Beginner’s Guide To Clean Eating Grocery Shopping

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One of the main stresses for those who are new to clean eating is figuring out what exactly is clean. This Beginner’s Guide To Clean Eating Grocery Shopping should help get you started!

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Here’s the scenario:
You walk into the store all fired up to eat clean, and you reach the first aisle. Suddenly, you feel lost in a sea of labels and ingredient lists and your motivation starts to waver. By the time you’ve managed to find a single loaf of clean bread, you’re so exhausted and frustrated that you throw your hands up and leave the store AND your loaf of bread behind.

Sound familiar? It does to me because that pretty much describes my first attempt at shopping clean. After all, it all comes down to the food you bring into your home, right?

But it doesn’t have to be that hard or complicated. All that is required is a new approach to shopping. A new frame of mind. And let’s face it, that’s far easier than dealing with all those labels!

Drawing of a woman trying to figure out what to buy at the grocery store because she didn't use this Beginner's Guide To Clean Eating Grocery Shopping.

THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO CLEAN EATING GROCERY SHOPPING:

Change:

The truth is, you do have to change the way you shop, and there won’t be a clean substitute for every single thing you’ve usually eaten on a non-clean eating plan. So some things will change, but that’s okay. Change is what we’re after, right?

How To Shop:

Start with shopping the perimeter. You’ve probably heard that before, but it really is true. Anything fresh and clean will be there. Avoid the aisles unless you need something like steel cut oats or frozen chicken and veggies. Pick up those few, rare items that are clean AND located in the aisles and get the heck outta there! Get into the perimeter as fast as you can. Start with the produce section and fill your basket with as much fresh produce as you think you can possibly eat in a week. Then move on to the meat counter and the dairy section, all of which are usually located on the perimeter.

You see, the trick to getting started with clean eating is to generally avoid foods that have any sort of label at all! Think fresh. Think ‘whole food ingredients’. Think real food that doesn’t need a label. That alone will eliminate more than half your frustration right there.

Relax:

And please, please, please remember that if you make a mistake and buy something that you realize is not clean after you’ve already left the store, it’s NOT the end of the world! If you can’t take it back, chalk it up to experience. You absolutely will NOT be perfect right out of the gates. You WILL make mistakes, you will give into the occasional craving (never shop hungry!!) and you will buy things that you think are clean only to find out later that they are not. This still happens to me and I’ve been doing this for 4 years! So relax. It’s all going to be okay. Take it one step at a time and forgive yourself for any mistakes you make. The important thing is that you are trying, and that is more than half the battle right there.

And if you do find yourself in the aisles for something you need and you’re not sure how to select the best option, click here for my article onΒ how to read labels for clean eating.

Need a specific list to get you started?
Try this one!

I also have shopping lists for various stores here.

I hope you’ll find this Beginner’s Guide To Clean Eating Grocery Shopping helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in a comment below!

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22 Comments

  1. Brandy @ A Mindful Mantra says:

    Thanks for this post! I’m a total “shop the perimeter” girl. That’s where all the freshest, most natural foods are located. I only stray to the inner isles for specific items that I have researched prior to my shopping trips.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Brandy – That’s the only way to go!!

  2. Charlotte says:

    Thanks for this Tiffany because its very helpful for beginners but also provides a great reminder for those who may have slipped a little in their food consumption. I wanted to add my two cents if you didn’t mind. Shopping for clean eating can indeed be overwhelming and I am in no way perfect but I wanted to share a few things that I learned along the way for anyone who finds it difficult to avoid the aisles for whatever reason:

    (1) the fewer the ingredients, the better;
    (2) if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. An ingredient shouldn’t sound like you’re trying to pronouce the alphabet;
    (3) eat what comes from the earth and not a factory (Mother Nature takes care of you more than Aunt Jemima, Sara Lee or Chef Boyardee ever will), and
    (4) don’t let labels and fancy marketing trick you. Just because the labels and ads say something is “healthy” doesn’t mean it is. Tricky labels and slick marketing = big profits for them but bigger pants and doctor bills for you.

    If I eat anything that I know is not healthy or clean, I feel guilty which for me equates to being much more mindful of the food I consume thereafter.

    Charlotte

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Charlotte – Haha! I love that. Thanks! πŸ˜€

  3. Awesome tips Tiffany! Avoiding the aisles was the HARDEST thing I had to learn to do when I started trying to eat healthier, but now it’s second nature (after weeks of slip ups tho) πŸ˜€
    It’s definitely a learning curve and trial and error becomes your best friend for a while lol

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      GiselleR – Sooo very true!! There will always be mistakes.

  4. Thanks so much!!! You have no idea how much it helos to re- read what clean eating is all about. Ive Been eating clean since march last year And still sometimes feel overwhelmed. What you just did Its like rebooting your pc, we can remember again our simple guidelines. I love what you reminder also about the perimeter. I just came back from a cruise vacation so of course my fridge was close to empty. Your description reminded me so much of what I did, produce, milk, i did go through the isles And found NOTHInG jajaja, went back to produce And got more stuff ( usually i go prepared with a shopping list for my recipes), i figured I’ll find what to do with them anyways.
    So, thanks, you make me feel i did good.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Yamir – You did great! πŸ˜€

  5. Kammie @ Sensual Appeal says:

    Great tips – clean eating can seem overwhelming when we have to hit the grocery store… there’s just so much there. What oh what do we do. This is a great article. I try to stick the perimeter as much as possible too but it’s so hard!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Kammie – It gets easier if you cook more at home. That can take some getting used to as well, but it’s worth it and it does become part of the routine after a while.

  6. This is also great advice for those who have a food allergy.
    I had a flatmate who is very allergic to wheat and she would get very frustrated about not knowing if something contained wheat or not, especially when so many ingredients are wheat derived. She never knew if “natural flavor” or “natural color” was wheat derived etc. I always used to ask her why she didn’t concentrate more on buying foods that were one ingredient and make things like sauces herself, but since she viewed cooking as time consuming and didn’t seem interested in doing some research to make simple healthy meals from whole ingredients, she continued to struggle with the complicated labels.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Kristie – That’s the tough part about relying on a corporation to give you your food supply. Sad but true.

  7. Hi, I have come across your website so many times and i’m always interested.

    I’m a big girl and i’m fed up with the dieting industry, i’ve recently cut aspartame (minus a diet coke every now and then which I really need to stop!) also cut out bread. I feel like i’ve been lied to for a long time about what I should be eating and whats good for me. Since the age of 13 i’ve eaten low fat marg, articfial sweetener, low fat yoghurts you’re getting the pattern right ?

    I’m just so disappointed in myself, i’m now 22 years old and have my own 2 year old son i’m bigger than i’ve ever been and just want to stop listening to all the bad advise out there and do the right thing for me and my family.

    One big confession is I have never be as small as I was on the first day I started dieting how sad is that?

    Please help me? I know clean eating is the best way to go now after so much research but it goes against everything that i’ve been brainwashed to believe therefore I think i’ll gain weight through clean eating rather than loose it?

    I’m really embarrsed writing this.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      SJC – Please don’t be embarrassed. The truth is, I’ve been there too and so have many, many other people. The fact that you have researched it and are starting to make small changes is something you should pat yourself on the back for. Many people never make the effort.

      Honestly, the best approach is a slow one. Each week when you grocery shop, switch out a non-clean ingredient for a clean one. When the white rice runs out, buy brown rice. If you do it just 1 or 2 items a week, the change won’t feel so overwhelming. That’s how I started anyway. I’m not much for the “cold turkey” thing unless it’s about sugar detox. But aside from that, slow and easy will get the job done every time. You also have to allow time for your taste buds to adjust. Some of the food might not taste that great the first few times around. But as you get the garbage out of your system, your tastes will change. So stick with it.

      If you are very concerned about calories and such, try tracking what you eat on MyFitnessPal.com. It’s a wonderful tool.

      But most importantly, never stop researching. There is a ton of conflicting information out there, and the truth is somewhere in the middle. It’s one big experiment. You have to keep trying different things until you find what works best for you, your body and your family.

      It can be very difficult to change ideas and concepts you’ve grown up with. But when you start to see results, you’ll start to believe as well. Hang in there. The only way you fail is if you give up. It doesn’t matter how many times you have to try again, as long as you keep trying. Eventually, you’ll figure it out. Your body is very unique and you will get to know what it needs, likes and hates pretty quickly with clean eating. You’ll see. You just have to pay attention. Keep a journal if you have to, but pay attention to what your body does when you make different changes. You will get there.

  8. Awesome! We try to plan our meals for the week then I make a huge list and buy the ingredients for all the meals.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Monica – I used to do it that way as well. Works great! πŸ™‚

  9. I love this!! I wanna start the clean eating plan but am so confused about most of this. Is there a clean eating for dummies book out there?

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Maria – In the Shop section of my blog (at the top of the page), I have a clean eating 101 ebook.

  10. Thank you!! I definitely will start specially now that I just found put I’m expecting.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Maria – Congratulations!!! πŸ˜€

  11. WHERE DO YOU FIND RICE NOODLES? Chinese, OR ??? couldn’t FIND THEM IN Walmart. PLEASE USE EASY AND MORE COMMON FOODS THAT WE COULD GET ANYWHERE. ARE THERE ANY RECIPES THAT USE REGULAR EGG NOODLES? I HAVE SOME AND NEED TO USE THEM UP. THEY MIGHT NOT BE AS GOOD FOR YOU BUT MAY BE OK IN MODERATION???

    CAROL

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Carol – They are not Asian. They are regular noodles made with brown rice flour. I get them at Trader Joes. The whole idea is to get a whole grain pasta. 100% whole wheat, or quinoa, or brown rice… whatever you have available to you. Egg noodles are not clean. But if you are just starting out, it would be too expensive to clear everything out of your kitchen and start over. Finish off what you have in the house and as you grocery shop every week, make the changes then, a few ingredients at a time. Any exceptions you make are totally up to you.

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