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

As promised, here is Part II of the FAQs from when I recently asked our Facebook followers, “If you are 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.

Back to our FAQ list now…this is apparently what inquiring minds want to know!

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Dirty Dozen List Courtesy of EWG
  1. Question: “I think that I am doing good by buying ‘real food’ and not highly processed food, but then I start reading all the health food blogs and feel discouraged because it isn’t all organic. I just feel like giving up!”

    Please don’t give up! Any changes toward real food are better than none. First of all, I think it’s important to point out that eating conventional (non-organic) produce is much better than not eating any produce at all. I really hate that organic is oftentimes more expensive, but unfortunately budget restrictions are just a fact of life for many. One saying I love though is “pay more for good food now or more for healthcare costs later,” and when you look at statistics they’re pretty telling. According to Michael Pollan in his book In Defense of Food, “In 1960 Americans spent 17.5% of their income on food and 5.2% of national income on health care. Since then, those numbers have flipped: Spending on food has fallen to 9.9 percent, while spending on health care has climbed to 16% of national income.” You do the math. So on that note my advice would be this: Buy organic when you can because as I said above some organic produce is certainly better than none, and secondly be sure to consult the dirty dozen list (pictured) in order to help you make those decisions. For some, it may be feasible to consider shifting a few discretionary items in their budget so they can eventually afford more, higher quality ingredients. After all it’s up to you prioritize what’s most important to your family. Also, here’s a recent article worth checking out: What Does “Organic” Really Mean? American Academy of Pediatrics Shines a Light
  2. Question“I am a single Mom and I work full time. I don’t want to spend my weekends in the kitchen. What are my options for feeding my family healthy?”

    Answer: I feel your pain when it comes to spending a lot of time in the kitchen! As I addressed in the first FAQ post, there is unfortunately no question that it can take more work and time to eat real food…it all goes back to that whole prioritizing thing we were just talking about. And I also think, just like with many aspects of life, there is spectrum here and it’s up to you to decide what is realistic for your family to commit to…i.e. what you should make from scratch vs. buy. It does not have to be all or nothing! With that being said there are still some shortcuts I think every parent would appreciate. First of all, consider some of the meals on my super quick real food dinner list for those busy weeknights. Secondly, leftovers, leftovers, leftovers! If you are already making chili it’s not that much extra work to make a double batch and freeze some for another busier day. Thirdly, get your kids to help…they can do anything from picking out recipes, emptying the dishwasher, and, depending on how old they are, even doing some cooking and cleaning in the kitchen. Make it a group effort so you can also spend time together! Lastly, consider a meal planning service to make your dinner and grocery list for you, which could potentially save you lots of time.
  3. Question“What are the top things things that you would suggest to cut out initially?”

    Answer: I actually addressed this in question #1 on the first FAQ list when someone asked “Where to start?” But in summary I would first increase your consumption of vegetables and fruits, which by default will displace some of the processed stuff. And secondly, since grains are such a big part of the Standard American Diet, I would also replace all of your breads, crackers, pastas, rice, etc. with whole grain versions.
  4. Question“I am trying really hard to stick to the real food diet, but I am confused about what to eat when I travel for work and don’t have access to a kitchen.”

    Answer: Our family also aims to eat real food while traveling and find even if you don’t have access to a kitchen away from home it’s worthwhile to bring along some food of your own. You could easily pack a bag of homemade granola cereal or bars for breakfast. Some hotels offer a complimentary continental breakfast and there’s nothing wrong with using their bowls and milk for your own cereal from home! I’ve even ordered an empty bowl with some milk and fruit through room service before. And for longer stays some hotels do allow you to request your own mini-fridge. But fridge or not, fresh fruit like apples and bananas will hold up well for a few days for snacks. I also sometimes bring my own bags of trail mix that include nuts and dried fruit to hold us over till the next meal or even to supplement a mediocre meal. For more ideas check out our “Tips for Trips” post and also our detailed list of what real food meals you could order at some popular chain restaurants.
  5. Question“I love your meal plans, but I would really love a grocery list to go with them.”

    Answer: I am glad you asked because my free 7-day family meal plans do have accompanying grocery lists (that even include pricing)! Check out our meal plan page for details.
  6. Question“What breads, pastas, crackers, and tortillas are okay to buy? When it says whole grain and semolina is that okay?”
    100% Whole-Wheat Crackers

    Answer: First of all, please check out our post that explains whole-grain including why you should be buying it in the first place and also how to find it in stores. For bread it’s unfortunately not easy to find store-bought, factory-made sandwich bread that is 100% whole grain and also contains 5 or less ingredients. So we usually get our bread from a local bakery or make our own. For pasta you should actually avoid refined “semolina” and instead look for the whole grain version of semolina, which is called “whole durum wheat.” And really with any products that contain wheat you should always see the word “whole” in the ingredient list for it to be whole grain. Sometimes a pasta ingredient might say “whole durum wheat semolina,” but again since you see the word “whole” it would still be the whole-grain version. And be sure to always read the ingredients because the front of the box might say “whole-wheat blend” or “contains whole-wheat,” but then come to find out when you look at the back you see the product is not actually 100% whole-grain due to the presence of flours (like wheat or semolina) that don’t have the word “whole” in front of them. For crackers and tortillas follow this same rule of thumb and look for something like “whole wheat” or “brown rice” or “whole corn meal” in the ingredient list. Some specific brands that we recommend are Ak-mak crackersBionaturae whole-wheat pasta, andEzekiel tortillas. You can also make your own whole-grain flour tortillas and corn tortillas at home.

  7. Question“Is canned food okay like tomatoes, beans, and even tuna? I would like to make sauces in the winter, but I don’t have access to fresh tomatoes.”

    Answer: To know if a canned food follows the real food rules you would need to check the ingredients. I’ve been able to find both organic canned tomatoes and beans that have 5 ingredients or less and no refined sugar, and I do use them on occasion. For canned tuna (or any other seafood) be sure to go for the wild-caught version. I do want to point out though that, ingredients aside, some like to avoid canned foods due to the fact that some cans are lined with BPA. And from a nutritional perspective, when it comes to produce like corn and peas, it’s worthwile to consider the frozen version over canned. According to Michael Pollan in his book In Defense of Food, “freezing (unlike canning) does not significantly diminish the nutritional value of produce.”
  8. Question“My child has a lot of food allergies. I would like a list of good substitutes to eggs, dairy, wheat, and nuts.”

    Answer: Jill (our team assistant) has done her best to find allergy-friendly real food alternatives for her husband after he started experiencing some sensitivities. Check out her posts on both dairy allergies and gluten allergies for more information. Also, my daughter is in a nut-free class at what used to be a nut-free school so as a result quite a lot of my school lunch ideas don’t contain nuts or food items that were made in a factory with nuts. For peanut butter alternatives we’ve found that we like cream cheese and sunflower butter. For nut alternatives we oftentimes use pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. As far as eggs go, I’ve been told by readers that using a flax seed/water combo as an egg substitute works well.
  9. Question“I am a college student on a budget living in a dorm room. How should I stay healthy and eat real food?”

    Answer: First of all, I am impressed you are thinking about eating right in college…good for you! I really think our “Tips for Trips” post could help since it considers staying in a hotel room without a full kitchen. Whenever you can get access to a kitchen though (either by going home or borrowing one at a friend’s apartment) I think it would be worthwhile to make a big batch of homemade granola cereal and even some whole-grain muffins or homemade soup that you could keep in a small mini-fridge or freezer to help supplement dining hall meals. I also think it would be worthwhile to ask your administration if they could start offering more whole foods (and organic foods) at the dining halls…how will they be aware of the demand if no one ever asks! And, be sure to check out our list of budget tips for more ideas.

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27 thoughts on “Real Food FAQs: You Asked, We Answered (Part II)”

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  1. Would you go for Organic or local first? We have an amazing farm by us that is free range (for meat) and local fruit and veg but none of it is organic.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi there. That can be a tough call depending upon their practices and what’s grown. Can you talk with the farmers themselves?

  2. During October you mayy be ble to pot up into lqrger
    pots some of those cuttings of half-hardy bedding plant you took during august.
    Well, if you are thinking how to get the track for your garden railroad, you may have to consider some
    factors first. In this era of drought, you will
    noot require to waste gallons of water to irigate them.

  3. This is a really interesting post… but it’s important to tell the truth about one point Michael Pollan made in particular, Spending on food versus healthcare. (As you wrote above: “In 1960 Americans spent 17.5% of their income on food and 5.2% of national income on health care. Since then, those numbers have flipped: Spending on food has fallen to 9.9 percent, while spending on health care has climbed to 16% of national income.”) It’s not that Americans have changed their spending priorities from food to healthcare. It’s that governmental subsidies to keep the cost of food down versus government deregulation in the healthcare (especially health insurance) industry which has allowed those costs to soar.

  4. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

    Hi Evelyn. Glad you enjoy the blog! While we look for fresh alternatives whenever possible, canned tuna does fall under the 5 ingredient rule and will work. ~Amy

  5. Hi! I am wondering about your thoughts on canned tuna. The ingredient list is as follows: albacore tuna, water, salt and sodium acid pyrophosphate. Would this be “okay” under the pledge?
    Thank you! (Love this site!)

  6. The article above notes a link to: “also our detailed list of what real food meals you could order at some popular chain restaurants.” but when I click on it I’m not seeing any list?? Help?

  7. Where were you able to find canned tomatoes with 5 ingredients or less and without refined sugars? I would love to be able to get some of these!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Alissa. The Pomi brand, which actually comes in a box instead of a can, contain only tomatoes (there may be other varieties that have more, but the basic chopped tomatoes and whole tomatoes contain no other ingredients). And, their boxes are said to be BPA free. Jill

  8. Hi there, I’ve started reading the book “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis…are you familiar with this? Your site suggests a lot of whole grains. We’re trying to go gluten free, do you have any meal planning ideas that are gluten free on your site? Thank you!

  9. Hello, My name is Mary Freeman.
    I have been inspired by your 100 day challenge so much, that I am going to start mine on Monday, November 12th. I know it is probably crazy for me to start this a week or so away from Thanksgiving. I just figured it would be easier to try to start right before the holidays rather than after. I would like fore you to know that I will be also writing a blog about my expriences. I hope you will be ok with this.

    Thank you for inspiring me to eat better for my health.

    Mary Freeman

  10. From own experience a tip for single moms/dads: learn how to cook – through books, cooking classes, friends, etc. Cooking is a skill, that has to be learned like any other skill. It is fun, sometimes frustrating and it certainly takes a lot of practice to become good at. But once mastered, it can save a lot of time and money (if you are disciplined). If you know how to cook, you can buy whatever is on sale and/or in season and basically make a meal out of everything without the need to following recipes.

    I unfortunately do not have any good tips on basic cooking books, but food/cooking blogs (like Cafe Fernando, Lottie & Doof, Rasa Malaysia, Delicious Days, Orangette, and many more) are loaded with great recipes. They are written by hobby cooks. The recipes are really tested and thoroughly explained, which is often not the case for cook books or general pages like,, etc.

  11. Some great tips! When our family was first making the switch to real food a few years ago we started by upgrading breakfast first. We ditched the cereals and added in things like soaked oatmeal, eggs and sprouted toast, full fat yogurt.

    In fact, I think one the most important things people need to start including in their diet is wholesome REAL fats. Our society is still so anti-fat that most people have a hard time getting away from processed foods because their body is craving nutrition. When we switched to whole (raw) milk, using more butter, and loving coconut oil I found that I was less hungry, had less cravings, wanted less sugar… and lost weight to boot. Fat (real fat… not margarine or rancid vegetable oils) is awesome.

    Love this.

  12. Kristin Detiveaux

    Hi Lisa,
    I enjoy your posts so much and have always lived pretty much real food. I buy ingredients from the store–not meals!
    I have an interesting “problem” to bring up. My two children were raised eating real food, made at our home and by us. Now that they are in college it is a kind of a problem! My son chose to live in an apartment where he could cook so he survived okay. But, my daughter is in a dorm and starving! She is so miserable she is leaving the college and moving home after one semester. It is impossible to eat real food in her situation (I must mention that she doesn’t eat glutens or any dairy product either due to a gluten sensitivity).
    I can’t offer a solution but certainly something to be aware of as your children get older. My 22 year old son still boils a chicken, strips the meat and makes enchiladas! Am I proud? Yes, does it make kind of freaks in this world…yes but I wouldn’t change it! I think this is a very sad statement about our world! As young adults my children make their own choices and still choose not to eat fast food or soda. Good for them, sorry for the rest!

  13. I have been reading your blog for a while and like you, am a big fan of Michael Pollan. I have a large family and your budget tips have really helped me prioritise where my food dollar is spent. We have been doing the 14 weeks of mini-pledges and the two fruits/vegies has really stuck. The only downside of your blog is that you are America-based and because I live in Australia, many of the products you talk about aren’t available here. Thanks anyway for sharing your journey x

  14. Eating Organic can be expensive at the grocery.. however it is not expensive at the Farmer’s Market. We live in TN and go every Saturday as a Family (we have a 4 month old and 2yr old).

  15. Hi Lisa, great post! I loved your suggestions on eating on the go and eating real food when traveling for work. I wrote a book called Real Food, Real Simple that will be published in a few weeks and I talked about this in my book for the majority of a chapter. Its so important to have a contingency plan! Eating at home in our own kitchens is easy. . . on the go is a bit trickier. Thanks so much for your great content and ideas.
    Erin Harner, MS, CHC

  16. Judi: Keep an eye out for a used bread machine. They are everywhere. Mine was free at a garage sale. It takes about 3 minutes to put the ingredients in before bed. You’ll wake up to a fresh loaf in the morning and will be amazed at how cheap it is. And yummy.

    Azure Standard sells organic flour in many different quantities for a VERY low price. And many other organic foods as well. Check their website to see how it works and if they come to your area. (I am not affiliated with them btw, just heard through friends.)

    1. Thank you Amy, I actually have one. The only issue that I had with that was that I would have to make a loaf almost every day and sometimes I just don’t have that three minutes, so we were keeping store bought in the house for “emergencies.” My youngest who is 4 has decided that she doesn’t like anything but store bought bread. I’ll have to start doing the WHO bread recipe for the bread machine that I found again. We keep trying. Except for the fruit, she is very hard to get to try things. My oldest has Asperger’s and has texture based issues. She is 17. She, however, loves the home made bread.

  17. Thanks for this. It helps. The first step that I took was to replace the white flour and refined sugar with White Whole wheat and Organic Crystallized cane juice. I find we use less of the sugar just because it costs more and we are trying to incorporate Honey into the baking. I am, however able to just substitute for most of my recipes and that seems to work.

    I found the hardest thing to do was to get the store bought bread out of my house mostly because I work 2 jobs and have 4 children and I just run out of time to make enough bread for all of us. It takes about 4 or so loaves of bread each week for all of us. It would be easier if I was home more and I love homemade bread. We do get some from the farmer’s market, but I can’t afford to buy bakery bread each week. That would be a lot of money.

    It’s a slow process for some of us. Each step gets us closer. With a large family, the costs can be controlled, but it depends on many variables.

    Thanks again!

    1. I have been trying to go wheat free, and just started working on making my own wheat free flour for bread. One suggestion I was given was to make up a batch of the flour in a zip lock bag, each bag holds enough for one loaf. If you make up 7 of them for the week (if you eat a loaf every day) they store in the freezer and when you need bread pull one out and add the liquid and yeast. Cuts some time out of making it each time.

      I also have to agree with the bread machine it makes things much more simple!

      Did you ever wake up in the morning to fresh baked bread? :)