For some, the interest in this journey might come from an article online that talks about the benefits of bone broth or lard. For others, it might be health problems that make them start considering a change to the diet. Maybe it will begin with you when you are on a field trip with your child at a local farm. Maybe a few backyard chickens will be the catalyst that lights your passion for getting back to the truth about food. Or maybe the light will simply come on when you read the ingredient list on the box of your favorite cereal, cookies, or boxed mix, and you realize that your body just was never meant to ingest these things!
I think for me, it was a really slow progression that was influenced by little things and bits of information at a time that finally clicked. The beginning of my journey was mostly about replacing the packaged and processed foods we ate- from snacks to dinner ingredients- with truly homemade, made from scratch alternatives. Somewhere in there I began to seek out more grass-fed meats, better milk options, healthier fats. Then, along the way, I began replacing my non-stick pots and pans with cast iron, stainless steel and stoneware. Natural Remedies fascinate me…and the journey continues!
And though the journey continues, I can say my pantry, refrigerator and cabinets looks totally different than they did 5 years ago, and I absolutely believe we are the better for it. The further I get from the packaged and processed, the less I want it.
But, I’ll be honest. Though this journey is extremely rewarding and exciting, it can also be VERY overwhelming and even discouraging sometimes. There is SO much to learn, so many changes to make, and sometimes the options are very few. I might not know where to find grass-fed beef, or I can’t afford dairy herd shares to give me access to raw milk. Sometimes I find it overwhelming that just when I think I am doing something right, I find out I was really mis-informed.
But, don’t throw in the towel!
Here are a few extremely simple and practical tips that have helped me (and still do!) as my family has transitioned into more Real Foods.
1. DON’T BE OVERWHELMED- TAKE IT SLOW
Like I said, there is so much to learn and change, that the task can become discouraging. I would suggest taking one thing at a time. Don’t decide today that you are going to go completely organic, completely local, no more of this, no more of that- what about the nonstick pots and pans I am using, what about GMOs, what about…..fill in the blank.
You will burn out before you get started, and so will your wallet!
Choose one or two aspects that you want to work on first. Maybe it is switching from margarine to butter. Or maybe finding someone who sells fresh eggs and buying those instead of the store eggs. Do that, get used to it and then move on to something else.
We are talking about a lifestyle change, a new way of eating for life- not something that is like a diet that you “do” for a month or two. So, there is time for this journey.
2. REALLY REALIZE WHAT YOU ARE EATING
When the light switch turned on in my brain, I realized that a LOT of the foods I was buying each week, were highly processed, and filled with things my family and I were never meant to consume. I had always thought of myself as someone who made good, home-cooked meals for my family- I cooked every day. But, I was using ingredients like canned biscuits, canned cream of chicken soup, margarine, sugary and fake syrup, Crisco, preapred tortillas, store-bought bread, Oreos, Ritz Crackers. This was just normal.
But, when you really start to examine your food for what is really IN it- I think you will be amazed at the amounts of chemicals and made-up ingredients that you are consuming each week- even each DAY.
Challenge yourself to take a week or two, when you grocery-shop, and really look at the labels of what you are buying. Then ask yourself if these are ingredients that you are really comfortable consuming.
This made such a huge difference for me to just simply realize what was in my ‘food’. When you have been eating/buying the same things all your life, you don’t think about what is in it. I never wondered what I was really eating when I added that crisco to my cookie recipe. That’s what I had always used. But- now I do know. My grocery cart has totally changed. And I find that exciting.
3. LEARN TO READ LABELS
This one kinda goes with #2. I hardly ever used to read many labels at the store. I knew what I needed, grabbed it off the shelf, and that was that. Now- I read labels ALL the time. It just takes a quick glance. If you see a laundry list of unpronounceable ingredients- you need to find a different alternative.
But don’t be discouraged. Not all brands are the same! Just because your favorite brand looks like another food you will have to add to the “no-no list”, doesn’t mean you will have to say good-bye completely.
I was always generally a “store-brand” shopper. After all, it was cheaper, usually!
However, I have found that often (not always- but often) the store- brand will contain more fillers and fake ingredients than other brands. Of course, this is also true for other name brands, too.
Sometimes, all you need to do is switch to a brand that offers a better and more “whole” product.
On the other side of the coin- it’s important to check the labels of ingredients that you “think” are probably ok- there have SO many times that I checked a label of a food that I thought was ‘clean’, only to be surprised at the added ingredients!
4. BE WILLING TO SPEND MORE MONEY
I know this is a hard one. We are a one-income family, and my husband certainly does not make a large salary. We have to budget. There isn’t a lot of money left over each month. So, the cost of Real Foods is definitely a consideration. It’s true- organic food, different brands, even ingredients like butter are more expensive. But, I think this is something you have to decide is important enough to be worth the extra cost. We are talking about your overall health for a lifetime.
So, once again- I’d say go slow. Allow your budget to get used to a few changes at a time.
(I do believe that you will eventually see yourself spending less money on medications and doctor’s visits as you learn to nourish your body through wholesome foods, and more natural remedies.)
5. GET IN THE KITCHEN
Eating more homemade, whole foods is going to require you to do more baking, cooking, and preparing of your own food. And this is really my biggest thrust for this blog. To encourage you to make more of your food on your own. Yes, try to buy more organic, more local, grass-fed, etc. But, if nothing else- quit buying the packaged and processed and make your OWN foods.
Homemade foods are going to always be worlds better for you than the processed counter-part. Yes, I do still make cookies and baked goods that contain sugar, even though refined sugar is a controversial ingredient as far as whole foods go. However, I firmly believe that a cookie made in my own kitchen with 5 or 6 ingredients is a far better choice than a packaged cookie that contains all those preservatives and harmful chemicals.
Of course, there are many ways to accomplish this to fit your schedule. For me, I am a stay-at-home mom. I don’t have to work around a career job, but I do have 4 little ones demanding my attention and help. So, I do have to be intentional about planning. You don’t have to make everything in one day. Spread it out over the week.
Make a weekly menu that includes all your dinners and ideas for lunch, breakfasts, and snacks, so that you have your ingredients on hand and you don’t get caught at the last minute wondering what to prepare for dinner. Take a Saturday, if needed, to make homemade granola for breakfast, or homemade cookies instead of packaged ones, render some lard in the crock pot or allow a chicken stock to slow-cook while you are doing other things. Allow dough to knead and rise in a bread machine while you do your other chores, and enjoy homemade hamburger buns with your dinner. If you have to leave for the day, make a meal in the crock pot.
We have so many conveniences in our kitchens today that women never dreamed of a hundred years ago- yet these women prepared all their own food. We have crock pots, refrigerators and freezers, electric mixers. Put these wonderful conveniences to use and get in the kitchen!
6. FIND A LOCAL FARM
Finding a local farmer that you can trust is going to be really helpful. Small farmers are so knowledgeable and can help to steer you in the right direction when you have questions about Real Food. They also will be able to provide you with foods that you can’t find in the grocery store- like grass-fed meats, real lard, soup bones, organic produce and grains. And, of course, there is also the wonderful benefit of supporting small farmers and local business.
7. BECOME INFORMED– the internet is filled with really wonderful information about real food and nutrition. Start reading articles that promote whole foods and natural living, and learn about their health benefits. This will continue to inspire you as you learn more and more about the nutrition that can be found in homemade, unprocessed, real food.
8. BE PREPARED TO LEARN AND RE-LEARN
There have been so many times on this journey, when I think I am doing something right, only to find out that I was mis-informed and doing it wrong. Or, I will read a new article that opens up a whole new aspect that needs change that I had never even thought of before. It feels like one step forward, and two steps back sometimes. But, don’t get discouraged. Yes, there is a lot to re-learn. But- remember Tip #1- Don’t get overwhelmed. Take the new information, decide what you are going to do with it, or even just put it on the back burner until you are ready to tackle it.
There are changes I have made in the past month, that I wouldn’t have been ready to change two years ago.
9. USE COMMON SENSE
I have found that just about everything that you read is GOOD for you- someone else will also say it is BAD for you. Opinions and new theories are never in want.
You need to use your own common sense. There are certain thoughts on foods that sometimes just don’t seem to jive in my mind. I like to ask myself how long people have been eating particular foods, or using particular methods. Is this something new within the last 50 or 100 years? Is this something that has been done for centuries? What do other countries do? Is this a whole food that God created, or is it something made and changed by man?
10. DON’T ALLOW THIS LIFESTYLE TO BECOME YOUR IDOL
#10 and #11 kinda go together. Changing to a more Natural Lifestyle touches so many parts of your life- from the foods you eat, to the makeup you wear, to the products you clean your house with, to the foods you will or will not eat. There is blog after blog, article after article with benefits of this and dangers of that. Don’t allow yourself to become so wrapped up in this lifestyle, that it begins to rule you.
Yes, we do want to change our mentality and the choices that we make, but, we don’t want to live in fear every time somebody offers our child a cookie from the grocery store shelves or prepares you a feast of processed convenience foods.
Don’t allow yourself to become so obsessed with this journey, that it begins to be your sole focus, the essence of what drives you.
I have known people who have become so driven by healthy eating and who limited their choices so much that it completely ruled everything they did, isolated them from others, and they eventually became pretty unhappy people.
God gave us food for our nourishment and our enjoyment. He didn’t have to give us taste buds, and He didn’t have to make food something that we enjoy. It could have been one of those things that was a necessary, but not really ‘enjoyable’ part of life- like going to the bathroom :).
Let’s be sure to keep the Creator of the food and our health above those things that he created.
11. BE GRACIOUS
Remember that not everyone is going to be on the same page as you. Just because this has become an important passion to you, does not mean all of your friends and family are going to jump on the bandwagon. Yeah, you might get some funny looks when you mention the benefits of raw milk. Or maybe you’ll get some rolling eyes when you mention yet another food you will no longer buy.
It’s ok. Be gracious.
You are also going to come across situations when you or your kids are presented with foods that you would no longer dare to bring to the table at your own home.
Your kids are at a party with all sorts of processed foods. A kind church member brings you a meal, you eat over at a friend’s house. It’s ok. Don’t make your kids be the only one who isn’t allowed to eat the hot dogs and cupcakes. Don’t skip out at eating at Grandma’s house just because she only prepares convenience foods that you have denounced. People are more important than food.
Make the right choices at home. Teach your children the difference between good and bad food choices. And Be Gracious.
12. JUST DO WHAT YOU CAN DO
this is probably my favorite point, and I think it sums things up nicely.
There are so many other whole foods that I would love to be making and consuming, that I just am not able to do yet.
Here’s an example: I would LOVE to have a dairy cow so we could have all the wonderful benefits from raw milk- not to mention adding those nutrients to butter, cheese, sour cream and other dairy products. But, we just do not currently have the land to support a cow.
So, I have found a local milk that is sold in stores, that is pasteurized at a lower temperature, it is non-homogenized, and the cows are close to 100% grass-fed.
Is it raw milk? No. But is it better than the typical gallon of milk I used to buy? YES!
Another example: My budget can’t support buying only organic products. But, I can afford replacing some of my most-consumed products with an organic option.
Perhaps you would love to have a big garden, but your space is too limited. You can still have a few pots on your deck. Grow your favorites.
Do Something! But, don’t give up because there are things you cannot do.
You just have to do what you can do. As time goes on, maybe you will be able to do more, or maybe new doors will open to you. So, whether it is land, where you live, budget, or even time- work with the options you have, and realize that even small changes can make a big difference in the long run.
I hope these simple and extremely practical points will help to encourage you to take the plunge and delve into the world of real foods and to say goodbye to the processed and packaged foods that fill up so much of our diets.