Real Food FAQs: You Asked, We Answered (Part I)

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A couple weeks ago on Facebook I asked, “If you are new to cutting out processed food what are you most confused about at the moment?” A whopping 505 comments later I decided there are some readers out there that need a little help! So here’s the first half of the more frequently asked questions from that post…and more importantly some answers! Check back soon for the second batch of questions, which will be published in a separate post (it was getting kind of long!).

Before I dive into this “real food” FAQ list though I want to make sure you know about our new page on the Plan to Eat website, which allows access to our recipes. Plan to Eat is one of our meal planning sponsors and their service helps you organize recipes from both your own collection as well as other sites (like our blog!) in an online recipe box. You can then select what meals you’d like to make for the week and they’ll itemize all of the ingredients into one concise grocery list for you. Kiran from our team has fallen in love with this service and says it’s helping her to stay organized and keep track of her family’s favorite recipes. If you sign up for their meal planning service just go to our page on the Plan to Eat website and click “100 Days of Real Food Recipes” at the very top to login and access our recipes in one place.

Real Food FAQs

Reader questions about the switch to real food:

  1. Question: ”I am so overwhelmed with the idea of eating ‘real food’ that I don’t know where to start.”
    Answer: First of all, I think it’s important to remember that making any changes toward cutting out processed food is better than none. I would hate for someone to get so overwhelmed that they give up all together because even small changes can add up fast. As far as specific food groups go…increasing your consumption of fruits and vegetables is one of the most important changes you can make, and it can help displace some of the processed stuff as well. Also try to buy organic produce whenever possible, but don’t forget that eating conventional fruits and vegetables is better than not eating any produce at all.
    Real Food FAQ: BreadSecondly, I would start by making changes to bread and other items made with grains. This food group tends to make up a big portion of the average American’s diet so making some changes here could potentially go a long way. Switch to 100% whole-grain products including sandwich bread (you can get bread made with only 4 or 5 ingredients from some bakeries), pasta, crackers, rice, etc. If you don’t think your family will be fond of the idea then try mixing both white and whole-grain together (flour, pasta, rice, etc.) and gradually reduce the refined grains over time.
    I often feel like eating “real food” means eating the same familiar meals you’re used to it’s just that they’re made with higher quality “whole” ingredients. For additional “getting started” resources and information be sure to check out our “Start Here” page and our 14 weeks of Real Food Mini Pledges as well.
  2. Question“I love the idea of eating real food and changing our lifestyle to be healthier, but my problem is my three kids and husband are not on board. I need some advice on how to ease them into the change.”
    : Please know that it can take a very long time for family members to get on board with the change (you are not alone!). It can sometimes take months or even a year to win over a picky eater. It’s important to be persistent though and not give up while simultaneously not pushing too hard…try to find the sweet spot in-between, which I like to call “gentle persistence.” Here’s a post on convincing reluctant spouses and also on dealing with picky eaters that might help.
  3. Question: “How do I convert all my recipes into healthy whole foods? I would like a substitution guide for sugars, oils, and flour.”
     For sugar try substituting a fraction of what the recipe calls for with honey or maple syrup (I usually start with less than half). In recipes that call for a tablespoon or so of sugar you can usually just leave it out all together. For all purpose flour try substituting white whole wheat flour or regular whole wheat flour (both are 100% whole-grain). As far as cooking oils go try olive oil or butter for pan frying and coconut oil or butter for baking. Here are some post links that share more information on grains, sweeteners, and oils.
  4. Question“I could really use a list of ‘bad’ ingredients in food and why we should avoid them.”
    The list of additives readers inquired about went on and on including xantham gum, natural flavoring, carrageenan, sulfites, nitrates, and citric acid. People also asked about GMOs (genetically modified foods) and “enriched” products.
     I am going to make this one easy for you (as opposed to giving you some long, complicated list of additives that you need to memorize or keep in your wallet!). If it’s not an ingredient you keep in your pantry or would cook with at home then it’s best to avoid it. As far as GMOs go they are currently not required to be labeled in our country so the only way to avoid them at this time is to buy organic. When you see “enriched” on the label it means that product has been refined so they have to “enrich” the flour by adding back in the important nutrients they think are now missing. Since food scientists cannot recreate nature I personally avoid refined, enriched products and go for the “real” original thing instead (i.e. whole-grain).
  5. Question“I am really confused on sugar. Are all sweeteners bad?”
    We get questions quite frequently about all sorts of sweeteners including stevia, agave, coconut palm sugar, sugar in the raw, etc.Real Food FAQ: sugar
      When it comes to sweeteners the moral of the story is that “sugar is sugar” no matter which one you choose. I do recommend avoiding the artificial stuff and after that no matter which sweeteners you use always consume them in moderation. We prefer honey and maple syrup because they are two of the least processed sweeteners available (mostly “processed” in nature), but we still do our best to keep overall consumption down. Here’s more on sweeteners.
  6. Question“I am not sure what oil to use for baking, salad dressings, frying, or cooking. And which ones are bad for you and that I should avoid at all times?”
    Readers asked about all sorts of oils including coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, grapeseed oil, walnut oil, vegetable oil, and canola oil.
    These are the cooking fats I use the most…
    For baking: butter or coconut oil

    For salad dressings: olive oil
    For pan frying: butter or olive oil (for low temp cooking) or ghee/clarified butter, coconut oil, or pastured lard (for high temp cooking)
    These are the refined oils I avoid…
    Grapeseed oil, vegetable oil, and canola oil, among others
    For more info check out our post all about oils and other cooking fats.-
  7. Question: “I don’t have access to any local farms where I live. I would like to know what is the best brand of meat to buy at my local supermarket?”
     You can search for local farms through Eat Wild, Local Harvest, and Eat Local Grown. But if you still can’t find humanely raised pastured meat in your area then the next best option to local would be organic.
  8. Question: “I am just not sure with my family of five that I can afford to buy all organic food. We don’t have access to a Whole Foods, Trader Joes or an Earth Fare. Our resources are limited so what are my options if I want to start eating more healthily?”
     Here are two posts that I think will help… Buying Real Food from a Mainstream Supermarket and 12 Ways to Keep it Cheap. Also, check out the dirty dozen list if you need to prioritize what you’ll buy organic.-
  9. Question“How do you find the time to cook, eat, and clean up all this real food?”
    I’ve always been up front about the amount of time it takes to provide your family with real food…it’s no secret that we don’t eat this way because it’s more convenient. We eat this way because we feel it’s what is best for our family and therefore worth the time and effort. I also think it tastes better than the factory-made processed stuff we used to eat so that’s incentive to work a little harder in the kitchen as well! :)
    Anyway though, this is the way I look at it: It’s your life and up to you to prioritize what’s important. Maybe our family spends a little less time watching TV or going to sporting events or insert X activity because we’ve made the choice to instead spend a little more time and money on obtaining high quality ingredients and making “real food” meals. Now that doesn’t mean eating this way takes up all our time by any means…I promise we still do plenty of fun stuff as well as work full time, too! Some days I hardly cook at all and others I am in there cooking up a storm making a fresh batch of granola and muffins and smoothies, etc. I do find that making a few things at once can help give me a couple days “off” in-between. I also like to make big batches of certain dishes and freeze the extras so I can simply defrost on another busier day. I’ve also found that putting the kids to work (now that they are old enough) really does help. They are pretty good at emptying the dishwasher, among other things. But don’t get me wrong there are definitely days where I don’t feel like cooking (or cleaning!) and as a result we occasionally do go out for dinner, but for the most part we’ve gotten used to this new way of life and accept that it’s what it takes to eat real food!

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75 comments to Real Food FAQs: You Asked, We Answered (Part I)

  • silvia alvarez

    I am gratefull to say that my family has gone along with me since we started eating processed free. I actually read a book by a nutritionist/chemist and learn about all this info then got introduced to your page a month ago. I related to everything you said here. Itis not easy to live processed free but it is worth it,my children 7 and 11 yr. old have learned to read ingredient labels and know what is good for them (but they are kids and still ask for the not so good stuff) no diet will ever be perfect but we try our best.

  • Jenn S.

    In response to Question #8, I have recently read on some other blogs that has quality bulk items that you can order and have sent to your home. That might be worth a look. I don’t live right on top of a Whole Foods (but Trader Joe’s is set to come to CO next year – woo hoo!) But I am near a Sprouts and a Vitamin Cottage, and we just try to work with those options.

  • Margaret

    I’m trying hard as well to make the switch as I become more educated. One of my questions is….I haven’t heard anyone say how they wash their vegetables and fruits???? Do you use one of those you can buy at the grocery store or just wash well with water??? I just read about how apples have such a high amount of pesticide residue…..and I’ve always heard the peeling is supposed to be good for you???? Obviously you buy organic when you can.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Margaret. I just wash mine with water. Jill

    • Patti

      Apple cider vinegar is great for washing your fruits and vegetables and does not leave a taste to your foods. Just put your items into a colander, sprinkle the vinegar then rinse. One added benefit is that your berries will last twice as long because the vinegar kills the mold that is naturally on them.

  • Great tips. My family has been on the real food journey for several years now. It seemed so impossible at first, but it seems SO NATURAL now. In fact, even my husband wonders how he used to eat certain things… he can’t stand them now.

  • Sally

    “I often feel like eating “real food” means eating the same familiar meals you’re used to it’s just that they’re made with higher quality “whole” ingredients”

    I’ve been consuming real food for about six years. I mostly cook the same familiar dishes I did before changing to real food, but use better quality “real” foods. A few dishes had to be eliminated and a few make very infrequent appearances. Most of what I cook and eat are the same familiar dishes I’ve been eating all my life.

    It often does take more time to cook, but frequently it’s literally just a few minutes. If I’m really pressed for time, I opt for eggs or soup (I always have some in the refrigerator) or leftovers. Also, most days I keep meals very simple.

  • Stacey

    I just want to add (for other readers) re: #2 (children or spouse not on board) – I went ahead and changed some things on my kids and I was a little nervous about it. Shockingly, they did not even say one thing about it; not a peep. They happily ate what I gave them, just like normal. Here’s what I changed: peanut butter (from Skippy Natural to Smuckers Natural, which contains no sugar), conventional grape jelly to Crofters Strawberry jam (again, no sugar, among other things), all pasta from white to 100% whole grain, white rice to brown, whole wheat store bought bread with too many ingredients to 5 ingredient WW bread when I can get it, Ezekiel bread when I can’t. Can you believe it? Not one word. So, maybe just go ahead and do it and you might be surprised too. :-)
    I’d also recommend reading Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck
    Good luck!
    P.S. I’d also like to say that I started on my “real food” journey in April and I’ve never felt better.

  • Amanda G

    I am slowly making the switch to all natural and it going very well! I have found that even foods my daughter thinks she will not like she does once she tries them. Neither my daughter or husband has put up much fuss since they do not cook they do not have much to say about it! Teh biggest challenge has been the time committment and the shopping.

  • Goldnrod

    For those not near a Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods etc, look for a food co-op. They usually ship once a month & have great prices. There is usually a minimum order requirement, but still worth it. In our area Azure Standard is great! Just google ‘natural food co-ops’.

    For those wanting to make their own bread, but not ready to do it all themselves, Good Will has bread makers for great prices.

  • [...] Real Food FAQs – you asked, we answered - 100 Days of Real Food [...]

  • We love this site! In response to question #8, we would like to invite you to check out We are an on-line farmers’ market listing meat, poultry, and cheese producers. Our farmers write up a short bio letting you know which methods they employee be it certified organic, grass-fed, or what have you. Many of our farmers ship directly to your door as well.

  • Crystal

    Thanks to some of your links, I’ve found a local shop that sells meat and eggs from local organic farmers. Thanks for making the change to a healthier lifestyle easier for me and my family.

  • Becca

    So I have four boys under the age of 14 and a husband that we think has fibromyalgia, which makes me more determined to change our eating habits. I thought we were eating healthy already but now that I am more aware (thanks to this blog) I now look at all the labels and can’t believe how much GMOs that are in the ingrdients of foods that I thought were “natural” or “healthy” for us. It’s our last day of our Hawaian vacation and I am preparing my mind to figure out what I need to do first when organizing my shopping list. I first plan to go through my pantry to see what foods I have that are processed. My dilemma is what do I do with the foods that are processed and it hasn’t been opened yet? Do I throw it out? Its like throwing away money that I spent on it. But then I think I need to do something with it cause I don’t want it in my pantry anymore.
    Any suggestions? Thanks

  • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

    Hi Becca. I know that it feels wrong to throw “food” away. I personally donated my pantry items during a food drive. I had conflicting feelings about that, too. You might find a food pantry? ~Amy

  • I think Question 2 is a big issue. It has taken my husband 9 years to get to the point of being “mostly real”. Point being (as stated in the answer) that it just takes patience. Keep introducing new foods/ideas slowly but surely and NEVER give up. Kids too. Keep serving up wholesome real food and eventually it will happen. Everyone will be, at least for the most part, “on board”.

  • Heather

    I just wanted to thank you for your devotion to this matter. I really enjoy cooking for my family and to know that I am doing it the best way possible. Your blogs make it so much easier than I ever thought possible!

  • Heidi

    THANK YOU for posting this, especially #7 with the useful links on where to find local farms. Many local farms don’t have websites and/or are difficult to find- these websites were very helpful to me.

  • Mike Raynor

    We started to eat Real Foods about three years ago. It was a little challenging at first. It is more the prep time then the cook time that has changed. It takes me 10-15 min more for dinner every day. Is your family’s health not worth the 15 min?

    Also, We have changed relatives and friends minds once they eat at our house. The food is simply better tasting.

    Baking tip: Sugar is a liquid. If you are going to reduce the sugar in a recipe with 1/4 cup honey instead of 1/2 cup sugar. We make up the difference with sour cream. Whip the wet ingredients for about 4-5 minutes. You will end up with the lightest fluffiest baked goods, even with Whole Grain wheat.

    When making bread, I use a teaspoon additional yeast for whole wheat instead of processed flour.

    I use Olive Oil and butter for all of my cooking. Sorry it is not that much more expensive to use either one, and the flavors are so much better. (Coconut Oil and Lard are a little heavy for me. A lot of trans fats also.)

    Avoid all foods that say Natural Flavorings! I will caveat that with we have contacted companies and many are willing to tell you what the natural flavorings are. Else, Natural Flavorings can be anything as long as total weight is less the 2% of the product. (Scary)

    Lecithin and MSG is a way of hiding Extremely processed Soy Fat that is made with benzine and many other harmful chemicals. This is becoming a huge issue. I challenge you to look at the Milk and Butter in your home. More brands then not add Soy fat in their dairy! They are using the Milk fat to produce more butter.

    Google is your friend for finding Farmer’s markets and Food Co-Ops. We use both and live in a tiny mountain town in Arizona. The Food Co-op saves us 1/3 the costs of food per month. I get real food for the same as processed foods. Processed foods are less expensive empty calories that are abundant with chemicals.

    In out little community there are Church groups that offer free to everyone cooking, canning and planting classes with little to no religious overtones. These classes are meant to help everyone live a healthier lifestyle. Those whom wish to stay after can join in a prayer service. Nazarene, LDS (Mormon), Seventh Day Adventists all have classes in various communities that we have lived.

  • [...] Bored by Hannah Richardson @ BBC News Subarus, Sex, and Porn Stars @ Mike Donehey’s Blog Real Food FAQ @ 100 Days of Real Food Not So Lazy After All @ Steady Mom Oh, and here’s a belated Quote [...]

  • [...] new to cutting out processed food what are you most confused about at the moment?” If you missed Part I be sure to check it out for the details and also the first 9 questions/answers. – Real quick [...]

  • Helen Kennedy

    When we started cleaning up our diet I did it slowly. The first major thing I fed hubby was potato soup that I used cauliflower creamed in exchange for the cream-o-chicken soup the recipe called for.

  • ern

    I am trying to do some research on drinking raw milk and I wondered if you’d done any research yourself or had any thoughts on it. I noticed you avoid “enriched” products, and this is similar to what is done to milk after pasteurizing it. I’m leaning more toward the raw milk bandwagon but am trying to get some more unbiased information before I proceed (a feat easier said than done, I can assure you.) Thanks!

  • Karen

    I have noticed that you state above that you avoid grapeseed oil….why is that? I have noticed that your friend, the Food Babe, says she does use grapeseed oil…..just wondering how you differ on this.


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