I recently gave away an in-person “Real Food Consultation” and $50 Earth Fare gift certificate to one lucky blog reader. And the winner was this adorable family (pictured) whose food shopping and cooking is of course taken care of by mom, Mary. I went to their house to spend two fun hours discussing food with Mary, and I had the feeling we could have easily kept on going for several more hours! I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, but I felt as though our family’s experience helped shed some light on how they can make the transition to “real food” as well.
Mary is one super-organized mom who not only had all her “questionable” groceries lined up on the counter when I arrived, but also had prepared note cards with all of her “real food” questions. And this is what was on her mind along with my responses:
- Mary: How can I save money if buying more expensive local meat, eggs, and dairy?
100Days: The easiest response to this one is to eat less meat, eggs, and dairy. Our family has personally cut back on our meat consumption to only a few times a week. Not only does it save money, but it is better for your health and the environment to eat meat in moderation. We also recently switched to the least processed milk available in North Carolina – non-homogenized whole milk – and simultaneously cut back on our milk consumption as well. We are now telling our daughters that water is good for them and that’s what they get with their dinner (after drinking plenty of milk earlier in the day).
- Mary: What are some good snack choices instead of crackers that appear to be healthy according to the health claims on the outside of the box?
100Days: Here are two posts that include some of the best and least-processed store-bought snacks – Store-bought snacks I and Store-bought snacks II
- Mary: When should I bulk cook breakfast items?
100Days: Especially during the school year you should take the time to “bulk cook” on the weekends. When you have the time to make whole-wheat pancakes or waffles on a Saturday morning just double the recipe and freeze the leftovers.
- Mary: What kitchen appliances would be helpful to have in a “real food” kitchen?
100Days: A food processor is one of my most used (and most loved) appliances! I use it for all sorts of things including making pizza and pasta dough, pesto, chocolate powerballs, hummus, and grating cheese. I also use my blender several times a week for making smoothies.
- Mary: How do I continue to work on my picky 5 year old?
100Days: The key is to be persistent and never give up. Offer her one new item on her plate along with other whole foods that you know she likes. Try “bribing” her with another healthy food she loves (like a cheese stick) instead of offering sweets as a reward. It can sometimes take a child two dozen or more times to warm up to a new food so take a deep breath, pull out your patience, and keep trying! Here’s a post with more information on this topic: Winning over your picky eater
- Mary: How concerned do I need to be about food groups (protein, fruit/veggies, dairy, whole grains, etc.)?
100Days: I occasionally give this topic some thought, but if I focus on feeding my family a wide variety of whole foods including lots of produce everything naturally falls in place on its own. Protein seems to be a big concern for people and often times it is only thought of as meat, but we also enjoy many other sources of protein including hummus, yogurt, nuts, milk, beans, cheese, peanut butter, seafood, etc. We don’t count calories, fat grams, carbohydrates, protein, etc. and that is on purpose. If you are eating an assortment of “real food” that comes in many different colors, sizes, shapes, and textures then nature will take care of the rest for you.
After going through Mary’s questions we spent a little time discussing her “questionable” food products (pictured):
- Honey Bunches of Oats: This cereal sure does taste good doesn’t it? I used to eat it too before we made our transition to real food, but it contains multiple sweeteners including sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, and honey – one of which is in the top three overall ingredients of the cereal. It also contains some whole grains, which is good, but the first ingredient (what a product contains the most of) is a refined grain. It also contains “artificial flavoring,” which couldn’t be any further away from being “real!”
Cereal Alternatives: Homemade granola cereal, plain Shredded Wheat, Arrowhead Mills Puffed Corn, raw oats with milk, hot oatmeal
- Rold Gold Pretzels: These are made with refined grains (white flour) that are simply high in calories and low in nutrients.
Pretzel Alternatives: Try whole grain pretzels, which can be found at both The Fresh Market, Trader Joe’s, and online.
- Nature Valley Granola Bars: These bars do list a whole grain ingredient first on the list, which is good! But sugar is the second item meaning that’s what they contain the most of after the whole grain oats. They also contain two other sweeteners: Honey and Brown Sugar Syrup.
Granola Bar Alternatives: Store-bought Lara Bars with as little as two ingredients and no added sweeteners or homemade granola bars where you control what goes in them!
- Tortilla Chips: No matter what brand you buy or if they are organic or not, blue or red, round or triangle…tortilla chips are tortilla chips and they are deep fried in oil and therefore not considered (by our standards) to be “real food.”
Chip Alternative: Kettle Brand makes a “baked” chip from real sliced potatoes (as opposed non-real Baked Lays chips) that is a better option if you need to get your chip fix.
- Ritz “Whole Wheat” Crackers: This is a perfect example why you should never make decisions based on the “health claims” on the front of the box. This clearly says these crackers are “whole-wheat,” but come to find out, after reading the ingredients of course; these crackers contain more refined, white flour than they do whole grain flour.
Cracker Alternatives: Some 100% whole –grain options include Triscuits, Ak-Mak Crackers, Mary’s Gone Crackers, Whole-Wheat Matzos, Multi-Seed Crackers, and Brown Rice Crackers.
- Microwave Popcorn: Popcorn is a 100% whole-grain snack, which we love, but one of the biggest problems with the bagged popcorn is that they contain way too much oil, salt, and sometimes even sugar.
Popcorn Alternative: Take a regular brown paper lunch bag, pour in ¼ cup plain popcorn kernels, tightly fold over the opening several times, pop it in the microwave just like you would one of those store-bought microwave bags, and voila you have popcorn! You can spray with a little oil and sprinkle with salt once it is done.
- Quaker Rice Snacks: Like the granola bars this product does list a whole grain ingredient first on the list, which is of course a good thing. It does also contain plenty of refined grains though, which is second on the list. Since they don’t give out the recipe it could be 51% whole grain and 49% refined grain…you just never know.
Rice Snack Alternative: They do make 100% whole-grain brown rice cakes that are lightly salted and not too bad. You could sprinkle some of your own seasoning on top or add hummus or peanut butter for more added flavor.
I really enjoyed meeting Mary and learning about her family’s food habits and questions. I was pleased that she felt motivated to make even more changes towards a “real food” kitchen after our little discussion. She is certainly working hard to figure out how to make this transition, while also maintaining a balance to keep things as realistic as possible. I hope their story will inspire others! Feel free to leave your own “real food” questions below.