Eating clean does not have to be time consuming or complicated.
Even with a small kitchen or small budget (or both), anyone can get started cooking healthy meals for themselves and their family STAT. You do not have to be perfect at it right away. It’s better to start slow and build your repertoire than to not start at all. Remember: It is neither a competition nor is the clean eating police coming to your house! Do what you can when you can.
When I first embarked on this clean eating journey, I would search for recipes and get frustrated that many of them asked for a million different ingredients – some of which I had never heard of and most of which I did not have at home. However, the more I cooked and got familiar with this new way of eating, the more I learned to experiment. After a while, I got more confident and better at creating my own recipes. I now also enjoy “just throwing something together” last minute with stuff I already have at home saving time and money in the process. After all, everybody is tired and hurried and nobody wants to spend hours at the store followed by hours in the kitchen.
My recipes are meant to inspire, not intimidate. I want to give practical ideas not cause for frustration. But where should you start? And what should you buy?
Fresh fruits and vegetables are the foundation of clean eating. The kind of produce I buy typically varies depending on what’s seasonally available and on sale, what I need for a certain dish or what my kids request. Besides that, I usually have these twenty basics on hand all of which I use pretty much on a daily basis, in one way or another.
1. Leafy Greens: Greens are your dietary powerhouse! They are chock-full of fiber along with essential vitamins, minerals, and plant-based substances that may lower cholesterol, preserve vision, boost bone health and help protect from serious diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, even cancer. I use all different kinds such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, collards, Romaine lettuce, Arugula or a mix therof. I typically buy them organic and in bulk. I make green smoothies almost daily and use greens for pretty much anything from salads to sauces to side dishes so that I go through a bag relatively quickly.
2. Quinoa: Quinoa is truly a superfood. Naturally gluten free, quinoa serves as a complete protein source and contains iron, B-vitamins, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, vitamin E, and fiber. It also provides a healthy dose of fatty acids (monounsaturated fat and omega-3’s). We buy it organic and in bulk and eat it as a breakfast cereal, substitute for pasta or in salads for added protein and sustenance.
3. Eggs: Eggs are exceptionally nutrient dense and an inexpensive vegetarian source of protein. I recommend buying organic and pasture raised if possible. We go through a lot of eggs (and by a lot I mean a lot!) so that I buy the 24-pack of organic eggs at Costco on a regular basis.
4. Almond Butter: I personally do not like peanut butter (weird, I know!) and my kids’ school is peanut free so we buy almond as our preferred nut butter of choice. Almond butter has a slightly sweet taste which makes it delicious on toast or in a sandwich. It also tastes great with fresh fruit or mixed into a smoothie. Buying fresh ground raw almond butter is best. If this is not available check for dry roasted and no sugar/salt added varieties.
5. Nuts: Numerous studies have been conducted on the health benefits of nuts. In fact, they are said to be one of the healthiest foods on the planet! They offer a ton of nutrition packed into a tiny, portable, mess-free bundle. Namely, they are rich in “good” fat (unsaturated fatty acids) which is vital to our body. We eat lots of raw almonds, pecans and walnuts as a snack on-the-go or use them for baking stuff like cereal bars, granola or pancakes.
6. Seeds: I love seeds as they are very nutrient dense! In smoothies I mostly use hemp, milled flax or chia seeds. Though each of their nutritional benefits are slightly different, I use all of them interchangeably. I also sprinkle sunflower, pumpkin or sesame seeds over salads to keep me fuller longer and to add protein and a little crunch. For optimal health it’s best to eat a variety.
7. Almond Milk: Almond milk makes for an excellent dairy free base for smoothies and substitute for coffee creamer. Look for unsweetened varieties without any added carrageenan. I am partial to Silk Unsweetened Vanilla!
8. Lemons: Lemons are one of my favorite ingredients to cook with. High in vitamin C, they make about everything go from tasting bland to tasting bombdiggity! Fresh lemon juice and/or zest adds that little extra zing and freshness which is perfect in anything from smoothies to salad dressings.
9. Onions: Onions form the basis of many dishes and most of my recipes start with sautéeing diced onions as well. They are excellent sources of vitamins A, B6, C and E, and minerals such as sodium, potassium, and iron. In addition, onions are a good source of dietary fiber, folic acid, sulphuric compounds, flavonoids and phytochemicals.
10. Garlic: Like onions and shallots, garlic is a member of the lily family. It is widely used in many different cultures as a culinary spice as well as a medicinal remedy. Garlic is an excellent source of vitamin B6 and also a very good source of manganese, selenium and vitamin C, phosphorous, calcium, potassium, iron and copper. Plus, a little garlic makes just about everything taste that much better!
11. Avocados: Everyone in the Healthy Haus loves avocados! In fact, avocado toast may just be my #1 favorite thing to eat. Avocados are true nutrition super stars. They contain almost 20 vitamins and minerals such as vitamins C, E, K, and B-6, as well as riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium and potassium. They also provide lutein, beta-carotene, and omega-3s. In addition, avocados are the only fruit that contains a substantial amount of monounsaturated fat known to improve heart health and lower cholesterol. Healthy fat is essential for every single cell in your body. It increases vitamin and mineral absorption and even helps boost brain and immune function. We eat avocado slices as a side dish, on top of fajitas and vegetarian chili, on bread, in salads or in smoothies for added (non-dairy) creaminess.
12. Bananas: Rich and sweet tasting bananas come in their own convenient packaging. Their unique mix of vitamins, minerals, and low glycemic carbohydrates has made them a true super food, beloved by babies and athletes alike. One medium-sized banana contains 400 mg or more of potassium which is known to prevent high blood pressure and protect against atherosclerosis. I put bananas in most of my smoothies but also like to grab one on my way out the door as a healthy, mess-free snack on-the-go. In addition, I use bananas in my kids’ yogurt. Since store-bought yogurt has tons of added sugar, I prefer mixing my own using plain organic whole milk yogurt, a mashed up banana and a little bit of raw organic honey.
13. Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries…they are all delicious and all super good for you! Berries are rich in nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals that help protect cells from damage. They may help prevent (or even reverse) the effects of aging, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer. We always have some fresh and/or frozen berries at home to snack on or to add to oatmeal, desserts and salads.
14. Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is one of my preferred all-purpose cooking oils. It provides a good source of saturated fats and is suitable for medium-temperature cooking. We use it for anything from stir frys to frittatas to Sunday morning French toast.
15. Olive Oil: Olive oil is good for medium-temperature cooking but is best used in salad dressings or as a condiment. To make sure you are getting the right quality, look for organic extra-virgin varieties that come in dark glass bottles.
16. Balsamic Vinegar: Balsamic vinegar is an awesome ingredient to have on hand. It’s especially great for creating homemade dressings or marinades.
17. Organic Chicken Breast: Mr. Healthy Haus is the only meat eater in the house. We buy organic chicken breast in bulk and store them individually in the freezer. It’s easy and quick to add a grilled chicken breast and pan fried chicken strips to any vegetarian meal without having to cook completely separate dishes.
18. Natural Sweetener: We have pretty much banned all refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners from the Healthy Haus. To add a little sweetness from time to time, we use natural sweeteners and prefer raw organic honey or pure maple syrup because they are economical and readily available. Stevia, coconut nectar or molasses would also be good options.
19. Salt: Salt is essential to the human body and overall cell function. Salt is also present in almost every recipe and too much or too little can make or break a dish. Look for Celtic or Maine sea salt or Himalayan salt for their high mineral content and avoid refined and bleached table salt.
20. Dark Chocolate Chips: I add a quarter cup of dark chocolate chips when making cereal bars or pancakes and give my kids (or myself!) a small handful as an after-dinner treat. Look for a high cocoa content and short ingredient lists. I like the ones from Enjoy Life as they are made of only two ingredients (unsweetened chocolate and cane sugar), they’re non GMO with 69% cocoa and without any allergens (including dairy and soy).
Other ingredients I use frequently: Avocado oil for high-temperature cooking, unsalted grassfed butter, brown rice, fresh or dried herbs (basil, rosemary, cilantro, mint, oregano, Italian seasoning) and spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, cumin), raw apple cider vinegar, coconut butter, coconut cream, Dijon mustard, quinoa flakes, unsweetened cocoa powder, dried dates, shredded coconut and matcha powder.
**Photo Credit: © Marco Guidi / Dreamstime.com**
What are your clean eating must-haves?