Back in January, I posted this question on Facebook:
We know that processed foods aren’t good for us, yet we all admit that it’s hard to eat 100% real ALL the time. If you’re not eating ‘real’ over 80% of the time, why not? What are the biggest challenges you face and what is holding you back from fully committing to a ‘real food lifestyle?’
These are the obstacles you told me you faced…
- Not planning ahead and then grabbing whatever is available
- Picky kids/husband
- Finding the time and energy to cook from scratch
- Finding grocery stores (locally) that sell real food and organic produce
- Wanting quick and easy options
- Finding real options when eating out
I wanted to take some time to think about all of the responses you gave me and, hopefully, come up with some helpful suggestions. I know everyone’s life is completely different. We all have varying lifestyles, commitments, work schedules, numbers and ages of kids in the house, geographic locations, access to healthy grocery stores, etc. I know what works for me and my family, may not necessarily work for everyone else (and not everyone will agree with my suggestions). However, this is how we eat real at home 95% of the time and I can still manage to keep my sanity while doing it! If you read this whole post and get even just one suggestion that might help you eat a little more ‘real’ on a regular basis…then I’ll be happy!
I can relate to every single one of the obstacles above and I think they are definitely the biggest challenges people face when deciding to eat real or not. However, I think each one can be addressed and worked through if this is a lifestyle change you REALLY want to make. As with most things in life, if you don’t want to commit to something and make the effort to change, then you’re probably going to fail in the long run. Eating real food definitely takes a commitment, but now that I’m educated on WHY this is so important, there is no going back to processed foods in our house! Do I eat the processed stuff on occasion? Of course! It would be REALLY hard to avoid it 100% of the time, especially with kids. However, I’ve made the commitment not to buy these foods for my family and that’s what I plan to continue doing going forward. Here are my suggestions for overcoming the obstacles of a real food lifestyle!
Not planning ahead and then grabbing whatever is available – I try to sit down once a week to plan out 5-6 dinners for the week. I usually do this the day before I head to the grocery store to allow myself enough time to think through our meals. I prefer to spread out the types of meals (pasta, beef, chicken, fish, rice, beans, etc.) and I like to come up with a veggie to go with each dinner. (There is nothing wrong with using frozen veggies to save time!) While I’m looking at the recipe, I write down exactly which items we need and confirm that we have enough of all the pantry staples. With three little kids, running out to grab one item is NOT going to happen! I definitely have to be organized and plan ahead. I only plan out my dinners, so breakfast and lunch is just ‘grab what you can find.’ (Though, I make sure to keep certain staples made, stocked, and in the freezer at all times.)
Picky kids and husband – My daughter is 5 years old and my twin boys are three. They were 4 and 2 when we decided to eliminate all of the processed stuff from our house and, honestly, they adapted extremely fast to all of the changes. I think it’s probably MUCH easier to transition toddlers than pre-teens and teenagers. As the parent, I have the opportunity to mold my child’s opinions of food, teach them where food comes from and how it’s made. As far as meals go, I cook one dinner and if they don’t eat it, then they’re out of luck. Yes, I let them go to bed hungry. I know they won’t starve overnight and, in the morning, I make sure they have a well-balanced breakfast. As far as snacks, I make sure to keep what they like, but only if it’s real food. I don’t keep snacks in the house that are filled with artificial ingredients anymore. If my kids are hungry…real food is the only option they have! We always have fruit, plain yogurt (that they sweeten with fruit sauce), string cheese, cashews, and veggies. I really don’t like them to eat much between meals, anyway, because I want them to come to the table hungry. (I plan to come up with a more extensive list of snack ideas soon.) If you need an easy, travel-ready, packaged snack (because busy moms sometimes do!), I rely on Annie’s Homegrown organic cheddar bunnies, Whole Foods’ pretzels (non-GMO and only a few ingredients), and Nature’s Path Whole O’s cereal (organic, sweetened only with cane juice and pomegranate). Yes, they are more expensive, but I feel a lot better about serving those to my kids than the processed snacks I used to feed them on a regular basis!
If you have older kids that are protesting these changes, try to make more ‘fun foods’ that kids typically enjoy, but using real ingredients. Make homemade cookies instead of buying them. And if they’re old enough, they can make their own cookies with better-for-you ingredients! Make homemade ice cream with them. And let them have popcorn with real butter and salt for a snack! Try to have veggies and fruit already washed and ready to eat so they’re more appealing. If you buy organic grapes, don’t just leave them sitting in their bag. Get them out, wash them, and then pull them off the vine. All your kids have to do then is grab and enjoy! I can honestly remember not wanting to have grapes for a snack as a kid if they were still on the vine! And if you buy watermelon in the summer, cut it into chunks and leave it in the refrigerator. If there is only good food in the house, when the kids ask for a snack, I can say ‘have whatever you want!’ (This is why I freeze a lot of my baked goods…so we can spread them out.)
And as far as my husband goes? He is harder to please than my kids… He had MUCH longer to form his taste buds and it’s harder to break those habits. My biggest recommendation to get a spouse on-board is to watch some food documentaries TOGETHER. When my husband watched some of the earlier ones with me, it was a real eye-opener for both of us. We realized how important eating real is for our kids’ health AND our own longevity. These documentaries opened up a lot of discussion for us. If we don’t look out for our kids’ health, they’re not going to learn how to eat healthy anywhere else. It starts at home – 100%, no question about that. The documentaries that I recommend the most: Food Inc., Food Matters, and Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead. (We watched them all through Netflix.) I’m so happy that my husband got on board fairly quickly. He may not always like it and I know he’s not happy when I give him a hard time for drinking a pop if we’re out somewhere, but, overall, he’s happy we’ve made these changes…even if he doesn’t always feel like there is food he can eat. He opens the pantry and sees nothing. I open the pantry and see so many options that it can be overwhelming…because I want to eat them all…like right then!! 🙂 It’s all about changing your mindset of what really constitutes a meal or a snack.
Finding the time and energy to cook from scratch – Cooking foods from scratch has simply become routine for me. Plus, I know that if I don’t bake that loaf of bread today, we won’t have any bread for breakfast or lunch the next day! But, here’s the thing… I don’t actually spend that much time making and baking food. Most of our snacks are usually fruit, which takes no time at all to prepare. Most of the time I spend on ‘real food’ these days is writing about it! ha! I cook ONE meal a day. And then, on occasion, I’ll make something like donuts or pancakes or cookies. However, I make them and then we end up freezing most of them for later. Breakfast consists of grabbing one of these items from the freezer or yogurt with fruit or a smoothie or oatmeal. Nothing fancy. And lunch is whatever I can find in the house. Sometimes that’s leftovers from last night’s dinner. Sometimes it’s a pb&j sandwich or a tortilla roll-up with cheese or nitrate-free lunch meat. My lunches are kind of random, but my kids are used to this and they don’t mind. And as far as dinners go, I promise you it doesn’t take me any longer to cook most nights now than it did when I was using processed items before. Sure, there is a little extra work involved, but it can usually be done while something is boiling on the stove or baking in the oven. I have to plan dinners in advance, but that’s something I’ve always done anyway.
Most of the time, cooking is fun and I love to experiment and try new recipes. For me, it’s fairly easy to make a couple ‘bonus’ foods a week (like pancakes or granola bars or ice cream) and I don’t feel like that’s too much extra work. However, there are also MANY times when I’m tired and just plain exhausted from a full day of dealing with three demanding little kids. On those days that I really don’t feel like cooking dinner, I don’t! Maybe I shouldn’t admit this so freely, but this is what works for us… On those nights when cooking just isn’t going to happen, I serve air-popped popcorn, string cheese and some fruit and/or raw veggies. I basically just put some food on everyone’s plate and call it a meal. We call these “snack dinners.” No, these meals are not the most balanced and they don’t cover all the food groups, but my kids are fed and happy…so I’m happy too! I didn’t need to resort to fast food or a bag of frozen Tyson chicken nuggets (like I relied on in the past when I was too tired to cook). My kids avoid any artificial ingredients and I just served what was around the house. Of course, most nights I will ‘suck it up’ and cook dinner anyway…but I know we all have those nights when being in the kitchen is the last thing we want to do. On those nights, I say it’s better to eat quick (real) snack food than it is to fall back on processed items just so you can serve a ‘traditional’ meal.
If you only have the opportunity to cook a real meal 1-2 nights per week, try to make the most of it. If you can double (or even triple) what you’re making, then you automatically have meals for future nights. I freeze a TON of food. Soups, pasta, cookies, granola bars, donuts, muffins, etc. When you can pull something out of the freezer on a busy night and simply defrost, that’s a very good thing! If you make chili, triple it and portion it out into several containers to freeze. It’s barely any extra work–you just need a bigger pot to cook it in! Then as you start to do this more often, your freezer will fill up and you can vary what you pull out to eat later. When I make pizza, I always make two at a time so I have a fully-ready-to-bake pizza on a night when I’m scrambling at the last minute to find something to eat. It takes a little effort to get to this point, but I almost always have at least 1-2 meal options of some kind in the freezer. I’m not saying staying in and always cooking at home is fun (or feasible), but if you do a little extra planning and cook in larger batches when you do have the time, you can probably eliminate a few nights from eating out or grabbing fast food. Seriously…take advantage of your freezer! You’ll thank yourself later!
Finding grocery stores (locally) that sell real food and organic produce – I can completely relate to this one! Where I live, there is no Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s (though, I am excited that we’re getting an EarthFare this Spring!). Our Farmers’ Markets are becoming more popular every year and I’m hoping those will be something I can frequent more often in future seasons as my kids get older. I think we’re making progress in our city, but I still feel like we’re a long way off from the amount of fresh produce available in other locations around the country. Right now, I buy most of my food from Kroger. It has been getting a lot better lately by offering more organic produce and I’m very happy about that. Kroger has also come out with a line of ‘Simple Truth’ products that are “free from 101 artificial ingredients.” It’s nice that companies are paying attention to consumer demand!
The closest Whole Foods is about 90 minutes from where I live…ugh! Whenever we are anywhere near that location, we make a point to have our cooler and ice packs ready to go so we can stock up. It’s not convenient, but since we’re committed to this lifestyle, we make it work. I love going to Whole Foods and finding all of the ‘hard to find’ items that I can’t get at home. Remember, real food is mostly just ‘ingredients’ and, thankfully, I can find most of the ingredients I need right in my very own grocery store. And if you can’t find something you need, chances are VERY GOOD that you can find it at Amazon.
To find farms that sell organic produce, grass-fed meats and more, check out localharvest.org. It’s a GREAT resource to find farms and markets near you. (I buy my meat, honey, maple syrup, and eggs from Honored Prairie. And whenever I can, I love Tanglewood Berry Farms and Hilger Family Farm for local produce.) Also, if you have a Costco by you, I highly recommend that you check it out. I am super impressed with all of the organic foods it sells. (You can read all about what I buy there in my post: My First Trip to Costco.)
Wanting quick and easy options – The dinners I cook tend to be quick and simple. I don’t like a lot of ‘fuss,’ and the less ingredients and steps a recipe has, the better! Make a list of dinner options that everyone in your family enjoys and always keep the ingredients on hand. For us, that’s Mexican food or pizza. I almost always have ground beef, beans, and my homemade taco seasoning on hand and I always have the ingredients to make a pizza (if I don’t already have one ready and waiting in the freezer). However, if you don’t even have time for those meals…then just grab something quick and easy…that also happens to be real food! No need to resort to artificial stuff just because you’re in a big hurry! Scrambled eggs and toast is easy! Or what about grilled cheese…or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? I know these might not be ‘exciting,’ but because dinners like these are more of a rare occasion, I don’t feel bad serving them for dinner every once in a while. It keeps us from eating anything artificial!
Money – I haven’t touched much on the money side of eating real food when I write my blog posts. I know eating real food (mostly organic) can be somewhat more expensive than processed food, but I don’t think it has to be if you really must stay within a certain budget. It all comes down to what you really value. Making the commitment to eat at home (which is cheaper), making more of your own foods from scratch, and being flexible on what you eat (to a certain degree) will all make big differences in how much things cost. There are definitely ways to save money, if you’re willing to be flexible. 1) Buy in bulk from places like Costco. 2) Eat less meat and dairy (because that’s what costs the most), but when you do, make sure it’s the best quality you can find. 3) Try to eat more foods like beans, rice, quinoa, and oatmeal. Those are all very filling, but cost very little. 4) Try to focus more on what’s in season. When pineapple went on sale for just $1, I bought 10 and spent the time to chop them all up to freeze for smoothies. When a family friend said they had more apples than they knew what to do with, I happily came over, picked several buckets-worth and then spent a couple of evenings canning homemade applesauce. (Because, seriously…organic ‘apples-only’ applesauce is EXPENSIVE!) When it was strawberry picking season, I loaded up at a u-pick farm and made a ton of freezer strawberry sauce that we use as a mix-in for yogurt or on pb&j sandwiches. I also watch for sales on items that I buy frequently and stock up as much as I can (paying attention to any expiration dates).
Organic and grass-fed options ARE more expensive than the conventional option, but I really feel like the extra costs are worth it. Hopefully, we’ll be a healthier family and our healthcare costs in the LONG TERM will be less because we treat food as our medicine. Eating veggies and fruits loaded with antioxidants and vitamins (and not pesticides and chemicals)? That’s my goal! Also staying active (by running and lifting weights, for me) is super important for my long term health. If money is the issue, then you can (and WILL) find ways to work around it. Buy the expensive staples (like maple syrup) one at a time so the costs are never overwhelming. There are many ways to save money and still not spend a fortune–you just have to be flexible and willing to make the changes. And I promise you, once the food is out of your house, you’ll feel really good about what you’re eating! (And when you’re not walking down the processed aisles at the grocery store, the junk food can’t ‘jump into your cart’ like it always used to for me!) 🙂
Finding real options when eating out – I’ll just say right up front that it’s about near impossible to eat real when going out to eat (at least where I live it is). We don’t go out to eat much. Not so much because of the lack of real food options, rather we don’t go out much because we are quite frugal people and like to save money whenever we can. Dining out with 5 people (even when three of them can still share two kids meals), can be super pricey! So, because we rarely go out to eat, when we do…I don’t worry about the artificial ingredients. Maybe I should, but I don’t. I order what looks and sounds good and don’t stress over. Do I wish restaurants would start doing a better job at using only real ingredients, whole wheat grains, and grass-fed meats? Absolutely! Some restaurants do, but not most. If you’re lucky enough to live in a location with restaurants like these, enjoy! I think Chipotle and Moe’s Southwest Grill are a little better than average, but I’m sure most chain restaurants serve up lots of pre-packaged, artificial ingredients! If consumers start demanding that large food corporations and restaurants make changes and stop serving up artificial ingredients, maybe one day we can all go out to eat and just eat REAL food. Until that happens, I don’t have any good advice. I like to enjoy going out from time to time, too, especially since I cook so much the rest of the time. It’s a nice break from the planning, cooking, serving, and cleaning up. For now, eating real 95% of the time will just have to be enough.
In summary, yes, eating real food does take some extra planning and extra time. However, don’t let it overwhelm you. If you don’t buy processed foods at the grocery store, you can’t eat processed foods when you get home! That to me is the ONLY reason we have been this successful for a whole year now. I just do not keep this stuff in our house…because I know that on a day when I’m tired, it would be way too easy for me to grab that box of macaroni and cheese or that bag of frozen chicken nuggets. I don’t have enough willpower to stop myself when those easy options are right in front of me! Instead, I’ll cut up an apple with some peanut butter or pop some popcorn or make a quick batch of nachos or grab that frozen pizza I had made earlier that is (hopefully) in my freezer! It’s not fancy, but it’s real food…and it works for us!
I’m to the point in this journey now that I’d rather come home and eat snacks for dinner, like popcorn, apples, and cheese (or even a bowl of oatmeal!) than stop by McDonald’s. Both are just as quick, but by eating at home we not only save money, we avoid eating anything fake and artificial, too.
Planning ahead is the key to success. Making foods ahead of time is critical. Having baked donuts, pancakes, and granola bars in the freezer at all times is what makes this all possible. Every time I make something, we eat just a little right away and then save the rest for later. This eliminates us feeling the need to eat an entire batch of something extremely fast (before it goes bad) and getting sick of it. I’m also planning to come up with a list of quick breakfast and lunch ideas. Sometimes I forget about options I haven’t made in a while and I’m hoping that by coming up with a list, I will help myself AND you!
I honestly think that anyone can eat real if they really want to. I think you just have to figure out how it will work for your family. I’m not saying I always serve the most balanced or ‘traditional’ meals, but I always serve food that is REAL (and doesn’t contain any hidden cancer-causing ingredients). And that’s what I feel good about. I understand we all have obstacles, but if you want to do this for your family, I promise that it IS possible. If you don’t want to eat processed foods at home anymore, make the commitment not to replace those items the next time you run out. As the weeks go by, you will have less and less processed stuff in the house. It’s as simple as that. You CAN change your mindset and you will adjust. It’s hard at first. I remember the early days of walking through the grocery store looking at EVERY box and getting mad when I had to put yet ANOTHER item back on the shelf. However, I’ve learned what is real and what is not and now grocery shopping is easy again. Really! You may have to be a little creative in the kitchen if you don’t have time to cook some nights, but if you don’t have anything processed in your house, you won’t eat it.
So, what do you think about these suggestions? Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know! And if you have any other suggestions for people, please leave them in the comments below.
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