Clean Eating Challenge, Day 3: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I was apprehensive about signing up for the Clean Eating Challenge. Despite the fact that I could essentially make my own rules, and regardless of the support I would get from my fellow clean eaters, I was nervous.

So Monday, I started the challenge the only way I could: extreme preparation.

I went at it like the Ingalls family stocking up for a long winter in the Big Woods. But instead of shooting deer, smoking meat in a hollow tree and hanging onions in the attic, I stocked the refrigerator with so many Tupperware containers of cooked grains, chopped vegetables and hardboiled eggs I could barely get the door closed.


And then I cooked some more.

On Tuesday, I continued to “prepare for winter.” However, I realized that rather than an industrious pioneer family stockpiling for the months ahead, I had become a grizzly bear gorging itself in the last days before hibernation.

I wasn’t just cooking; I was sampling everything I cooked. And by 4:00 that afternoon, my stomach was so full I wasn’t sure I’d be able to eat the dinner I’d already partially made.

But of course I did.

Needless to say, I have not had trouble finding, making and eating “clean” food. And I have some great recipes to share with you.

That doesn’t mean it’s been all sunshine and garbanzo beans, though. And so I give you:




I’ve limited myself to two cups of coffee a day (one in the morning, one in the afternoon) and swapped my coconut milk creamer (which contained a teensy bit of added sugar) with 1% milk. Okay, my one morning cup may be supplemented with a “warm up” pour, but I’m not on a constant drip like I was last week.

I ate my standby granola on Monday.  Tuesday I felt obligated to shake things up. I did not have much time to figure out how: Rory had a bad night, so we had all slept later than usual and were running late to get Noah to school.

I searched “Clean Eating Breakfasts” on Pinterest and used the first one I came across. It’s from The Gracious Pantry. You can also find it on my Clean Eating Challenge board.

Clean Eating Quinoa With Fresh Berries and Almonds

(From The Gracious Pantry)

breakfast quinoa


  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 4 teaspoons honey or maple syrup (optional)


  1. Cook quinoa according to package directions.
  2. Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium heat
  3. 4 minutes or until warm. Divide quinoa evenly
  4. among 4 bowls; pour warm milk over quinoa.
  5. Top with strawberries, blueberries and almonds.
  6. Drizzle each serving with 1 teaspoon honey, if desired.

Number of servings (yield): 4

I probably wouldn’t have made this recipe if I didn’t already have a big batch of quinoa in the fridge. I scoffed at heating the milk (I used almond milk) on the stove. (Is the microwave not considered “clean”? Well, mine might not be, but that’s a different issue.) But I did toast some almonds. I thought the dish was going to be really boring, but the strawberries gave it sweetness and the toasted slivered almonds provided a nice crunch.


Monday I had a salad. It wasn’t too much of a departure from my standard weekday salad, except I had to find something to replace the protein of the veggie burger I usually eat with it. Hardboiled eggs and avocado did a pretty good job. I also replaced my bottled creamy dressing with oil and vinegar (roughly 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar, seasoned with salt and pepper).

On Tuesday, Rory and I split an apple and the leftovers from Monday’s dinner: Roasted Tofu and Cauliflower Curry. This was originally a Weight Watchers recipe, and I’ve been making it for nearly ten years. Pat and the kids all like it (once I learned to reduce the cayenne to about 1/16 of a teaspoon). It takes a while to roast, but you can prep it in advance and then throw it in the oven.

Roasted Tofu and Cauliflower Curry


cauliflower curry


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons curry powder (I add a dash of cayenne with the curry)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 pound extra firm tofu, drained and cubed into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium head cauliflower cut or broken into 1 1/2 pieces
  • 4 cups cooked brown rice
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Gently press tofu between several layers of paper towels to remove excess water.
  2. Warm a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil, spices and salt; swirl skillet to combine. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until onions are very wilted and browned, about 8-9 minutes.
  3. Combine pieces of cauliflower and cubed tofu in a large bowl. Pour onion mixture into bowl and coat with cooking spray (alternately, you can drizzle a bit more olive oil into the bowl). Mix with spoon to thoroughly coat. Spread mixture onto a baking sheet in an even later. Roast, stirring three times until cauliflower and tofu are golden brown and very fragrant, 30 – 45 minutes. Serve over rice. (Sometimes I also mix in microwaved green peas to add color.)
The meals have been doing a pretty good job of keeping me full, but snacks are still mandatory. Here are some of my “clean eating” options.
  • Almonds
  • Clementines
  • Popcorn – probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of “clean eating,” but Orville Redenbacher’s “Naturals” seems to fit the bill.
  • Homemade hummus – I love hummus, but had never made it before. It was so easy, I wasn’t sure what took me so long. Actually, I do know. I had never owned tahini before the detox last year. I bought some, then never used it. Tuesday, I ventured into the deepest, darkest corner of my pantry to find it.

Homemade Hummus

(From Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything: The Basics)



  • 2 medium garlic cloves, or more to taste (I used jarred)
  • 2 cups cooked or drained canned chickpeas (liquid reserved if you cook them yourself)
  • 1/2 cup tahini, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, or more as needed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste (I had to use bottled, it was fine)
  • 1 tablespoon paprika or cumin, plus more for garnish (I used cumin)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish


  1. Put the garlic in a food processor or blender and pulse the machine until the cloves are chopped up a bit.
  2. Add the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice and paprika or cumin and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn on the machine and let it run ,adding the chickpea cooking liquid or more oil – 1 tablespoon at a time – until you get a smooth puree.
  3. Taste and adjust the seasoning and pulse the machine a few more times to combine. Serve, drizzled with another tablespoon of oil if you like, and sprinkled with a pinch of paprika and the parsley.

I served it with carrots and cucumbers, and it was delicious and really filling. The kids liked it, too.


We had the Roasted Tofu and Cauliflower Curry (recipe above) on Monday night. It was good, though I did have a moment of mourning when I remembered the pack of garlic naan I had bought last week to go with the curry. But I got over it.

On Tuesday, I used part of Rory’s nap time to get started on dinner, Crispy Quinoa and Bean Patties. This is another recipe that I’ve made several times before (and shared on Facebook in the past). It was an easy choice because it meets two key dinner requirements: it’s hearty and everyone in the family likes it.

I was finishing up when Pat got home.  He told me he wasn’t feeling very well. “Don’t worry about dinner,” he said.

At this point, I was already up to my wrists in the quinoa mixture, forming patties to put on the griddle. “It’s already almost done.”

“What is it?”

I told him about the patties. His face told me it was not the bland, lightweight dinner a person who wasn’t feeling well had in mind.

I then used my face – my eyebrows in particular – to tell him that I had been slaving over these patties for a good part of the afternoon, most of the time with a crying child’s arms wrapped around my thighs, and I really hoped he was going to make a good effort to eat them.

I’d like to say the sugar withdrawal was responsible for my behavior. The reverse “Twinkie Defense.” But of course I’d be lying.

“Fine. But no more with the eyebrows tonight, okay? And just a little salad.”

I kept my eyebrows in a neutral position. And he cleaned his plate.

Crispy Quinoa and Bean Patties

(From Real Simple)

quinoa cakes

See how the lighting is so much better on this photo? I ran onto the porch to take it right before dinner. If you lean in toward the photo and listen very carefully, you can hear two small boys banging on a window and yelling “Mom, what are you doing???”


  • 3 cups cooked quinoa
  • 3 cups cooked sweet potatoes and kale, roughly chopped (I made these in advance – sauteed about 3/4 pounds sweet potatoes, diced, with 3/4 pounds – or about 7 cups – torn kale leaves)
  • 1 15.5-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan (about 2 oz)
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • olive oil


  1. In a medium bowl, mash the beans with a fork. Add the quinoa, sweet potatoes and kale, eggs, Parmesan, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and mix to combine. Dividing evenly, form the mixture into twelve 3-inch patties (about ½ cup each).
  2. Heat  oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. In batches, cook the patties until browned and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes per side (adding more oil if necessary).


I knew I wanted to try this recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal Balls the first time I saw it on Pinterest. I had survived Monday without anything sweet and wasn’t sure how much longer I’d last. I plunked the kids in front of Sesame Street and got to work.

Clean Eating Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal Balls




  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/4 cup cocoa {naturally unsweetened}
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut {unsweetened}
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter {look for a jar with peanuts (and maybe salt) as the ONLY ingredient/s}
  • 1/4 cup raw honey


  1. Stir all dry ingredients together to mix well. Add the wet ingredients and blend well. Sometimes it’s best to use your hands to ensure the ingredients get fully incorporated.
  2. Use a small cookie scoop to get even sized balls. Roll each ball by hand. Chill in fridge until ready to serve.

The recipe was for a  pretty small batch. Many commenters on the recipe mentioned that they were glad it only made about a dozen, because they’d hate to eat too many.

So, naturally, I doubled it.

At first I thought I overdid it with the doubling. I made the balls pretty small, so there must have been nearly 40. But everyone in the family likes them, so I expect that they’ll go fast.

I really like them. I don’t LOVE them – they kind of remind me of cookie dough, and I keep wanting to put them in the oven and experience a warm, gooey version of them. But they’re a good option when I want something sweet.


I want a beer. Right now. I will not deny that. Rory has been sleeping badly, screaming out for me at 4:30 a.m. and insisting that I carry him everywhere. (“Carrot!” he demands, raising his arms.) Noah has been protesting bedtime in a more sophisticated, argumentative, able to come down stairs and bang on locked doors sort of way. Both have made for an exhausting week.

But I’m going to see how long I can hold out. If for no other reason than that I will really, really enjoy that next beer.


Okay, I cook most nights, so I’m used to standing in front of the stove, and I’m used to dishes. But these last two days of Ingalls-level prep have been unprecedented (unless you’re counting, say, Thanksgiving) in the sheer time spent in the kitchen, both cooking and doing dishes.

There are a lot of dishes.


My back is killing me. Sure, maybe it’s partially to blame on an over-zealous trip to the Y yesterday, or Rory’s constant need to be “carroted.” But my lower back is a wreck, and I’m sure that standing in the kitchen on my flat feet for long stretches of the day can’t be helping.


All in all, it’s not too bad. I’d give it a 6 on the agony-to-ecstasy scale. But please meet my fellow clean eaters and me back here throughout the week to see what we (and our eyebrows) have to say about it then.

Are you joining us in this Clean Eating Challenge this week? What rating would you give it?