by Chelsea Long, Whole Mamas Content Coordinator, in-house yogi, and mama of three under four.

Dear Chelsea,
I’m too busy to do the Whole30. How do you find the time to cook every single thing that goes into your mouth, plus take care of your children, work, and deal with your house?

I hear you, mama! I am a work-at-home mom of a three-year-old and newborn twins (#thelongtwins). Life is chaotic; some days I’m happy if I make it through the day with everyone alive. No matter how crazy my life gets, I’m committed to nourishing myself and my family with a Whole30-inspired diet because I know that it will support my mood, energy, and health. I completed my first Whole30 in January 2015 and have been consistently working my way toward my Food Freedom and my Whole30-inspired groove ever since.

All that to say: I’m here to help. Here are my top 4 best tips for surviving the Whole30 as a busy mama.

Tip #1: I Always Meal Plan

This is a major key, especially if you’re early on in your Whole30 journey. My first Whole30, I literally sat down each week and mapped out exactly what I would eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. Although this might sound extreme, it helped me to stay on track, avoid temptations, and be very efficient with my groceries.

Three years into my Whole30-inspired lifestyle, I don’t meal plan with this intensity anymore, but I still plan our dinner for each night of the week. Each weekend I sit down with my handy-dandy meal planner and grocery list. I start by browsing my Whole30 Pinterest board, my favorite Whole30 blogs (I love The Family Freezer and Whole Kitchen Sink), my saved posts from @Whole30Recipes on Instagram, or the amazing new Whole30 Fast& Easy Cookbook. Once I’m inspired, I look at my calendar. On the days where I’ll be on-the-go from dawn to dusk, I choose a meal that’s simpler to prep and cook. On the days where I’ll have more time, I choose a new, more elaborate recipe. This keeps it fresh and helps mitigate food boredom.

Today I’m offering you my personal grocery list/meal planning tool as a free PDF download. This list is fully customizable. You’ll see that I’ve filled in my most frequently bought items, but you’re free to change it so that it reflects the needs of your family! And yes — there are two columns for veggies because Whole30’ers eat a lot of veggies! Click here to download.

If you just want someone to meal plan for you … that’s possible, too! Check out the Whole30 Planner with Real Plans.

Tip #2: I Find Time to Meal Prep

It takes some time to find a meal prep groove that works for your personality and schedule, but it’s worth experimenting with until you get it right. Here are two meal prep strategies that I’ve found to be helpful:

  1. Block Prep. Chop, prep, and cook for a 2-3 hour block of time. Most people find the weekend is a good time to do this, but choose a day of the week that suits your schedule. Batch cook a few meals and portion them out to reheat when needed. Some mamas find it easy to eat the same thing for breakfast every day (like a piece of frittata or a couple egg muffins). You can also make enough of each dinner that you can eat leftovers for lunch the next day! Try doubling one recipe a week and immediately putting it in the freezer for one of your busier days in the future. Here are a few Whole30 compliant freezer meals to get you started: Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie, Maria’s Freezer Meal Series on the Whole30 blog, Steph’s Freezer Meal Strategies.
  2. Find Your Window Prep. This is the strategy that I use most often. Evaluate your daily schedule and find a few 10 minute windows that will allow you to meal prep throughout the day.  Pull meat out of the freezer the night before and mix up the marinade to put on the meat in the morning. Chop veggies right after you get your little one down for nap. FaceTime your parents or a close friend to entertain the kids while you put the finishing touches on your dinner. The more you practice this, the more it will become habitual, and you’ll find that you actually DO have time to cook dinner every day!

Your kids and/or partner won’t eat your Whole30 meals? Read Melissa Hartwig Urban’s tip for creating “overlapping meals” that work for your whole family. I often use this strategy!

Tip #3: I Repeat Go-To Meals

I am not afraid to repeat my family’s favorite Whole30 meals, and you shouldn’t be either. It doesn’t matter if someone else thinks the meal is weird or difficult to make or whatever … if it works for you and your family, go for it.

The strategy here is to create your “short list” of go-to meals when you just don’t have time to worry about it. For me, these recipes tend to be versatile and use ingredients that I typically have in my fridge or freezer at all times, so that I can make dinner in a pinch on those days that I didn’t get around to planning or prepping. My short list consists of:

  • Taco salad (ground beef, lettuce, sauteed onions and bell peppers, salsa, guacamole) (The one pictured is from @paleobailey on @whole30recipes Instagram)
  • Burgers over lettuce (+ lots of compliant toppings) with potato wedges or grilled veggies (The burger pictured is from @nourishinghome on the @whole30recipes Instagram)
  • Bolognese sauce (ground beef mixed with compliant canned tomato sauce!) and roasted veggies (whatever I have in the fridge works, but broccoli and Brussels sprouts are my favorite!)
  • Stir-fry (works with any combination of meat and veggies + coconut aminos, fish sauce, and/or Thai Kitchen curry sauce as the base)
  • Frittata (again, works with any combination of meat and veggies!)

Tip #4: I Keep Favorite Convenience Foods On Hand

I’m a breastfeeding mama of three young children. There are moments in almost every day of my life that either I, or one (or more) of my children is suddenly ravenous. It’s too exhausting to cook from scratch every piece of food that goes into everyone’s mouth all day long. Plus some days I just can’t get it together to get a “real” dinner on the table. This is where go-to Whole30 compliant convenience foods will support your Whole30 intentions.

Here’s what I like; depending on your location, these might be tough to find locally, but Thrive Market and Barefoot Provisions carry most shelf-stable items. Keep some of these items on hand and you’ll never go hungry, whether it’s the morning wake up call or middle of the night feeding hanger. 

Easy protein sources:

  • Compliant shredded rotisserie chicken (Check your labels; some grocery stores add sugar to their rotisserie chicken. Whole Foods Markets typically carry a compliant option.)
  • Applegate natural hot dogs
  • Safe Catch tuna
  • EPIC bar
  • Chomps beef stick
  • Pedersen’s fully cooked bacon
  • Aidell chicken and apple sausage
  • Compliant proscuitto or smoked salmon
  • Pre-cooked hardboiled eggs

Minimal-to-no-prep veggie options

  • Pre-chopped veggies
  • Mini cucumbers
  • Baby carrots
  • Baby bell peppers
  • Pre-chopped lettuce
  • ZUPA NOMA drinkable soup
  • Veggie Noodle Co spiralized veggies
  • Pre “riced” cauliflower or broccoli

Fat sources:

  • Avocado (“purse avocados” are a thing in Whole30 world!)
  • Ghee, olive oil, avocado oil (drizzled on top of anything)
  • Primal Kitchen Chipotle-Lime Mayo
  • Tessemae’s salad dressings
  • Nuts

Diaper bag friendly options:

  • Nuts
  • Apple or banana
  • Dried fruit (check labels!)
  • RXbar
  • Larabar
  • Epic bar
  • Serenity Kids Baby Food Pouches
  • SeaSnax seaweed

Mama, you’re doing a good job. The goal is never perfection, so let yourself off the hook. If, at the end of the day, you just can’t make it work right now, THAT’S OK! There is grace for this season and you don’t have to go all or nothing. Small steps over time create the path to Food Freedom. You’re making it through the day, your family is loved, and that’s what matters most. I would love to hear how you make the Whole30 work for you, so please join the conversation over on Instagram or email us.

Chelsea Long is the Content Coordinator for Whole Mamas. She lives in San Diego with her husband and three year old son and infant twins. In addition to her work for Whole Mamas, Chelsea is a yoga teacher, writer and meditation facilitator. Formerly an English as a Second Language instructor at the University level, Chelsea shifted her interest to holistic health after giving birth to her son. Her degrees in Communications and Education serve her well as she works with the Whole30 team to help other moms thrive during preconception, pregnancy and postpartum. Chelsea is passionate about helping others find healing through yoga, meditation, and nutrition, both through her contribution to the Whole Mamas team and through her personal website.

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