Clean Eating: Meal Prep and Shopping Tips

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What is “clean eating?”
Clean eating basically means eating whole foods that are altered as little as possible from their original state, giving us the most possible nutrients without any added toxins. (Source)
It’s somewhat of a trendy term as more and more people move away from eating heavily processed foods that cause allergies, sensitivities, or chronic inflammation—and for a good reason.

Benefits of Clean Eating

  • Decrease Inflammation – When your cells are inflamed, this leads to increased fat accumulation, accelerated development of chronic disease and decreased overall vitality. Eating “clean” is an important way to rebalance the fatty acids in your blood that cause cellular inflammation.
  • Manage Blood Sugar – Processed foods spike insulin and glucose levels, which puts us at risk for diabetes. Frequent blood sugar spikes also age us at a cellular level. It’s crucial that we manage our blood sugar!
  • Remove Toxicity – Refined foods with artificial ingredients and pesticides expose our bodies to toxins that have been linked to disease and make us more susceptible to chronic illness.

These are just a few of the benefits of clean eating, plus we receive more vital macro and micronutrients. So, now that we know clean eating has a lot to offer, how can we get started?

How to Be Successful with a Clean Eating Diet

In order to be successful with a clean eating diet, start with a plan. Choose what you are going to eat by creating a meal plan, then write out a shopping list. You are much more likely to stick to your new diet if you think ahead and have healthy foods easily accessible.

Why is This Important with Clean Eating?

You Won’t Snack as Much
Meal prepping can help you avoid snacking on foods that don’t fit within your new diet plan. This is a common vulnerable spot with those who are used to hitting up the vending machine at work or grabbing a few cookies for a snack. We have less willpower when we are hungry! If you prepare before the week begins, you should already have all the clean snacks you need, from fruit and nuts to homemade clean baked goods, and you won’t feel the desperate need to satisfy a craving by grabbing a candy bar at the gas station.
You Have Enough to Get Through the Week
In addition to avoiding the little snacks that can add up fast, you can also make sure you have all the food you need for a week or longer. Another common pitfall of clean eating is that you run out of food for meals later in the week. Which leads you down the path of fast food or ordering pizza, since it’s easier than going back to the store after a long week. By planning out all your meals, you can then prep them and have all the hard work done so that cooking is a breeze.
Let’s talk about how to prep for success!

1. Over-Prepare for Your Week

Don’t just think about weeknight dinners, but plan for lunches to bring to work, breakfast, and snack foods that are quick to grab. Think about your week in advance. What situations are you going to be in that might create a weak spot for you? When will you be especially vulnerable to grabbing an easy snack? I typically make extra food for dinner and bring it with me in a thermos for lunch the next day. I also keep Epic bars and seeds on hand for quick little snacks.

2. Know Exactly What You Need First

Before you do anything else, figure out what clean eating foods you are going to eat this week. Some clean eating foods examples are:

  • Wild caught fish and seafood: Salmon, Cod, Halibut, Tuna (in moderation),
  • Pastured chicken eggs and duck eggs (my fav)
  • Grass fed and finished steaks, roasts and ground beef
  • Organic chicken, turkey and bison
  • Organic veggies: squash, tomatoes, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, cucumbers, kale, spring mix, zucchini, spinach, yams, sweet potatoes, etc
  • Organic low glycemic fruits: apples, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, lemons, grapefruit, blackberries, etc.

Once you do that, you will have a much better understanding of what needs to go on your grocery list. Start by assessing the clean items you already have in your kitchen, then make a list of meals you want to make that use those ingredients. Then you can see what ingredients you need to pick up at the store. This is not only a simple way to get started with shopping and meal prep, but helps to save you some money as well.
Clean eating can cost a bit in the beginning as you start gathering the essential ingredients, but you will soon be saving money by not eating out as much and no longer stocking your pantry with processed junk!

3. Start Working on Your List

There is absolutely no avoiding this—you need a list. Your grocery list should be as detailed as possible, listing all ingredients for every meal you have planned this week. If you have any ingredients that you aren’t 100% sure your store will have, it might be a good idea to include some alternatives as well on the list so that meal will be complete. With a list in hand, you can be sure you only buy what is on your list and avoid all those temptations you might come across.
Now it’s time to shop!

Grocery Shopping Tips

Start in the Produce Section

Since a good portion of your list is organic fruits and vegetables (hopefully!), start shopping in the produce section. Get all of your fresh produce here first, including things like the less processed salad dressings (they’re usually refrigerated because they don’t have preservatives) and fresh herbs. If you are picking up nuts and seeds, you might find them in the produce section as well, especially if you are looking for the raw, organic varieties.

Shop the Perimeter

Once you are done in the produce section, it is time to shop the perimeter. This means most of your fresh food is around the outer edges of the grocery store. You should only need to go to the middle aisles for certain ingredients like oils or seasonings. The majority of middle aisles have packaged and processed foods that you are trying to avoid, so it is best to avoid the temptation. The perimeter of the store is where you will find your produce, eggs, meat, and seafood.

Only Go to Middle Aisles for Necessities

Lastly, head to those scary middle aisles, but only go to the ones you absolutely need. Get out of the habit of walking down every aisle out of curiosity. Many times, this is where you can get into trouble. If you aren’t getting gluten-free oatmeal, avoid the cereal aisle. If you don’t need any snacks, don’t even bother with the aisle that has chips and crackers. We are only human after all! It’s much easier if we avoid temptation all together.
Understand that the first shopping trip will be the hardest, both on your willpower and on your bank account. But once you stock up on “clean” options and start developing new habits, it will get easier on both accounts.
I hope these tips are helpful for you if you’ve decided to take on the noble challenge of switching to a clean eating diet! I would love to hear what you’ve learned from your experience in the comments below.