Clean Eating Grocery List for Beginners

It's a sorry looking assortment if there ever was one. As you unload your groceries on the kitchen counter, you take a closer look at the purchases you had hoped would get you through the week and fill those meal prep containers at the same time.

You've got a few tubs of Greek yogurt, an 8-ounce container of hummus, a 5-pound bag of apples, a 2-pound bag of whole-grain pasta and a box of oatmeal cereal. Clearly, you've got clean eating on your mind but have forgotten a few things, including meat and vegetables. Following a clean eating strategy requires filling your plate by mimicking a plate of a different kind: MyPlate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's guide to healthy eating.

Judging from your purchases, your best hope of putting together a dinner hinges on your ability to track down a creative casserole recipe that combines apples and pasta. And your meal prep containers? They'll have to wait for another time.

Learn to circle MyPlate

Going to the grocery store without a list is a lot like driving through an unfamiliar state without a map. Even if you have a good sense of direction, you need details to guide you and keep you on the right track.

As a beginner to food prep and meal preparation, you cannot possibly be expected to wisely fill your meal prep containers and prepare healthy meals if you're uncertain about what you should eat in the first place. MyPlate can serve as your map as you circle the plate and learn what a healthy meal looks like. Only then can you write a grocery list that mirrors your preferences—and never have to lay eyes on another sorry looking grocery assortment again.

Build your own healthy plate

As historical buffs may know, the USDA retired its long-criticized Food Pyramid in 2011 and replaced it with MyPlate. The goals of the two initiatives, however, remained unchanged: to point Americans in the direction of following a diet with the proper amount of nutrients, an appropriate number of calories to maintain or improve weight, and a limited amount of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar and sodium.

The visually appealing MyPlate is divided into four colored sections—devoted to fruits, vegetables, grains and protein—with a smaller circle situated on the right side of the plate. This circle resembles a small cup, denoting dairy. In its totality, MyPlate provides a simple, at-a-glance look at what you should see on your own plate while filling in the sections with choices to suit your palate. Perhaps its most striking feature is that half the plate is “covered” with fruits and vegetables.

As it does every five years, the USDA provides a comprehensive look at dietary trends and statistics before issuing dietary recommendations. The most recent version—“Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015 to 2020”—begins with a purposeful introduction: “nutrition and health are closely related.”

Dig in to some appetizing plate tips

Few people would argue with that assertion. And even fewer are bound to recoil from MyPlate as they did from the somewhat technical pyramid. Part of the reason? Even before breaking down those four colored sections on MyPlate, the USDA offers a baker's dozen of tips to guide your efforts and help you write a clean eating grocery list:

  • Learn how many calories you need ( to manage your weight and then balance this intake with physical activity
  • Limit empty calories to less than 260 per day, based on a 2,000 calorie daily diet
  • Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains
  • Vary your protein food choices
  • Switch to 1 percent or skim milk
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks
  • Consult the Nutrition Facts label on food and choose those labeled “low sodium,” "reduced sodium” or “no salt added”
  • Cut back on foods high in solid fats, added sugars and salt, including cookies, cake, ice cream, pizza and fatty meats such as bacon, sausage and hot dogs
  • Incorporate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products into your diet to supply important nutrients such as calcium, fiber, potassium and vitamin D
  • Avoid oversized portions
  • Take the time to fully enjoy the food on your plate while paying attention to when you're feeling full—then pushing back from your plate when you've had enough

Set a placemat for your plate

Based on that 2,000 calorie per day diet, you should fill your plate (and, by extension, your meal prep containers) with:

  • Fruits: 2 cups per day. Think of 1 cup as 1 cup of raw or cooked fruit, 100 percent fruit juice or ½ cup of dried fruit
  • Vegetables: 2½ cups per day. Think of 1 cup as 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice or the equivalent of 2 cups of leafy salad greens
  • Grains: 6 ounces per day. Think of 1 ounce of grain as one slice of bread, ½ cup of cooked rice, cereal or pasta or 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal
  • Protein foods: 5½ ounces per day. Think of 1 ounce of protein as 1 ounce of lean meat, chicken or fish, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, ½ ounce of nuts or seeds or ¼ cup of beans or peas
  • Dairy: 3 cups per day. Think of 1 cup as 1 cup of milk, yogurt or fortified soy milk, 1½ ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese

Pen a grocery list with confidence

By now, the picture should be coming together, which is exactly what the USDA intended when it devised MyPlate. It allows you to create a plate that is personalized for you (while not forgetting to fill the meal prep containers that will help make your kitchen time more efficient). Write your grocery list with confidence, ensuring that it teems with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and dairy products. And don't forget other essentials, such as:

  • Spices and seasonings
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Tofu
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Organic peanut butter
  • Organic (“just fruit”) fruit spread
  • Organic marinara sauce and whole wheat pasta

Your plate will be even more palatable with Meal Plan Magic at your side. This fresh meal planning tool can help you write a clean eating grocery list and then some: It will guide you to making delicious meals and snacks while factoring in your nutritional goals. And, if you wish, it can guide you to fat loss and muscle gain—worthwhile goals no matter what your age. You might not think of meal planning as magic, but Meal Plan Magic might change your mind. It is the ideal condiment to every snack and meal you present on your plate, every day.