How to Eat Clean (Diet Plan & Tips)
This article includes tips on how to eat clean, including a diet plan and easy cooking tips. Learn how to make and enjoy healthy food that makes you feel energized and nourished.
What is Clean Eating?
Before we dive in, let’s do a review of what clean eating means. There is not one standard definition of clean eating. I define a clean eating diet as one that focuses one eating real, whole foods the majority of the time and choosing organic and sustainable options whenever possible.
Clean eating also includes being an advocate for your own health and choosing the whole foods that work best for you and your body. Since we all have to eat several times a day, eating clean also means knowing how to plan for and prepare healthy meals.
Is Clean Eating a Diet?
I think of this way of eating as more of a choice and a lifestyle. There are no strict rules and the implied goal is better health and increased energy, as opposed to just losing weight. So, I think you could argue that clean eating is not a diet, but more of a healthy way of living.
I’m a huge advocate of eating healthy without starving yourself. You might know that I have a history of eating disorders, so it’s important for me to promote a balanced approach. I’m not against using specialized diets to address health issues, but I think it’s important to make sure it doesn’t get out of control.
If your diet starts to interfere with your relationships and social life, then it’s time to take a step back and make sure your relationship with food is still healthy.
What If I Don’t Know How to Cook?
If you’re new to cooking or you don’t have any idea of how to cook healthy, then you’re in the right place! I didn’t even know how to boil a water until I was 30 years old (no joke), so this clean eating diet guide is perfect for you.
If you know how to cook but you just want to clean up your technique (no pun intended), then you’re also in the right place. My meal planning guide plus cooking tips included in this blog post can help you make healthy food fast.
What Should I Eat At Each Meal?
Generally, most people find that they need around three meals per day, plus a snack. Again, this depends on your unique needs. If you eat enough balanced foods at each meal, three meals and a snack is sufficient for most people. Let’s go over how you can structure each meal and how to eat clean.
Is Clean Eating Expensive?
Many people are concerned that it’s going to be hugely expensive to eat clean. While you can easily overspend on healthy foods, you don’t have to! As someone who lived on a very small budget for many years, I have some tips on how to eat clean on a budget.
Ready to try a clean eating diet? Join my weekly e-mail list and get my FREE printable Clean Eating Quick Start Guide!
Clean Eating Diet Plan
Healthy Breakfast Ideas
Most people need a quick, healthy meal to get them started on the right foot. It’s especially important for women to start the day with an adequate amount of protein. Including plenty of healthy fats and a generous serving of protein can keep blood sugar stable and help you feel satiated.
Foods like green protein smoothies, porridge, toasts, chia puddings, overnight oats, or savory meals like eggs and sausage can often be prepared in advance or quickly cooked.
See all of my clean eating breakfast recipes.
Healthy Lunch Ideas
Lunch should arguably be your biggest meal, since you’ll need the energy to power you through the rest of your day. Focus on lots of healthy fats and protein and some energy-dense carbs.
Good clean eating lunch options include loaded salads, pastas, beans, soups, and wraps or sandwiches. If you tend to go out to eat during your lunch break, start a new habit of going home for lunch or bringing your own to the office.
Check out my article on meal prep ideas for busy people.
Snacks should help you fuel between meals, usually between long stretches like lunch and dinner. Snacks are usually lighter than meals and should focus on healthy fats and protein.
Don’t fall victim to processed foods or junk foods! Prepare and cook your snacks just like you would your meals. Things like homemade jerkies, chia puddings, nuts, nut butters, veggies, fruits, smoothies, crackers, and raw veggie breads are great for a mid-day fuel source.
See my full list of gluten-free and dairy-free snacks.
Healthy Dinner Ideas
Fueling your body for sleep is just as important as fueling yourself for activity, since our bodies repair and restore themselves during sleep. Many people do well with complex carbohydrates at dinner, mixed with a source of protein and vegetables.
Focus on red meat/poultry/fish, potatoes, gluten-free grains, vegetables, and healthy fats. This article from Dr. Lara Briden discusses why women need a balanced dinner for our hormones and health.
If you have picky eaters in the house, you might want to refer to my list of the Best Vegetables for Picky Eaters.
How to Fill Your Clean Eating Plate
Still unsure of what your clean eating plate should look like? A good rule of thumb is to fill half your plate with veggies, ¼ with protein, and ¼ with complex carbs. Read more about how to fill a healthy plate and which foods you should be eating every day.
Adding 1-2 tablespoons of a healthy fat per meal is a good idea. Healthy fats like avocado, coconut, ghee, grass-fed butter, nuts, and seeds provide important nutrients and also help you absorb other vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
For dessert, enjoy fresh fruit or a healthy homemade baked treat (see all of my clean eating dessert recipes).
Clean Eating Diet Food List
Rather than browsing each aisle of the store when you’re trying to eat clean, focus on the outer aisles where you’ll find the produce and protein options. Venture into the inner aisles for pantry staples, and ignore the processed snacks and box dinners.
Your clean eating shopping list should include the ingredients below, adjusted and/or expanded to your unique needs.
- Ground beef/bison, steak, chicken, ground turkey, lamb, pork, fish, sausage
- Clean, whole food protein powder and/or collagen peptides
- TIP: buy your meat/fish frozen or in bulk from a local farmer or a quality source like US Wellness Meats. It’s often cheaper and reduces food waste, since you don’t feel pressured to use it quickly or freeze it yourself
- Sweet potatoes, white potatoes, fruits/veggies, legumes, gluten-free grains
- TIP: frozen fruits/veggies are usually more affordable and reduce food waste. Buy grains and legumes in bulk and store in your pantry
- Avocado and coconut
- Nuts and seeds and their butters, and coconut butter
- Oils like avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, and ethically-sourced red palm kernel oil
If you want a full list of healthy foods to add to your shopping list, don’t miss my comprehensive clean eating food list.
Healthy Cooking Techniques
There are many different cooking techniques you can master to help make preparation easier and completely transform your ingredients. Feeling comfortable in the kitchen is an essential part of learning how to eat clean.
1. Slow Cooker
For the easiest meals ever, invest in a slow cooker! Also commonly referred to by the brand name Crockpot, slow cookers are best for multiple-serving meals. I have a 6-quart slow-cooker.
You can put in all of your ingredients, set the slow cooker to low or high (and time, if yours has a timer), and it will slowly cook your meal over the course of several hours.
You can have it cook overnight and set it to warm in the morning to have for that night, or cook it all day and have it ready for when you come home from work. Slow cookers are notorious for making food extra flavorful and tender.
See my clean eating slow cooker recipes.
2. Pressure Cooker
These are also commonly referred to by a brand name, Instant Pot. Pressure cookers are like slow cookers, just sped up! They use a sealed pot to create pressure and steam to cook the food. I recommend a 6-quart Instant Pot for most people.
Add all your ingredients, set a time and cook setting, and the pressure cooker does the work for you. Use this for quick meals and tender meats. See all of my Instant Pot recipes.
3. Casseroles & One-Pot Meals
When you want to get a lot of veggies or ingredients in one dish, consider going for casserole or one-pot recipes. Soups are also a great option for a quick, low-fuss meal that can yield several servings.
Here is a lift of my favorite healthy casseroles.
4. Sheet Pan Meals
Sheet pan meals are another version of a one-pot meal. With sheet pan meals, you can arrange all your ingredients on a metal sheet pan and let them all bake/roast together. You don’t really need a recipe for these, unless you want one!
Simply toss your favorite veggies and a cut of meat with cooking oil and spices and pop in the oven, checking and turning once or twice. Most sheet pan meals need about 30 minutes at 425 degrees.
Don’t be intimidated by this cooking method! Although this is a common cooking method among chefs, sous-vide cooking is pretty easy once you learn the technique.
Sous-vide cooking offers a greater degree of consistency due to its precision, better taste/more tender meat, waste reduction by keeping food at full volume, and a hands-off approach.
This method is most commonly used for meat, since it imparts food with a distinct flavor from the smoke and charcoal. It’s a relatively quick cooking method as well. I like to reserve grilling for the warm summer months, but indoor grills are an option too.
Don’t limit your grilling to just meats; veggies and tropical fruits are also delicious grilled.
7. Cast iron skillet
Cooking with a cast iron is a fantastic way to impart your food with an important nutrient. Well-seasoned cast iron skillets are essentially non-stick without toxic coatings and can last for generations. They hold and distribute heat very well, so food cooks evenly.
Cooking in a cast iron skillet gives food a wonderful texture and easy clean up. Cooking in cast iron can also help improve iron levels which can be important for women of child-bearing age. Learn more about the healthiest cookware options.
Here’s a pre-seasoned cast iron skillet to help get you started.
8. Air Fryer
Air frying has taken off in recent years! For good reason, as air frying is essentially like using a mini convection oven. It is efficient, fast, and you can cook almost anything including meats, vegetables, and even dessert (check out my recipe for Air Fryer Bananas).
Quality air fryer don’t have to be expensive, either. Choose from my list to find the best air fryer under $100 if you’re looking to buy one.
A clean eating diet includes a variety of whole foods, including meat, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and grains.
Clean eating can help with weight loss, especially if you’re swapping out processed foods high in refined oils and sugars for real food alternatives.
Start one meal at a time! Prepare a meal plan for the week and shop for what you need. Prep your meals ahead of time to help stay on track.
If you eat a clean diet and exercise moderately, you should be able to reach your ideal weight fairly easily. Consult your healthcare professional for individualized support.
Any food in its whole form or minimally processed could be considered part of a clean eating diet. Check out this list of healthy foods to eat every day.
Best Practices & Final Tips
There is not just one way to eat clean. But, if you focus on real foods, then you will be on the right track.
Remember, clean eating is more about choosing real foods over processed foods. It’s less about perfection and more about fueling your body so that you feel energized and nourished.
1. Be Prepared
There’s no need to resort to junk food or foods that don’t make you feel great when you have your own meals and snacks prepared and packed with you! Set aside some self-care time each week to plan out your meals, write your grocery list, and prep ahead of time.
2. Cook What You Love
Develop a few trusted, favorite go-to clean eating recipes. Following recipes is a great way to build confidence in your cooking. Once you know what your favorite dishes are, you can tweak them to your tastes and soon, you won’t even need the recipe any more.
See all my clean eating recipes in my recipe index.
3. Get inspired
Check out blogs, food magazines, and old family recipes and tweak them to use real food ingredients instead. Once you’ve built your cooking confidence, even browsing the market will give you inspiration for recipes.
Ready to try a clean eating diet? Join my weekly e-mail list and get my FREE Clean Eating Diet Meal & Snack Guide!