Minimizing Food Stress – Transitioning Your Kitchen to Clean Eating

Say the word “stress” these days and nobody even reacts, they simply nod their head.  We wake up with stress, go to bed with stress, in fact if you didn’t know better, you’d think everyone was dating someone by the name of Stress.

What bothers me though, as if daily stress isn’t bad enough, is that lately I’ve had so many conversations among friends and even strangers, about food causing stress.  Now, I don’t mean food causing stress as in “eating too many carrots causes stress”, but as in people becoming stressed about food.  Are they eating the right food?  The wrong food?  About growing, purchasing and preparation.  About transitioning their diet to a healthier one.  It really seems like food is stressing people out and that bothers me.

Food should not stress anyone out!  Food is our sustenance, its what nourishes us, keeps us going.  Food should not bring you down.  While I do think that eating healthy food is always a good idea, it shouldn’t feel like a chore.

I have to say though, when I first transitioned to clean eating, I found it challenging for a couple of reasons.  The first reason is not because my house was loaded with junk food (although there was more than I would have liked) but because I knew I needed to take a look at all the food I had in the house to see what was “okay to eat” and what wasn’t.  The second reason I found the clean eating transition a challenge is because once I started reading labels, I realized that the majority of food on the store shelves is packed with high fructose corn syrup, sugar or chemicals and so few products are “clean”.  However, that said, once I found the “clean” brands, I simply began looking for those in each section.

So if you’re looking to change your kitchen over to a clean eating kitchen, I thought I’d share how I made the transition work for me.

Organic food.  Since a large portion of clean eating is eating fresh fruits and veggies, minimizing your exposure to pesticides on produce is really important.  Thankfully I was introduced to organic food, it’s certification standards and growing practices when I worked for an organic certification agency in the mid 1990’s, so I had already been buying as much organic produce as possible.  The same went for milk, eggs and dairy.  But if you’re new to purchasing organic food and not sure where to start or want to get the best value for your dollar, I would recommend a few things to ease into it.

  1. Buy organic for the foods you eat the most, conventional for the foods you eat less frequently. This may sound backwards to some, but the key is to remember that this is about your health and exposure to pesticides, hormones and other not so healthy chemicals, so focus on limiting your exposure.  Not sure whether what you’re eating is organic or not?  There are labeling laws.  Food can only be labeled and sold as “organic” if they fall under specific guidelines.  If it’s not labeled “organic”, it’s not.
  2. Stash the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists in your pocket to help you decide which items produce to buy organic and which items you can continue to buy conventional.
  3. Use the same EWG lists (Dirty Dozen and Clean 15) to buy frozen and packaged foods (i.e. – organic apple sauce and organic apple juice, but conventional frozen corn, dried pineapple and guacamole).

Back to my house.  Prior to clean eating, my pantry contained a hodgepodge of packaged foods, some good, some not so good.  I found the easiest thing for me was to go though one type of food at a time.  Part of clean eating is eliminating sugar, white flour and processed foods.  I started with pastas; I had some white pasta, some whole grain.  I really like pasta, so I decided all the white pastas would have to go or I would be tempted to eat them.  With the exception of open packages, I gave all the white pastas to a friend.  Now I only buy whole wheat/whole grain pasta, brown rice pasta, etc. unless what I’m looking for isn’t available in whole grain.

Cereal, we eat that on a fairly regular basis in our house so that was next to be “cleaned”.  We typically don’t keep sugared cereals on hand, but if you do, one way to transition away from sugared cereal to clean cereal is to move from cereals sweetened by high fructose corn syrup or sugar, to those sweetened by honey or other natural sweeteners (listed above).  After you and your family have gotten used to those, then try to ease your way down to unsweetened or as near as possible.  My son loves puffed corn cereal.  Honestly I think it’s a bit bland, but he loves it because he says it’s like eating popcorn for breakfast.  You won’t find me arguing with that!

Onto bread.  I love bread!  Other than an occasional crusty baguette or loaf of sour dough, we typically eat whole wheat or whole grain bread. But imagine my surprise when upon reading the label, I found the bread we had been eating was loaded with high fructose corn syrup.  I can’t even begin to describe how ticked I was.  My next trip to the store I found a cleaner bread without high fructose corn syrup (and all the other lovely stuff that was with it) and that new bread has now become “our bread”.

I continued the “cleaning” process through the kitchen, fridge, freezer and pantry, but did it in phases.  I recommend doing the same to keep yourself sane.  The things that we had already opened, I made a mental note to check into when they were used up and then put the desired replacement on the grocery list.  For example, instead of “ketchup” I put “org. (organic) ketchup w/o HFC (no sugar or naturally sweetened)” on the list and “chocolate chips with 60%+ cocoa, sweetened with grain or evaporated cane juice”.  Now I know this probably sounds crazy, but my goal was to shop once for this item and have this replacement become “our ketchup” or “our chocolate chips”.  Once I know who made them, it made restocking the pantry easy.  Now it’s as simple as “chocolate chips (x brand)”.  I don’t have to think about it any more.

While most of my kitchen has been “cleaned”, I’m still in transition.  The lesser used items like condiments, etc. with high fructose corn syrup or sugar are still being phased out.  As we finish them, they will be replaced by a healthier option.  In the mean time I figure if I use very little of it or use it infrequently, then there is less of a concern than if it’s an item I eat on a regular basis.  (This also takes a little strain off the wallet.)

Hopefully, if you find yourself among the food stressed folks, this will help ease the stress a little.  If there’s something I missed, by all means let me know!

Take care and enjoy your food.


2 Comments to “Minimizing Food Stress – Transitioning Your Kitchen to Clean Eating”

  1. Nice article Kate. I have been thinking a lot lately about this subject. I believe i am ready to try something like this.


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