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some clean eating fridge/pantry staples

Monday, August 12, 2013

Whenever I tell people I try to eat clean, they do one of two things:

a) blankly stare at me while probably envisioning me violently scrubbing all my food before consumption

b) tell me I must spend a lot of money of food.

Regardless of initial response, after both options a & b, people ask me what sort of food I eat and keep in the house. I thought it might be helpful to give a brief overview of things I *always* keep in the house since I started this eating clean lifestyle. A caveat: it's always a process, and I'm nowhere near my clean-eating nirvana, but I do eat very well. And I'm a struggling grad student living solely on a very measly stipend and some equally measly roommate income, so if I can do it, you can! :)

So here are my top 10, in no particular order:

1) dry legumes. I purchase black beans, pinto beans, and lentils in bulk, and store them in recycled glass jars. If you have a slow-cooker, you can make 'refried style' beans for burritos or stuffed peppers, and if you're afraid of using lentils, the 'herb lentils and rice' dish on sparkrecipes is a pretty wonderful place to start. Legumes are also great in stews.

2) Quinoa or couscous. These are a bit more expensive, but I love them so much. You can mix couscous with a little bit of milk and vanilla flavoring to get your own rice pudding. Quinoa goes great in stuffed peppers or to make an assortment of bowl-style meals (see: black bean and tomato quinoa on Epicuous if you doubt me!). Because they are more expensive, I tend to just keep one or the other, and alternate for variety.

3) brown rice. I don't use this anywhere near as often as couscous or quinoa, but brown rice is dirt cheap, easy to cook, and I use it most often with my lentils, in burritos or burrito bowls, and stir fry.

4) seeds/nuts. Currently I have almonds, peanuts, pine nuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds in my pantry. I use these suckers in EVERYTHING. They are a great addition to homemade granola bars (yes, I do that, and it's easier than you'd think), they add spunk to salads, a handful of them will often satisfy a hunger craving, excellent topping to stir fry, and hell, chia seeds can even be used to make a bubble/tapioca style drink. Again, I buy in bulk and store in jars.

5) Greens. I go through about 4 bags of either lettuce mix or baby spinach in a week. I have salads almost daily, I make spinach quesadillas, I toss greens into all of my smoothies.

6) whole wheat tortillas OR bread OR pitas. I have a problem with carbs. If left to my own devices, I would eat bread with every meal and also for snacks. No matter how much bread-product I purchase, I go through it in about 10 days. So to pace myself, I try to only allow myself one of these at a time. I check the labels to make sure they are truly whole wheat and only buy products that I can understand the ingredients on said label.

7) Fresh produce. Mostly I just get whatever is seasonal because it's cheapest, but oh lawdy I will always have onions, garlic, and bananas in the house (although I don't eat them all together). Onions and garlic go with nearly every warm meal, and garlic adds a punch for those who are worried clean eating = flavorless eating. Bananas are great for you, and I use them almost daily in my green smoothies. I try to plan my meals out based on all other ingredients I have at home, and then buy produce that supplements those meals.

8) Frozen produce. I always keep frozen strawberries for smoothies or dessert munchies, and some sort of green vegetable. Last purchase was frozen peas.

9) hummus. I cheat and buy prepackaged, because my food processor is dying a sad death and I can't afford to get a new one yet. But hummus with carrots in amazing, hummus makes a great substitute for mayo in sandwiches, and there's so many flavors and varieties, I have yet to get bored of it.

10) whole wheat pasta. I rarely eat pasta, but I always keep it in the house. It's become the quick-and-easy solution any night that I work late or forgot a pivotal ingredient for another recipe. Pasta cooks fast, you can mix nearly any sort of vegetable with it, and can be delicious with as little as some garlic, fresh pepper, and olive oil.

So those are 10 things I tend to buy when I go grocery shopping. Of course, I also have a small patio garden that gifts me with fresh basil, spearmint, jalapenos, and (fingers crossed) sweet potatoes, and an assortment of dried spices I've accumulated over the years. But still, my grocery bill (for 2 people) ranges from $50-120 for about 10 days' worth of food. I know I didn't mention meat, and that's because I rarely buy it. I try to buy ethically-gained food, and the price of grassfed beef, free range chickens, and wild-caught salmon is too high for me to do on the regular. When we do splurge, we'll often buy a large piece of meat and then serve it different ways through the week. For example, a whole chicken is only slightly more than a bag of "chicken breast cutlets, with rib meat ", and after roasting the chicken we'll have the chicken breasts one night, freeze some of the leftovers, and then shred the remaining meat to toss into soup, burritos, or a rice dish.

Hope this helps clear up some of the mystery as to what clean eating looks like for those who are new to the concept...and for those who are clean eating veterans, please comment and add some of your grocery staples...I'm always looking to mix things up :)
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Oh yeah, I am VERY familiar with the 100 Days of Real Food blog, I use her "refried" beans recipe all the time, and her flank steak fajitas impressed even my very skeptical partner, haha. If you have an Earth Fare around you, they do reward programs where you earn a couple cents every time you go into the score, every time you bring your own bag, and then varied amounts for using their store coupons or buying whatever the weekly showcased items are...I've relied on that system a lot to keep prices down, but sadly their chain isn't big enough to have a presence in most cities...
    1676 days ago
    Great list! Have you ever read the blog "100 days of real food"? It's a good one and I like her recipes, tips, etc.>
    Whole roasted chickens are great because you get the protein AND they're usually inexpensive (even buying local chickens or Bell & Evans can be economical). You can use them for so much and they stretch your food dollar further. I actually even use the bones and make broth out of them and store for soups or for whenever I need broth for recipes. I just freeze in smaller containers so I can use what I need when I need it (like if making risotto or a stew or soup or whatever else you use broth in). So much better than store bought too. I also check the circular for the local Whole Foods to see what meats are on sale and buy on sale. I do also frequent my local farmers' market and check in with the meat and fish vendors to see what they are offering and what I can afford. Eggs are another great protein source so I always have them around.

    I'm a carb addict but have cut down significantly and have been doing more protein which I find keeps me satisfied longer. Some staples I tend to keep around are almond butter or peanut butter. Almond butter is EXPENSIVE but I have a Trader Joe's near me and I can get a jar for like $5 (other places charge upwards of $10). EEK. I don't buy it all the time--usually I just buy real peanut butter and then splurge on the almond butter every once in awhile. I also keep ricotta cheese or cottage cheese in the fridge as both are pretty good protein sources and are great with fruit or veggies or even as a dessert w/ some honey and almonds. I'm also w/ you on the hummus. There's a lady at the farmers' market who makes THE BEST hummus. I need to learn how to make it so I can save some money. I know it's not hard, but this lady's hummus just comes out sooooo good! I always get the roasted red pepper and sundried tomato hummus she makes. Yummmmmmo! emoticon
    1677 days ago
    Oh trust me, I have a hummus problem too! I just can't quit it. Hummus and cheese, my food soulmates. :P
    1679 days ago
    Sounds like a great pantry! :-D I could eat a whole thing of humus with some fresh bread... so I don't keep it in mine, cause I don't trust myself, lol. Love hummus. Alot, lol! :-D
    1679 days ago
    Thanks for sharing
    1680 days ago
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