It can be overwhelming to overhaul your diet, especially if you are used to eating a lot of processed foods. There is so much conflicting information out there and labels can be really misleading and confusing. I recommend starting by watching Food Inc. reading Michael Pollan’s food rules and visiting the 100 Days of Real Food website. I also recommend In Defense of Food. It’s not an easy read, but it’s an eye opener and really gets you thinking about why you should eat real food. And, remember, real food may be more expensive now, but it’s certainly cheaper than future medical bills!
While most organic/natural/real foods will be more expensive, the biggest commitment for me isn’t money. It’s time. I have to take the time to cook, to prepare foods and be more involved in the whole eating process. (If you have more money than time, you can buy boxed organic foods and make your life easier.)
Here are 10 ideas to get you started:
- Start Fresh: If you currently eat a lot of processed foods, begin slowly so as not to shock your system. Start by adding fresh fruits and vegetables. Pick up your Bountiful Basket or going to the grocery store and load up on the fruits & veggies (organic if possible- but any is better than none). Start adding fruit to your breakfast (on top of cereal or waffles or as a side to eggs), prepare a large container of sliced fruits and veggies (and/or a large fruit salad) for snacks twice a day in between meals. Include fruits and veggies at lunch- I love to use those sectioned trays (Target) that way I remember to fill them with fruits and veggies. Plan your main meal around a vegetable.
- De-Junk: Evaluate your lifestyle and eliminate those things that are just plain bad (soda, coffee, chips, candy, processed sweets) and reduce the number of times you eat out. That should free up some extra money to put towards healthier choices (one night on the town for a family of five is equivalent to a weeks worth of groceries). Keep track of all the money you spend on food, you’ll be surprised at how unplanned purchases add up. Check the labels of everything in your pantry. Donate anything with more than 8 grams of added sugar, contains high fructose corn syrup and anything else that you aren’t familiar with or can’t pronounce. The general rule is more than 5 items- however if those 5 items are real food items, then it’s ok.
- Make a plan: Plan out your meals in advance (see below for great recipes sites) and purchase a weeks worth of food. I use this free Grocery Planner to keep track of the food I need to buy and what meals I have planned for each day. I like to base my meals around my bountiful basket- this way meals are vegetable based (rather than meat based) and I don’t have to buy as much. If you double the recipe then you can freeze some to save for later which also cuts down on preparation time.
- Buy REAL food: Go shopping! Walmart and Costco do have a lot of organic food, but you have to search for them, even at the healthier stores you still need to read your labels. Shop at farmers markets and seek out local food providers. Check out these websites for local providers http://www.eatwellguide.org/ http://www.localharvest.org/ and http://www.eatwild.com/ If it’s artificial, you can’t pronounce an ingredient or don’t know what an ingredient is, don’t buy it! Do what you can with your budget. If you can’t afford organic produce, it’s ok, buy regular produce- but buy a lot of it and have that be the primary thing you eat (and wash well!).
- Upgrade your bread to 100% whole grain. Make sure there is no added sugar or processed “stuff” in your bread. This is my favorite whole wheat bread recipe I’ve been making for more than 6 years.
- Buy brown rice or barley instead of white rice, whole oats instead of processed oatmeal mixes, make your own granola instead of boxed cereals (there are some great organic brands- I love Kashi and Cascadian Farms cereals- but still check your labels!)
- Add beans to your diet. I have a lot of bean recipes on my food blog. I purchased this fabulous Fagor 3 in 1 multi-cooker and can pressure cook dried beans in 20 minutes. Add to a salad or put inside a whole wheat tortilla with tomatoes and avocado and it makes for a quick and healthy meal.
- Buy a large container of honey and use it to replace sugar. Here’s a good list of what is considered a natural sweetener and what isn’t- as you’ll find out when you take your first shopping trip it’s impossible to figure out by reading the package- they all say natural! I picked up some “raw sugar” which apparently to the uber natural people is still refined- so technically I shouldn’t be using it… But like I said before, I’m flexible (and am not going to drive myself insane about it- woman cannot live on honey alone!)
- Eat meat in moderation, especially red meat. A piece of bacon isn’t going to kill you, but a piece of bacon a day might. Rather than eating a big hunk of meat, try eating it as a side dish or only adding a small portion of meat and spreading it out over several meals. Try adding fish to your diet if you’re not already eating it. This is a hard one for me because I wasn’t raised on fish and don’t particularly care for it, however I’ve found that if you buy high quality fish like halibut, salmon and tilapia, they don’t really have much of a flavor as long as you don’t overcook them. If you are addicted to meat, buying more expensive meats may help to curb that craving. Don’t elminate meat completely- but rather than eating a huge chunk of it, use a small portion and spread it out over 2-3 meals. Buy the most natural things you can with the budget you have. I think you’ll find that the more you load up on fruits and veggies the less room you have in your tummy for meats and dairy which are the most expensive items (and the most controversial).
- Check your milk to make sure it says NO artificial growth hormones and buy the freshest eggs and cheese you can find.
- Table manners: Eat together as a family- at the table. No eating in front of the tv! Use this as a time to talk with your children and grow closer as a family. If your kids are older- involve them in the cooking and meal planning. Even little kids can understand the value of healthy eating. My five year old grabs a plate of veggies and says “I’m not going to get diabetes!”
Use small plates and bowls. The larger the plate/bowl the more you’ll eat. Smaller dishes give the appearance of more food, and since American’s are trained to clean their plate- that’s exactly what you’ll do.
Eat slowly, drink lots of water and stop eating before you are full. As you learn to listen to your body you will stop overeating and will be satisfied with less food. Drinking a large glass of water with a meal also helps you to feel more full. Eating empty calories never satisfies.
- Buy some tools: I highly recommend purchasing a pressure cooker (the Fagor 3 in 1 multi-cooker is FABULOUS), dried beans and rice are much less expensive than canned beans and instant rice and with a pressure cooker only takes 20 minutes. Baking bread also saves me a ton of money. I also love my food processor (which you can also use to mix bread, tortillas, etc) and helps save on a lot of time consuming chopping and processing- perfect for making larabars. If you base your meals around vegetables, beans and grains you will actually save a ton of money over boxed/canned/frozen foods and that money you’re saving can go towards purchasing healthier produce, dairy and meats (good quality meats are very expensive- another good reason to reduce your overall meat intake).
- Plant a garden: Obviously I’d love to have a huge garden and grow all my own food, but that’s not a possibility right now. But I can grow a few herbs and a potted tomato plant or two though. I can also re-grow green onions simply by putting them in a cup of water.
- Experiment: Choose one new grain and learn to use it. Chef Brad has some fabulous videos about cooking with whole grains. A great grain is quinoa- it might take some getting used to the texture but it is a serious superfood (and a complete protein). Here’s a great quinoa breakfast cereal.Experiment with modifying recipes (i.e. honey for sugar, butter/coconut oil for vegetable oils & shortenings, whole grains for white rice).
Try new fruits and vegetables. Starfruit, artichokes, asparagus, kale, (just watch out for papaya- tastes like vomit to some people- I found that out the hard way!)
- Exercise: You might think this has nothing to do with eating real food, but actually it does. I have found that when I am munching too many empty carbs I feel sluggish. When I eat healthy I suddenly get the urge to exercise, and when I exercise I have the urge to eat healthy. Even if it’s just going for a walk around the block, try to get outside and move for a few minutes every day.
- Be realistic: Don’t stress too much. If your kids (or your husband) eat an oreo or if you swing by the drive through in a moment of toddler starvation they’re not going to keel over. Just serve the healthiest food you can at home and don’t worry about the rest!
Here are just a few websites I’ve found that offer great real food recipes (not every recipe is, as with all food- you must check the recipe and may need to make some substitutions):
Fabulous Foods (my recipe site that I will am updating): http://ldsbaker.blogspot.com/ click on Real Food
100 Days of Real Food: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/real-food-resources/
Whole Foods: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/
Food Renegade http://www.foodrenegade.com/recipes/
Deliciously Organic: http://deliciouslyorganic.net/
Enlightened Cooking: http://enlightenedcooking.blogspot.com/
The Joy of Clean Eating: http://thejoyofcleaneating.com/
Happy Healthy Mama: http://happyhealthymama.com/
Gluten Free Goddess: http://glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com/p/site-index.html
Kath Eats Real Food: http://www.katheats.com/favorite-foods
The Clean Eating Mama: http://www.thecleaneatingmama.com/2009/06/recipes_01.html