I have always considered our family to eat relatively healthy. We enjoy steamed seafood a few nights each week and eat fast food pretty infrequently. The only juice allowed in our house is orange juice and neither my husband nor I drink soda, smoke or eat many sweets. A six-pack of beer or bottle of wine lasts a few months as our busy schedules keep us from wanting to drink on nights before early mornings. Like any family though, we had our unhealthy moments. We both work from home but there are still nights when we only have the drive to go through a drive thru or pour bowls of cereal for dinner.
This summer we went on our first family vacation as a combined family of six. We came back with a lot of memories made and also some extra baggage when it came to our physiques. Neither my husband nor I had actually gained any weight, but we felt sick from all the unusual food we had consumed. Pizzas. Hot dogs. Hamburgers. Burritos. Beer. Wine. Potato chips. Tortilla chips. Birthday cake (three times).
We went on a date to our favorite seafood place the weekend after we got back and ordered an appetizer that we did not realize would be served fried. We struggled to eat it and I told my husband that I was so tired of eating I couldn’t even stand myself. He agreed. We had discussed “eating clean” in the past but as we pushed our lunches around on their plates, we made a commitment to give a more stripped down version of eating a try in our own house. It was time to make changes.
We knew the basics of clean eating – no preservatives, nothing artificial, no refined flour or sugar. We started searching for more information and recipes from our phones. I texted the babysitter to see if she minded if we made a grocery run before coming back. We spent the next hour sifting through recipes and wandering grocery aisles and came out with a cart of familiar and unusual ingredients. Thus started our family adventure in clean eating.
That was about 10 weeks ago and in that time, we have learned a lot about our old eating habits and made some healthy new ones. We have decided which parts of the clean eating lifestyle work with ours and which parts we want to leave out. We’ve learned to read what is actually in the food that we buy and make more informed decisions. For the first time in my life, I am finding joy in preparing meals for my family (and myself). We have a deeper connection with our food and are more conscious about what we ingest.
For anyone thinking about a return to eating “from scratch,” here are some pieces of advice, a list of the basics you will need in your kitchen, links to recipes we love and the best sources for more information. Good luck on your own family adventure!
Clean Eating Advice
- Don’t do it to lose weight. Yes, many people DO lose weight by cutting out everything “unclean” from their diets but if you have an ambitious weight loss goal, this probably is not the diet/lifestyle for you. I weigh the exact same that I did before we started our clean eating excursion but my husband has lost about 15 to 20 pounds (at this writing, he is also on Day 67 of a running streak). Like all diet adjustments, some bodies will react more positively when it comes to weight loss during clean eating than others. Don’t make weight loss your motivation.
- It’s okay to cheat a little. There are a lot of die-hard clean eaters out there who will tell you differently, but let’s keep it real. It is completely unrealistic to go from cooking and eating one way to the complete opposite overnight. We were pretty strict the first two weeks and then started incorporating some of our “old” foods that were still in our cupboards back into our menus. This included regular flour pasta, tortilla shells and flat sandwich bread. We have also indulged in our favorite (but oh-so-bad) fast food treat several times in these almost-three months: Taco Bell. I have friends who say they feel sick if they eat unclean for even one meal, but my husband and I do not really notice a difference other than that sick, bloated feeling from eating too much (which has less to do with the food and more to do with the amount we consume).
- Bring your kids along. Sure, our kids still eat Cheese Its and Cheerios (both unclean), but they eat the same meals that we do. So if I use whole wheat pasta and homemade spaghetti sauce for dinner, that’s what they eat. Not once have they mentioned a difference in taste but we also have not brought much attention to the changes. Mine all are still young (age 6 and under), so I’m sure that is an advantage. But don’t be afraid to change your children’s eating habits, no matter what their ages, to better reflect your new lifestyle.
Shopping List- Here are 10 essentials you will need in your kitchen when you start eating clean:
- Coconut oil
- Whole wheat flour
- Raw honey
- Plain Greek yogurt
- PURE vanilla extract (check to make sure yours doesn’t use corn syrup as a filler)
- Plain applesauce
- Sea salt/Kosher salt
- Whole grain rice
- Food processor (not an ingredient but a necessity!)
There is no shortage of clean recipes out there and that is so helpful when you are making the shift. If you have a favorite recipe, you can simply head to a search engine and type it in with the words “clean eating” before it, like Princess Mommy did with carrot muffins and zucchini muffins. You should be able find a clean substitute.
Not all of the recipes we have tried have been winners (I tried a coffee creamer that made me gag) but we have found some new family favorites. Here are six that we love in our house:
- Banana muffins. This blogger suggest Truvia or honey – but Truvia is not clean, so just go with honey. This is an awesome recipe for overripe bananas and these always turn out moist and fluffy.
- Pizza dough. We have always loved to make homemade pizzas around here so now we start with a clean beginning. Top it with homemade or natural sauce from your grocery store shelf (we like Enricos – but any kind that has no sugar or preservatives on the ingredient list works), white cheese that you shred yourself (beware of color additives and preservatives added to pre-shredded cheese to keep it from caking) and other healthy ingredients. Our kids love turkey pepperoni so we allow it and I add fresh veggies to my portion.
- Cinnamon raisin bread. I personally do not like cinnamon but my husband and kids do. I have to admit that I love the amazing way this bread makes my house smell – perfect for fall! For some reason, this person adds brown sugar to the recipe. Substitute that for honey that is blended with the other wet ingredients and you are ALL good.
- Shrimp Florentine pasta. This is an awesome dinner recipe. Its taste is a tad more sophisticated than my kids like, so my husband and I usually make it on the weekends and make a simple alternative for the children. Iowa Girl Eats, where this recipe is from, is amazing to peruse for more dinner ideas.
- Basic wheat bread. We make this bread to accompany meals or for morning toast. It is not great for sandwiches, but there are plenty of others out there that work for that. This is more of a bread to be enjoyed with a little bit of butter or honey.
- Cauliflower Alfredo sauce. We make this version very simple – cauliflower, butter, milk, fresh pressed garlic and a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese. This blogger adds more things but we like it with just the ingredients I listed above, served over whole wheat spaghetti or fettuccine with broccoli.
Clean Eating Resources
I’ve only scratched the surface of the vast amount of information out there for clean eaters. If you want to read more, check out the following sites:
- Clean Eating Magazine
- Cooking Light – 10 Clean Dinner Recipes for Weeknights
- The Gracious Pantry
- He and She Eat Clean
- Pinterest (duh)
Katie Parsons is a freelance writer who lives with her four children, husband and the sound of the ocean nearby. Before she was a freelance writer, she worked in news media in Chicago, Orlando and Shelbyville, Indiana. She has a Creative Writing degree from Ball State University. Katie is writing a memoir about the time when she was single and pregnant. She owns a content creation company and you can contact her by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.