Quick question: What is your definition of an “emergency food,” as it pertains to eating outside of your usual three or four Whole30 meals a day? – Michelle A, Cuyahoga Falls, OH
We use the term “emergency food” figuratively, to describe unexpected situations in which you may find yourself needing sustenance without an easy Whole30-compatible meal in sight. Often we couple the term with “on-the-go,” to describe situations in which you need to eat but can’t stop to cook a Whole30 meal, and that’s how most people think about it. However, you can (and often do!) have “emergencies” without ever leaving the house, which I suspect many of us are experiencing now in the time of COVID.
Some on-the-go food situations you might experience during your Whole30 include:
- Stuck late at the office
- A job that has you on-the-go (like a landscaper or teacher)
- Kids’ sporting events
- Traffic jams
- Long flights or airport delays
- Outdoor activities like a hike, bike ride, or day at the amusement park
- Arriving home from work unexpectedly late
- A social gathering serving mostly non-compatible food
- Errands that take longer than expected
Some “at-home emergency” situations you might experience during your Whole30 include:
- Hours and hours of Zoom meetings (especially if they run long)
- Instacart can’t deliver in time for dinner
- You’re unexpectedly quarantining and haven’t grocery shopped
- Home schooling + work = little time for cooking dinner
- Stress overload without a prepped meal, leaving you tempted to call for pizza
- Family walks around the block that turn into two hours at the park
For all of these reasons (and then some), it’s always helpful to have “Whole30 emergency food” on hand, both at home and in your gym bag/purse/diaper bag/backpack/office fridge. Here are my best tips for building a balanced emergency food stash.
Protein is King
When talking about emergency or on-the-go food, protein plays the starring role. It’s pretty easy to find compatible dry-roasted nuts and seeds or fresh fruit in the wild (most airport kiosks and gas stations stock these things), but finding compatible protein is much harder. This is no different at home, either; you’ve got carrot sticks, apples, pre-made guacamole or salsa, canned olives, and coconut flakes ready to roll, but that salmon filet or chicken breast in your fridge isn’t exactly grab-and-go.
In addition, when you’re on the run or need sustenance to get you to your next hearty meal, protein is king. It’s the most satiating of all the macronutrients, and when combined with fat (as with many of our suggestions), you’ll finish your mini-meal feeling satisfied and energized. A dried-fruit-and-nut bar or handful of grapes, on the other hand, isn’t as satisfying, leaves you feeling hungry faster, and might even stir up sugar cravings during stressful, active days.
When thinking about planning your emergency food, prioritize protein, then think about rounding out your stash with healthy fats and carbs to create mini-meals (or choosing protein-rich all-in-one snacks).
Emergency Food at On-the-Go
Look for non-perishables and sturdy veggies and fruit to create your on-the-go emergency food kit. Our Whole30 Approved partners are a great place to start; Thrive Market has a huge assortment of Whole30 Approved and compatible products, and Barefoot Provisions carries Whole30 kits loaded with emergency options.
Note: Not every offering from every partner is compatible; read your labels or look for the Whole30 logo on the product, or a Whole30 curated page on their website.
- Protein: Snack sticks, beef thins, jerky, and meat sticks (see Whole30 Approved for a variety of compatible options)
- Protein: Cans or pouches of salmon, tuna, or chicken
- Mini-Meal: RXBARs (egg white protein + fat + fruit)
- Veggies: baby carrots, pre-sliced bell peppers, grape tomatoes, or compatible baby food pouches (like Serenity Kids)
- Fruit: any and all; pack in a storage container so it doesn’t bruise
- Fats: Avocado, coconut flakes or milk (canned), green or black olives, nuts and seeds, individual packets of compatible nut butter or coconut butter
Emergency Food at Home
This is an often-overlooked category of emergency food, but having a stash at home can make the difference between sticking to your commitment and ordering pizza in a hangry, stressed moment of desperation. Even if you ARE in your own kitchen, you won’t always have time to prepare or even heat up a compatible meal, so have grab-and-go or eat-cold options on hand.
Here are at-home Whole30-compatible emergency foods I always have on hand in my own kitchen:
- Hard-boiled eggs, a pre-made frittata, or egg muffins
- Compatible deli meat (from Applegate or True Story) or pre-cooked bacon
- Protein Salad (page 161 from The Whole30; chicken, salmon, tuna, or egg-based)
- A pound of browned ground beef, chicken, or lamb (unseasoned)
- Roasted chicken or rotisserie chicken (cleaned)
- Compatible sauerkraut, pickles, olives, and Love Beets
- Roasted veggies (sweet potato, butternut squash, tomatoes, asparagus, and green beans are my go-to)
- Fresh greens (arugula, romaine, baby spinach, collard greens for wraps)
- Grab-and-go veggies (baby carrots, bell pepper, grape tomatoes, SeaSnax)
- Pre-made salsa and guacamole
- Whole30 Approved dressings, dipping sauces, hot sauces, and mayos
Here’s the best part of having Whole30 “emergency” food on hand at home: when you’re short on time, you can either grab and option and hit the ground running (slices of frittata can be eaten cold), or you can whip up an Instagram-worthy meal in 5 minutes flat and feel like a Whole30 rock star with zero stress. Here are three meals I personally make from my emergency food stash:
- Arugula, protein salad, drizzle of Whole30 Creamy Balsamic, topped with diced avocado
- Baby spinach, slice of frittata, side of roasted veggies and salsa
- Deli turkey, a slice of pre-cooked bacon, guacamole or mayo, and sliced bell pepper or tomato, in a romaine lettuce or collard wrap, side of carrots dipped in Whole30 House Ranch.
At-Home Convenience Foods
There are also some Whole30-compatible emergency foods you can keep in your fridge and freezer that require little prep-time, but can expand your meals-in-a-hurry repertoire. And yes, these are convenience (processed) foods—but let’s get real.
While it would be lovely if you made every Whole30 meal from scratch every single day, that’s unreasonable for just about everyone. Even me. Repeat after me: Let good enough be good enough. If after a richly scheduled day, the best you can do to honor your 30-day commitment is throw some Whole30-compatible hot dogs, a frozen root veggie hash brown, pre-made guacamole, and a Waterloo on the table… I’M ALL FOR IT.
- Whole30 Approved Great Value frozen meals from Walmart (all flavors Whole30 Approved)
- Primal Kitchen frozen meals
- Tribali Foods frozen meat patties
- Grandcestors frozen meals (all flavors Whole30 Approved)
- Applegate hot dogs (beef, chicken, turkey)
- Chicken Sausage from Bliniski’s
- Dinner Sausages and Burger Blends from Teton Waters Ranch
- Yai’s Thai Veggie Bowls (add your own cooked protein)
- Cece’s Veggie Co. spiralized veggies (these cook or steam fast!)
- Dr. Praeger’s frozen Veggie Puffs, Hash Browns, and Littles (read labels—not all varieties are compatible)
We hope this helps you better plan and prepare for your Whole30, and these same tips will help you stick to your new, healthy habits in your food freedom, too. In fact, this entire list came from what’s currently in my purse, carry-on, pantry, and fridge at home. So print this off, save the email, or create your own list of Whole30 emergency and on-the-go foods and stick it on your fridge…. and then stock up and prep away!
Best in health,
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Remember, we aren’t answering questions about the Whole30 rules via this column (use the forum!), nor are we able to offer you specific advice about your medical issue, health condition, or body composition.
Melissa Urban is the Whole30 Co-Founder and CEO, a 6-time New York Times bestselling author, and the host of the Do the Thing podcast. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, People, and CNBC and ranks #19 on Greatist’s list of Most Influential People in Health and Fitness. She lives in Salt Lake City, UT.
Photo credit: Brandon Talbot