This is part 1 of 4 in a new series of blog posts titled “Steps Toward Making a Clean Eating Meal Plan You Can Actually Stick To.” Every week I’ll put out a new post stuffed full of helpful tips to help you make your own personalized meal plan that you’ll actually be able to stick to. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss the rest of the series! (PLUS subscribers get access to my free resource library: can I get a heck yes?!)
There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there right now about clean eating. There are many people who will tell you the ‘rules’ of clean eating, people who will tell you why you should be eating clean, and millions of people posting clean eating recipes. There are even people who post a clean eating meal plan that you can follow. But how many people are out there telling you how to make your own clean eating meal plan?
I’m a picky eater. I don’t like peanut butter and jelly, celery, or sushi (I think I heard a few jaws just drop). And while my pallet is expanding, there are still plenty of clean recipes I won’t eat. Something that really gets to me about these pre-made clean eating meal plans is how limited they are. I’ll be reading through them and find I probably won’t like half the food they suggest.
If you’re picky like me, or just wish you didn’t have to rely on anyone else to make a comprehensive clean eating meal plan for you, keep reading.
Don’t have time to read right now? Download a PDF version for later from my free resource library!
Make Sure You Get Your Macros
The most important part of any meal plan is making sure you’re getting a proper amount of macronutrients each day. Macronutrients are protein, carbs, and fat. These are the energy sources of the body, and together make up 100% of your daily energy intake.
Because macronutrients come together to make up 100% of your total calorie intake, people often talk about them in terms of percent of calorie intake. For example someone might recommend that only 15% of your daily calories should come from fat.
Each person has different macronutrient needs based on a few different factors, the most influential factor being your fitness goals (yeah I know I thought it would be gender and age too, but turns out those factors don’t have as much influence as we think). Someone who wants to build muscle will need a very different macronutrient profile than someone looking to lose fat. Below are some common guidelines for macronutrient proportions.
Many of you are probably surprised to see that fat is highest in the fat-loss guidelines. I promise that is not a typo, but a topic for another day. (You can read this article that busts some common fat myths in the meantime).
Once you’ve decided which category you fit best in, you can tweak your ratios within that range as needed. Remember, these ratios will be slightly different for everyone, so treat these examples merely as guidelines, and make sure you listen to your body as you’re trying out different ratios.
If you’re like me, at this point you’re probably thinking about how you can possibly calculate these ratios for yourself, given the information given by nutrition facts. Since the nutrition facts labels only specify the fat calories and not the protein or carb calories, it’s good to know a couple conversions. Both proteins and carbs have 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9. Since fat is already calculated for you on nutrition labels, you just need to remember 4 calories per gram. Easy right?
Now I know if I just said all this to my sister, I’d probably get a blank stare, because she’s not as math-minded as me. Math doesn’t come easily for everyone, and that’s ok. So for those of you like my sister, I’ve put together a worksheet to help you calculate your personal macro intakes, based on what ratio you’re going for. Download it by clicking on the picture below (and as an added bonus, get access to my entire free library of resources!)
Keep Up with Your Vitamins and Minerals
Once you’ve got your macronutrients down, it’s time to focus on making sure you get all of your vitamins and minerals, otherwise known as micronutrients.
Statistically, half of you reading this are probably taking a multivitamin supplement every day. However, while supplements are useful for people with nutrient deficiencies (and often pregnant women), they can actually be detrimental to healthy people.
Just like everything else in this world, too much of a good thing can be harmful. Several studies have found that taking a multivitamin everyday doesn’t just not prevent disease, it can actually increase the risk of disease.
Now, chances are if you’re reading this, you already are or are planning on eating a clean diet. While it is possible to eat clean but not healthy, you’d have to try pretty hard, because much of a clean diet usually involves lots of fruits and vegetables. Due to this, you’re probably already getting enough vitamins, as long as you have a good variety in the fruits and veggies you eat. Obviously, if you only ever eat carrots and spinach and call that good for veggie intake you’ll probably end up deficient in a few vitamins.
If you are concerned that you’re not getting enough vitamins, consult your doctor for targeted supplements rather than taking a big multivitamin that, while possibly helping your deficiency, could be causing you to overdose on other vitamins.
What NOT to Include in Your Clean Eating Meal Plan
We’ve been talking a lot about what should be included in your clean eating meal plan, but it’s about time to address what shouldn’t be included.
This is where the clean eating ‘rules’ come into play.
- Avoid added sugars. These are sugars that are not normally present in food.
- Avoid processed foods. The biggest offender is often refined grains, and everything they’re found in.
- Avoid trans fats at all costs, and limit saturated fats to 7% of your daily calorie intake. This is good advice for everyone, clean eating or not.
- Choose fresh foods over canned or packaged.
- Avoid preservatives and other additives in food. Most people phrase this as “don’t eat foods with ingredients you can’t pronounce” but I find that to be a naive oversimplification. (ex. dihydrogen monoxide is another way to say water)
What this list really boils down to is this: Eat whole foods, in their most natural state. Anything that happens between pulling food out of the ground (or butchering an animal) and it ending up on our plate usually causes a decrease in nutrients and an increase in unhealthy additives.
But Remember, You Don’t Have to Be Perfect
There is something called the 20/80 rule. It means you should strive to eat 80% of your meals clean, and leave the other 20% to allow for things like going out to eat or eating a donut on national donut day. If you’re eating 3 meals a day, 20% of your weekly meals works out to about 4 meals a week that you can be flexible with and still stay on track.
I’m definitely not perfect with this diet, and you shouldn’t expect yourself to be either. A couple of weeks ago I got a coupon for pizza that was just too good a deal to turn down, and every couple of weeks I’ll have some sugary mixed drinks when I hang out with friends. As long as you limit these occurrences, it’s OK to deviate from the meal plan once in awhile.
This has been part 1 of 4 in my new blog post series “Steps Toward Making a Clean Eating Meal Plan You Can Actually Stick To.” Every week I’ll put out a new post stuffed full of helpful tips to help you make your own personalized meal plan that you’ll actually be able to stick to. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss the rest of the series! (PLUS subscribers get access to my free resource library: can I get a heck yes?!)
What are YOU gonna put in your personal clean eating meal plan? Let me know in the comments!