Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: What Are Your Clean Eating Must Haves?

Q&A Wednesday: What Are Your Clean Eating Must Haves?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Gotta step your cooking game up!

Since we’re prepping for the final frontier – grocery shopping – this question felt pretty appropriate to me:

Q: What are five must have superfoods on your grocery list?

Now, anyone who knows me knows how I feel about “superfoods” – and y’all know me well enough – but as far as things I cannot live without in regards to clean eating? We can definitely talk about that.

I don’t want to give a specific list, because the things I love might be something you could be allergic to, might irritate your system, whatever… I’d rather give “categories” – so there’s enough flexibility for everyone to find something to fit that slot, and be okay.

1) Good leafy greens – and no, I really don’t mean iceberg lettuce. A good, rich, dark leafy green lettuce can work wonders on your salads. The flavors are much more rich, and because the taste doesn’t mesh well with thick and creamy dressings, you’re more likely to skip those altogether and just get a good vinaigrette to go with it. The darker the leaf, the more nutritious (but I must admit, I don’t really care for “nutritionism,” especially when I know if I’m eating what comes from the ground, I’m getting what I need) the dish. Think kale, spinach, green and red leaf lettuces, too.

2) Quality citrus fruit – I can do anything with citrus fruit. I can squeeze lemon juice over a stir fry. I can blend some ugli fruit into a BBQ sauce. I can squeeze grapefruit into vinegar and oil for a quick salad dressing. I can bake my salmon with a few lime slices on top, sprinkled with cilantro. I can take orange juice, honey, vinegar and tarragon and make a quick marinade. After I squeeze ’em, I can eat the insides. And yes, when I’m in the mood for something bitter, I will eat the inside of a lime. Even when you think you’ve squeezed the last little bit of life out of a citrus fruit, you can toss the halves in with whatever you’re baking (or boiling… or steaming… or whatever) and get more out of it. I even take the rinds to a cheese grater and use the shavings in bread dough or cake frosting or vinaigrettes or goodness knows whatever else. It’s probably the most versatile type of fruit I own.

3) Good baking flour – Flour, really is just a ground up version of specific grains, seeds or anything else you can get your paws on. I’ve used black bean flour, almond flour, regular whole wheat flour… they all have different tastes and serve different purposes for me. Because I bake regularly and often with yeast, my whole wheat flour gets a lot of use. I don’t use “all-purpose flour” or “baking mixes” or “enriched flour” because “enriched” is the same problem I’ve been talking about with processed foods – it means they’ve taken all the naturally occurring stuff out, and put other stuff in. No bueno.

A good, quality flour is going to add texture and flavor to your baking, as well as nourish and fill you up. You shouldn’t use it too often, but if you’re going to get baking, have something good nearby.

4) High quality pasta – I got schooled by Thembi in the comments a while back… I’m just gonna quote what she said, here:

I love the stuff and used to have it every day almost ritualistically. I lost a whole lot of weight while eating pasta every single day just by making it a priority, but have to cut it out of my diet completely every once in a while just to get back to normal. And no, whole wheat pasta will not cut it, so I always thought I was doomed to a life of puff n’ stuff fake processed bland noodles that would ultimately be the death of me.

But then I moved to Europe. You see, there they have laws about what’s allowed to be called champagne, a baguette, and of course pasta. In Italy, by law, pasta can only be made with 100% semolina durum wheat and water – that’s it (unless its otherwise flavored or colored). Semolina aka couscous aka cream of wheat is a whole grain, and when unprocessed is just fine. Think about it – Italians eat this stuff EVERY day and don’t have any national health or obesity problems while we stuff down fake crap labeled “semolina, durum wheat, refined wheat…” then some chemicals. Not only that, but the bleaching agents used in the US are illegal in Europe (and Japan for that matter) and I have to believe they’re one of the major culprits here.

All of this is to say that choosing a “whole” pasta doesn’t have to mean choosing a “whole wheat flour” pasta that has no business even existing. The latter is that cardboardy tasting stuff that the corporations have been trying to make to catch us being healthy, the former uses the same parts of the grain for a higher fiber and nutritional content than your average every day white. While there are a few whole durum wheat pastas made in the US that are promoted as “whole grain” pastas (I think Barilla makes one), if I have pasta I go all out – it’s worth $4-$6 per pound for me to eat imported pasta from a fancy cheese shop or better yet find some gourmet pasta in the food section at TJ Maxx or Marshalls.


My pasta even comes in an authentic… sandwich bag?

I found a local pasta shop that makes their pasta by hand exactly as she mentioned above, and I buy a couple of servings at a time. It’s pricey – as opposed to $1.50/box, it’s $1.50 per serving – but since I’m only eating it once per week (if even that much), I don’t feel it too much. I didn’t even know these kinds of places existed, so don’t be surprised if you don’t have one nearby. There are tons of recommendations on the old Q&A Wednesday post, “Does Enjoyable Whole Wheat Pasta Exist?”

5) Flavorful oils – it is very.. and I do mean very… rare that I fry. Having said that, I definitely use oil almost every day! Literally.. every day. I’m not talking vegetable or soybean oil, here… I don’t even own any of that. I’m talking sunflower oil, avocado oil, olive oil, organic canola oil, peanut oil, walnut oil, sesame oil… each has it’s own distinct flavor and its own individual purpose. I use avocado oil on Mexican-inspired food. Olive oil, I use for anything Mediterranean or Italian. Peanut and sesame oil? Stir fry and wonton-type stuff. Sunflower oil has this buttery kind of quality that I prefer to blend with herbs and spices, and toss on seafood or veggies. Gotta get creative. Keep a variety, and they last longer.

That’s what I consider a must have in my kitchen. What’s in yours?

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dst399 September 8, 2010 - 10:26 AM

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post!!!!! I am on my way…my journey started at 318 lbs, and I am now down to 279 lbs… I enjoy your posts and appreciate your honestly and helpful hints.

Danielle June 16, 2011 - 2:05 PM


ChellBellz September 8, 2010 - 10:31 AM

that pasta comment was very informative because i use to thinkt he same thing, only think about other countries is that they are more active, and I don’t mean like working out everyday. I mean in some places walking everywhere is a given. I read this one article of woman and what they wat around the world. this woman i forgot where she was from but she pretty much walked 5 miles a day just going to work, going out, or whatever. She was so fit though, but she ate whatever she wanted or whatever was native to that country. I can’t remember the food, but i remember thinking…she eats all this, and because she walks everywhere she is fit it seems, or the food over there is better.

I guess i’m silly for asking, but it seems like America doesn’t give a damn about what is called food. I don’t get it. I think that we should have a choice to eat junk if you want, but I think that we need to have rules in place like Europe that says this can’t be called Pasta unless it’s made this way, and if companies want to make something else with Chemicals then let it be called Pasta product. Same with Meat, and Dairy that is pumped with Hormones, which now they claim aren’t I’m not buying it one bit.

Shawn September 8, 2010 - 10:41 AM

THank you sooooo very much for this article!!!! I love pasta and rice. The two cousins that have helped me to achieve my roundness :). I have an italian store locally and will be going there this weekend! I’m going to the market and get my “must haves” today! Keep all of your good info coming I am being reborn!

Karen September 8, 2010 - 10:47 AM

Baby Carrots/Celery

Shawn September 8, 2010 - 10:53 AM

A lettuce combo I got from Costco this weekend(petite tango,petite Gem, petite Oak)
Sweet mini peppers
Fresh green
Baby carrots
Romaine lettuce(please let me know if that is too close to iceberg)
Fresh broccoli
Fresh eggplant
Multicolored bell peppers
1 lemon
(See I have been paying attention!)

Got my list and going to the store for oils and citrus tonight.

Do you have recipes for good healthy and tasty salad dressing?

Ashley (DazzlingRayn) September 8, 2010 - 10:55 AM

I require all sorts of beans: pinto, black, red, white, garbanzo, dried or canned. I’m getting more into the dried beans, they’re not as tricky as I thought! Anyway you can throw beans in the pot with veggies to make taco filling, eat on top of pasta, put in salad, anything! Even roast garbanzo beans with Cajun spices for a snack! Beans have been really helpful since I’m trying to eat less meat.

Garlic and onions don’t have much fat content but they make almost everything taste better. So does ginger. I would rather use spices to add flavor than fat.

Finally I love bell peppers and will eat them raw or in tacos. Yum! Now I’m hungry.

Curlstar September 8, 2010 - 11:17 AM

As an overachiever, I have 6 LOL

* REAL rice (NOT enriched – I followed your rice article, thank you btw)
* Frozen veggies
* Frozen fruit (I like to make smoothies)
* Olive oil, sesame oil
* Pecans (I love pecans)
* Peanut butter (my toddler loves it)

Ladi Ohm September 8, 2010 - 11:34 AM

I love this post… I’m not a pasta fan at all, but looks like I need to step my oil game up, lol. My must haves:

1. Spinach… love the stuff, and put it in almost everything from homemade enchiladas to my morning smoothies
2. Garlic… yummy!
3. Tomatoes… I bring them to work for snacks sliced with a lil bit of garlic powder sprinkled on them…. delicious and super simple
4. Fruit… I used to eat blueberries year round, but I’m learning to eat what’s in season
5. Turkey breast… and no, not from the deli, but from the butcher

Pearl September 8, 2010 - 12:18 PM

I love…

Natural Greek Yogurt
Low Sodium Cottage Cheese, from a health food store (organic)
cranberries in very green leafy salads
Egg Whites, with tomatoes, mushrooms and lots of onions!

Gem September 8, 2010 - 3:59 PM

1. Olive Oil
2. Garlic
3. Extra-firm tofu
4. My blend of spices that I use for cooking
5. Frozen strawberries

Karen G September 8, 2010 - 8:25 PM

Ok. This is all very good information. Unfortunatley, I am still a little overwhelmed. I would like to try to start making a variety of beans. I’m sure it’s simple, but can you give me a step by step of how to make them? Also, recipes on salad dressings. I would like to be able to have meals that my husband and kids will enjoy also without them feeling deprived. I don’t mind being in the kitchen, I actually like cooking and trying new things, but I just need a little more direction.

Ruth June 17, 2011 - 11:44 PM

Peas or beans are easily cooked in a crockpot with low salt, low fat chicken broth. Add onions, peppers, or any other spice you like.

Streetz September 8, 2010 - 10:13 PM

My mom is in love with extra virgin Olive oil. She uses that to fry fish. Its pretty awesome.

I stay away from pastas for now while Im trying to lose weight, but imma try that Italian jawn one day.

Che' September 9, 2010 - 6:46 AM

1. Garlic
2. Olive Oil
3. Frozen Veggies
4. Black beans
5. Peppers & Onions

Suzie September 11, 2010 - 2:31 PM

I love this post. Espeicially when it came to pasta. How about gluten free pasta? Any info that this is better for you.

Erika September 11, 2010 - 2:37 PM

What, you mean pastas made of other types of flour? They can be very good for you. “Better” is subjective and different for each person, IMO.

chellbellz September 13, 2010 - 11:50 AM

I went into tj maxx to find out about this pasta. I found wonderful pasta just like the reader mentions. I found colorful pasta, and everything . Thanks for the tips.

Lorrie February 11, 2011 - 2:28 PM

I absolutely LOVE Ceviche!

Rhonda April 11, 2011 - 9:13 AM

1. citric fruit – mainly oranges, grapefruits and lemons. I am addicted to grapefruits now and eat them as snacks everyday.
2. Extra virgin Olive oil & cooking spray
3. peppers, onions, mushrooms and garlic
4. Frozen strawberries
5. Frozen vegetables
6. bags of baby spinach
7. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
8. tuna fish & shrimp
9. steel cut oatmeal
10. beans – dry and canned. I absolutely love beans and can eat them everyday
11. almond milk – regular milk causes me to retain a lot of water. Soy milk was a bit too heavy.
12. cheese – all kinds but my favorite is sharp cheddar
13. hummus – especially the sun-died tomato kind.

LaShonda June 15, 2011 - 3:46 PM

1. Frozen Vegetables
2. Baby carrots
3. Olive Oil ( although based on this article, I need to step my oil game up)
4. Almonds (100 calorie packs make for great on-the-go snacks)
5. Fresh Fruit (to quench my sweet tooth)

Nadine June 15, 2011 - 4:44 PM

Here’s what I can’t live without in my kitchen:
-Bananas (I’m a banana addict; to the point where I can eat like four or five in one day. Sad I know).
-Any type of frozen fruits and veggies
-steel cut oatmeal (omg I HAVE to have this)
-eggs (I love eggs from my head down to my…you know the song)
-Beans-I’ve began to have a newfound respeect for beans. 🙂
-Boneless skinless chicken breasts
-Olive oil
-Spices (the salt-free versions of Mrs. Dash are my FAVORITES)!

werknprogress June 16, 2011 - 5:50 PM

This is very informative. I just had this conversation with friends. I will post this to back up my argument. I recently lost 75lbs and have been looking for blogs such as this one. Thanks and keep inspiring…

Sassymuslimah June 17, 2011 - 1:38 AM

I absolutely need:
Peanut Butter
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Coconut Oil

These are my weekly staples

Shante June 21, 2011 - 1:37 PM

Not trying to be the food police but Thembi is specifically speaking about dried pasta, not all pasta. There is dried and there is fresh. Dried pasta is made the way she stated and that is the law but fresh pasta more often than not has eggs in it. Also fresh pasta doesn’t always have to be semolina, it can sometimes be made with all purpose and other grains. One easy example of this is gnocchi. It can be made with potato, semolina, cheese, flour and water or flour and egg. The list is kind of endless. If you haven’t had this you need to try it. Also pretty easy to make.

There are literally hundreds of different kinds of pasta. The rules Thembi was speaking of do not apply to all of them. Please do not take offense to this. I am just really passionate about food and love to share what I have learned. http://www.lifeinitaly.com/food/pasta-history.asp

Betti October 6, 2011 - 3:40 PM

Raw spinach
nuts (all kinds)
soft tofu (to make desserts and salad dressings)
wild rice
beans (all kinds)
peanut butter
olive oil
no hormone, no antibiotic beef and chicken
steel cut oats

Tremilla November 4, 2011 - 10:16 AM

I was wondering about pasta. Thank you for clearing this up. And on my journey to clean eating I just cooked/ate broccoli for the first time in my 24 years and I loved it!

Johnnie November 5, 2011 - 8:58 AM

Avocados…I LOVE making my own guacamole.
Extra virgin olive oil.
Beans…any kind.
Red onions, tomatoes, and limes (for the guacamole!)

Sharese April 4, 2012 - 12:07 PM

Pineapple, coconut and pomegranate!

Susan July 11, 2012 - 8:17 PM

Greek Yogurt
Fresh Fruit
Sparkling Water

Kamea August 27, 2012 - 8:52 AM

peanut butter or white chocolate peanut butter
curry seasoning

KeKe September 12, 2012 - 5:06 PM

Frozen Veggies
Pink Lady Apples
Bagged apples slices
Olive Oil
Spices – curry being the main one
Green Tea

Joyshayla October 10, 2012 - 11:53 AM

Pistashios—for my indulgent side

Janine January 2, 2013 - 10:07 AM

Chickpeas, lentils
Sunflower seed butter
Bananas, strawberries, blueberries, apples

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