Making better grocery shopping choices, favouring certain foods over others or redeeming dishes by making them healthy. Here are 12 pieces of advice to follow to eat a proper Clean Eating diet without breaking the bank!
If you’re pressed for time, you’re bound to be tempted by ready meals. But junk food is often full of additives, trans fats and other delights which are bad for your weight, your health and your food budget. So that’s it, in 2022 let’s cook like the pros, without overspending. Here’s a survival guide in a nutshell!
1- Eat fresh, unprocessed foods
What’s the twist in the tale of our modern societies? Well, everything is designed to make our lives easier, but this sometimes has serious consequences for our health. According to the French agency for food, environmental and occupational health & safety (ANSES), our daily salt intake stands at between 6.5 g (for women) and 8 g (for men). This is too much, by far. The same goes for sugar. There we are at 100 g per day, which equates to 20 sugar lumps. Ideally we should get it down to 50 g (10 sugar lumps) for women, and 60 g (12 sugar lumps) for men. So why is intake so high, and how can it be reduced? Well, it all hinges on hidden sugars (and hidden salt, too). Did you know, for example, that 5 slices of sliced bread contain the equivalent of 1.5 sugar lumps? That there’s also sugar (in the form of dextrose, for example) in a slice of vacuum-packed ham? As for salt, it too goes unnoticed and sneaks into breakfast cereal, cheese, stock cubes, etc., unbeknownst to us. The moral of the story: to eat healthily, you have to avoid mass-produced fare and eat fresh, unprocessed food. It’s far better for your health!
2- Go for plant-based ingredients
Whether raw or cooked, as a starter or main course, it’s easy to eat “green”. So what are the benefits? Well, organic fruit and vegetables allow us to load up on vitamins and minerals and enjoy a variety of produce season by season. To avoid carbon footprint impact, favour short and local supply chains (it’s better to buy directly from producers). Don’t give in to the temptation of strawberries in December or avocados in May. You can be sure that this produce has circumnavigated the globe before reaching your plate. Moreover, seasonal fruit and vegetables are much easier to come by (more affordable). Another clever tip: if you’re unphased by the idea of haggling over prices, you can show up at the market just before closing time and ask for a small discount. Lastly, don’t forget that you can flavour yoghurt with overripe fruit (to avoid having to throw it away), and make soup with slightly tired-looking vegetables.
3- Take pleasure in cooking
Some TV shows are well worth a look. Perhaps you know of Norbert Commis d’office, which airs on Saturdays on French TV channel 6ter, and makes “reformed” characters of culinary renegades? Or Laurent Mariotte’s Petits plats en équilibre, which airs daily on TF1? The same can be said of a great many books published / Instagram accounts belonging to chefs and keen cooks. These days it’s quite easy to put together Pinterest pinboards as inspiration for culinary creations (“easy meals”, “show-stopping desserts” or “meal ideas”). They unpack the techniques used by the professionals. And it’s easy to get started, even for the least talented of cooks. So what’s the secret to making a success of it? Setting yourself a challenge (pulling off a dessert that’s thought of as hard to make, getting more greens into your meals, etc.) and having fun with it! Learning to cook is also about learning to make do with what’s in the cupboard, to throw away less and to make better use of your freezer. And it’s just as well, because homemade fare, which is popular right now, really is much cheaper! As evidenced by the French nutritional research and information centre (CERIN), according to which homemade fare costs between five and 10 times less than a supermarket ready meal! And the good news is that when you make your own food, you’re in charge of the amount of sugar and salt that you add, for example. This applies not least to homemade cakes, which can easily reconcile pleasing your tastebuds and weight-watching!
Some reading to get you started: the ‘Petits plats en équilibre’ collection (Foolproof Desserts [Desserts inratables], Impressive Appetisers [Grand apéro] and Cooking for a Crowd [Grandes tablées ], etc.). Éditions Solar, €8.95.
4- Learn to listen to yourself
Re-learning to listen to yourself, to feel hunger and then satiety, is also about re-learning to eat less. That way, you can reduce your portions and get greater enjoyment out of what you do eat. So how does it work in practice? Well, like in sophrology and meditation, the idea is to get reconnected with your sensations (hunger, and also taste). To do so, go right ahead and eat your meals in silence (without the TV on and without your phone). Concentrate on your sensations, with each mouthful. Mindful eating is equally easy to explain and hard to put into practice, at every meal.
Our advice: start by eating mindfully for three minutes, then five, then ten. Until you can keep it up for a whole meal. So what are the benefits? Well, you will eat less, and eat better.
5- Learn to like water
Eating without drinking? That’s madness! Water is vital to the human body. To cut down on your spending and your sugar intake, rein in carbonated drinks! You’ll (re)learn to like drinking water through the day. With a squeeze of lemon juice (in the morning), or as an infusion drunk before meals, it promotes faster satiety. To bypass the plastic that bottled water comes in, go right ahead and invest in a filter jug or, easier still, activated charcoal sticks to place in your water jug.
6- Please your tastebuds
When you eat healthily, you automatically eat less. But saying goodbye to snacking between meals (because hunger doesn’t come knocking) does not mean no longer pleasing your tastebuds. You totally can have some chocolate if you’re feeling hungry, as long as you only eat a few squares. It’s all a question of proportion and common sense. The day after a big boozy dinner (starter-main- dessert-cheese) hosted by friends, offset it with lighter foods.
7- Get into fasting
Be wary of hardcore fasting, which must be done under medical supervision. However, you totally can get into the benefits of the 16-hour fast. So what’s the principle behind it? Skipping a meal (dinner or breakfast) to give your body a rest. During this period of intermittent fasting, the body will draw on its reserves (not least glucose reserves) to keep working properly. It will keep your figure in trim, too.
8- Rein in your meat intake
We’re aware of it by now: eating too much meat is harmful to human health (increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, etc.) and to the planet. As for the environmental aspect, intensive farming for red meat production, among others, is singled out for its high water usage. So what can be done in practical terms? Without going vegetarian, the idea is to keep meat intake to two or three times a week, and buy more environmentally-responsible meat (organic, sold directly from producer to consumer, etc.).
9- Organise yourself differently
To embrace this new way of life, you have to change your habits a little. Eating a healthier diet means doing your grocery shopping differently.
- First, sort your cupboards using the Marie Kondo method applied to the kitchen: keep (a little), throw away (a lot).
- Add the missing essentials for healthy cooking: seeds, wholefoods, etc.
- Go grocery shopping as and when needed, to favour fresh foods.
- Make a shopping list and… Stick to it!
- -Put together meal plans spanning several days, so that you learn to balance them over the week.
- Don’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. It might be stating the obvious, but you’ll be less tempted to buy items on impulse. Such purchases are not necessarily healthy, and often expensive.
- Beware of special offers that are a false economy. Sure, it may well be cheaper to buy three packets of biscuits on special offer… But are these even the ones you wanted to buy in the first place? So do beware of special offers which, ultimately, have you spending more. If you’re loyal to a grocery chain, signing up for the (free) loyalty card is often more worthwhile.
10- Get back into homemade sandwiches
Why not have a nice homemade sandwich from time to time? With nice bread (wholemeal or seeded) and foods that tick the right boxes (tuna with salad vegetables or egg-cucumber-tomato, etc.). You can easily use hummus instead of mayo. Alternatively, (re)discover the benefits of using olive oil in place of butter. You can also make a sandwich in the morning for your workday lunch on the hoof. Another option for your packed lunch is to get back into homemade soup (cheaper and lower in salt and sugar than the ready-made variety). Again, you can easily make soup and freeze it into single portions for a later date (batch cooking)!
11- Don’t forget about bowls
Are you familiar with bowls? This complete meal (guess what, served in a bowl) is a top Clean Eating trend. So how does it go? You fill it with fruit, vegetables, oilseeds and protein (animal or not), without mixing them all together but arranging them into food groups to make for an attractive composition. For inspiration, we recommend reading the book Bowls by Clemfoodie, Marabout, €16.90. It comprises an array of bowl recipes for lunch, dinner and even breakfast!
12- Buy your dry goods loose
In most organic shops there’s a loose dry goods aisle for cereals, dried fruit and nuts. As well as making a move in the direction of zero waste, you save on the by-weight price. Moreover, you can buy as little or as much as you need on a “bespoke” basis.