Changing the way you or your family eats can be daunting at first. The change will be even harder if members of the family are used to a diet filled with food that has always fit the “junk” category. But what about the foods that are junk, we just haven’t been told they are yet? I first started changing my diet due to health issues, going gluten free for over a year. I have since brought the gluten back (in respectable amounts) but continue on in my research for real food. At first you want to believe that what the media and the masses tell you is true: a low fat and low caloric diet is what is best. Unfortunately that is just not true. Due to the mass amounts of food consumed on the go, the products we buy in the stores are made and packaged differently than the food you (and your parents) ate as a child. Preservatives, genetically modified ingredients, and fake sugar (including the unsavory high fructose corn syrup) are now in everything. You may think you are eating a low sugar diet by cutting out the sweets and desserts… until you realize that your bread, lunch meat, baked chips, apple sauce, and juice blend all contain at least one form of sugar or chemically created sugar tasting substitute. When searching out what foods to eat and what foods to avoid- and even how to cook those foods, I found a community dense in information and lingo. Soaked grains? Ghee? Raw Milk? Lacto- Fermentation? What I thought would be an easy “eat this, not that” type of community instead harbored men and women passionate about food- to the point where I needed to not only research what they were eating, but what they were saying and who they were quoting and where on earth they found their ingredients.
So, here is my little list. Easy ways to go from hot pockets and mac-n-cheese from a blue box three times a week to REAL food eating. Even if you change one thing, you are on the right path. Some things are easier to do in pairs, as one might lessen your budget and one might add to it. These are just my tips of what helped us (with a junk food loving husband) move toward a lifestyle of eating real food- and passing on that love for food to our daughter. Some of these tips might seem unrealistic to working parents that do not have the time to cook throughout the day. But there are things that can be done in a limited amount of time- just 10-15 minutes a day. Start with those and see.
1. Stop Buying Processed Drinks
No more soda, no more juice. No more tea blends, sports drinks, or chocolate/sugar milks. You can do it. Not only will your food bill lessen, your consumption in poorly digestible refined and fake sugars will drop considerably. Juice is not real food, either. Juice is pasteurized, killing off practically all nutrients. That is why they have to be “fortified” with (usually) synthetic vitamins and minerals. Think your body processes those the same? Juice is paving the way to mass soda consumption when older. Instead of buying these drinks- make your own! Lemonade and Orange Juice are easy to make even without juicing supplies. You can make iced coffee, iced tea (sweet, green, red, whatever), and above all- you can drink more water. Even add fruit or vegetables to it.
2. Be Selective About Your Dairy
Forgo the margarine for real butter. Margarine is horrible for you. Due to the mass amounts of antibiotics and hormones given to cows that mass produce milk, it is wise to only buy organic dairy. If you know that the cows are grass-fed, better. If the milk is low heat pasteurized, even better. And if you own cow shares (to get raw milk in states that do not allow it to be sold) or are fortunate to live in a state where raw milk can be sold, that is best. When buying at the store, go for full fat as well. That means whole milk, full fat yogurt and sour cream, and good real cheeses. You might need to do some searching to find the kinds that you like. Fat in diary is needed to digest it properly and to get your full amount of vitamins and minerals.
3. Have A Hot Breakfast
This is more meaning have a real breakfast- but usually that means it is hot. We all don’t have time every day to make biscuits and gravy, bacon, grits, eggs and french toast. But try to make a hot real food breakfast. That could be just scrambled eggs with cheese. Maybe toast with real butter and local honey. Oatmeal is an easy hot breakfast. We have tried quick oats, old fashioned oats, and steel cut oats. They all taste different and have different consistencies (and cooking times). If you dislike one, try the others! Mixing it with milk, honey, fruit, or nuts makes the meal different. Another easy breakfast is fruit and granola with whole milk yogurt. It is quick and delicious. If you are really strapped for time, maybe a green smoothie is best. Just try to stay away from the cereal and pop tart trap.
4. Get To Know Your Butcher
Get your meat from a local butcher. You can ask where the meat came from that way. They will tell you everything you need to know, and you don’t have to worry about it’s age, where it came from, if the animal had antibiotics or hormones, or if it ate a corn-heavy diet. The quality is almost always better. Hopefully you can find a butcher that is selective in his beef- taking it from grass-fed local cows. It is also handy to find out what he has on stock, and then having it cut up or ground the way you want it. You also do not need to worry about pink slime.
5. Donate Your Microwave
Microwaves do a good job heating up food. So good in fact, that it destroys most nutritional value in whatever you are cooking due to the way it heats. It actually changes the molecular composition of the food (kind of creepy). If you are heating up frozen packaged food products you probably aren’t changing the nutritional value since there is little to none to begin with, but with reheating leftovers you are. If you are trying to cut out processed junk food, throw out your microwave first. We have been microwave free for 8 months now and I haven’t looked back. Surprisingly my husband doesn’t seem to bent up about it either. If you want something, try a toaster oven. It cooks food slowly and you can still reheat your leftovers. Related Article on Microwaves.
6. Go For Dry, Not Canned
Most are aware of BPA in plastic because it is no longer in most baby products. But BPA is still in most of our plastics and even more so in the plastic lining in cans. Research has also found that cans containing acidic forms (like tomatoes) have higher amounts of BPA in the product. Buying dry instead of canned is also cheaper. It can take longer to cook, but the taste is better and it will be healthier. Here is an interesting article about BPA testing in canned goods.
7. If It Has HFCS, Don’t Buy It
This is a pretty simple one. High fructose corn syrup is a cheap substitute for refined sugar. And although it tastes like sugar it is digested and processed differently, taxing the body more. And like mentioned earlier, it is in so many packaged goods now that it would seem most people are constantly straining to digest HFCS. So make sure to check your bread! There are so many articles about the dangers of HFCS, just Google it.
7. Buy A Simple Cookbook and Commit to Using it
Sometimes it is just lack of time in the kitchen that finds our diets weakening. If cooking real food daunts you- get a simple every day cookbook that uses mostly real ingredients. You probably will still find recipes that require condensed soup or ketchup. And you don’t have to be all or nothing- especially in the beginning. But learning how to work with food- making sauce, gravy, and simple things like soups and casseroles really opens your mind to what food should taste like. If your kids love macaroni and cheese just wait until they taste it homemade with fresh cheese and a thick homemade sauce made by your loving hands. Start simple and quick. Move on as you get more comfortable if you have never been a cook. Try just one night a week where you make a fresh healthy meal from scratch (maybe with the help of your kids, too). Move up from there if you want. In doing this, your only going to nourish your family more, not less.
Hopefully these tips helped those wanting to start eating more real food yet still living in the same world- not one with grain grinders, canning supplies, or herbal shop member cards. You choose the balance… these are just a few easy ways to start.
I have done some more reading on some of your info. Thanks for the challenge to become more healthy in our food choices!
thanks for all the helpful advice. I love cooking and have become slightly obsessed about reading ingredient labels!
Great ideas! Thanks for sharing!
This is a great post thanks for sharing Arianna. It's a topic near and dear to my heart so I really appreciate the ideas and suggestions. I'd love to know more about microwaves, we don't have any processed foods at home but I do use the microwave to heat up/steam fresh vegetables, like beans, peas, broccoli etc. I give them 2-3 mins with a spoonful of water and they are usually cooked perfectly so they are still slightly crunchy. I think I'll have to check the research on how healthy this really is!
I found this to be interesting and doable. Some of the suggested items we are already doing, and I will definitely try to add in more. Thanks