7 Habits of People Who Avoid Processed Food

It can take some time to form new habits or develop a “new normal” as they say. But those who avoid processed food and have mastered the skill of eating a real food diet pretty much always do the following!
scooping oats from a bulk bin

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People who avoid processed food…

  1. Plan ahead

    weekly real food menu on chalkboard

    I’ll say this one until I am blue in the face. It’s basically impossible to avoid processed food if you don’t plan ahead. Unless you never leave your house you will inevitably be out and about when hunger strikes. And if you don’t have a stash of healthy snacks on hand or know what and when your next meal will be then you’ll likely succumb to something highly processed (such as a vending machine or the drive-through). Here are 8 meal planning pointers to get you started.

  2. Read ingredient labels

    Reading the ingredient list (not the nutrition facts!) on your food labels is the #1 way to know what’s in your food products and how processed they are. It can take some time to learn what to look for, but I created a video for beginners and an ingredient label cheat sheet to reference when you’re at the store.
    people who avoid processed food read ingredient labels like this girl food shopping

  3. Shop at the farmers’ market (and buy what’s in season)

    Produce in the supermarket travels, on average, 1,500 miles from the farm to your plate! (This applies to both conventional and organic. Learn more about this in my post, How far does your produce travel?). So, not only is the food at the farmers’ market fresher than most anything you can find at the supermarket, but you can also find a much wider variety of produce that’s not even available elsewhere. Your grocery store is concerned about what travels well and has a long shelf-life, not what’s fun to try and tasty to eat. When produce is eaten in season, not only does it taste better and cost less, but it’s better for you! If you are new to shopping at farmers’ markets, here are 10 pointers for farmers’ market shopping that can help.people who avoid processed food buy fresh produce like this at farmer's markets

  4. Use their freezer

    I’m not talking about filling a freezer with packaged foods like Totinos Pizzas and Eggos. I’m talking about a freezer stash full of homemade goodies and high-quality meat products. We actually went out and bought a freezer just for this purpose when we cut out highly processed food. We now store everything from homemade soups and stocks to made-from-scratch waffles to pastured chicken and grass-fed beef from the farmers’ market and all sorts of frozen meals for whenever the mood strikes.
    people who avoid processed food use their freezer like the person picture putting frozen meals in jars in a freezer door

  5. Make a dinner “from scratch” at least 4 nights a week

    People who avoid processed food most definitely know how to cook. According to Michael Pollan, cooking from scratch is “the single most important thing we could do as a family to improve our health and general well-being.” And remember, no matter how old you are, it’s never too late to start learning your way around the kitchen!
    people who avoid processed food make dinners from scratch like these people assembling quesadillas

  6. Avoid the drive-through (see #1)

    Even on those nights when you aren’t cooking a yummy dinner from scratch, I guarantee people who avoid processed food aren’t hitting the drive-through. They’re either eating leftovers (from the previous night’s dinner or from a freezer stash made months before) or going out to a carefully selected restaurant that does a decent job of making things from scratch themselves (including house-made salad dressings, soups, and sauces). If you don’t like leftovers because they always seem boring, here are 10 exciting ideas for leftovers you can try.
    people who avoid processed food avoid the drive though and instead store leftovers in storage containers for later like the ones pictured

  7. Eat whole grains

    Grains are a huge part of the Standard American Diet so just this one simple decision to switch from refined grains to whole grains has a huge impact, and people who eat real food know all about it. This is where reading nutrition labels can come in handy. The key is to look for 5 or fewer whole food ingredients … and that rule of thumb actually works on any type of product, even if it doesn’t contain grains!
    people who avoid processed food eat whole grains like the ones here in storage jars of pasta, grains, beans and popcorn

Do you think this is a complete list? Am I missing anything? If so, please share in the comments!

[PHOTO CREDITS: The Beautiful Mess, except Habit 6 Lindsey Johnson]

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12 thoughts on “7 Habits of People Who Avoid Processed Food”

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  1. Great post, thanks! With school starting soon and busy Fall sports schedules for my 3 kids (10, 8 and 5), I am determined to do more advance food prep/planning. One specific thing I’m interested in doing more of is freezing baked goods, soups and other cooked foods. But I’m uncertain the best way to do so – the Ziploc freezer bag may or may not be the best way to go for some items. I always see glass jars in your post pictures – is that the ideal freezer container? Perhaps you already have a blog post devoted to this, and if so please point me to it. Otherwise, I’d love some general tips about freezing foods. Thanks!

  2. Washing and prepping all produce as soon as I bring it home has been a habit that I have maintained since I first heard about it because it has had such a positive impact on our diet. Now when we are feeling lazy and want a ready to eat snack we avoid the pantry and go straight to ready to eat fruit and veggies.

  3. I think having a freezer and pantry stocked with real foods is essential. And always have on hand the ingredients for at least 3 go-to meals. That way you will always be able to put food on the table. It will be quick, cost effective and real! Even quicker and definately cheaper than the drive thru. And healthier!

  4. Melissa Pilcher

    Write out a weekly menu and recycle it once a month or every other month. That way you’re not starting from scratch every time you’re cooking from scratch. Or write the names of your favorite recipes on index cards and let the kids be involved in choosing what to have when planning for the week.

  5. I never have a meal plan. But we have a huge vegetable garden, The freezer full with meat, vegetables and fruit. Yes it is lots of work, but really worth it. We live close to town, but I only do groceries once a week. I dry lots of fruit and vegetables as well. We are living from our garden in the summer and our freezer and dried foods in the winter. I make our own yogurt from store bought milk. We don’t eat deli meat and hardly any canned or processed foods. This way you eat a lot healthier. We had 8 children and that’s how we brought them up. We even used to raise our own pigs and chickens. Used to bake our own bread and whatever baking we were eating, but now we hardly eat bread anymore. It is a lifestyle that our parents had too. Living of the land.

  6. Packing your lunch is another big one! It goes with planning ahead, but it’s so much easier to know what you’re eating when you’ve packed it yourself.

  7. Meal planning is essential… If I don’t have a plan dinner seems like a way bigger chore.

    I’ve also started keeping quick essentials around too, like canned beans and whole wheat tortillas. Last night I tossed together black bean quesadillas in just a few minutes.

  8. I would add bringing your own healthy appetizer to parties and gatherings. I usually bring olives, almonds, fruit, or a veggie tray w/homemade hummus.

  9. Wondering your thoughts on how to address what my child eats at daycare. I pack his food but I know he is given Cheerios and waffles that the other kids get. I don’t want to seem difficult and I don’t want him to miss out. So what is the best way to see that they are limited what he gets?

  10. I have to admit to not being a good meal planner. However, we eat almost no processed foods–just lunch meat, hard sausage, jam, condiments. I guess dried pasta is processed. But even our yogurt is plain, and we add frozen fruit (no sugar)–not the stuff full of artificial flavorings. If you don’t buy processed food, it won’t be in the house for you to eat it. And if you buy basic ingredients, you don’t really need to plan–I doubt my grandma made meal plans, but she cooked every meal and had a stocked pantry for it. And she wasted nothing, having lived through the Depression; she was retired by the time I was born but she had worked full-time in a meat-packing plant–The Jungle–her whole life. So, like today, a working woman with a small budget and even less time.
    We do use the freezer a lot. I make spaghetti sauce in summer and freeze it. Also savory oatmeal-vegetable muffins, which are good for something quick. But we try not to snack, fruit and 4 o’clock yogurt aside (very French).
    I would say it’s because we live far from town, so a drive-through is a 15-minute trip each way. But my brothers in the U.S. live even farther from town and they think nothing of jumping in the car for a half-hour drive (each way) for a milkshake.
    When you start eating real food exclusively, processed tastes odd–it’s too sweet and too chemical. That makes it even easier to avoid.