Clean Eating Meal Plans: Clean Eating Vs. Paleo

In this article on clean eating vs. paleo, we’ll talk about the difference a bit and help you choose a meal plan.

Many of you struggle with figuring out what to eat on a regular basis. The truth is, we all love an easy meal plan. Something that makes thinking about food a minimal-effort type of situation. We want it laid out for us and we want the shopping lists to go with it. That way, we just check off what we already have and head to the store for the rest. It’s done for us, and it’s so much easier.

I’ve had some folks ask me what the main differences would be between clean eating and paleo eating, and they are right to wonder. There are some pretty big differences. Let’s look at what those are.

Clean Eating Meal Plans: Clean Eating Vs. Paleo. Which is best?


PALEO – A paleo eating  plan, is in fact, clean. Paleo eating plans focus on whole, natural foods, just like clean eating does. But there are some things that are off limits on a paleo plan that most clean eaters enjoy.

Paleo folks avoid dairy, beans, grains, and peanuts. What’s left? Tons!!

Paleo eaters enjoy a diet rich in fruits and vegetables as well as good quality meats and fats. It’s an excellent option if you don’t mind cutting out those items.

And before anybody asks, yes, I’ve seen those web sites too. The ones that say they are paleo and still eat dairy or one of the other previously mentioned “no-n0’s”. All I can say about that is that everyone makes their own choices about what is right for them and their own bodies. Putting it on a website and calling it paleo doesn’t make it so. It just means that those are exceptions that that person is making, and many of them have perfectly valid reasons for doing so. But a classic paleo diet will avoid all of the foods I mentioned.

CLEAN EATING – A clean eating plan basically includes all of the foods avoided on a paleo plan. Full-fat dairy, beans, whole grains and yes, even peanuts. Personally, I can’t imagine life without peanut butter. But that’s just me. Clean eating is simply a whole-foods approach to eating. It’s about getting back to the basics and making sure that the food you put in your mouth not only has value, but quality as well.

Paleo folks focus on quality as well, don’t get me wrong. They are all about the grass-fed beef and butter. But clean eating isn’t quite so strict. And while you should always purchase the best quality food you can afford, you don’t have to say you don’t eat clean because you bought an orange that wasn’t organic. Clean eating has a little more wiggle room than a true paleo eating plan.

MEAL PLANS – I’m currently working on a paleo plan and hope to have it ready soon. As for clean eating plans, I have several available!

I have put together a few sample meal plans here and even have a few $5 meal plans for sale.

WHICH ONE IS BEST? – I’ve had many of you ask me which the better plan to follow is. As you can see, there are some pretty stark differences. But the truth is, they are both methods of eating clean. Both plans avoid process foods, and both plans will help get you to your health goals. So how do you decide?

Truthfully, the best way to decide is to consider what will work best for not only your body, but your lifestyle. You need both to be in balance for a meal plan to work. You have to ask yourself if giving up grains will work for you and your lifestyle or if it will be nothing but a pain in rear. Because the truth is, you won’t stick to it if it doesn’t fit your life. So consider carefully.

For both plans you have to cook almost daily (unless you stock your freezer and plan your leftovers appropriately). Both plans avoid sugars and other white, processed stuff. Both plans have been proven to improve health. So it really all boils down to what works best for YOU. Talk to your doctor or dietitian if you feel you need individual help with this.. And if you’d like to give some of the recipes a spin first, you can check out my blog in general for clean eating recipes as well as my paleo section.


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  1. Aloha, I love your website & your paleo recipes. Your Paleo food pyramid is accurate except that stating “low carb” is somewhat misleading. Paleo is high in veggies which DO contain carbs, some higher in carbs than others.

    I don’t mean to come across as argumentative. Just want to clarify that lean proteins AND LOTSA VEGGIES (which are “carbs”) are the mainstay of this plan. So that’s why I think say Paleo is low carb could be misleading.

    Thanks again for all of your help in assisting in healthy eating lifestyle!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Reg – You are absolutely correct. But I think, in the grand scheme of things, it is overall more low carb. I realize, of course, that you get plenty of carbs from fruits and veggies, but in comparing it to more traditional clean eating, you do get lower carbs overall. At least that’s been my experience… I do understand your point though. Thanks for pointing that out!

  2. Kate Berger says:

    I’m just wondering why the bottom of the “Clean Eating” pyramid is water. Us Paleo-ites drink lots of water. And the fats we eat are healthy fats. But, I do like your comparison. I’m going to check out your Paleo section right now.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Kate – I’m not entirely sure on that one. It’s an image provided by eMeals, so I’m not sure what their thinking on that was. But you’re right. Water is important no matter what you eat!

  3. I did like the emeals resource and used it for several months. I kept the printed meal plans and still refer to them. So looking forward to the results of getting rid of the processed stuff. I know I can’t go completely “whole” but we are implementing as much as we can :0). Enjoy the weekend!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Donna – Good for you! Anything helps!

  4. My husband and I have been enjoying the paleo medals plan since his gastric sleeve surgery last year. But, now that our daughter is eating off our plates I’d like to try the clean eating for a more rounded diet. Thank you for the comparison of the two. I’m sure we can all find a happy medium between the two!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Jennifer – My pleasure!

  5. Re: the question about the water at the bottom…

    My guess is that it’s on the bottom because it is the base and foundation for everything else. You should always drink water and lots of it.

    Just my 2 cents.

    P.S. I am newly addicted to this site! Thanks for posting!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Dolly – I completely agree! Water should at the base of both pyramids!

  6. Hi Dolly, yes this site is “addicting”. I think the question re: the water, was why it was on one pyramid & not the other. Because as you say, it should be a big part of ANY & ALL nutritional plans. Have fun here. Lotsa new ideas for both eating plans to be had.

  7. Valerie Stahl says:

    Thank you so much for the pyramid chart showing the difference between Paleo and Clean eating. I started Paleo last May and did well but I found that for me too strict and I was missing whole grains, beans etc which I love. So I started hearing a lot about Clean eating and reading up on it. Since I kinda fall off the Paleo way of eating missing whole grains etc this Pyramid explains the difference and it is so much doable for my life to do the Clean eating. I just went to the grocery store and brought some Clean eating foods and some organic fruits/veggies. It is costly to do all organic fruits/veggies but the dirty dzn list that is out there – so if I can at least try to go organic with that list then it is a start. I love this Gracious Panty website, Thank you!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Valerie – My pleasure! I shop by the Dirty Dozen as well. I don’t have the budget for all organic foods. I do that for produce and for meats (and dairy when I buy it for Mini Chef).

  8. Hi,
    I have a dilemma, I am grateful to have found you and your partners at emeals I think it will help me tremendously with healthier eating. I signed up with the clean eating meal plan but to be honest I have never heard of most of the menu items. I.e. tilapia puttanesca and includes item such as capers. I have no idea what putanesca or capers are. So I tried to switch over to the paleo eating plans and while the recipes sound more appetizing I would like a more wholesome way of eating including beans, grains, some dairy. I already signed up and really would like to make this work, do you have any suggestions? Sorry if I sound picky not trying to be, just want this to work. Thanks

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Monique – The meal plans are only dinner (unless you signed up for more). So I would suggest sticking with the pale plan, and simply adding other things to your meals. So for example, make one of their dinners, but add some cooked brown rice as a side dish. That’s the only thing I can think of if you want to keep your subscription. In fact, that’s how many people use their meal plans. They aren’t written in stone, they are simply meal suggestions. So you can mix and match as you please. I hope that helps.

  9. I liked this chart. At my crossfit box I tried a paleo challenge back in September. I tried to stick with paleo and make it a lifestyle but the lack of carbs made it hard. I know that many paleo supporters will say that you get carbs through many of the fruits and veggies (mainly the non paleo veggies such as sweet potatoes) and I used to preach that too but it does lack many carbs even healthy carbs. Paleo got to a point where I could not make it a full lifestyle. It is hard and eventually the body craves grains. I will say paleo actually opened my eyes to eating clean and avoiding processed foods and refined sugars and sweetners. I like what you said about thinking if the lifestyle and if it will be a pain in the rear. After a few months paleo became that for me but I feel clean eating can work better for me. I am not knocking paleo; if it is a lifestyle that works for some then I think that is great and I fully support them. I gave it a good go and could not stick to it successfully. I do feel my calorie counting clean eating will be the ticket. Thanks for the comparison chart as it was very informative.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Kristen – My pleasure! It’s definitely not for everyone.

  10. Hey there my nutritionally-concienscious peeps. I wanted to weigh in on the Paleo plan. Ive been eating paleo for approx 2 yrs now. Paleo does NOT mean perfect! This the longest period that i have kept my weight in check in many years (w/o exercise fanaticism; just have not been making time; I need to).

    I dont not keep bread & other tempting starches in the house, as i would gobble them up in a moment of weakness. But i WILL give in @ times & consume a can of Pringles (my splurge of choice) & a couple of beers. I will eat pizza on occasion & some bread if out for dinner. I do add half & half to my morning coffee w/coconut sugar. I just cut out the daily “need” for starches/”sugars”.

    Paleo does take more effort, to avoid the temptations of something fast & starchy. I keep plenty of easy protein @ the ready (cans of tuna, precooked [by me] meats such as seasoned gr turk or bf, deboned roasted chkn etc) & cooked veggies in the freezer for ready in minutes meals or to throw in a container for lunch to go.

    I want to share Mark Sisson’s website as he does the research, provides links to studies that he uses & is an awesome example of the benefits of Paleo. (Marksdailyapple).

    Our bodies don’t REALLY NEED grains for optimal health; which was confirmed to me by a well respected cardiologist that i worked w/at Kaiser. In fact, the food pyramid that he drew for a patient contained NO grains. The base was green leafy veggies, followed by lean proteins to the top.

    Hope this helpful. My intent is reassure you that you dont have to be perfect to be Paleo.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Reg – Well said. 🙂

  11. I am really looking at doing clean eating lifestyle. It makes sense to me that by eliminating processed foods and sugars that it should also be a good weight loss plan–am I thinking correctly with that? I have recently found several sites about using veggies for pasta–so I am looking forward to trying those (already love spaghetti squash). But I just wanted to see if my thought process is correct before I jump in with those expectations and then end up completely wrong and disheartened.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Terri – Clean eating is, first and foremost, about eating real food. So if you have had a lot of processed food in your diet, then yes. You will most likely lose some weight initially without much effort. However, as with most eating plans, the body will get used to it. So at that point, you have to reconsider portion sizes and other adjustments. As with any type of food, you can gain weight with it just as easily as you can lose weight. You just have to take a very sensible approach to eating real food.

  12. I am paleo-ish, but I’m also clean. I have occasional peanut butter (because it’s way yummier than almond butter to me.) I have occasional dairy. I also strive for a smaller amount of carbs (under 75) because I find that it’s easier for me to lose weight, and my balance feels about right at under 75. My husband is TOTALLY paleo. I love that he is, and I also love eating hummus in front of him. 😉

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Amy – Hahahaha!!! You crack me up!!! 😀

  13. Karen Currier says:

    I’ve reached a point in my life where I find myself standing in front of the pantry wondering what boring thing I can cook for dinner again. I want someone else to do the cooking and if I can’t have that would someone please just tell me what to buy and how to cook it. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have just signed up for a years worth of eMeals for two, and put your site on my bookmark bar so I don’t have to hunt for it. I feel incredibly free now, no worries. I am so looking forward to this and I have you to thank. Thank you for the very center of my heart. Karen.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Karen – Thanks so much! I’m so happy you’re finding my site helpful!