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Clean Eating: How You Can Take Easy Steps to Clean Up Your Diet

Updated on November 4, 2011


Picking strawberries.  Our fresh fruit of the early summer season.
Picking strawberries. Our fresh fruit of the early summer season. | Source

My Eating Makeover

My wonderful, health conscious sister introduced me to clean eating about a year ago. I had known most of its basic principles and tried to practice many of them but had not heard this term before. There were several things in my life that had caused me to take a good look at my eating habits.

Phase One:

First was the birth of my daughter. When you are young or single, you might not think about how eating that bag of chips for dinner isn't such a good thing. I had always been somewhat health conscious. I worked out when I could fit it into my schedule and I am a big fan of fruit and vegetables but I never shied away from those cheesy nachos that you might find at a sporting event or the double scooped hot fudge sundae, loaded with everything. All that changed when I got pregnant with my daughter. It had taken us a long time and was a great struggle to become parents and I was not about to let any sort of crazy eating take a toll on my pregnancy. I did indulge in my occasional sweet and salty treats but my focus was healthy eating. What I didn't realize was that I was still not really eating in the best manner for myself and my child. I would often opt for those boxes rices and potatoes. After all they are fairly inexpensive, quick and easy to prepare. I read the nutrition labels and they weren't full of sugar and the carb count wasn't out of control, so how bad can it be? What I didn't realize at the time was how harmful all of the processed filled boxes and cans of food really were.

Phase Two:

The second major event that really caused me to examine my eating was my husband. About a year and a half ago he had a massive heart attack that caused him to go into cardiac arrest. Thankfully he is still with us but it made me realize that with all that I was doing with healthy eating in our home, we needed to do more. I knew that what I did would be a model for my children and at 1 and 2 1/2 at the time, I knew it was not too late to teach the best way to cook and eat food. So that began my quest to bring the healthiest possible eating into our home.

Picking our own fruit.

Blueberry picking
Blueberry picking | Source
If you know where there are wild fruits that you can pick, it not only gives you fresh fruit for free but provides for a great family activity.
If you know where there are wild fruits that you can pick, it not only gives you fresh fruit for free but provides for a great family activity. | Source

What is Clean Eating?

Let me start by saying what clean eating isn't.  It isn't vegan or vegetarian and it isn't a trendy diet.  It is a way of living your life by making long term changes in the food choices you make to cook with and eat.

Clean eating is eating food in their most natural, purest state. Some definitions that I have heard are that you don't eat anything with a label. In my opinion that is not realistic, especially if you are a busy working mom like me. Think of clean eating as eating the way nature intended. In other words eat fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and hormone free, free range, or organic meat. Clean eating isn't as hard as it may sound.

So How Does Organic Fit into This?

There has been a lot of buzz these days about eating organic.  I for one try to eat and serve as much organic food as I can for my family.  Sometimes it is not possible to find things that are organic, especially if you live in an area that does not have more specialty type of stores that cater to that type of lifestyle.  So is organic the same thing as clean eating?  Not exactly.  Eating organic is definitely part of eating cleanly.  If you are choosing organic foods then you are eating foods that are in their purest state (have not been processed) and are pesticide and hormone free. 

Our apple bounty.
Our apple bounty. | Source

Ten Easy Ways to Eat Cleanly

Here are some easy tips that you can start doing right now that will start you down the road to clean eating. They are very doable and are things that will

  1. Be conscious of what you are eating.  It seems like a really simple thing to do but it is the biggest, easiest start that you can make. Many people are not aware of what they put in their mouths.
  2. Eat lots of FRESH fruits and vegetables.  I try to purchase as much organic fruits and vegetables that are available at my local market or farmers markets. We also try to go out and pick fresh fruits that are in season. My kids love to do this and we reap the benefits all year long. I freeze the blueberries to use in muffins throughout the year and I make and can applesauce with the apples that we pick. When we had peaches, I canned them with their natural juice and added a cinnamon stick to add some extra flavor.
  3. Choose organic foods.  When the opportunity is available, choose foods that are marked organic. As you make these selections, you are ensuring that the foods are "clean."
  4. Read Labels.  As I mentioned earlier, it is virtually impossible to eat things without a label so READ what you are buying. Steer clear of anything you cannot pronounce as well as words like "refined, bleached, and high fructose corn syrup."
  5. Make your own food.  Again this is one that seem so easy and silly but life is busy. As a full time working mom of two young children, it is hard to think about cooking food for my family after working all day. However I will tell you that it makes a huge difference both for your health and the taste. The purer your ingredients are, the more you will enjoy your food. Studies also show that cooking your own food assists in weight loss. Why? Well because you are moving around while your food is being prepared rather than just sitting and waiting for it to be served to you.
  6. Avoid foods in boxes and most foods in cans.  I grew up on condensed soup casseroles and cans of vegetables. Although vegetables in the can are real vegetables, if you have a choice, opt for frozen ones. They are much closer to fresh than their canned counterparts. Boxed and canned soups, rice, and potatoes are highly processed and are far from clean eating.
  7. Choose lean proteins.  Lean proteins are foods such as chicken and fish. Try to avoid red meats. My husband is a meat and potato guy. We compromise by eating red meat one to two times a week but I choose then leanest cuts such as sirloin or tenderloin. We also eat lots of chicken and fish. Another great source of protein is yogurt. I eat Greek yogurt which has no high fructose corn syrup and has about 14 grams of protein compared to regular yogurt. I like to choose the kind that has fruit added to it so that it cuts the tartness of the yogurt.
  8. Spices.  Instead of opting for those pre-bottled spice blends or the envelopes of gravies and mixes, try using fresh herbs and spices. It is amazing the flavor that it will add to your food. Be brave and try some new ones. I had always used the more Mediterranean blends but did not use much of the others. I recently started to use coriander and cardamom and it has brought several dishes to new heights!
  9. Water, Water, Water.  Drink lots of water. It truly is the cleanest drink that you can find.  If you need to add a little flavor, squeeze some lemon.  Another option black coffee or tea.  If you absolutely must add a little sweetness to it (like I do) then opt for agave nectar.  It is much better for your body and helps to control blood sugar levels better than white sugar.
  10. Plan ahead.  This is one of the hardest parts.  I try to make a menu with a grocery list on the weekend and then shop for the meals at one time.  By doing this I am able to cut costs because I am not impulse buying.  I am also able to prepare things ahead of time in order to cut the cooking time down during the week when I know that we will be very busy.


BBQ Sauce

This is the longest part of the meal but you can make this ahead of time and store it in the fridge.


  • 2 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 small white onion, diced small
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 2 tsp. ground mustard
  • 1 can (28 oz.) tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup unsulfured molasses (you can substitute this with dark agave nectar or organic molasses)
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp. white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground pepper


  1. In a medium saucepan, heat canola oil over medium heat. Add diced onion and cook until completely soft, approximately 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook about 1 minute.
  2. Add the tomato paste and mustard. Stirring constantly, cook until paste turns a bright red in color, approximately 5 minutes. Add 2 cups water, tomato sauce, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, salt and pepper. Stir until smooth.
  3. Bring mixture to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and cover partially. Stirring occasionally, simmer for 2 hours. You can thin the sauce down with water if it becomes too thick. Add more vinegar, salt and/or pepper to taste (if desired).
  4. Let completely cool before using.

Note: Can be refrigerated up to 1 week or frozen up to 4 months

A Simple Clean Eating Meal

I made this meal for my family one night when I didn't know what to do with the Salmon that I had in the fridge. My kids' response to it was "Mom, make this for dinner every night!" No I did not make that up. In fact whenever I make the rice my daughter says, "Look Mom it's the rice we like." (She must have thought our personal chef cooked the meal!)

Maple BBQ Glazed Salmon


1 lb. of fresh caught Salmon

1/4 cup of bbq sauce (see recipe below)

1 Tbs. of pure maple syrup

salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season salmon with salt and pepper. Mix the maple syrup with the BBQ sauce and spread evenly over the salmon. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Brown Rice Pilaf


a small handful of whole wheat vermicelli or thin spaghetti

1 Tbs. of real butter

1 cup of brown rice

1 1/2 cups of organic low sodium chicken broth


Melt butter in a pot over medium head and break up pasta into pieces that are about 1 inch long and brown. Then add the rice and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 50 minutes (according to package). DO NOT lift the lid. It will cause the rice to remain hard.

Steamed Broccolini

This one is very easy. Heat a pot of water to boiling and place the broccolini in the steamer. Steam until the color turns bright green and the vegetable is tender but not mushy. This is a nice alternative to broccoli. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper after you have finished steaming the broccolini.

Clean Eating Resources

My Challenge to You

I challenge you to open your refrigerator or pantry and choose one item. Read the label. What do the ingredients say? One of my favorites to pick when talking about this is peanut butter. Most people do not realize how much sugar is actually in peanut butter but it is one of the first ingredients. I choose brands that are "natural" even if they are not organic. There should be nothing else in peanut butter other than peanuts and peanut oil. If you buy natural peanut butter and then try the stuff that you used to use, you will most likely not be able to stomach it. It will taste like a piece candy rather than peanut butter. Eating cleanly brings out the true flavor of foods.

So what steps are you willing to take for your health? Try just one or two things on the list above and gradually add to it. You will find that it is not as hard as it may seem. I am still learning and am definitely not perfect at it. However we are on our way to great things in our house and you can do it too!

Don't worry, I'm not that much of a mean mom that I don't allow my children to indulge in the occasional processed sugar treats. In fact we are planning a trip this summer that will bring us to Hershey, PA where we plan to not only tour the factory but make our own candy bars. I hope to teach my children that it is important to live a healthy life style on a daily basis and to choose the fruit over the candy and chips. It is a lifestyle that promotes well being and I want my children to learn that early so that is a natural part of themselves.

Clean Eating Commitment

How likely are you to try to clean up your eating?

See results

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