Want to get caught up on the 7 Day Clean Eating Challenge? Start here!

One of the big things with people changing their lifestyles is the fact that sometimes it’s difficult to know where to begin. Sure, you can cut a bunch of stuff out of your daily diet, but what do you replace it with? If you don’t have a readily available substitute, it becomes that much easier to revert back to your old habits… the ones we want to shed.

While broccoli qualifies as clean.. we're going beyond the usual food and usual uses today!

That’s why we’re preparing for this in advance. Part of that preparation is putting together a list of foods that will help you get it in and get it done. That’s also why I’m sharing the goods on what you’ll find in my healthy kitchen. If I can make it do what it do, then so can you!

  1. Spinach Leaves – Aside from being a great base for salads and a wonderful addition to pastas, they’re extremely low-calorie. 4 cups of spinach for 20 calories? Come on. Try a salad with spinach leaves, mushrooms, sunflower seeds and my strawberry vinaigrette.Last time I checked the grocery, a bushel was about $2… and it can easily last you several days if you’re exercising portion control.
  2. Apples – Slice ’em up and toss ’em in a salad, chop ’em into chunks and cook ’em with chicken (recipe to come), or stew a few in some apple cider vinegar and make apple butter. Either way, apples are inexpensive and versatile enough to be a mainstay in my kitchen.
  3. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sesame Oil… – Anything except vegetable/canola oil. In fact, I have the extra virgin olive oil cooking spray, too, when I simply need a base for my skillet when I cook a little chicken and don’t want the heavy oils. Is oil a bad thing? Not these kinds, and not if used sparingly. So no, you cannot deep fry something in these oils (and at the price tag of about $3 for two cups, trust me – you don’t want to), but you can certainly get a good stir-fry-style skillet going with some veggies. If you don’t have sesame oil available? Don’t sweat it. The olive oil will work fine.
  4. Garlic – In the form of minced garlic in a jar, regular garlic cloves, or garlic powder… garlic rocks. It definitely has its health benefits, but it is a light flavor that packs a mean punch. Combine the garlic with the extra virgin olive oil (maybe a half teaspoon of garlic to 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a big pinch of oregano and a big pinch of basil), and you get a nice sauce for the occasional pasta and chicken dish.
  5. Almond Milk – Regular pasteurized milk and I don’t get along. It made my skin feel slimy and I hated the way it felt sliding down my throat. I used to drink rice milk, but then I gave up drinking milk altogether. Then… I discovered almond milk. Now, I keep a carton of the original and vanilla versions on the fridge. I will tell ya, though – it is pricey, but Whole Foods sells it at a price much higher than your local grocery might (if they have it.)
  6. Berries! – Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries… you name it. Around this time of year, the price goes down quite a bit from winter, and the berries come out to play. Chop ’em up in your cereal, your oatmeal, pancakes or give yourself a nice light snack throughout the day. They are an awesome source of “sweet” taste, and can serve multiple purposes (remember.. I make strawberry vinaigrettes, blueberry preserves. I’m gettin’ the most out of my money!)
  7. Seeds – Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and poppy seeds. Oh yes. I use poppy seeds in my vinaigrettes, salads, pastas and chicken dishes as an additional little bit of texture. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds, tho? That’s just for me to munch on throughout the day. I’m a fan of snacking. Yes I am. Poppy seeds should be available in your grocery’s spice section.
  8. Peppers – No matter whether they’re green, red or gold… I love peppers! You can cut them into strips, toss a little olive oil on ’em and roast them. You can chop them into little bits and throw ’em into a diced chicken dish. You can cut it into big chunks, bake it with some garlic and vinegar and make your own hot sauce (toss a little mango in it for extra points.) You can make your own alfredo sauce and toss a few in there. Make strips, throw ’em into a salad. Very versatile. Depending on where you are, they might be as pricey as $2 a pop. Dice it up thinly, and use sparingly. They’re really sharp to the tongue, so you don’t need much, anyway.
  9. Vinegar – Plain white vinegar is only about a dollar, with apple cider vinegar coming in at maybe fifty cents more. You can get red wine vinegar for a little more, and generic balsamic vinaigrette may top out at about $3.50. Use ’em to add a little tang to meats without salt, mix with spices and olive oil to create your own vinaigrette, or use it as a base for a pasta salad. Try that balsamic vinegar with garlic and wrap it in your ground meat before you cook your burger… you’re welcome in advance! Either way, it’s an inexpensive way to get a lot done.
  10. Dried beans, lentils, quinoa – I’m heavy on the black beans. I live for ’em. One bag goes for about $1.50, and they can last forever. Toss ’em in a big pot with some water, chopped onions and cumin and just let it soak overnight (or before you head off to work… if you have that kind of time during the week.) That’s right… no heat. Wake up, cut ’em on medium heat for about an hour, and I promise you’ll love ’em. Pinto beans cook pretty much the same way. Without all the excess salt. Lentils are closer to peas than they are beans, but they’re awesome too. Soak these overnight with a little garlic in the pot, and then cook ’em after a few hours. Golden. Quinoa is more like… a soft yet chewy kind of seed, but it acts more like rice in a dish. They don’t have to soak overnight, but give ’em ten minutes in the pot before you cut on the heat.

You may not love all of these things, but if nothing else, take from this list an idea of how versatile you can make food items. Apples in your salad, cooked with your chicken, or stewed to make apple butter. I can buy a bag of apples for $3 and stretch it for almost a month. $3 is a box of 20 taquitos, that lasted me maybe a week. My money stretches like you wouldn’t believe, now.

Aside from the basic staples – brown rice, tomatoes, broccoli, lemons and limes, your meat of choice, etc etc – these are some of the things that I live for and love, and the different ways I take advantage of them in my healthy, clean eating kitchen. I cook three times a day for two people and with appropriate portion sizes, most of these last me about a month and total about $22.

What’s in your healthy kitchen? Help me compile a list so we can all do this challenge together!