Clean Eating Meal Plan For Beginners To Improve Your Diet 2022

Ellie Busby

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

clean eating meal plan

“Clean eating” is a style of eating based on whole, unprocessed healthy foods, whilst avoiding processed foods high in refined fats and sugars. The goal is to focus on nutrient-dense foods, which help you achieve sustainable weight loss and optimal health.

This article is your ultimate guide to what a clean eating meal plan is, what to eat and avoid, and the benefits and risks of clean eating. 

What is a Clean-Eating Meal Plan?

Clean eating aims to focus on the most nutrient-dense foods which are best for your overall health and well-being. A clean eating meal plan includes lots of healthy whole foods, such as beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and is usually predominantly plant-based. 

Clean eating also encourages eating less refined and processed foods. Studies show that those who adhere to clean eating dietary advice are more likely to meet the recommended intakes[1] for healthy foods, such as fruits, and unhealthy foods, such as meat and meat alternatives.

Does This Mean Some Foods Are “Dirty”?

“Clean eating” makes it sound like some foods are “dirty.” Many processed foods contain additives, preservatives, and other chemicals that are harmful to human health. Some are even known carcinogens. 

Clean eating naturally helps you avoid these harmful ingredients by eliminating processed foods. The Environmental Working Group (EWG)[2] also lists these harmful additives[3] on its website. 

Can I Eat Meat?

Plant-based foods have extra health benefits as they’re rich in antioxidants, such as polyphenols and flavonoids. These can protect against chronic disease and even extend lifespan[4].

However, if including animal foods, focus on lean proteins such as chicken, fish, and eggs. Avoid red meat as it tends to be high in saturated fat.

Saturated fat should be limited in the diet as it leads to the formation of unwanted cholesterol in the form of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or bad cholesterol.

Can I Drink Coffee?

Some clean eating meal plans may encourage you to cut down on caffeine. Drinking too much coffee or tea can “cover up” mid-afternoon energy slumps, which are actually caused by poor dietary choices or not getting enough quality sleep[5].

By sticking to a maximum of 1-2 cups of coffee or tea daily before noon, you may focus more on eating foods that keep your energy levels stable and get good-quality sleep, rather than relying on caffeine.

Should I Eat Organic?

Pesticide exposure may be linked to health issues[6]. For instance, some scientists think gluten intolerance might in fact be a pesticide intolerance[7].

However, you don’t have to eat everything organic. The EWG[2] regularly updates a list of foods highest in pesticides, called the “Dirty Dozen[8].”

If you’re worried about pesticide exposure, consider buying some of these foods organic or washing them before consumption in order to remove pesticide residues[9].

Benefits of a Clean Eating Diet

Clean Eating Plan for Weight Loss

A clean eating meal plan can help you lose weight naturally because it includes lots of foods rich in protein, fiber, and healthy fats, which fill you up for longer than refined and processed foods can.

For example, eating eggs for breakfast leads to eating fewer calories at lunchtime[10], compared to eating toast or breakfast cereal.

Unsurprisingly, studies show that a predominantly whole-food plant-based naturally leads to less body fat and sustainable weight loss over time[11]

Better Gut Health

Eating more fiber from a range of plant-based whole foods improves overall gut function[12] and increases the diversity of the gut microbiome[13] and the production of health-promoting metabolites[14], such as short-chain fatty acids.

Your gut microbiome is made up of numerous bacteria whose main function is to support your health and well-being.

Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Refined carbohydrates, processed and red meat[15] increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Conversely, whole-food carbohydrates are linked to better blood sugar balance. 

Eat at least two servings per day of whole grains[16] to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. One easy swap is brown instead of white rice (although some prefer to use cauliflower rice instead).

Lower Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Plant-based foods contain low amounts of saturated fat, one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease[17].

Studies show that eating plant-based can lower “bad” cholesterol levels[18] (LDL-C) and protect heart health.

Improved Energy Levels

Studies show that eating less-processed whole grains over two weeks helps prevent dips in blood sugar[19], which can avoid that post-lunch afternoon energy slump and lead to more stable energy levels. 

Better Immune Function

Getting sick all the time? You need lots of nutrients to keep your immune system functioning properly. The problem is that most nutrients are stripped out of processed foods. 

For example, most of the nutrients in wheat is concentrated in the wheat germ[20], which is stripped away to make white flour and products made with refined grains.

Conversely, a diet rich in whole plant-based foods can improve immune function by reducing inflammation due to antioxidant plant polyphenols[21] and healthy fats[22].

Better Skin Health

Avoiding processed foods means less plastic, too. Plastic food packaging contains a harmful chemical additive called bisphenol-A (BPA). 

BPA is a known “endocrine-disruptor,”[23] meaning that it can disrupt hormone levels. Studies show that people with acne have higher levels of BPA[24] in their blood. 

Risks

There aren’t many risks associated with clean eating but watch out for the following:

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, or only eat meat once or twice a week, you could become deficient in vitamin B12[25]

Vitamin D Deficiency

In fact, a vitamin D deficiency[26] is a risk in any diet. Make sure to supplement daily, especially during winter. Test your blood first so you can plan on a repletion dose if necessary.

Disordered Eating

Clean eating is especially popular in young adults and may be linked to disordered eating[27], such as orthorexia (an obsession with healthy eating) – especially in women[28].

Studies show that women who adhere to clean dietary eating advice are more likely to exhibit restrained eating[1].

Not Actually Healthy

Studies show that many “clean eating” recipes on the internet contain the same amount of sugar, salt, and fat[29] as “normal” recipes.

Excessive Weight Loss

It can be difficult for some people to eat enough calories on a whole-food diet, so make sure you’re consuming enough calories for your activity level.

What To Eat & Avoid on a Clean-Eating Diet

Focus your clean eating meal plan around these foods, and make sure to have them in stock to make meal preparation (meal prep.) easy:

Legumes

Legumes

Aim to eat 1-2 portions per day of beans or lentils, which provide lots of gut-healthy fiber as well as protein.

Whole Grains

Whole Grains

High in fiber, aim to eat whole grains such as oats, quinoa, buckwheat, or brown rice at least once or twice daily. These also provide lots of important essential minerals, such as magnesium[30].

Lean Animal Proteins

Lean Animal Proteins

Although you can get all the protein you need[31] from plant-based sources (even as a high-performance athlete), animal-based sources of lean proteins such as fish, chicken, and eggs, which are low in saturated fat, are included in a clean eating diet.

Nuts And Seeds

Nuts And Seeds

Healthy fats are crucial to a clean eating meal plan. Nuts and seeds are especially important sources of healthy fats in the diet because they’re good sources of essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and -6, essential for cognitive function[32].

Other Healthy Fats

Healthy fats

In addition to nuts and seeds, aim to eat at least one other portion of healthy fats, such as avocado, olives, or dark chocolate.

While oils are technically refined, extra-virgin olive oil is allowed due to being a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids with its associated health benefits[33].

Vegetables

Vegetables

Dark green leafy vegetables are especially important due to their rich nutrient content, providing lots of B vitamins, calcium, and antioxidants.

Aim to eat leafy greens, such as spinach or kale, every day, plus at least one other type of vegetables, such as root vegetables (i.e., potatoes, beetroot, carrots), or brassica vegetables (i.e., broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts).

Fruits

berries

Fruits are a good source of healthy sugars plus gut-healthy fiber. Go for fruits high in antioxidants, such as berries and apples – but remember to eat the peel as the antioxidants tend to be concentrated[34] there. 

Some Dairy

Dairy

Dairy is a good source of calcium and other vitamins, so it can be included in moderation (as long as you’re not lactose intolerant). Aim for sources of dairy rich in probiotics and low in saturated fat, such as live or greek yogurt or cultured milk.

Keep high-saturated fat foods, such as hard cheeses and cream, to a minimum. Go for soft cheeses such as feta cheese or mozzarella cheese instead.

Keep these refined and processed foods to a minimum:

  • Vegetable oils
  • Saturated fats (i.e., red meat, hard cheeses)
  • Sugar
  • Breakfast cereals
  • White carbohydrates (i.e., white bread, pasta, rice)
  • Processed or preserved meats (i.e., salami)
  • Artificial sweeteners

Sample Clean Eating Meal Plan

Here are our perfect clean-eating meal plans for beginners. It’s also a great clean-eating meal plan on a budget.

Breakfast

clean eating meal plan breakfast

Oatmeal with greek yogurt, berries, and nut butter:

  • 1 cup greek (or soy) yogurt
  • ½ cup mixed frozen berries
  • ¼ cup oats
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter

Lunch

clean eating meal plan lunch

Quinoa-bean hearty salad with tahini dressing

  • ½ cup cooked quinoa
  • ½ cup cooked white beans
  • ¼ large avocado (or ½ a small one)
  • 1 cup mixed salad greens
  • 5 cherry tomatoes
  • ¼ bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoon mixed seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame)
  • Tahini dressing:
    • 1 tablespoon tahini
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 1 tablespoon soy milk
    • Salt and pepper to taste

Dinner

clean eating meal plan dinner
  • Baked salmon
  • Tenderstem broccoli, steamed
  • ½ cup cooked brown rice
  • Soy-ginger sauce:
    • 1.5 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
    • ½ tbsp rice vinegar
    • 1 clove garlic minced
    • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
    • 1 teaspoon honey

Snacks (AM Or PM)

clean eating meal plan snacks
  • 1-2 pieces of fresh fruits (e.g., apple, banana, pear)
  • ¼ cup mixed nuts
  • 2 squares of dark chocolate

Clean Eating Meal Prep Ideas

Mealing prepping is crucial, especially if you’re following a clean eating meal plan for a family.

  • Bulk cook whole grains and store them in the fridge to add to salads throughout the week.
  • Stock up on dry and canned foods, such as nuts, seeds, beans, and pulses, so you always have them in stock.
  • If fresh fruits and veggies tend to go bad before you get to eat them, try stocking up on frozen fruit and veg as a backup.
  • Wash non-organic fruits and vegetables with soap to remove pesticide residues.

The Bottom Line

A clean eating meal plan is a great way to get you on track with a healthy diet and lifestyle. It doesn’t cut out whole food groups like a vegan or vegetarian diet, which makes clean eating an easy way to eat better for your body without being too restrictive.

All in all, clean eating is a great way to lose weight sustainably, lower your risk of chronic illnesses, and feed your body all the nutrients it needs to thrive. Try it today, and see how you feel in six weeks.


+ 34 sources

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Ellie Busby

Written by:

Ellie Busby, MS, RDN

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Ellie Busby is a Registered Nutritionist (MSc, mBANT) and nutrition writer. She holds a bachelor's in Chemistry and a Masters in Nutrition. Ellie specializes in plant-based nutrition for health and fitness. She is also the Founder of Vojo Health, a personalized nutrition service based on genetic testing.

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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