Clean eating is one of those trendy terms people like to throw out there—and nobody really knows what it means. So we find ourselves asking if we can consider our meal “clean” if it has an iota of wheat, natural sweetener (another mysterious food term), or sea salt.
Nutritionist Tosca Reno, author of the Eat Clean Diet, has a simple way of defining clean eating. “Eating clean is about choosing fresh, whole foods with all of their nutrients intact,” she says. That means trying to avoid processed foods, including healthy things like unsweetened almond milk (unless it’s homemade), as well as foods with added processed sugar.
To prove it’s not as tough or tasteless as it sounds, we rounded up these recipes. All are made with common ingredients (no need for fancy superfood powders or spices you’ll never use again) and contain loads of flavor, color, and satisfaction—plus health benefits because who doesn’t like those? And no, they’re not all kale salad. Time to get your taste buds out of the fast-food gutter and come to the clean side!
Not everyone loves the gelatinous texture that chia seeds develop when mixed with liquid, but in this recipe, dates, almond butter, and oats come together to fake the delightful sweetness of cake batter. Not that we have any idea what cake batter tastes like, of course. And we’re sure you don’t either. (It’s our little secret.)
This breakfast is like eating apple pie without the crust, so you definitely want to bookmark this page. Amaranth is a grain that has slightly more protein than quinoa does, and here it gives a naturally sweet crunch. While the blogger who created this recipe uses homemade almond milk (because she’s a chef), you can simply cook the oats in water.
We love that this recipe is on a blog called Ambitious Kitchen—and that it has two ingredients. This is the kind of ambition we can get behind! Bananas and oats may be enough for you (and make surprisingly sweet breakfast cookies), but the addition of things like cacao nibs and nuts makes things more fun. Gasp: Four ingredients? Now we’re cooking!
Soak buckwheat overnight to get yourself an easy grab-and-go breakfast with about 6.5 grams of protein from the groats alone. We like to top with a big dollop of nut butter for extra protein and healthy fats to keep us energized all morning, no matter how long that meeting drags on.
There has been a resurgence of the egg, and we’re 100 percent behind this shift in popularity. Eggs are a great source of protein and vitamin B12, which is key for a healthy nervous system and metabolism. This omelette packs eggs with lentils, zucchini, kale, tomatoes, and lots of yummy spices for a healthy and filling morning treat.
How often do you wake up and think: I could go for a hefty serving of pasta? This recipe could change all of that. Zucchini noodles are topped withfried eggs, salt, and pepper for an super simple, tasty morning meal. We think there’s something very satisfying about twirling your breakfast and slurping it unabashedly.
Sweet potatoes and whole wheat pastry flour make these cakes sweet enough that you don’t need any syrup on top. Or go savory at breakfast and top with veggies and avocado. Either way, they’re great alone or as a replacement for hash browns.
Our lunch is on a boat! (We couldn’t help it.) These zucchinis are carved out and filled to the brim with ground beef, cheese, veggies, and lots of spieces. It’s a great switch for when you’re bored of bringing zoodles to work and don’t know what to do with the rest of the squash you bought.
A little bit sweet and a little bit savory, this salad travels really well. And while we love greens and fruit, the addition of quinoa and walnuts brings the satisfaction, plus omega-3s from the nuts. If you’re feeling crafty, layer everything into a mason jar for easy, pretty portability.
Minimal cooking, lots of blender time, and easy to transport: This creamy and satisfying soup is a winner. Asparagus is a good source of vitamin A, which helps to form and maintain healthy skin and teeth. Plus, you know what they say: An avocado a day keeps unhappiness at bay. OK, we say that.
We are going to do our best not to over-quinoa you, but this salad is super colorful, easy, and delicious. The dressing is the perfect combintaiton of spicy (with the chili powder) and sweet (with the oranges). If you’re in a rush you could always use a simpler (clean!) dressing, or just serve with your favorite hot sauce.
Tahini has a hefty dose of calcium, which is one of the most important minerals in the body (it even helps you to squeeze your muscles!). Use this dressing on top of a simple salad of spicy arugula, red potatoes, apples, and cashews.This is a perfect easy, colorful meal for any time of day.
Collard wraps can sometimes leave you wanting more (literally, we’re hungry an hour later), but not with these! The filling of veggies and tuna, but the real star is the sauce. The easy creamy herb sauce made from avocado, miso, apple cider vinegar, tahini, and lemon, adds a great kick of flavor.
Though it takes a while to cook, farro, a wild cousin of wheat, is super easy to make. Topped with tomatoes, and a great blend of herbs, this Mediterranean dish travels well and will taste good hot or cold on your lunch break.
Homemade veggie burgers are way healthier than packaged ones, but they often require a grocery list filled with ingredients, or they end up soft with a consistency similar to hummus. These are neither and they’re super delicious. The plantains add a hint of sweet, and there’s a slight kick from chipotle powder. Extra baked plantains on the side make this a meal.
This is one of those super easy recipes for those days when you come home from work too tired to wait for a meal to simmer but your health (and perhaps budget) refuses to give in to takeout. Shred kale and Brussels sprouts, toss with a simple dressing, and then add soba noodles, which is made from buckwheat and has a nice nutty flavor.
The images of Buddha show him with a distended belly, but we are pretty sure that won’t be the case with this clean-living bowl. This recipe calls for quinoa, lentils, brussels sprouts, kale, and avocado. You can spice it up with any of your favorite add-ins, though.
We aren’t embarrassed. The result of throwing a few things in a slow cooker means that dinner is ready when we get home—plus we have fewer dishes to clean up. And just two ingredients? This can’t get any easier. Go ahead and buy premade salsa. Just read the ingredients list: Eating clean is all about keeping it simple. Serve this shredded chicken on top of a Mexican-inspired salad.
Admittedly, this burger recipe has a few more ingredients. However, it is worth the brief sautéing and chopping because you will be left with hearty vegan burgers. If you want to keep it simple, top with your favorite clean burger fixings. But the chickpea fries are totally worth it too.
A burrito is portable, but the best part is the insides, which is why we like bowls. This version uses cauliflower rice to cut the carbs and the bloat. Top with onions, hot sauce, chickpeas, and avocado and you’re ready to dive in!
This is one of those dinners that comes together in a matter of minutes, which is great for those days when you arrive home ready to eat your own arm. Plus, chances are the only ingredient you may need to buy is the zucchini, and then you can throw on your favorite protein.
This curry dish tastes rich and is filling thanks to protein-rich tofu and satisfying coconut milk. Tofu has received a bad rep as a processed food, so buy an organic brand that has three ingredients or less. Serve this easy dinner over your favorite grain or on its own.
This is a big old bowl of comfort. The crispy baked beets (save extra for snacking) contrasts with creamy polenta, and is topped with dairy-free pesto that comes together in a flash in the food processor. You’ll have leftover pesto, but we don’t consider that a problem.
No eggs, no dairy, and no flour means that these won’t taste like your usual cupcakes—instead, they’re super rich and crazy good. And just as easy to make. The hardest part is waiting for them to set in the freezer. You can find cacao butter in a health food store or online. It’s rich in oleic aid, which has anti-inflammatory benefits. Role of oleic acid in immune system; mechanism of action; a review. Carrillo C, Cavia Mdel M, Alonso-Torre S. Nutrición hospitalaria, 2013, Nov.;27(4):1699-5198.” data-widget=”linkref”>Role of oleic acid in immune system; mechanism of action; a review. Carrillo C, Cavia Mdel M, Alonso-Torre S. Nutrición hospitalaria, 2013, Nov.;27(4):1699-5198.
There’s nothing like sweet, fresh berries in summer, and eating them non-stop (as we’re known to) means you’re getting fiber and anthocyanins, flavonoids that fight inflammation, cancer, and heart disease Anthocyanins: natural colorants with health-promoting properties. He J, Giusti MM. Annual review of food science and technology, 2012, Jan.;1():1941-1413.” data-widget=”linkref”>Anthocyanins: natural colorants with health-promoting properties. He J, Giusti MM. Annual review of food science and technology, 2012, Jan.;1():1941-1413.. Here a date and cacao based crust is filled with coconut cream and yogurt and finished with the jeweled fruit.
What was caramel before someone added a dash of sea salt? We don’t even want to think about it. This is a way that you can put dates and coconut oil to a very interesting and delicious use. Store them in the freezer—mostly to save you from yourself. (We’d eat them all at once too.)
Take basic healthy ingredients like almond butter, dates, and bananas and make them into something even more appetizing than a smoothie. It may look like a lot of work, but the dough comes together in seconds, and both it and the toffee are just food processor magic. The main thing you need to remember is to chill your coconut milk overnight and you are good to go, using those spotty bananas in perhaps your favorite way.
We were skeptical of black beans in brownies too, until we tried them ourselves. Masked with cocoa powder, it is an amazing way to make sure you aren’t depriving yourself of your brownie quota. Taken separately, all of the ingredients read like a nutritionist’s dream. Taken together, you get brownies. Enough said.
Banana soft serve is nothing new, but we are still excited about it, especially when we add some raw almonds, cocoa powder, or cardamom on top. It’s quite possibly the easiest dessert or snack ever.
Originally published August 2015. Updated February 2016.