I was never the type of person who cared about the kinds of food I ate. Throughout college my now husband and I ate fast food multiple times a week, sometimes multiple times a day. We were both lucky enough to have inherited great genes and high metabolisms, so the fact that we were eating junk food after junk food and crap ingredients after crap ingredients never affected us nor bothered us. It was cheap, it was food, it filled us up and was a quick solution to eating on the road while commuting to college.
Then life happened. We got married, we had two beautiful little girls, and all of a sudden I started paying more attention to the ingredients we were putting into OUR bodies, after all, now it wasn’t just about my husband and I. Now I had the most important job in the world, ensuring I was raising my two daughters as best as I could to make the healthiest choices possible.
I knew that starting to convert to a real food eating style would be a big task, and I had some concerns at first. Would it be expensive? Would my kids (or somewhat of a picky eater husband!) eat the food? I am no culinary expert- would I be able to find enough variety of foods to eat AND be capable of preparing them? I knew this process would not happen overnight and we started with baby steps.
The first thing we did was use up any current processed junk food that we had lying around- the blue boxes of mac & cheese, the sugar loaded cereals, the boxes of ho ho’s and ding dong’s. That was our pantry in a nutshell. Use them up, donate them, give them to a neighbor- just get them out of your house. As the junk disappeared, we replaced it with a healthier version. The blue boxes of mac & cheese got replaced with Annie’s (not perfect- but a healthier option). The sugar loaded cereals got replaced with Mom’s Best and Cascadian Farms (they still contain sugar, just not as much!). The ho ho’s and ding dong’s got replaced with (gasp!) homemade cookies and treats. Wait, did I just say cookies? But that’s not real food- there’s sugar in that! Let’s pause right here for a moment.
Going into this real food adventure, I knew that I didn’t want my kids to ever feel left out when it came to eating junk food. I knew that it was unrealistic for me to think that we would live off of kale chips and steamed vegetables, it was unrealistic that we could completely give up eating EVERYTHING that wasn’t good for us (especially sugar), and I also knew that there would have to be compromises in order to keep everyone involved happy- and on board. Because of this, I crafted some rules- rules for OUR family. Real food rules for REAL families.
Take a look-
1) The 80/20 rule.
This. This is my lifesaver rule. We try to eat real food 80% of the time. The 20% allows for some wiggle room (because we’re not perfect!). What does this rule look like in real life? Maybe one day we eat a real food breakfast, lunch (usually leftovers) and dinner, but maybe that day our snacks are not real food. Maybe it looks like us running late one morning and not having time for breakfast at home so we stop to our beloved local bakery (hey Lance’s we love you!) for one of their famous donuts, but the rest of the day is centered around real food choices. We’re a REAL family. We work full time. We have meetings before and after work. We shuttle kids to dance, soccer and whatever other activity they decide to be involved in at the time. But we TRY. And trying is better than doing nothing at all. Making one healthier choice a day is better than not changing anything.
2) Read the ingredients!
I can’t tell you how much my eyes opened once I started reading the ingredients of what I was putting into our bodies. I usually couldn’t pronounce over half of it! I think this really hit me when we were grocery shopping one day and I asked my husband to go grab some bread. He came back and and was amazed that he couldn’t pronounce or identify what most of the ingredients are…It’s BREAD! Shouldn’t it really just have yeast, water and flour?! Why are there 20 unknown ingredients in a package of bread!
When buying processed food I have 2 rules when it comes to reading the ingredients:
First, ideally, the food should contain no more than 5 ingredients.
Second, you should be able to pronounce or identify those ingredients. It all comes back to making a healthier choice. Did you know that Meijer brand Kettle chips contain only potatoes, salt and vegetable oil? Three ingredients! And you can say them all! And I know what they are!
Now, I am not advocating that everybody should run out and eat potato chips all day, because if they only have three ingredients they “must be healthy”. But, if you are going to eat potato chips, there ARE healthier versions out there. When trying to eat real food, there are options- you just have to look for them!
3) Make homemade when possible
Maybe this seems like common sense, but if we are going to eat sweet treats, I would rather have us eat sweet treats that I make so I know what is going in them. We still eat cookies, brownies and other treats but we don’t eat them everyday. It’s just that, a treat- something we get once in awhile.
Lately I have even been surprised to see more and more healthy boxed options for muffins, brownies, cookies and such available in the grocery store. Companies are listening and paying attention to how we spend our money- making small changes like purchasing healthier options that are offered help relay that message to the companies that we care about what we eat.
After being on this real food journey for close to two years, I am pleased to see that a lot of my concerns, although valid, were concerns that never needed to be.
Would it be expensive? Surprisingly, our grocery bill is no different now than before we started eating real food (we always hover around $200 a week for a family of 4). Many store brands have their own lines of organic or processed foods that contain healthier or less ingredients which helps a bit with cost savings.
Would my kids (or somewhat of a picky eater husband!) eat the food? Yes. We are still able to make our favorites like tacos, sloppy joes and spaghetti- it’s just a matter of looking for an alternative shell or noodle or sauce that is composed of real ingredients and fits our 5 ingredient rule- and they’re not hard to find. We eat a lot of meat (usually venison- more on that later!) and vegetables and my crockpot is my best friend- more on that on a different post!
I am no culinary expert- would I be able to find enough variety of foods to eat AND be capable of preparing them? I’m sure everyone knows by now that Pinterest is amazing. We have successfully found a number of recipes that we love and for the most part found a replacement for any processed food that tastes just as good, if not better. Need some ideas? Follow my “Real Food” board on Pinterest here.
If you’ve made it this far you are obviously intrigued, concerned about what ingredients you are putting into your body or you just really love me and have nothing better to do! I challenge you this week to read the ingredients of the foods in your house and start making a change…one baby step at at time.
~Mama in the Mitten