Forget your assumptions about restriction, ho-hum meals, and a growling stomach because this plan is easy, tasty, and (gasp!) doesn't take all the fun out of eating.
Just the sound of it—"clean eating"—doesn't seem like much fun, right? Clean. Does that mean raw? Is it vegan? Will I need to eat nothing but green juice and lemon water? No, no, and hell no.
First, even the strictest of clean eating meal plans are meant to be only temporary. They're just supposed to get anything—your eating schedule, food choices, or even your digestion—back on track. Our 30-Day Clean-ish Eating Challenge will achieve much of the same by taking out all the stuff that's bad for your body, your belly, and your brain, while still leaving some wiggle room for your cravings. Translation: You're going to whip your diet into shape without ever feeling like you're being denied something.
But, how?! you might be asking. It all comes down to the "ish." The "ish" in clean-ish basically means that the guidelines are flexible. Perfection doesn't exist—not with your body, not with your career, not with your life—so why would you think your diet was supposed to be perfect?
We believe that this will set you up for success during this month, so you'll get on track to crush any goal you set this year—feel better, lose weight, get strong. Plus it'll help you turn healthy eating into a lifestyle that you can happily manage (keyword: happily).
Here's how to get started: Before you jump in, get acquainted with the "rules" of clean eating. The goal is to eat more whole foods you recognize and no processed junk you don't. That means no to frozen dinners and yes to fresh produce. Every day, we'll help walk you through the process with easy-to-understand tips like things to cut out entirely and how to cook more healthy, fresh meals. You'll find some great examples to help in the video above—an entire day's worth of meals, from breakfast to dessert, that fall into the clean-ish eating agenda. We're also giving you an "ish" day (NOT a cheat day) every week that allows you to rebel a little. So, head to the grocery store to stock up on everything you'll need to eat clean-ish for the next 30 days, find some sample meal and snack ideas here—and get ready to feel great, sleep better, have clearer skin and less bloating, and a body and mind that are prepared for the best year ever.
30-Day Clean-ish Eating Challenge
Day 1View All
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Rearrange Your Fridge and Pantry
Step one in basically any goal is getting rid of distractions and things that don't serve you or your purpose. In the case of clean eating, that means actually cleaning—cleaning out your pantry and refrigerator, that is. Toss the frozen burritos and the cheesy foods. Send your marshmallow fluff and caramel corn packing. Even with the strongest willpower, you won't want to stare at these processed foods when you get home, hungry after a long day. Plus, you'll fill that extra space with healthy, whole foods you'll still want to eat.
Day 2View All
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Set Your Intentions for Right Now (and Beyond)
Part of goal setting is unlocking the reasons behind why you set it in the first place. Why do you want to clean up your diet? Have you gained weight over the last year? Are you stress-eating thanks to a new job? Are you always exhausted? Do you want to improve your #gainz in the gym? Whatever the reason may be (and make sure it's a mindful and healthy reason), harness it to help you stick to your clean-ish eating now, and tap back into it when you need another reset in the future. (This concept of knowing your destination—or seeing the big picture—is one experts swear by to achieve nearly any goal.)
Day 3View All
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Plan Your Meals
Would you jump into powerlifting never having set foot in a CrossFit box? Probably not. So, why would you just wing it with clean eating? Begin with a meal plan and a shopping list. We'll get you started with a clean-ish eating menu for one day (watch the video above) that covers breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack time, and dessert. Use it as inspiration for the rest of the month or check out some of these clean eating spiralized recipes using whole foods.
Day 4View All
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Go for More Color
Now's the time to diversify your portfolio of fruits and veggies. While a balance of all the usual suspects will ensure you get lots of variety in both taste and nutrition, try seeking out some of these different colored vegetables that pack a big nutrition punch. You might find that purple carrots are your new favorite thing to eat.
Day 5View All
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Have a Snack Time Game Plan
Meal planning is one thing, but when it's 4 p.m. and a craving for pretzels dipped in Nutella hits (don't act like you've never done it), you better have a game plan. Because while this is the clean-ish eating challenge, mindlessly inhaling spoonfuls of Nutella doesn't count as "ish." Try our suggestions—sliced apple with cinnamon and a tablespoon of nut butter, or veggie sticks and crackers with guacamole. Plus, here are some other healthy snack ideas that will help you reach your goal without a sugar setback.
Day 6View All
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Nix OG Junk Food Entirely
Rainbow-colored cereal, diet soda, double-chocolate cookies—all gone. What's more, these are just the obvious offenders. Processed food doesn't stop at food dye and froyo—even seemingly healthier munchie items like those chickpea crackers or fortified granola are considered processed. While the chickpea crackers are certainly a better choice than a bag of Doritos, avoiding the snack aisle for a month is the way to go to really make the most of this clean-ish adventure.
Day 7View All
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Indulge In Your Favorite Latte (Ish Day)
Is toasted white chocolate mocha your kryptonite? Maybe it's the new maple pecan latte that has you dreaming of a coffee run. Either way, feel free to indulge today. While these options will certainly set you back some serious sugar, we recognize that if you're used to getting pumpkin spice lattes with whipped cream on top, drip coffee with soy milk just isn't gonna cut it for your cravings. Keep the milk low-fat and the size small to cut back on overall calorie count (but don't worry too much about your dairy choice—see day 30). Otherwise, enjoy your Ish day, girl. (Oh, and considering that Starbucks holiday cups can help you de-stress, we think you'll feel pretty good heading into week two of this 30-day clean-ish eating challenge.)
Day 8View All
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Cook. Clean Eating Doesn't Mean Raw
While the strictest of clean eating guidelines might make you think this is a raw-food diet, think again. You don't need to eat salads and smoothies and nothing else for a month—though we bet you'll blow through family-size containers of greens. We suggest these genius meals you can prep now to have all week.
Day 9View All
Photo: Ted Cavanaugh
Satisfy Your Crunchy Cravings
You're in serious need of something salty and crunchy, but you ditched your potato chips and buttery popcorn. Don't panic. While we're not going to sugar-coat it (or should we say, salt-coat it) and pretend it's an exact substitute for movie theater popcorn, these fruit and veggie chips are surprisingly satisfying and easy to make at home.
Day 10View All
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Make Pizza for Dinner (Ish Day)
Yes, pizza can be part of a clean-ish eating plan. Just be mindful of the toppings. Instead of a thick slice of buffalo chicken pizza with bacon, go for a thin-crust loaded veggie pie with fresh ricotta. You'll be able to enjoy a second or third slice without the rich-food hangover.
Day 11View All
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Grab a Clean Protein Bar
Protein bars get a lot of flak for being filled with ingredients you can't pronounce or being egregiously high in calories and protein. But you can find healthy, whole-food options that are perfect for when your busy life leaves no time for anything that isn't grab-and-go—just remember to read the labels. Check out the list of the best protein bars for women.
Day 12View All
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Eat Like a Vegetarian
While there's nothing that says you need to be vegetarian to eat clean, there's serious science behind plant-based eating, and you can definitely benefit from cutting back on meat. Try going totally meatless for one day a week (up that if you're feeling good), and you might just find some new favorite high-protein plant-based foods to keep in rotation.
Day 13View All
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Make a Better Breakfast
The easiest way to have a balanced breakfast while also using up the half-chopped produce in your fridge? A frittata. It's impossible to mess this one up: The ingredients are naturally clean (score!) and just about anything (spinach, feta, onions, red pepper, etc.) can make its way into eggs and be delicious.
Day 14View All
Bust Out the Slow Cooker
Who says eating clean can't be comforting? Sure, some of your favorite, decadent comfort foods can be made in a slow cooker or Instant Pot, but that doesn't mean you can't use this genius piece of kitchen equipment for healthier, cleaner eating purposes that still warm your belly. You'll save on time, headaches, and cleanup with this Instant Pot recipe for Mexican chicken chowder.
Day 15View All
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Expand Your Leafy Green Repertoire
You're halfway through your clean-ish eating month. By now, you've probably found some favorites (hi, kale salad). So why change things, right? Wrong. Sure, keep eating your go-to greens, but don't be afraid to mix it up with the other hearty, leafy greens out there. (Meal inspo: Giant Dinner-Worthy Salads for a Satisfying Macro Meal)
Day 16View All
Choose Whole Grains Every Time
If you're still wondering what's the difference between whole wheat and whole grain and which is the better choice, opt for whole grain every time. Whole grains are rich in polyphenols, antioxidants that may be stripped from refined grains during processing, and will help keep you fuller when you load up two slices of whole-grain bread with clean eats such as avocado, tomato, and red onion.
Day 17View All
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Hard Day? Have a Glass of Red Wine
While most clean eating rules will give it to you straight—no alcohol—we think there's some room for the occasional glass of red wine when you've had one of those days…you know the ones. Sugar will be lower in a glass of merlot than in a mixed drink with grenadine or simple syrup. (Can't handle light-colored clothing and red wine as well as Olivia Pope? Here's how to remove red wine stains from any surface.)
Day 18View All
Ditch Processed Cheese Food
Dairy isn't off-limits on a clean-ish diet, but choose organic whenever possible to control for things like antibiotics, and don't even think about picking up those slices of fake "cheese food." It might make for a melty grilled cheese, but clean eating or no clean eating, you know this stuff is processed to the point where it's barely even considered cheese anymore. Crumbled full-fat feta or a block of hard cheddar is the better, cleaner bet.
Day 19View All
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Try a Few "New" Kinds of Fruit
Just as you discovered when you branched out from your beloved kale salad, and when you opted for some uniquely colored vegetables, you'll be surprised by how many fruits you're bypassing in the grocery store. If you're used to noshing on a Gala apple, try an Asian pear, which is in season this time of year. Normally go for an orange to get your vitamin C fix? Try a clementine or a persimmon. The former is great for packing in meal-prepped lunches, as they're easy to peel and eat wherever.
Day 20View All
Photo: Michael Marquand
Check Your Plate for Balance
This holds true for this month of clean-ish eating and every meal after that. When you sit down to lunch or dinner, take a look at the ratio of macronutrients on your plate. How much protein, carbs, and fat are there? If it's skewed one way or the other (for example, too many fast-digesting carbs without lean protein to pace it out), you could feel effects on your blood sugar and energy. Learn more about how to pick the perfect meal-prep recipe with a balance of macros and flavors.
Day 21View All
Photo: Jon Anderson
Add a Little Sweetness to Your Life (Ish Day)
Let's face it, cutting out added sugar entirely can seem impossible, especially if you're starting this clean-ish eating challenge with a serious sweet tooth. But while excess sugar does have its health pitfalls, you don't need to go cold turkey. Sprinkling a little Truvia Natural Sweetener on your morning bowl of berries or in your smoothie or coffee is a calorie-free way to add the touch of sweetness your taste buds crave without going into a sugar coma. Using a touch of Stevia-based sweetener like this is the kind of little change that can go a long way for your overall health this month and beyond.
Day 22View All
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Downsize Your Breakfast Ingredients
The concept behind clean-ish eating is fairly simple, and by that we mean, the food is simplified. A prime example can be found at the breakfast counter. Instead of the packaged oatmeal packets with sweeteners and chemically added flavors, opt for hearty, steel-cut oats on the stove instead. Try using almond milk for some flavor infused during the cooking process. Discover these time-saving oatmeal hacks that will completely change your morning.
Day 23View All
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Dig a Fork Into a Bowl of Pasta
Isn't clean eating just awesome? Pasta in January during a diet reset is possible, people. The key is choosing the right ingredients from start to finish. Opt for whole-grain pasta (as we taught you above), or try lentil-based pasta for a fun twist. Then choose a ton of your favorite veggies (such as sautéed peppers and onions and roasted cherry tomatoes) and instead of a vodka or cream sauce from a jar, drizzle the whole thing with heart-healthy olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a sprinkle of parmesan. (You can also make a delicious, homemade pasta sauce.)
Day 24View All
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Make Life Easier with Frozen Food
Yes, frozen dinners loaded with sodium and strange ingredients are a no-go (and same for cookie dough ice cream, unfortunately). But grab a bag of frozen berries and some green beans, because frozen fruits and vegetables have their flavor and nutrition locked in. They're just as healthy, if not more so, than those out-of-season varieties you're blending into your smoothie.
Day 25View All
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Mix Up Your Protein Sources
Protein can be tricky depending on your style of eating (vegan, vegetarian, true carnivore), but if you're open to options, you can mix up your protein sources with things like salmon fillets, tempeh slices, or any of these high-protein ground turkey recipes.
Day 26View All
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Get to Know Your Condiments
Store-bought condiments—ketchup, barbecue sauce, tartar sauce, etc.—are the definition of processed with ingredient lists that include things like sugar, preservatives, oils, and trans-fats. You should stay away for now. (Evidence: The 10 Worst Condiments for Your Health) Instead, consult this list of DIY condiments that are better than any store-bought bottled version.
Day 27View All
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Use Fresh Herbs for Natural Flavor
Cooking with fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, and dill gives any dish a bright, bold flavor (more so than dried herbs, BTW) and makes the plate look prettier, too. See—no condiments necessary.
Day 28View All
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Recreate Your Favorite Takeout Order at Home
Ordering Kung Pao chicken on a Friday night in can be a bad habit to break, but those Seamless meals don't fit into your clean-ish eating style—sorry. You can still enjoy the taste of delivery by making healthier versions of your online orders at home. (Get started with this Clean Vegan Pad Thai.)
Day 29View All
Photo: Nicole Crane
Make Single-Serve Dessert (Ish Day)
Take full advantage of your last Ish day by making a personal-size version of your dreamiest dessert. Maybe fudge brownies are your jam, or maybe you're more of a chocolate-pumpkin cake kind of girl. Either way, limiting the portion by making a mug-sized microwave version means you can have your dessert without accidentally downing an entire sheet of blondies.
Day 30View All
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Avoid Low-Fat or "Diet" Foods
If weight loss is a part of your plan this month, you'll probably be interested to learn that science says full-fat dairy will help you shed more weight than low-fat dairy. What's more, when it comes to eating clean, full-fat foods are always going to be less processed than any zero-calorie rice cake with powdered flavor added to it.
Day 31View All
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Break the Rules
You started this month of clean-ish eating with a set of rules to follow as best you could for optimal results. Throughout the last 30 days, you likely veered from the straight line here and there to satisfy your cravings while still (hopefully) staying true to your end-game goal of cleaning up your diet. Now, take what you learned from listening to your body, and adjust your diet moving forward. Ideally, you picked up some useful healthy eating tools you can use forever. But if you know in your heart that a diet without Doritos is not a diet for you, go ahead and have some Doritos on occasion. If you're eating broccoli, chicken, and strawberries the rest of the time, we think you'll be okay.