Monday, August 10, 2009

Getting started

Kind of odd to have a "getting started" post a few weeks into this blog, but roll with it. I've recently been asked if eating clean requires more time, effort, or planning than my pre-clean-eating (PCE?) days and though it was time to address those (very valid) concerns.

Prior to eating clean, I perused the weekly grocery ads to see what was on sale. Creating a menu around the circular + what we had in the fridge, freezer, or pantry was how I operated. My plan usually included at least one new recipe, since I love new recipes so very much, and some variations on old favorites--burgers, salad, tacos, soup, and at least one slow-cooker meal. I tried to work two "eating out" nights into the mix so I wasn't in the kitchen all the time, and so we could have nights out with friends. My planning took no more than an hour on Sunday afternoons, plus another hour to shop. Each meal was ready in 30-60 minutes, give or take depending on the method.

So that was then. This is now: guess what? I do the same things, with very minor changes! When the Sunday paper arrives, I spend my usual time (actually, probably less...) with it, including clipping coupons. Not surprisingly, we use fewer coupons these days because we're buying fewer packaged and processed items, and I cannot tell you the last time I saw SmartSource offer 50 cents off a cantaloupe. I really spend the most time on the first two pages of the grocery circular, because that is where my store advertises the produce and meats. I skip the deli and bakery pages completely. We don't eat out as much because I have so many recipes to try; my weekly menu plan often fills up with more meals than I have days to cook them.

I've always been a stock-up kind of shopper (chicken breast on sale? buy three bags and freeze them!) and eating clean has not really changed that. If I see that our favorite natural peanut butter is on sale, I'll grab 3 or 4 jars because I don't want to run out before it's on sale again. The same goes for meats, canned beans (one day I will use dried, I promise), canned tomatoes, and some of our gluten-free favorites. Three has become my magic number. When I buy three of anything, I know I have at least one to use that night, one to put in the kitchen cupboard, and one to store in the basement pantry or chest freezer. Doing this assures me that I have a good basis for making just about anything at a moment's notice. It's good to have a stocked pantry.

When you get home from shopping, do a little prep work. Boil one of the two dozen eggs you just bought. Portion out your grapes into single-serving bags or containers. Strain one of the plain yogurts you bought into yogurt cheese. Measure out your raw almonds into 1-oz servings. Wash and dry your greens so a quick salad is that much easier to throw together. If it's dinner time, toss some extra chicken breasts onto the grill so you have them ready for lunches.

Whereas our meal-planning hasn't changed all that much, perhaps the preparation of those meals has. Our clean dinners have been taking me less time to prepare, if you can believe that. Grilled chicken (always, always make some extra!) and grilled veggies cook outside or on the Foreman grill while I slice tomatoes for a salad and dish up some fresh fruit. Sometimes I will make a large batch of a grain at the beginning of the week and simply reheat the appropriate amount for our dinner or my lunches. Brown rice and quinoa work especially well this way. This alone has bought me some time in the kitchen, since nuking a dish of cooked rice for 5 minutes sure beats waiting 45-60 minutes for it to cook through.

When I decided to start eating clean, I did not do a 100% overhaul right away. There are some 12-packs of Pepsi Throwback in my basement pantry. I still have white sugar, white flour, and some processed things like bottled salad dressings in the kitchen, but I cannot tell you the last time I used them. Clean eating has me gravitating towards recipes that either don't call for them or that can be reworked to use cleaner alternatives like honey, agave nectar, and whole-wheat or gluten-free flours. We actually eat fewer desserts than we did PCE, which is good for our teeth, waistlines, and overall time spent in the kitchen. When I do have something sweet after dinner, it's likely a piece of 72% cacao chocolate and/or some flavored decaf espresso with steamed milk. The H has become quite the barista lately! I'm not above indulging in a non-clean treat, of course; I've said that before. But I have to make sure I *really* want it, and if I'm counting calories that day, it fits into my allowance.

I've found that writing down potential meals and snacks for the week--based on things I bought during my weekly shopping trip--is a big help for my everyday eating. I keep this list posted on the refrigerator or next to my computer where I work. Do this before you're starving and standing in front of the open fridge or freezer full of uncombined ingredients or those year-old fudge pops you said you weren't going to touch anymore.

If you have been thinking about eating clean, just try it. (Good commercial, huh?) There are no gimmicky products to buy, no membership fees, no check-ins, no comparisons against other people on the same "diet," and it's probably no more time-consuming than your current lifestyle. You buy food, cook it, and eat it--things you do already. If you want more specific guidelines from a "pro" read the Eat-Clean Diet books by Tosca Reno. Borrow them from the library until you're sure you want them hanging around your house. Page through an issue of Clean Eating Magazine next time you're at the bookstore.

Get to know the clean-eating parameters, and your transition into a CE lifestyle will go much more smoothly. You'll eventually need to decide what to do in terms of eating away from home, and you may need to learn about new foods along the way, but don't let that prevent you from exploring eating clean if it's something you want to do. Take it one day (heck, one meal) at a time.

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