Let’s face it – Whole30 ain’t easy.
I’ve done several rounds of Whole30 in the past, and while I’ve seen enormous success, it’s always been quite the difficult endeavor for me.
I’m a decent-ish cook, but no Julia Childs. I’m actually probably the worst cook among all my friends. I find meal planning overwhelming and weekend grocery store trips to be stressful, putting it mildly.
I decided that for this latest round of Whole30, I’ll do things a bit differently. This time I’ll try to make things as easy as possible by enlisting some help through meal delivery services.
My goal? To test this new, easier Whole30 method and see if the money I spend will be worth it.
Getting By With a Little Help From Some Friends
For this easiest Whole30 ever, I decided to enlist some help from a few Whole30-friendly food services.
- The 1st and 2nd week I’m keeping it simple and making my own meals through traditional recipe collecting, meal planning, and grocery shipping.
- For week 3, I’ll be using a meal service that delivers the ingredients and recipes I need to cook a meal (think Hello Fresh, Blue Apron type programs). I’ll still be making my own breakfast and lunches, using leftovers from the meal services for dinner the following night.
- For the final week 4, I’ll be making things super easy on myself and ordering pre-made meals for the most stress-free eating possible. Again, I’ll still be making my own breakfast (I’m a big egg fan) and a few easy lunches.
As you can see, I decided to get some assistance when my self-will tends to wane the most. For me, that’s the final week, as I’m constantly bombarded with evil thoughts saying “hey, 20 days is close enough…it might as well be 30). However, I know some other folks might feel that the first week is the hardest. If you decide to get a Whole30 helping hand, I’d suggest making things easier on yourself for whatever time period is most challenging for you.
Week 1 + 2: Make Your Own Meals
If you’re going to choose any time to cook on Whole30, the first week is definitely the best (at least in my opinion). You’re fueled by the excitement of starting a new eating regiment, and your willpower is likely at its strongest.
Even with that greenhorn gunpowder launching you into Whole30, if you’re not seasoned in the kitchen, you may feel a bit overwhelmed by the recipes and meal prepping.
And then of course there’s the shopping. Whole30 grocery shopping takes longer than usual, forcing you crouch on the grocery market floor to squint at tiny label type (what are these, ingredient lists for ants?) while other shoppers navigate their carts around you. It’s time to whip out your monocle as you obsess over ingredient lists in order to discern the compliant almond butter, coconut milk, and RX bars from the non-compliant varieties.
For your first DIY cooking week, try these resources to make things a bit easier:
If you’re cooking yourself, you’ll likely be in need of recipe inspiration. Here are a few great Whole30 recipe resource sites I adore.
- Stupid Easy Paleo. Another favorite paleo website with a dedicated Whole30 category. Any recipes in the recipe index with (W30) are Whole30-friendly.
- Melissa Joulwan. Lots of great Whole30 resources on here including recipes, easy meal plan outlines, etc. Melissa is also the creator of one of my favorite Whole30 handy recipes – sunshine sauce, which is awesome for stir frys!
- Jay’s Baking Me Crazy. Lots of great paleo recipes, and a Whole30 specific section.
- Nom Nom Paleo. Popular paleo website full of great recipes – most notably 60 days of Whole30 recipes!
- Paleo Leap. Tons of paleo recipes featuring large images and a great site design. Recipes are grouped based on main ingredient (chicken, beef, fish, etc).
Other Tips for An Easy DIY Whole30
- Real Plans. Real Plans is a popular meal planning app (there’s a web and mobile version) that makes it easy to find and organize recipes. The free version has a pretty decent paleo selection, but you’ll need to double check and make sure the paleo recipes don’t use sweeteners or any other non-compliant ingredients. The paid version of Real Plans offers access to thousands of recipes, including recipes from popular paleo-friendly sites like Nom Nom Paleo and other. One really handy feature – Real Plans offers a free Chrome plugin that lets you clip recipes from any website and import them into your Real Plans recipe box.
- Plan to Eat. Plan to Eat is another recipe planning software. Similar to Real Plans, you can clip favorite recipes from across the web and develop a meal plan with them from the program’s dashboard.
- Thrive Market. If you hate grocery stores like me, Thrive Market is an easy way to stock up on your Whole30 pantry essentials. They even have a Whole30 approved section, so you can order that chicken stock and coconut oil with full confidence and zero frustrating label reading.
- Repeat Your Meals. If you’re going to cook yourself, make it easy and stick to a few easy meals and repeat them. It won’t be as fun, but keeping meals simple will make your life immensely easier.
- Prep Your Meals. It’s pretty well-established, but bears repeating – meal prep is essential for a smooth Whole30. While prepping isn’t easy, it requires one day of intensive work (usually Sundays) to make the rest of your week much easier. Weekdays are often more hectic, and therefore have higher potential for setbacks. Having meals ready in your fridge can make all the difference. You don’t need to use a meal planning service like those mentioned above, but you do need to plan in some way.
Week 3: Meal Ingredient + Recipe Delivery Service
Once week 3 approaches, I’m usually getting a bit discouraged with my Whole30 endeavor. At this point I’m sick of my frequent trips to the grocery store after work, and I’m starting to long for the comforts of my favorite Thai take-out spot down the street (entree, soup, and two sides for $10? How can I not love this place?).
When you start to get a bit discouraged or tired of cooking DIY, this is the perfect time to mix things up and make dinner a bit easier. I recommend trying out a meal delivery kit.
If you’ve ever clicked anywhere on the internet, you’re probably already familiar with these kinds of services – you get a box delivered to your door that contains several meal kits and recipes, with ingredients already measured out for you, saving you from the stressful shopping.
Hello Fresh and Blue Apron are the most well-known of these services (at least in my neck of the woods), but they aren’t paleo friendly. Since you pick and choose the recipes, it is possible to select recipes that are as close to compliant as possible and just leave out any non-compliant ingredients.
However, when many of these meals are based around quinoa, rice, pasta, or some type of grain, it can be difficult to create a satisfying meal from what’s leftover.
Note: While trying Hello Fresh again after I finished this Whole30 experiment, I was impressed to find that there were quite a few paleo-friendly meal options. Out of the eight meal options Hello Fresh gave me, I was able to find three that were paleo/Whole30 friendly (in this case, I am judging paleo compliance based on if the meal used potatoes and/or sweet potatoes as a carb base, as opposed to pasta, rice, quinoa, or other grains. You may still need to watch out for honey or sugar, but since you can easily leave out honey, it’s not a big deal). So it’s definitely worth a go!
Luckily, there are actually a few meal services out there that are paleo friendly. Now remember, paleo isn’t the same as Whole30, but they are awfully close.
For any paleo-compliant meal services, the main thing you’ll have to be on the lookout for is honey, maple syrup, or any other natural sweetener (paleo allows natural sweeteners, while Whole30 does not).
We recommend Sun Basket – they’re a great meal service that offers a paleo option. With the meals I received, I didn’t need to modify anything – the meals were completely Whole30 compliant!
You also get to pick and choose the meals yourself, so you can make sure you really are getting a Whole30 complaint dish (they show all the ingredients in each recipe during the meal selection process, so it’s pretty foolproof).
Sun Basket is also currently offering a sweet deal – you can get $35 off your first Sun Basket order! In that case, no reason not to try it, right?
My experience with Sunbasket was pretty good. The meals were really fun and interesting. For me, there was plenty of food but I found my leftovers for day 2 a bit skimpy and wished I had a bit more. I have a feeling than a man might need an addition post-dinner snack to feel appropriately satisfied.
It’s also worth noting that Sun Basket’s 3 meal package for two (which, for me as a person of one, turned into 6 meals) didn’t cover all my eating for the week. I still needed to cook a few of my own dinners, but Sun Basket took a lot of the load off.
Week 4: Prepared Meal Delivery
The last week of Whole30 can be tough. You can see the finish line, which often is enough to give your willpower a final sprint. However, many folks are simply done with dishwashing and are really ready for a big break.
If you need an extra push to get over the finish line, prepared meals are the way to go. Healthy, hearty meals that just need to be popped in the microwave? It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Depending on how you handle the Whole30 process, you might want to do your first week of cooking, then a meal ingredient box like Sun Basket, then pre-made meals, and loop back into DIY recipes for the final week. The key is to use the pre-made meals options during the weeks where you struggle the most, and that may be different for everyone.
Pros and Cons of Pre-Made Meal Services
There are a number of services that provide premade paleo meals that can be delivered to your door. However, again, paleo doesn’t equal Whole30. And with prepared meals, you don’t have the option of picking and choosing ingredients to modify your meal as you do with ingredient-based boxes like those mentioned above.
There are Whole30-compliant prepared meal services, but they do require a bit of additional diligence.
Below I’ll be covering a few different pre-made paleo meal services that can be helpful during the most trying times of your Whole30 program. Full disclosure: I’ve only ever tried The Good Kitchen myself, so I can’t personally vouch for any of the other services, but I’ve spent a lot of time on all their websites reviewing their literature and offerings.
Pre-Made Meal Option #1: The Good Kitchen
For our top pick, we recommend The Good Kitchen.
The Good Kitchen is a prepared meal delivery service that delivers healthy, pre-made meals in giant packs to your door. All meat is grass-fed and antibiotic/hormone free, along with organic produce.
Many of their meals are Whole30-compliant, but some others contain coconut nectar, which is classified as a sweetener and therefore not allowed on Whole30.
Luckily, The Good Kitchen lists their ingredients for each meal in the meal selection dashboard, so you can easily navigate away from those meals with sweeteners and choose compliant ones instead.
The meals are presented on vacuum-sealed trays, making them compact and easy to store in a fridge or freezer, as they stack really well. My roommate was shocked when I told her I was able to fit all 10 in the freezer (she was adamant I must be wrong since our freezer is always so packed).
Cooking is a breeze – just pull back the plastic and cook in the microwave for 3 minutes. Whole30 can’t get any easier than that.
The Good Kitchen meals cost $130 for 10 meals, which breaks down to $13 per meal. You can order more meals in bulks for a bit of a discount, or choose your own custom plan (for example, 5 meals a week you can keep on hand just for emergencies).
Shipping is also free with The Good Kitchen which is handy – most other similar services change some kind of shipping.
Pre-Made Meal Option #2: Factor 75
Similar to The Good Kitchen, Factor 75 has a great selection of paleo meals, but not all are Whole30 compliant. They do have detailed ingredient lists for each meal though, so just do some careful reading. We found a few recipes with honey and burgundy wine, so keep an eye out for those banned ingredients!
Factor 75 charges $60 for 4 meals, which breaks down to $15 per meal. However, ordering 8, 12, or 18 meals brings down the price per meal. Ordering 8 meals will cost you $99, amounting to a bit over $12 per meal.
Factory 75 charges a delivery fee based on your location.
Pre-Made Meal Option #3: Paleo On The Go
Paleo On The Go offers a wide selection of frozen paleo meals. They also have a “Strict 30” category of meals specifically designed to only use ingredients that are Whole30 compliant.
However, even the “Strict 30” category has one or two recipes we would classify as SWYPO (like the Biscuits & Gravy meal), so just use a bit of common sense on this one.
When it comes to pricing Paleo On The Go does things a bit differently. Each meal is individually priced – some are less than $10, while others – like the Elk Burger with Wild Mushrooms – are over $20. However, orders must be at least $100 to be processed. Again, shipping depends on location.
Pre-Made Meal Option #4: True Fare
True Fare is one of the few meal delivery services that is officially endorsed by Whole30! They have pre-selected Whole30-friendly meals, so you don’t need to dig through ingredient lists. Just add to your cart and order!
With True Fare, most packs of meals are designed to cover entire days. For example, the 5 Day Whole30 Program Meal Plan contains 15 meals – 5 breakfasts, 5 lunches, and 5 dinners. The five-day plan is $175, which breaks down to a bit less than $12 per meal.
However, it’s worth remembering that breakfast is pretty easy on Whole30 – lunches and dinners are where most folks could really use a hand, so in some ways you’re getting less bang for your buck.
True Fare also has a handy Whole30 Emergency pack, which includes some snacks and soups in addition to others meals. Shipping costs vary depending on your location, but in many cases shipping is free.
So, How Did My “Easiest Whole30 Ever” Go?
I have to say, this was without a doubt the easiest, smoothest Whole30 I’ve ever completed.
Just when I was getting sick of cooking, Sun Basket came to save the day. Then with the prepared meals from The Good Kitchen (which, despite looking weird in their vacuum seals, tasted great) I just sailed the surf to the finish line.
Would I do it again? Yes, absolutely. I live in New England and work from home, so when it gets cold out, the LAST thing I want to do is force myself to go grocery shopping. Having the ingredients + recipes from Sun Basket, and then the even easier prepared meals delivered to me just made my life immensely easier.
Of course, convenience comes at a cost. A week of Sun Basket (at 3 recipes for 2 people, so six meals total) is $78 (that includes shipping). I used an intro offer that got me $35 off, making it only $37 per week. The intro discount makes it worth it IMO, but I’m not sure I’d continue at that price.
The Good Kitchen isn’t cheap either – 10 meals cost $130. Still, when the meals are totally done and ready to be eaten, you’re saving a lot of time over services like Sun Basket and Hello Fresh. I was actually able to get 15% off The Good Kitchen (and you can too), bringing one week of The Good Kitchen’s 10 meal pack to just over $110.
This means that my Whole30 helpers cost a total of $147. For some, this will be too much. For me – it’s a cost I can manage.
These helpful hands aren’t cheap, but they’re worth it for me. My time is valuable and I am easily stressed, so for me, paying a bit extra to increase my chances of success on Whole30 is well worth it. I know the Whole30 program works – I’ve seen the results. But making it happen can be tough. Now that I’ve found a method that makes Whole30 easier for me, I may be more likely to complete more rounds than I would have in the past.
The Downsides to an Easy Whole30
Then again, there are a few drawbacks to this method. The first issue is that if you start using meal delivery services right off the bat for your first Whole30, you’ll be really missing a key aspect of the program.
A big part of Whole30 is learning how to be a discerning eater. It can be a rough learning curve, but the education you’ll get doing a DIY WHole30 is immense. I know now what sugar synonymous to look out for, what sulfates to avoid, what brands of coconut milk are OK and which aren’t. Learning these important label reading skills is one of the core lessons of Whole30.
This issue is compounded by the fact that not developing those label reading skills can become really problematic when you go on to use premade meal services, as you’ll still need to be a good little sugar sleuth to pick out which meals don’t have any kind of sugar (even by any of its harmless-sounding names like “coconut nectar”).
Another problem is that if you’re feeding an entire family, the cost of pre-made meals or meal delivery services will get a lot more drastic. It really isn’t practical for a family (or heck, maybe not even for a couple). However, for a single party of one doing Whole30 (like yours truly), the pre-packed, pre-portioned meals are perfect. Honestly, the hassle of cooking a big nice meal for just myself isn’t always worth it (after eating carnitas for my 3rd lunch in a row I’m pretty done with pork).
Ultimately, I’d say the easy route I’ve been using is great for Whole30 veterans – especially veterans doing the program solo. But for first-timers, I’d say do it on your own for the first round. Then come back for help when you hit round two!
What about you – have you ever used meal delivery services or pre-made meals as part of your Whole30 efforts? How big of a difference did those aids make for you? Share your experience in the comments!