird off the bottom of the pan. They also provide a nice flavor to your drippings, which you can later use for gravy.

Prep the bird
Check the neck cavity and main cavity for little bags of gizzards, removing everything. Keep them if you like to include them in your stuffing or stock or if you’re like my mom and cook it up for the dogs. Toss them if you’re like me and get grossed out by everything I just said (it’s hard for me to even type the word gizzards). Place the turkey in the roasting pan on top of the chopped onion and celery. Fold the wings underneath the body of the turkey – this prevents them from getting dried out or burned, and it just looks better.

Give it a rub
Take the softened butter in your fingers and rub it all over your turkey, including the legs. Sprinkle everywhere with generous amounts of salt and pepper, including some inside the cavity. Add your herbs, like rosemary, sage, and thyme everywhere as well.

Easy Turkey | Cook it Pretty
Get aromatic
Put remaining onion and orange pieces inside the cavity. I’ve seen this called “aromatics” – you won’t be eating them, but they add juice and flavor to the meat from the inside. Don’t stuff it too full or it may affect your cook time, a few pieces of each will do.

Tie the legs, or don’t
This is a purely aesthetic choice. If you want a pretty picture, there’s something that makes the tied up legs just look better. But if you don’t care and just want it easy, skip this because you’ll just be removing the tie later. I skipped it last time and it looked a little awkward, but who really cares because it tastes the same!

The do-nothing part
Now put it in the oven and set your timer according to the cook time above. THEN DO NOTHING. Don’t baste it or change the temperature or use tin foil on anything. Just ignore the turkey for the next 3 hours or so. Do your other prep and stove top cooking. Have a glass of wine. Study up on making gravy so you can put the pan drippings to use. (I can vouch for this method from The Kitchn).

Check the temp
Many frozen turkeys have a pop-up plastic thingie that tells you it’s ready. I’ve heard it’s best to double check this with a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh. Make sure it’s in the 165-180F range. The skin should be browned and crispy. Then it’s done! You roasted a whole turkey all by yourself!

Let it rest
Let the turkey rest at room temp for at least 30 minutes before carving. This is a good time to make your gravy, in which case you’ll need to remove the turkey from the roasting pan and transfer it to a cutting board. Put gallon-sized ziplock bags over oven mitts in order to safely grab the hot turkey without ruining your mitts. Be careful, turkeys are heavy and hot!

Carve it up
I’m lucky because my husband is amazing at breaking down the bird. I have never attempted this myself. But here’s the video from NYT that he watched before doing it the first time, and he knocked it out of the park. I like this method because it’s much easier to serve than carving it at the table, and you can break it up into dark and light meat platters.

You did it! Wishing you a juicy and delicious turkey to share with loved ones this Thanksgiving.

© Cook it Pretty 2016