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How to Eat Clean on a Budget

By Nikita Ross / October 7, 2017
How to eat clean on a budget

What is Clean Eating?

In recent years, clean eating has been a buzzword in the nutrition world. While the general idea is pretty self-explanatory-- eating healthy foods-- lots of people new to eating clean are unfamiliar with the finer nuances of eating clean.

Eating clean is the act of eating raw, minimally processed foods that are free of refined sugars and additives. Simply put, rather than eating foods with an extensive ingredient list, your goal is to eat foods that are ingredients. Aim for foods like fruit and vegetables that don’t require food labels because what you see is what you get.

Staples Shopping List

When starting to eat clean, it’s best to keep things simple in terms of food sources. Once you get into a routine, you can start to explore some of the lesser-known clean eating options to expand your menu. To begin, here are a few clean eating staples you should keep on hand:

Dairy and Dairy Alternatives

Dairy products can be tricky. Be sure to read the labels and check for additives and refined sugar. Raw and organic options are best when it comes to dairy.

  • Raw milk - alternatively, unsweetened soy, rice, coconut or almond milk.
  • Greek yogurt - buying plain yogurt then adding sweetness using fruit or honey is ideal.
  • Cottage cheese - also a great source of protein.
  • Minimally processed cheese - cheese, while delicious, should be consumed in moderation due to its high fat content. Pre-shredded cheeses often have hidden anti-caking agents, so avoid whenever possible.
Flours & Grains

Whole grains are an excellent source of carbohydrates when eating clean. If you’re a bread lover, try to find bread products that are free of bleached flour, or make your own using one of the options listed below.

  • Rice - Jasmine, basmati, brown, and wild rice are complex sources of energy. Avoid plain, white rice when trying to eat clean.
  • Quinoa - this grain is a fantastic rice substitute and a great source of protein.
  • Barley - this grain is a great source of fiber, and works well in soups and stews.
  • Oats - preferably steel-cut.
  • Unbleached Flour - coconut flour, almond flour, chickpea flour, and oat flour are a few ideal alternatives to run-of-the-mill white flour. Be sure to check the label and confirm that they are unbleached.
Proteins

You don’t need to give up meat to eat clean. You do, however, need to be mindful of the source of the meat and how it is prepared for consumption. Wild meat is always going to be a better option than farmed, though you can make a better choice by purchasing free-range and grass-fed meat sources.

  • Poultry - chicken, duck, and turkey are all great sources of white meat.
  • Eggs - these are an affordable, versatile staple to eating clean.
  • Fish - herring, tuna, mackerel, and salmon are great sources of Omega-3s. Be aware of mercury levels and always buy wild caught rather than farmed.
  • Wild game - deer, moose, elk, and other sources of venison are a lean, nutrient-dense source of protein.
  • Pork - pork tenderloin, chops, and unprocessed ham are excellent sources of lean protein. Avoid processed hams and hot dogs. If in doubt, purchase directly from the butcher.
  • Beef - as with pork, aim for high-quality cuts of beef. Avoid sources of ground and processed meat which may contain additives. Again, check with your local butcher for the best option.
Seasonings

Clean eating doesn’t mean flavorless eating! There are lots of herbs and seasonings that can spice up your meals (pun not intended) while adding various nutritional benefits. Rather than purchasing pre-mixed spices and herbs, buy whole dried or grow and make your own!

  • Turmeric
  • Basil
  • Dill
  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Cumin
  • Garlic

Costs Involved

Highly processed foods are often substantially cheaper than clean food. As such, it can be challenging for individuals to afford to eat clean. Luckily for you, there are a few different tips and tricks to help you eat clean on a budget. Here are a few to consider:

Thrive Market Membership

Thrive Market is a subscription service that delivers clean food direct to your door, at a fraction of the retail cost. In addition to low-cost, high-quality clean food sources, they also provide packages based on your preferred eating style. Are you starting the Paleo diet? Thrive Market has you covered. Have you been interested in trying the Keto diet? Thrive Market has a package for you. Thrive Market is the simplest way to eat clean on a budget. For our comprehensive review, click here.

​​​​Seasonal Produce

Different fruit and vegetables have different harvest times, which causes cost fluctuations as a result of supply and demand. Work with the marketplace, and purchase different forms of produce only when they’re in season. Doing so will save you money and ensure you consume a wide array of different micronutrients.

Local Farms

Buy your meat and produce locally. Not only does this support your local economy, but it also cuts down on the added costs of shipping, labor, and storage that you pay for at the grocery store. Furthermore, it reduces the risk of contamination during the shipping process as you know your food was grown just down the road.

Pick and Choose Organics

When you buy organic, you pay a premium for the higher cost of growing food free of chemicals and pesticides. However, some sources of produce are worse than others. If money is tight, spend your money buying organic forms of the Dirty Dozen. The Dirty Dozen is a group of produce that is highly contaminated with crop chemicals. The Dirty Dozen includes strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, and potatoes.

Frozen

At one time, frozen produce was thought to be low in quality and nutrients; it’s rather the opposite. Frozen produce is often flash-frozen at peak form, optimally preserving its nutrients for your consumption. Frozen is a great option for buying seasonal produce in the off-season, and ensuring your food doesn’t go bad before you get a chance to eat it.

Cleaning up Your Act

Eating clean, while costly, can drastically reduce your contact with cancer-causing chemicals and contaminants, contributing to lifelong health and longevity. Try the budget-friendly tips above, and you’ll see the return on your investment in your future medical bills.

About the author

    Nikita Ross

    Nikita Ross is a Precision Nutrition certified wellness coach and professional fitness writer with experience in marketing, social media management, and ghostwriting. A mother, IPA World Champion Powerlifter, and self-proclaimed bibliophile, Nikita believes that lifting both barbells and books is the key to self-improvement. Visit Nikita at Strong in Body, Strong in Mind.

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