how to eat clean

Ever feel like almost every food is unhealthy? You think, “I’m hungry. What should I eat right now?” Only to feel like most options actually hamper your clean eating goals.

Imagine this scenario.

You’re hungry. You go to the pantry for lunch ingredients and find bagels, pasta, and rice. You had cereal for breakfast, so you decide not to grab any more of these high-carb foods.

Vegetables! You should eat some vegetables! You open your fridge and peer inside. No, please not another cold salad today. You’ve got to have something tasty stocked.

You look in your freezer. Well, you could heat up the frozen chicken veggie stir-fry…but that has soy sauce and tons of salt. You have frozen peas… Oh look! A Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich. Wait, those are high carb, high fat, and high salt too.

“Ohmahgerd! What should I eat right now?!?

Your head is spinning.

In today’s world, we’ve really hyped up the concept of clean eating. It’s easy to feel like each time you don’t eat 100% healthy, you can see your arteries clogging up, your fat cells multiplying, and your lifespan shortening.

As a health nut, I’ve definitely fallen victim to this.

And the poor person who asked this question on Quora is definitely struggling too:

“Since nearly all food is unhealthy in some way, should I just give up and die after eating deliciously during my shorter lifespan?”

We can’t eat green smoothies, salads, veggie soups, and whole-grain everything all the time – nor should we!

So how do you get around this? What’s really a healthy diet, and how do we make better day-to-day food choices without going insane?

It’s time to find out!

Please note: Check with your physician before starting any exercise routine or starting any particular diet. See this Disclaimer for more details. This post may contain affiliate links. For details, please visit my Disclosure page. Thank you!

Post last updated: 5/18/21

What Should I Eat Right Now?

Back to basics

Whenever I feel stumped on what’s best to eat, I like to go back to basics.

First, I consider what foods I have that are whole and unprocessed. These are natural foods such as raw fruits, raw vegetables, potatoes, rolled or steel-cut oats, nuts, and beans. Do you have any of these? Can you make them into a meal or a well-rounded snack?

Second, I like to consider the food groups and macronutrients I’ve recently eaten (macros are fats, proteins, and carbohydrates).

Have you had mostly carbs today? Think: a bagel, toast, muffin, or cereal for breakfast. Or pasta, pizza, thick bready sandwich for lunch.

Or have you eaten mostly proteins (eggs, meats, dairy) or fats (avocado, nuts, nut butters)?

Or maybe you’ve had no fruits so far today.

This will help you figure out what to eat for your next meal. Try switching it up and getting more of a different food group or macronutrient – we need them all to survive and feel our best!

No one food group or macronutrient is inherently “bad.” No, not even carbohydrates. It has to do with how much you have of each and whether you have a balance.

RELATED POST: 8 Healthy Carbs (Yes, Carbs!) You Should Be Eating More Often

For example, some would say to avoid white rice and always have brown rice instead. But remember, it’s okay to eat white rice in moderation as well. At the end of the day, it’s a carbohydrate that will give you energy and help your body function. Just because it doesn’t have the fiber and slower digestion/absorption that brown rice has doesn’t make it inherently “bad” for you.

Here are some healthy macronutrient options to opt for most of the time:

Carbohydrates: brown rice, whole wheat bread/pasta, barley, farrow, sweet potatoes, oats

Proteins: quinoa, beans, lentils, tofu, lean meats/poultry, plain greek yogurt

Fats: nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil

Culprits to avoid

If you’re trying to eat healthy, are there foods you really, truly shouldn’t eat?

In general, avoid foods with added sugars, foods that are fried/have added oils, and things with excessively high salt.

Now for most healthy people, it’s okay to have these foods every once in awhile. But if you really want to commit to “clean eating,” these are going to be the true foods you turn away from when searching your pantry and fridge. Or when you go out to eat.

Some less healthy examples include: fruit yogurts, sweetened cereal/granola/granola bars, sweetened nut milks, sweetened coffee creamers, chips, french fries, hamburgers, many pre-packaged snacks, salted nuts, high fat meats, and pastries.

And think of your goals! Do you want to lose weight? Then yes, that second bagel for lunch probably won’t be your best option. Maybe the stir-fry with soy sauce would be a better choice for this meal.

Healthy Tip: Be vigilent when grocery shopping! You’ll have a lot less decision fatigue and guilt if you only have healthier options to eat at home. Look at labels and select foods with lower sugar, oils, and salt when grocery shopping.

Can you eat out?

I’ve spent most of my life avoiding fast food.

Yes, it is better to cook at home. You know what’s in your food and often can make healthier choices. But if you’re stressed out or lacking time, sometimes fast food is a viable option – and no, you don’t have to feel bad about it!

Most places have at least one food option that’s decently healthy. For example, a chipotle bowl can be nutritious and filling: skip the rice, sour cream, and guacamole, instead piling on the grilled veggies, pico, and lettuce.

When in doubt, also go for grilled over crispy and say no to unnecessary condiments. Places like Panera, Corner Bakery, Au Bon Pain, Chilantro, Cava, Sweetgreen, and others like them often have many healthy options!

Things to reach for (besides another salad)

Homemade smoothie

When I feel like most of my food options are unhealthy, I usually go for a homemade smoothie. And this isn’t your typical fruit, spinach, water, and ice sorta smoothie. My typical recipe includes: plain yogurt, unsweetened almond milk, frozen fruit, and vanilla protein powder.

Voilà! A delicious, slightly sweet smoothie that’s packed full of protein, calcium, and fruity nutrients. It can keep you full for hours.


Watching your carbs? Sandwiches can be a part of a healthy diet even if you’re trying to cut back on bread and other baked goods. Aim for some thinner slices of bread – yeah, maybe not the Texas toast – and load it up with veggies.

A spread of hummus, guacamole, or pesto can give a flavor boost and a little touch of protein/healthy fats. If you must have meat, just keep it minimal. But the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, onions, etc. or are what’ll ultimately make this a pretty healthy option for anyone trying to eat clean.

Eggs with veggies

I love eggs. They’re cheap, protein-packed, and extremely filling. Not to mention they pair very well with vegetables. Not sure what to eat right now? Stir fry some veggies and then add a couple eggs to make a veggie scramble. No bread-y carbs, just all the nutrients!

(Vegan? Do the same thing with tofu and add some spices!)

Raw veggies with a tasty dip

When you’re hungry but trying to be healthy, a lot of sources recommend snacking on some vegetables. But when you’re super hungry, raw veggies sound like the last thing that’ll fill you up.

Try pairing vegetables with a flavorful dip. Guacamole and hummus are filling, nutritious options. Salsa and light salad dressings are another delicious choice. And I swear by celery and carrots dipped in peanut butter – just stick with the appropriate serving size!

Bean salad

What should I eat right now…? Well, have a can of beans in your pantry? Try mixing them with chopped onion, celery, and a few spices and you’ve got yourself a high protein meal that’ll keep you full. Add chopped firm tofu for even more satiety and fresh cilantro for a flavor bonus.

It’s crazy how the healthy eating movement has villainized pretty much all of our food options. I mean, we have to eat.

So next time you find yourself thinking, “What should I eat right now?” – you know, like in an hour or two – don’t be too dang hard on yourself. Try your best to make a healthier decision and then just enjoy your food!

How to eat clean when everything seems unhealthy

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