These past few weeks, I’ve been dishing out tips to help you make your own clean eating meal plan, along with tips to help you stick to said meal plan (I know I’m not the only one who has trouble with this). This week, I’m going to wrap it all together and take you guys through how I make my own clean eating meal plan step-by-step, including how I choose foods, how I plan against junk food temptation, and how my planning practices set me up for successfully sticking to my plan.
Don’t have time to read right now? Download a PDF version for later from my free resource library!
Step One: Choosing the Right Foods
Choose only real, whole foods
This means following the so-called “clean eating rules.” (I hate referring to them as rules because it makes clean eating seem like a diet fad) Choose foods that are not processed (or have as little processing as possible), foods without preservatives/additives, foods without added sugars, foods without trans fats, and fresh foods (rather than canned or packaged).
Unfortunately, we live in a world that is full of ‘fast’ foods. I don’t mean just the fast food you get from McDonalds. I mean the pre-made freezer meals and the pre-boiled pastas and the ready-to-eat soups. In order to make these meals so convenient, several things must be added to the natural foods to preserve them, or they must be processed beyond recognition.
We also live in a world where most of our food isn’t grown nearby. Due to this, much of the food that seems to be less processed still needs to be packaged with preservatives in order to reach us while still fresh.
Since these processed, fast, preserved foods can be hard to avoid, it can be helpful to know what to look for. I look for locally grown produce as much as possible, and I try to buy foods that are packaged in-store (such as fresh peanut butter). Even doing this, though, it can be hard to buy all the foods you want, so I turn to making much of my food at home. For example, I make my own taco seasoning to avoid preservatives in those single-use packets, I make my own breadcrumbs from sprouted grain bread, and I make my own hummus (from dried, not canned chickpeas) fresh every week. Next week, I’m going to try making my own tortillas, and I’m in the process of figuring out how to make my own tomato sauces.
Balance Your Macronutrients
When planning a clean eating meal plan, it can be easy to get stuck on the first step up there and just fill your meal plan with any clean food you can find. (Trust me, I know, I’ve been there). Not to mention the internet is full of recipes for things like clean eating muffins, clean eating pancakes and waffles, clean eating cookies, etc. It can be SO easy to feel healthy as long as you’re sticking to the ‘clean eating rules.’
But balancing your macronutrients (i.e. protein, carbs, and fat) is just as important as eating whole, real foods. Imagine if you ate clean eating cookies every day. Clean or not, those cookies will be full of natural sugars, which, while not unhealthy in themselves, can cause serious problems if consumed in large enough quantities.
In the first post in this series, I discuss in more detail how you can balance your macronutrients. Of the three categories, I currently follow the fat-loss ratios because I’m trying to trim down my thighs. This means of my total daily calories, I try to get 45% from protein, 35% from healthy fats, and the last 20% from carbs (I definitely don’t always succeed, but this is my goal!). I use an app called My Fitness Pal to track my meals, and it automatically calculates those percentages for me at the end of the day and compares it to the goals I’ve set. I also use this app for planning by putting in what I’m planning to eat for a day to see how close it comes to meeting my goals. Usually I don’t hit it on the mark the first try, but the app makes it easy to swap out foods to fix the percentages. (I’m not an affiliate for this app, I promise, I just love it!)
I know it can seem intimidating to think about sticking to some hardcore planning like that indefinitely, but after a few weeks, you will start learning how certain foods add up and before too long you should be able to estimate in your head without even using the app because you’ll have put in each food so many times.
If you’d like to take a detailed look at a typical weekly plan for me, you can download it from my free resource library by clicking below!
As you will see, my meal plan is still a work in progress, far from my ideal. My biggest success, though, is finally being able to consistently stick to my plan. My next step will be learning to plan my macros more effectively.
Step Two: Plan to Avoid Junk Food
When you are excited about starting a new lifestyle, such as starting to eat clean, it can be tempting to jump in head first and change EVERYTHING at once. When it comes to clean eating, this usually means swearing off junk food and throwing away the ice cream in the freezer or the cookies you reach for every afternoon.
However, in my experience, this is a losing strategy. I’ve never known someone with the willpower to suddenly walk away from junk food and never look back.
Instead of swearing to never eat junk food again, I recommend weaning yourself off of it by slowly replacing your favorite junk foods with healthy alternatives. (You can check out my list of junk food replacements here)
Even thinking about never eating your favorite junk foods again can still seem scary though. Here’s the process I went through (and am still going through) with junk food.
The first thing I started replacing was chocolate. I had already been replacing milk chocolate with dark chocolate, but the next step was to stop eating store-bought chocolate bars altogether. I started making my own chocolate, and I’ve honestly been able to satisfy all my chocolate cravings with that. Of course, it wasn’t a super easy transition, and I’d still reach for other chocolate from time to time, but after not having it regularly, I would always feel sick after eating it. And THAT, my friends, is the true beauty of this method. If you can wean yourself off of even one junk food for long enough, your body will make it much easier to resist it later.
After chocolate, I tackled sugary breakfasts. Eggo waffles, toaster strudels, french toast. I started making things like no-sugar-added banana bread, homemade granola, and greek yogurt blueberry muffins to start. They satisfied my cravings beautifully, especially the muffins. Now, I haven’t completely given up french toast, because how can I say no to waking up to fresh home cooked french toast when I visit my parents? But it’s now an indulgence, and not something I can’t live without.
Currently, I’m taking my breakfasts a step farther and having either smoothies or something high protein like eggs or greek yogurt. Not only does it help my balance my macros, it keeps me feeling full most of the morning.
Something I still struggle with, though, is french fries. I tried for awhile to give them up, but I never found a satisfying replacement for them. So when someone around me is getting fries or tater tots, I just have to have some. This is definitely a long journey for everyone, so don’t get discouraged if things don’t always run smoothly for you.
And on that note, I want to remind you of the 80/20 rule, which is more of a guideline that says that you should aim for at least 80% of your meals to be on track, which leaves the other 20% flexible for going out with friends or birthday cake at a party.
Step 3: Actually Make a Detailed Plan
“Duh, Rachel, this is a post about meal planning, of course you have to plan.”
Well, yeah. But not everyone knows how to make a successful plan. As I discussed in my last post, many people end up making plans that just make sticking to their plan more difficult than it should be.
In that post, I shared my best tips for planning that will set you up for success. Here, I’ll go through how I implement those.
Tip 1 is to plan one week at a time. I usually plan on Saturdays when I have time to go shopping. I make out a list of my lunches and dinners for the week, and when I go to the store I do my best to resist buying anything I don’t need for those meals (except for staples I keep stocked).
In each weekly plan, I make sure to include one or two time-flexible dinners. These are either something I know I can prepare quickly or are my go-to meal (more thoroughly discussed here). By doing this, I’m leaving room for unexpected events in the evenings (such as coming home from work late and not feeling like cooking), and since the meal is easy I’m much more likely to prepare it than just blow it off and grab something like take out Chinese. My go-to meal is black bean tacos and guacamole. I never get tired of guacamole. Ever. So it’s perfect as my go-to when I don’t have much time or motivation to cook.
On the days I know I’ll have time/energy, I make sure to plan something I’m really excited to make (like right now I’m super excited about slow-cooker recipes because I just got a slow-cooker). This makes it super easy to stick to my plan, and keeps me motivated to keep making plans and improving my diet.
On a more daily basis, I like to play a little trick on myself by preparing my vegetables first, which pretty much forces me to eat them. I am SO bad about blowing off eating my vegetables, but since I started preparing them (or at least getting them out) at the start of meal prep, I’ve been having an easier time sticking to my plan. My favorite veggies to prepare right now are cucumber and bell pepper slices. I’ll munch on them while I’m cooking and so they’re usually mostly gone before I even sit down to eat the rest of my meal.
If you’d like to take a detailed look at a typical weekly plan for me, you can download it from my free resource library by clicking here!
So tell me, have you guys had trouble sticking to your clean eating meal plans, or are you the planning master? If so I’d love to hear what has worked for you! Let me know in the comments.