In my last post, Clean Eating Guide for Beginners, I focused on what clean eating is all about and some of most generally accepted principles of the practice. In this second article of the series, I offer meal planning suggestions for eating clean. I’m hoping this will facilitate your efforts to clean up your diet.
Foods to Focus On in Your Clean Eating Meal Planning
Remember, this isn’t about restricting yourself from whole food groups, but instead, “eating more of the best and healthiest options in each of the food groups – and eating less of the not-so-healthy ones,” as EatingWell magazine explains. The goal is to give your body the best fuel possible. This means that you are going to make an effort to avoid processed foods, artificial ingredients (preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners), unhealthy fats, refined grains, sugars and salt as much as you can.
You may get a good overall idea of how your meals should look by reviewing this plate from ChooseMyPlate.gov.
So, as you look at the three small meals and two (or three) healthy snacks you eat each day, keep these food groups at the top of your mind.
Fresh Veggies and Fruits
Fresh produce selection depends quite a bit on the time of year in most areas. This allows us to change things up every couple of months with a different variety with each new season. I encourage people to eat as many colors as possible (colors the occurred naturally). Try to literally “eat the rainbow” of colors every day. The pigment of each produce item contains a specific offering of antioxidants and phytochemicals, and they all work together. By eating a variety of fresh veggies and fruits each day, you provide your body with the nutrients it needs for good health. And, remember to buy organic whenever possible – or grow your own!
In a perfect world, I think we all would have a salad every day. The reason being is that most salads have a variety of veggies and or fruits in them – therefore helping you to eat that rainbow of colors every day. Plus, the average salad probably gives you two full servings of veggies instead of one!
Make your salads more appealing with these clean, healthy salad dressing recipes. Fresh, new recipes will help you include a daily salad in your routine!
Protein is an important component of a meal because it keeps hunger at bay between meals. When choosing these foods, always opt for the lean varieties. Let’s start with meat. Your best options include chicken breast, wild-caught salmon, turkey breast and ground turkey, pork tenderloin, fresh wild-caught fish, venison and ground sirloin. It is advised that red meat consumption be limited to two servings a week (especially for women) due to its saturated fat content.
Other sources of lean protein include: eggs, milk, Greek yogurt, legumes (kidney beans, edamame and lentils), almonds and walnuts, spinach, natural peanut butter and quinoa.
As you remember from the last post, white flour is refined, less satisfying and almost devoid of nutrients. When choosing grain products, always consider the whole grain options: brown rice, whole grain/wheat pasta, and whole grain/wheat bread. Other whole grain options are quinoa, freekeh, millet, bulgar, kamut, farro and amaranth. Cook and bake with whole grain ingredients too, like whole wheat flour, almond flour or coconut flour.
Pay attention especially to these types of foods as you are eating. Do you feel bloated, more tired, etc? If so, you might think about excluding that particular grain from your diet, even if it is healthy!
This food group causes a lot of confusion for people. Let’s start with milk. Obviously, raw milk is the cleanest milk out there, but it comes with some baggage. That takes us to organic full-fat milk. The lower the fat content of milk you choose, the more processing it has gone through. In turn, full-fat plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are also good choices. Cheese can be tricky, too. Most have a high fat content, so it is important to use moderation with this dairy option. Buy real cheese and by the block, as shredded options have anti-caking agents added to them. Light, unsweetened coconut milk is another option.
Aside from those five main food groups, there are a couple more things to keep in mind when meal planning. If a meal requires sugar, choose natural sugars like honey and pure maple syrup. And, when it comes to avoiding saturated fats, go with healthy fats like those in olive oil, canola oil, fatty fish, nuts and even avocado.
Get to Work on Your Meal Plan
Now that you know which foods to eat the majority of the time, how do you incorporate them into your meals? These graphics from Clean Eating magazine are a good illustration of what a one-week, clean eating meal plan should look like. I’m hoping this gives you a stepping stone for getting started.
You’ll notice that the “main” meals are smaller to accommodate the calories from the snacks. Eating more often each day, and in the right proportions, can promote blood sugar level stability, and deter binge eating and cravings. This plan gives you a good idea about how to spread out your calories throughout the day. Pay particular attention to portion sizes.
Clean Eating magazine is a good resource for health and cooking advice, recipes and meal plans. You may subscribe here.
Sometimes simple is better to begin with. Rotating between these 2 weeks for a month or so will make for easy clean eating meal planning. You can get creative with your meal planning later, after you get into a habit of eating clean and ditching the junk.
Here are some clean eating healthy snacks that are easy “take-alongs” you may want to incorporate into your own plan.
Fruits: Avocado slices, apples, berries, banana, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges and pineapple chunks.
Veggies: Carrots, celery stalks, cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, bell pepper slices and radishes.
Nuts & Seeds: Pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc.
Other Protein (organic): Greek yogurt, hard boiled eggs, hummus, good-quality protein bars, nut butters (almond, cashew, peanut) string cheese, etc.
You can also try dried fruit or veggie chips, or air-popped popcorn.
It Takes PLANNING!
The best way to approach meal planning is to prepare in advance! This makes grocery shopping much less stressful, and eating clean so much easier. You know what you are going to eat, and it is readily available to you.
The next post in our Clean Eating series will provide easy recipes that I hope you’ll want to incorporate into your clean eating meal planning! Sign up below to make sure you get the easy recipes for clean eating!