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What is Clean Eating? Tips, Meal Plans and Recipes

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We learned about clean eating 5 years ago. It’s been a gamechanger not only for our weight loss journey but our overall health. Now we’re breaking down the basics for a Beginners Guide to Eating Clean.

In this guide you’ll find:

  • Clean Eating Diet Defined
  • Tips on How to Eat Clean
  • Sample Food List
  • Easy Clean Eating Recipes
  • Clean Eating Meal Plan
  • Eating Clean on a Budget
  • Reading Nutrition Labels Made Easy
  • Our Favorite Books and Magazines

This post contains affiliate links – see our full disclosure here.

Clean Eating For Beginners Eat Clean Meal Plan Tips and Food Lists

Why We Eat Clean

We found clean eating 6 years ago when our digestion, energy, and bloodwork was all out of whack. We considered our diet to be healthy most of the time, but on a stressful week, the drive-thru became a definite crutch.

Add in lean cuisines, instant oatmeal, and an occasional protein bar and it’s no wonder our bodies were upset.

But it’s hard to know what to eat, and then make the time and budget to make it happen. After all, lean cuisines and instant oatmeal sound pretty decent from a weight loss perspective, right?

In fact, we had weight loss down! We knew about counting calories, worked out 3x a week and our friends would say we were the healthiest person they knew.

Mind you – we are in a small Southern town, but still. Yikes!

Within 2 weeks, we learned clean eating was more than just a diet to promote weight loss. It was about fueling our body in the right way.

WHAT IS CLEAN EATING?

Clean eating is focusing your diet on whole, unprocessed foods. This way of eating focuses on whole foods which help limit sugar, saturated fat, and processed foods.

If I had to summarize eating clean in 1 rule, it would be:

If it doesn’t come from the ground or have a mother, don’t eat it.

This means choosing foods in the least-processed state. For example, an apple over apple juice.

While some boxed foods are okay, a general rule would be to avoid them because they are usually very processed.

It’s getting back to the basics. We know things from the ground have been eaten for thousands of years whereas the long-term of effects of Cheetos are unknown.

An Eat Clean Overview from its creator, Tosca Reno:

“You will eat lean protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. These practices keep your blood-sugar levels stable and keep you satisfied. The best part is that if you need to lose weight it will happen almost without you having to try. And yes, you can have a treat now and again.”

Eat Clean Principles

  • Choose foods in their basic form or foods with fewer ingredients.
  • Plan time to fuel your body. You’ll eat 3-5 times a day, and you’ll need to make those meals mindfully.
  • Choose more local, fresh foods when possible.
  • Eat more plant-based foods

You may also like to read: The Difference Between The Paleo Diet and Eating Clean

THE DEAL WITH PROCESSED FOODS

Right now, our food supply chain has never been more processed.

Most of our foods have some type of processing done to them. As some processing is helpful for storing foods and making them flavorful, it tends to strip the nutrition from the food itself.

That’s really base case scenario too.

Now so many foods have additives in them. We don’t know how those ingredients will affect our bodies long term because they’ve never been consumed at this rate before.

Fruit Loops didn’t grow off a tree, and the “whole grains” it’s made from didn’t come out looking like a colorful loop either. It also didn’t taste that way!

Now, I’m not one to ever say to completely rid yourself of everything, but with this diet, you do want to avoid highly processed foods like the Fruit Loops.

Dawn Jackson-Blatner, RD, author of The Superfood Swap, summarized this well saying:
“Clean eating is caring, not obsessing, about ingredient quality and doing your best to cut the C.R.A.P.: chemicals, refined sugar/flour, artificial sweeteners/colors/flavors, and preservatives.”

BENEFITS OF CLEAN EATING

  • The body processes it better.
  • No sugar is added to unprocessed foods.
  • Whole foods do not contain added salt.
  • You’ll see partially hydronated oils that are trans fat.
  • Whole foods include healthy fats monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, plus fiber, potassium, and antioxidants.
  • Higher nutrition in whole meats, fruits, and veggies. (Meaning a steak is better for you than Spam).

CAN YOU HAVE MEAT, DAIRY OR GRAINS ON THE EAT-CLEAN DIET?

Yes, you can have all 3! The Eat Clean Diet is not an elimination diet; it’s more about choosing the highest quality foods.

If you believe you could have a food allergy to one of those, I would highly suggest the Whole 30. It’s a 30-day elimination diet to find out what is upsetting your system.

What Can You Eat on the Whole 30 Diet? Your Guide & FAQ

With this diet though, you just choose the best quality foods. That means grass-fed organic meats, whole grains, organic fruits and veggies and non-boxed foods as a rule.
Clean Eating Diet Recipes Meal Plan and More Guide
 

6 TIPS ON HOW TO EAT CLEAN

1.  Avoid Processed Foods

I know – I sound like a broken record.

This is the biggest rule in the eat clean diet though.

By cutting out processed foods, you’ll also cut back on your consumption of added sugars and salts, GMOs, MSG, and other possibly harmful chemicals. By avoiding these foods, you’ll likely feel better with improved digestion and energy, and you will also likely have fewer cravings.

Even foods marketed as healthy may contain added ingredients which is why we’ll talk about reading nutritional labels in detail below.

Unprocessed Foods:

  • Fresh Produce
  • Dried legumes
  • Nuts
  • Farm-fresh eggs

Minimally processed foods include:

  • Unrefined grains (whole wheat bread and pasta, popcorn, steel-cut oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice).
  • Frozen Produce
  • Good quality meats: Wild is better than pastured, and pastured is better than grain-fed. However, all 3 options are okay.
  • Organic, Hormone-free dairy
  • Oils

You might also like How to Find the Best Clean Bread

Grab our Clean Eating Grocery List

2. Shop Local

Shopping your local farmers market can cut down on chemicals used during travel, and the packaging is also usually better.

Some locations are easier than others due to climate though. Challenge yourself to try a new seasonal veggie each season.

3. Eat Throughout the Day

Tosca Reno, the creator of the diet, suggests eating 5 to 6 times a day. For us, this looks like 3 meals and 2-3 snacks. One of our snacks is pre- and post- workout.

Eating like this keeps you feeling full and wards off any last-minute temptations and cravings.

4. Practice Portion Control

Just because you’re eating healthy foods doesn’t mean you can eat huge portions of them. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ll want to especially watch your portions.

The diet doesn’t require you to count calories; however, I like using a meal plan or portion-controlled containers to keep my eating in check.

11 Surprising Portion Control Tips to Hit Your Goal Weight

If you check out the post above, it outlines what a serving and a portion is for each food group, and how to find your magic portion size.

5. Watch What You Drink

Water is a staple in clean eating. It helps detox the body, keeps our energy up and promotes an overall healthy system.

You will need to skip all sodas, water-add ins like Crystal Light and processed juices. Freshly brewed teas are okay.

Its recommended that the average adult drinks 64 oz a day. This amount should be evenly spaced throughout the day as well.

6. Shop the Perimeter

Having a clean eating grocery list going into a shop is the most helpful hack to staying on track.

Then, the freshest foods are in the perimeter of the grocery store. It usually starts with fresh fruits and veggies, goes to minimally processed meats, and then to fresh dairy items.

The aisles of the grocery store are where things get tricky. How processed is too processed? That’s where reading labels come in handy.

If you want to keep it simple though – shop fresh!

11 Secrets Shop Healthier at the Grocery Store

The exceptions to the avoiding-the-aisle-rule are for steel cut oats, frozen chicken or veggies. Keep in mind professional marketers will have you thinking anything is healthy with enough money. Those “Wheat Thins” – aren’t wheat and they aren’t making anyone thin.

READING FOOD LABELS FOR CLEAN EATING

As we mentioned, marketing food is a huge business. It’s up to us as the consumer to know what we’re eating.

Mind you – this guide is based on our experience and thoughts on the subject – everyone’s food label tolerance may be different.

How Many Ingredients

We want to choose something with no more than 5 to 6 ingredients. This keeps the level of processing down.

The type of ingredients matters too. You want to be able to read and know what each one is, and you want to avoid chemical words and partially hydrogenated oils.

If it has a ton of ingredients ask yourself, how else could I make this? An example of this would be when shopping for marinara sauce. There is no reason for it to contain more than 6 ingredients (tomatoes, garlic, onion, mushrooms…).

Sample Food List of Clean Foods

The simplest way to shop is without a label needed.

  • Oranges
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Chicken
  • Steel Cut Oats
  • Salmon
  • Kale
  • Barley
  • Walnuts

It’s best to choose one ingredient foods and create a recipe from them.

Does the percentages part of a label matter?

Not really. Cheap additives can up the “nutrition” of a product but not be natural or healthy. For example, maltodextrin ups the fiber count, but it’s tough on the body. Riboflavin is cheap to add, but it makes the Vitamin B look great on a label!

Packaging

Certain types of containers are better than others. It’s a whole new can of worms to look into though. So I won’t dig into it here; however, Jillian Michael’s Master Your Metabolism has a very thorough guide to packaging. (Wondering why Jillian Michaels is an authority on this all of a sudden? Don’t worry she also had a team of experts and research to back it all up.)

Simple Clean Eating recipes

EASY CLEAN EATING RECIPES

We aren’t exactly the ones to create recipes, but we have some amazing resources and love finding new yummy meals to try! We hope you enjoy these easy clean eating recipes.

Breakfast Recipes

Snacks

Lunch or Dinner Recipes

Desserts

Struggling with Meal Prep?

We love this meal prepping guide, as well as, this 7 week meal plan!

CLEAN EATING MEAL PLAN

We are meal plan girls. We love them, and we try to incorporate them in everything we do. They hold us accountable to our goals, help us meal prep and track our food without obsessing over it.

We wanted to provide our personal Eat Clean Meal Plan for your inspiration. It includes Shakeology which helped us with our meal prep time and it’s a minimally processed shake. You can always sub in something else. We just have loved the superfoods shake for years, and it along with eating clean has helped our overall weight loss and health the most.

If you’re new to the diet, also check out Tosca Reno’s Eat Clean Diet Recharged book! It has 3 different meal plans in it from the creator of the diet. Each meal plan has a specific goal in mind as well which was so helpful!


Clean Eating Meal Plan Weight Loss

Print this Clean Eating Weight Loss Meal Plan

What is Shakeology?

FAVORITE EAT CLEAN BOOKS AND MAGAZINES

We wanted to also provide access to our favorite resources for eating clean.

BOOKS:

MAGAZINES:

DOES EATING CLEAN GUARANTEE WEIGHT LOSS?

In short, no. You will still need to track your food in some way to eat the right amount. You could track by counting calories, using a set meal plan or watching your portions.

But clean eating doesn’t guarantee weight loss. There are several cases of people losing weight and being able to improve their fitness as well through this diet plan though. We’ll share Carol’s testimonial below as a video.

You may also enjoy our Healthy Living Guide with Free Meal Plans

EATING CLEAN ON A BUDGET

We know it can be expensive to shop fresh. It’s a lot cheaper to eat off the dollar menu for now – but what are those foods doing to your body long term?

This way of eating has to be a priority in order for it to work. Not only is it more expensive than you might be used to, but the meal prep takes effort as well.

We are definitely ones that hate to see the grocery bill rise and rise. We’ve broken down some of our favorite tips to save.

  • Buy beans, whole grains, oats, and whole grain flours in bulk. They’ll have a longer shelf life than fresh veggies.
  • Shop seasonal, local produce. Sometimes local communities offer a break if you buy a monthly box of produce. Seasonal items can be cheaper as well.
  • Clip coupons. Apps like Ibotta  even have rebates on fresh fruits and veggies! Also, keep your eyes peeled for deals on frozen fruits and veggies.
  • Cook more. Eating out is harder on this plan, and it’s more expensive than cooking usually.
  • Do a meatless Monday. Since meat is expensive, why not make it a family tradition to do a meatless Monday meal. Healthy and cheap!
  • Buy the whole chicken. You can always freeze what you don’t use. You could have chicken breast one night, use the bone for broth, and dark meat for a chili.

Get $10 for signing up for Ibotta from a desktop or mobile device

Don’t skimp on the Diry Dozen.

These foods contain the most pesticides so it’s worth looking into organic options.

  1. Peaches
  2. Apples
  3. Bell Pepper
  4. Celery
  5. Nectarines
  6. Strawberries
  7. Cherries
  8. Pears
  9. Grapes
  10. Spinach
  11. Lettuce
  12. Potatoes

A way around this is to choose produce with a thicker skin like bananas, oranges, and pineapples.

IS THIS A SUSTAINABLE DIET PLAN?

If its important to you – yes. You aren’t cutting out any food groups in this plan, and it’s not restrictive on your calories. It’s more of a lifestyle than a rigid diet plan.

With that said, we (mom and I) believe that everything in moderation is good (including moderation!). We eat clean 80-90% of the time, and the other 10% is our wiggle room for a good wine, cheat meal, and desserts.

You can, of course, have a wine or dessert on the plan, but I’m pretty sure Mrs. Edward’s pecan pie isn’t on the plan.

Not having to worry about following every rule 100% of the time really helped our perfectionism let go a little. Plus 80-90% clean is a huge improvement from our lean cuisine days.

If you’d like to learn more about out 80/20 way of eating and gain more tips on healthy eating in general – check out our Healthy Living Guide.

What do you think about the Eat Clean Diet?

Does it work for you? Why or why not?

5 Comments

  1. I will definitely be checking out these links! I feel like I’ve been consuming waaay more junk than usual & need to get back on track!

    1. hehe I definitely understand! My birthday is in January so it was like Christmas and then cake (plus a few cookies, m&ms…the normal little splurges of course). I love this diet though because it’s easy, and I never feel deprived. I love your blog by the way! :)

  2. I started the eat clean diet 3 months ago, lasted 3 weeks, looked good, felt great, but got bored and went off track. I said to myself over christmas, that I must go back on this. I have just purchased beachbody Insanity and feel that doing both together, will produce great results!!!!

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