As I mentioned in my last post, in August I started doing an Eat Clean Challenge. No, this isn’t some official challenge that’s going on in social media circles. It’s just something I thought I would try to see what would happen. I’m on the lookout for any changes in my mood, skin, digestive system functioning, sleeping patterns, etc. Also, disclaimer: I’m not being super super strict about it, but trying to do the best that I reasonably can (which is difficult at times).
So, what does “clean eating” really mean? Well, I don’t think there’s a definitive definition, but the phrase ” clean eating” usually refers to eating primarily whole foods (ie. cutting out as much processed food as you can). In today’s busy world, it would be pretty hard to do this 100%, as you would have to make absolutely everything from scratch, which if you’ve got a full time job and a social life, you probably don’t have time to do. If you want a decent article that summarizes the Clean Eating movement, here’s one from Cooking Light.
In laying out my month of food, I first had to decide what I wanted to count as “processed” and as “whole”. For me personally, I think that really, if a food has been manipulated in some way by machinery, and/or if it’s had lots of ingredients added to it (sugar, salt, preservatives, colors, etc), then it’s a processed food. I wanted to eat mostly foods that came out of the ground (or animal) pretty much the same way that they appeared in my kitchen. This meant lots of fruits and vegetables, eggs, meat, nuts, and I allowed myself to have dairy products (cheese and plain Greek yogurt). The dairy was kind of a confusing call for me, as honestly I don’t really consider cheese or yogurt as unprocessed, because there is some processing involved there, but I wasn’t going to be that picky about it. Other things I let myself cheat with include dark chocolate (not candy bars or anything, but I do enjoy 1 or 2 plain dark chocolate squares a day), salad dressing (maybe someday I’ll get fancy and make my own, but not this month), butter spray (I know this is a weird one, but I use it on my popcorn, which i’ve been popping myself with my nutritional yeast flakes), spices and spice mixes (I’m not really sure where spices fall on the processing spectrum, but I can’t grow an herb to save my life, so store bought spices it is), and here and there I’ve given in and had something that was not a whole food (example, my boss brought in homemade zucchini blueberry bread, and I did have a small slice because who could resist that?). I’m really not being crazy limited, but I am trying to really minimize the processed stuff.
Because I know myself, I knew that this did not have a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding if I didn’t spend a few hours on the weekends food prepping for the week. So the last week in July, I sat down and planned out the first two weeks of my challenge, and came up with grocery lists.
Here was the plan for week one:
Breakfasts: Mini Crustless Quiches
AM snack: almonds and string cheese
Lunch: Taco Salad with ground turkey
Easy, Ground Turkey Taco Salad for Lunches
- 3 lbs lean ground turkey
- 2 packets taco seasoning (lower sodium if desired)
- 1-2 heads iceberg lettuce
- grape tomatoes (at least a pint)
- 2 green peppers
- 1/2 a red onion
- 1 cucumber
- 1 pkg shredded Mexican cheese blend
- light sour cream
- Over medium heat, brown the ground turkey. Drain off the fat. Add the taco seasoning packets and water as listed on the packet instructions and simmer for at least five minutes per packet instructions.
- Dice the green peppers, onion, and cucumber and mix together. Store this in a container.
- Each morning to assemble a salad, I tore off a wad of iceberg lettuce and shredded that with my fingers into a sizeable container. Layer a handful of the pepper/onion/cucumber mixture on top of the lettuce. Slice about a handful of grape tomatoes in half and place on top of the salad. Sprinkle 2-4 Tbsp of shredded cheddar on top of your veggies. Place a dollop of sour cream on top.
- In a separate container, place 4-6 oz of the ground turkey meat.
- Then, come lunch time, all you need to do is heat the container with the meat in the microwave and then mix it into your salad. Done!
This amount of meat and veggies made 7 huge salads for me :-)
Thai Peanut Chicken with sauteed green beans
- 3 bell peppers (I did one red, one yellow, and one orange)
- 2 lbs boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp vinegar (white or rice wine)
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1/2 cup peanut butter
- Slice peppers into thin slices and place in crock pot.
- Cut chicken into relatively bite sized pieces and layer on top of peppers.
- Add in the rest of the ingredients.
- Turn your slow cooker on to low for about 6 hours or until chicken is cooked through and peppers are tender.
- Give everything a good stir and you're good to go!
For the green beans, I just used a bag of frozen beans, zapped them in the microwave for 5 minutes, then sauteed in some garlic olive oil, marjoram, salt, and lemon pepper.
OR Zucchini Pasta with Ground Turkey and tomatoes (similar to the linked recipe but with just a little garlic olive oil instead of the avocado sauce)
PM snack: popcorn with nutritional yeast flakes and/or dark chocolate square(s)
This might sound weird, but I assure you it’s delicious. You can buy plain unpopped kernels, and then you just pop them in a brown paper bag in the microwave (I do 3 Tbsp kernels for 3 minutes). Then I love to spray some no calorie butter spray on the popcorn and shake some Nutritional Yeast Flakes on top. Haven’t heard of NYF’s? They look like dust and taste kind of like cheese (sounds appetizing, right?). A lot of vegans used them to give foods a cheesy flavor. Also, they have some great nutritional benefits. If you’re curious you can read more about it here.
I am happy to report that I did pretty well staying on track my first week. I did spend like six hours cooking on Sunday, but it was necessary so that I had easy, ready-to-go meals throughout the week. And I even have some food leftover for week two (you’ll be getting the Week 2 Recap next week).
So, what have I found so far with my challenge? Well, I’m not sure I feel much different. Don’t get me wrong, I feel good, but I’m not sure I could say with certainty that I feel better than I did before. I have had good amounts of energy this past week, and I haven’t really had any “highs” or “lows” that you get from eating really sugary foods, so that’s been nice. Can’t say I’ve noticed changes in my mood or my skin, but I’m only a week in. (i’ve also been tweaking my skin care routine and using more natural products, so I’ll have to report on that in a month or so). One unexpected thing that’s been nice, is that in the past two weeks I’ve actually spent less on groceries. I thought it would be pretty pricey for all the fresh produce, but so far I’ve spent about 50 dollars each week on food. And of course I haven’t really gotten any restaurant or take out food so I haven’t spent money there like I normally might have. I’m actually quite proud that I haven’t had any diet soda during this week. Not that I drink a ton of it normally, but probably one or two a week. I’m drinking mostly water and tea (and the occasional glass of red wine – there are antioxidants in wine so it’s healthy, right ). The only thing I really miss so far, is my PB and J wrap in the mornings, but since wheat and jam are both processed, wraps are out for this month. I’m going to see if I can squash this craving next week by having fruit and peanut butter Overnight Oats. I’ll let you know if I’m successful
So, what are your thoughts? Have you ever tried to Eat Clean? Do you think you could do it? Any tips for me???