First thing’s first: eating clean? It’s more of a lifestyle than it is a diet. And, like most lifestyle changes, it can be stressful and hella complicated at first.
The good news is that the worst part about figuring out how to start a clean eating lifestyle without feeling stressed is simply about knowing the enemy.
What foods do you need to avoid? Or, how do you eat healthy on a budget? What exactly is clean eating? It’s things like these that make this more of a challenge than it really is.
But when you have these things figured out, trust me, it gets remarkably easier over time. Plus, it feels so, so worth it when you finally realize all the positive changes happening to your body.
We’re talking about all of these today, so put on your reading glasses and start scrolling!
What foods are considered clean eating?
Or, what does clean eating mean?
Put simply, eating clean is all about relying more on whole food. The MayoClinic says this involves consuming more fruits, vegetables, proteins, healthy fat, and whole grains. On the contrary, this also means avoiding processed food, junk food, and sweets.
So, basically, you want to stay away from fast food joints and ready-to-eat packaged goods from the store and focus your attention on foods that aren’t nearly as processed and closer to their natural state.
The good thing about this is that there’s a lot of room for flexibility because you don’t really have to avoid anything too specific — like vegans avoiding anything that’s not plant-based for example, or keto dieters avoiding carbs.
Let’s move on to another challenge you might encounter: your budget.
How to eat healthy on a budget
So, apparently, the expenses that come from eating healthy is off-putting to some people. And, honestly, there’s some truth to that.
As a matter of fact, a study says that healthier diets will cost you around $1.48 more per day.
While that may not seem like a lot to most people, when you’re broke (like I am, sadly), even the smallest amounts can feel like a lot. That’s just how it is.
However, as I’ve learned through all my years of trying to live healthy, there’s more than a few days around it. Here’s some of them:
“Special” options are great but the “regular” ones are, too
And by “special”, I mean things like organic produce, or free-range and grass-fed meat, and other things like that. While there’s definitely enough evidence to argue that they’re healthier, I don’t think you should be forced to buy them if they’re out of your budget.
If you can’t afford them right now, that’s fine. Buy the “regular” options instead. Non-organic produce is still going to be packed with nutrients and lean pork, beef, chicken, and fish are still going to be excellent sources of protein.
Buy tougher cuts of meat
Speaking of excellent sources of protein, tougher cuts of meat are generally cheaper. They also have less fat in them so, in some ways, they might also be the healthier choice.
The downside is that the lower fat percentages also make them seem less appetizing. With the same time you might need to cook more tender cuts of meat, a tougher protein won’t absorb so much flavor and it can feel like you’re chewing leather.
The simple solution that I’ve been doing is just cooking them longer. This way, the meat gets incredibly tender and every fiber absorbs whatever flavors I add to the slow cooker.
I’m using Crock Pot’s 6 Quart Metallic Cooker. I saw it as an investment and, man, it paid off big time.
Compare prices online
When you go to the grocery store and you see something that you think is expensive, take out your phone and explore the prices online.
You will need to factor in the shipping fees of course, but I found that it can be a lot cheaper to just buy off the internet, especially if you order straight from the manufacturer.
Cook in batches to save money
There’s nothing special about this, really, but people have been saying this since I was a little boy.
It helps because you know what to get at the groceries, so you don’t run around picking up whatever you think you need then they end up spoiling anyway. It also helps keep you from eating out because you have food at home just waiting to be reheated.
Buy in bulk
Along with cooking in larger batches, you might also want to buy your groceries in bulk. Each package might only save you a few pennies but, hey, put those coins in a piggy bank and they bubble up pretty fast.
However, buying in bulk can backfire, too, specifically when you buy large batches of things you won’t actually use all that much. So, take the time to figure out what you’re actually going to use a lot of before heading to the store.
It’s okay to buy frozen
According to Produce for Better Health Foundation, the nutrients in fresh and frozen produce are actually quite comparable. If there are any differences, they’re minimal and not much different if you froze your produce at home.
Practically speaking, frozen produce is almost always cheaper than fresh, so it’s going to save you a little bit of money. Plus, frozen foods last indefinitely as long as they’re kept in the freezer.
Make full use of coupons and cashback opportunities
No, you don’t have to cut out magazines and newspapers. The internet is full of these things now, so you’re only going to need your smartphone or perhaps a credit card.
The money you save here probably won’t blow you away at first but, again, these things do add up fairly quickly.
Take advantage of sales
I mean, you buy something at a lesser price so you can save more money. That’s what a sale means to us consumers.
But — and I hate to sound repetitive — don’t let discounts rope you into buying things you don’t need. How to eat healthy on a budget is a bit about discipline, too, which brings us to the next tip…
Control your impulse
The way I see it, this is one of the challenges a lot of people will encounter when they start a clean eating diet.
Think about it. You’re so used to eating chips and junk food that even if your cart (and pantry) is filled with healthy fruits and vegetables, you still might grab a pack or two (or three?) of Doritos.
Not only can this throw you off of your diet, it’ll cost you more money as well.
So, the next time you go grocery shopping, try to control your urges as much as you can.
Oh, and speaking of challenges, let’s move on to another challenge you might encounter.
How to eat clean for a week
There’s 2 things that I think make the first week feel like hell:
- You’re not used to it yet, and
- You’re doing it all wrong
According to a study, the amount of time it takes a person to form a habit ranges between 18-254 days. Of course, it’s different for everyone. That’s why there’s such a huge range.
In any case, this partly explains why your first week of eating clean is going to be one of, if not the toughest part of this whole thing. Old habits are hard to let go, after all.
About doing it all wrong, I talk more about this in another article but, basically, the immediate and week-after effects of clean eating should feel great, which should then help your transition go a lot smoother.
However, a lot of people seem to think that eating healthy means eating less. While there’s certainly truth to that, you also have to pick the right type of food. Otherwise, you’ll just be starving yourself.
The solution to both these problems, I think, lies in cooking your own food.
When you do this, you’re sort of forced into following a plan and routine. Overtime, this routine becomes automatic (i.e. a habit) and things go so much smoother.
Plus, you’ll be eating and cooking whole food instead of takeout and all the other microwavable stuff — which is exactly what clean eating is all about in the first place.
So, below are a few easy recipes you can follow. I split them into either breakfast and lunch or dinner. Just to keep things organized, you know?
Clean eating breakfast ideas for weight loss
Baked protein oats
I think these breakfast bars are great for mornings when you’re so short on time, you don’t even have time to cook eggs or pancakes. You can make them ahead of time because they freeze well, and each batch should get you about 6 servings.
It also naturally tastes sweet because of all the berries and bananas. Pretty darn high in protein, too.
Check out the full recipe at Clean Food Crush.
You make ‘em the night before, leave it in the fridge overnight, and either eat them cold or reheat as preferred. You can even make batches of this to last the whole week if you want.
That being said, Chocolate Covered Katie has 15 easy methods to make delicious and healthy overnight oats.
You’re going to need some sort of container though. Personally, I think mason jars work best because they’re easy to clean, easy to store, and perhaps just as importantly, they look pretty.
Bacon, eggs, and potato breakfast casserole
This recipe from Jeanette’s Healthy Living is another kind of breakfast that you can make in advance. So, it’s great for mornings with very little time, too.
Packed with protein as well, so it’s pretty darn filling despite not having a lot of calories.
Sweet potato waffles
Before anything else, yes, you can eat sweet potatoes and potatoes when you’re eating clean. They’re whole food, after all. Plus, the way these starchy crops are cooked in these recipes takes minimal processing, so it all works out.
Specifically for Running to The Kitchen’s recipe, I think sweet potatoes are the perfect ingredient because of their natural sweetness. Drizzle with a bit of raw honey or pure maple syrup, add a few fruits and berries on the side, and you’ve got yourself a tasty clean eating breakfast.
Sweet potato pancakes
The same natural flavor that makes sweet potatoes great for waffles, I think, also makes them great for pancakes.
With Cooking Light’s recipe, virtually all you’ll need are the sweet potatoes, of course, and a couple of large eggs. It tastes alright this way but if you want to add a bit more flavor, you could also add some cinnamon and allspice.
Fresh herb omelet
To me, there are very few things as synonymous with breakfast as omelets. They’re easy, quick, cheap, and packed with healthy fat and protein to help kick-start your metabolism and keep you full until your next meal.
With that being said, try out this easy recipe from MyRecipes. Serve with some tea and a side of sautéed mushrooms or avocado slices and you’re good to go.
Minty pineapple and cucumber smoothie
Speaking of tea, the base of this recipe from Clean Eating is unsweetened mint tea. I got to tell you, it’s my favorite kind of tea for any time of day.
You’ll also need pineapples, cucumbers, spinach, flaxseed, and some salt. If the produce isn’t in season, you can always choose frozen. They work just fine.
Oh, and you’ll need a blender, too. I’m using Ninja’s Professional Countertop Blender. I’ve had to save up for it though because it’s honestly pretty pricey. To me, it’s worth it but more affordable blenders will work just fine.
Don’t worry. I asked that same question the first time I heard about this dish. Anyhow, it’s a traditional egg and tomatoes meal from North Africa.
It’s also a little more complicated to make than the other breakfast recipes on this list, so if you’re short on time, you might want to pick a different recipe.
That being said, this version from Live Eat Learn uses red bell peppers, onions, garlic, cumin, and paprika, so you can tell that it’s going to be packed with flavor. The recipe also uses canned tomatoes — which I think is fine by the way — but you can opt for fresh tomatoes to make the dish even cleaner.
Raspberries and bananas smoothie bowl
Aaand, let’s get back to easy breakfast recipes with Woman’s Day’s version of raspberries bananas smoothie bowl.
Of course, it’s all whole food with ingredients like Greek yogurt, milk, chia seeds, and granola. There’s coconut flakes in there, too, which helps you feel fuller with some added fiber. Just be sure to get the unsweetened ones though.
Blend the raspberries, bananas, yogurt, chia seeds, and milk together, top with granola and coconut flakes, and scoop away.
Zucchini crust breakfast pizza
Yup, that’s right — a pizza with toppings traditionally served over breakfast and a crust made out of zucchini. That’s exactly what this recipe from A Saucy Kitchen is.
To get a pizza-like texture on the zucchini crust, the trick is to squeeze as much moisture out as you can. You might also want to use a pizza stone to help it get a bit more crispier.
For the toppings, you’re going to need tomatoes, asparagus, eggs, a few herbs and spices, and parmesan.
The recipe doesn’t specify what pizza sauce to use though. What I do is blend a can of whole peeled tomatoes, a teaspoon of oregon or basil, and season with salt and pepper. No cooking required. But, if you can get fresh tomatoes, you can use those, too.
Clean lunch ideas for weight loss (these are good for dinner, too!)
Before we get to the recipes, I understand that the density of lunch and dinner are different for many people.
Take me, for example. My lunch is generally heavier than dinner because I do a lot of stuff in the afternoon, so I need those noon time calories. And, at night when I’m typically more relaxed and don’t need as much energy, my dinners are usually light.
It might be different for you. In any case, the recipes I’m listing here are versatile enough to work both ways. Here goes!
Chicken pesto bowls
This recipe from Damn Delicious, in my opinion, is quite the balanced meal. You’ve got a good source of lean protein from the chicken, healthy fat from the olive oil, and a good amount of produce in cherry tomatoes and green beans.
The result is a high protein, high fiber meal that’ll help you full until your next meal, whether that be at night during dinner or the next morning for breakfast.
Quinoa fruit salad
Speaking of balanced meals, here’s another one.
This recipe comes from Skinny Ms. You’re getting complete plant-based amino acids from quinoa, a good amount of sweetness and fiber from the berries, oranges, mangoes, and honey, the refreshing flavors lime and mint, and a healthy source of fat from olive oil.
I’d personally have this for lunch but I see it working for dinner, too.
Lemon herb Mediterranean chicken salad
For this recipe, I recommend using chicken thighs because they’re juicier. Of course, breasts work, too, particularly if you’re looking to keep it lean.
In any case, this one’s pretty easy to do because you’ll be using the same mixture of ingredients for the chicken marinade and the salad dressing. That’s at least a few more steps you don’t have to follow.
Now, for the salad, you’re going to need romaine lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, avocados, olives, and lemon. Needless to say, there’s a diverse collection of fresh produce here, so you won’t be short on flavor and nutrients.
Check out the full recipe at Cafe Delites.
Seared tuna with shaved vegetable salad
Honestly, this recipe from Cooking Light requires quite a bit of ingredients — 13 to be exact!
But don’t let that discourage you. It’s a salad, after all, so a good bulk of what you’ll do is tossing.
With that said, the other thing you’re going to have to do is to sear the fish. It’s actually fairly simple. Just season the tuna with salt and pepper, place it on a hot pan, and cook to desired doneness. Thinly slice the fish and serve alongside the salad.
Pork tenderloin with mushrooms and onions
Another easy recipe from Cooking Light!
This time, the protein mainly comes from pork tenderloins — one of my favorite cuts of pork. It’s great because you can cook everything with 1 pan. This not only makes it easier to cook but also easier to clean up afterward.
For better results, the recipe says to cook this using a stainless steel pan instead of non-stick because it supposedly does a better job collecting those browned pork bits which then adds more flavor to the mushrooms and onions.
Cucumber and avocado sandwich
First of all, you’re going to want to use whole grain bread. Not only is it better for clean eating, it also has a lot more nutrients, including more fiber and more protein. Both of those will help keep you full for a longer period of time.
Second of all, this recipe from Two Peas & Their Pod is extremely easy to do. I mean, seriously, how hard is it to make a sandwich, right?
You’ll need romaine lettuce leaves, a cucumber, an avocado, alfalfa sprouts, and lemon juice. Just follow the instructions and in about 15 minutes, you should have yourself a quick meal for lunch or dinner.
Spaghetti and meatballs
I cooked this for date night with my wife a couple of years back and she loved it! To me, it’s a safe recipe for most any occasion. After all, spaghetti and meatballs is a classic dish that nearly everyone loves.
However, instead of using store bought marinara and just pouring it all over your pasta, this recipe from Clean Eating is going to help you make both the sauce and the meatballs from scratch.
Oh, and don’t forget to buy whole-wheat spaghetti when you’re shopping!
Beef and broccoli
Word To Your Mother actually created this recipe for the ketogenic diet but, looking at the ingredients and how they’re cooked, it looks like it’ll do just fine for clean eating.
Aside from being a balanced meal with a healthy amount of protein, fat, and carbs, what I like most about this recipe is that it stores well in the fridge. It makes for a pretty good meal prep option because of this.
In any case, the cooking process should take you about 30 minutes.
Healthy orange chicken
Again, this does well stored in the fridge — and I think that’s largely because of the sauce. It helps keep the chicken from drying out, so reheating it makes it taste and feel like it’s still fairly fresh.
For the chicken itself, there’s really nothing special to it. Just cook bite-sized breasts in some sesame oil.
In my opinion, the sauce is the real game changer. You’ll need chicken broth, coconut aminos or soy sauce, honey, garlic powder, ginger, pepper, and some orange juice and orange zest. Of course, use freshly squeezed orange juice when you can.
When the sauce is thick enough, add the chicken. Serve with your choice of grains and/or veggies.
Find the full recipe The Clean Eating Couple.
Sweet potato soup with bell peppers, lemon, and thyme
Looking for something light and tasty? Look no further than Meatified’s sweet potato soup.
The blog says you can either buy sweet potato puree or make your own. Needless to say, I recommend the latter. The recipe has instructions on how you can easily do that with a blender and a couple cups of chicken stock. Vegetable stock works, too.
Add the puree and some more stock in a pan with sautéed onions and bell peppers, add cumin, lemon juice, and thyme to up the flavor profile, and serve.
Other tips to start eating clean
Aside from making your own food from scratch and working around your budget, here are a few other clean eating ideas for weight loss:
Read the label
The truth is that you can’t always make everything from scratch. So, if you do decide to use store bought goods, always (and I mean always) read the label.
If there are any ingredients that the average person wouldn’t know of, or if there are any words that are hard to read and pronounce, there’s a good chance that what you have in your hand has gone through some extensive processing.
You don’t want those when you’re trying to eat clean.
Stick to drinking water
Don’t get me wrong. Healthy juices and smoothies are fine as long as they’re not loaded with added sugar. The trick to these is just choosing ingredients that are naturally flavorful, like berries and citrus fruits, for example.
The same goes for a bunch of store bought drinks like energy drinks and sodas. The amount of added sugar in these things is plain ungodly.
Portion size is key
When you want to lose weight gradually and permanently, it’s important that you eat the right amount of protein, carbs, and fat. It’s also just as important that you vary your sources, so you get different sets of vitamins and minerals.
For reference, I strongly suggest following Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate. Basically, it says that:
- About half of your plate is reserved for fruits and veggies
- A quarter is for whole grains, and
- The last quarter is booked for protein
You can use plant-based oils sparingly to get yourself some healthy fat.
In a nutshell, I think learning how to start a clean eating lifestyle without feeling stressed is largely about knowing what you can or can’t eat, and making a habit out of cooking your own food from scratch.
When you’ve programmed your body to automatically seek out food you cook at home, you’re less likely to get tempted to order food from a fast food joint or these microwavable/instant junk from the supermarket.
Of course, I don’t expect you to form healthy habits in a week or so. These things can take time, so take it slow and don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up.
That’s it for me! Ciao! Oh, but before we go our separate ways, share this with friends who might need it, will ya? Cool! Thanks!