Frequently Asked Questions

The Leake family at the farmers market

1) I am new to your website, where should I start?

If you’re new here you should definitely check out Start Here, our Recipe Index, and our free Real Food Resources area. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay in touch and be informed of new recipes, tips, and resources as they come available.

I’ve also written three best-selling cookbooks that are geared towards typical families trying to get healthy, delicious food on the table, fast. These are available anywhere books are sold and in many libraries.

2) Why don’t you consider sugar to be a “real food”…isn’t it natural?

Sugar comes from a plant so it is definitely a “natural” food. Some other “natural” foods that we like to avoid are high-fructose corn syrup (from corn) and white flour (from wheat). What all of these have in common is that, aside from being natural, they are so highly refined and processed that the good stuff is stripped away leaving mostly empty calories. Here’s a little more about our decision to avoid sugar and other refined sweeteners – Mini-Pledge Week 9: No Refined Sweeteners.

3) What does your family eat now that your strict “100 Days of Real Food” pledge is over?

When we are at home I estimate that we eat 95%+ real food. Since our pledge ended we’ve incorporated a once-a-week “special treat.” This could be anything from a homemade chocolate cake to a donut from Krispy Kreme, although I do try hard to steer my family away from artificial ingredients and food dyes no matter what. With that being said, we do believe moderation is key so we most certainly let our daughters participate in school celebrations, birthday parties, and other events that often involve junk food.

4) Have you noticed any health-related changes since your switch to real food?

Yes! We switched to real food because we thought it was the right thing to do. What we did not expect was for our youngest daughter’s constipation and asthma to completely disappear. We were equally surprised by how much my HDL level increased (a.k.a. the “good” cholesterol that should be a high number), which jumped up by 50%! I also feel like I have more energy (no more afternoon slumps), and my husband and I both lost a couple of pounds without even trying. For more details check out this link: Our personal changes in health.

5) What kind of milk does your family drink?

We’ve switched both our type of milk and source for our milk a couple of times over the last year. We currently drink the least processed type of milk available in North Carolina (where raw milk is illegal). We buy Homestead Creamery’s non-homogenized whole milk in half-gallon glass bottles from Earth Fare. Since switching to whole milk we’ve also been working to reduce our consumption.

6) What kind of cheese do you buy that is “real food” approved?

When it comes to cheese we go for blocks of cheese that are organic and preferably from grass-fed cows (if we can find it). The pre-shredded stuff contains an anti-caking agent (to prevent it from sticking together) which is a little too powdery for our taste. Also, most cheese is actually supposed to be white so even though the orange coloring is natural and probably a harmless additive I like to stick with white cheese just to make a point. :)

7) I see that your family enjoys foods like cream cheese and boxed whole-wheat pasta, but aren’t those processed?

Actually even cooking is technically a form of “processing” or changing your food. So since we are not on a raw food diet I guess you could say we avoid all “highly processed” foods, which we define as having more than 5 (or any refined) ingredients. Check out our real food rules for the full list.

8) Is there anywhere that you can shop without having to read labels and scrutinize the ingredients?

Unfortunately, no. But the closest you can get is a growers only Farmer’s Market. At a growers only market, all of the produce and meat will be locally grown/raised. There are a surprising number of farmer’s markets out there that allow third-party vendors to sell you anything from Chilean blueberries to Florida oranges (which is, of course, okay if you actually live in Florida!). But even growers only markets have local “bakers” that use their fair share of white flour and sugar so you still have to ask questions. We also like to ask our local farmers if they use any chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers on their offerings because we prefer to eat foods that are as organic as possible, even if they are not USDA certified organic.

9) Where else do you shop for food?

I’ve shared my food shopping routine as well as my grocery template here.

10) Are there any “real food” books you recommend?

Well, first of all, I must recommend my first book of course! It’s part cookbook and part guidebook. The book that originally inspired us to switch to “real food” is In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. Two other books I highly recommend are Food Rules also by Michael Pollan and Food Matters by Mark Bittman. I also highly recommend watching the documentary Food, Inc.

11) How do you deal with eating at someone else’s house when they don’t exactly follow a “real food” diet?

It can be tricky to try to eat a certain way without offending your host. For us, taking our “100 Days of Real Food” pledge was a great conversation starter as to what we were doing and why. I am not saying everyone around us fully understood or agreed, but at least they knew about it. :) During our pledge we did not have any flexibility at all so for the most part, we either brought our own food wherever we went (and people were thankful because it meant they didn’t have to figure out what feed us) or we ate beforehand. Now that our pledge is over we have more flexibility so we pretty much just eat what is offered especially since it doesn’t happen every day. We might still sometimes eat a little beforehand or bring a few key food items with us when we travel (like good whole-wheat bread, granola, and tortillas), but for the most part, we just go with the flow. But I will say that after watching us complete our real food pledge, it’s no surprise to our friends and family if we suddenly decide to bring something special along to the next BBQ (like our own organic, grass-fed, nitrite-free, dye-free beef hot dogs)!

12) What kind of oils do you use for cooking and baking?

For baking, we mainly use butter and unrefined coconut oil. For stove-top cooking, we either use olive oil (cold-pressed if I can find it), organic butter (preferably from grass-fed cows), ghee (a.k.a. clarified butter because it does well at higher temps), or yes, we occasionally use lard (from pastured animals) as well. People tend to look shocked when I tell them we use lard and I admit it isn’t exactly an appetizing word, but it is a traditional food that our ancestors survived on for centuries. Here’s more info on using unrefined oils – Mini-Pledge Week 10: No Refined Oils.

13) I am completely on-board with cutting out processed food, but how can I get my reluctant spouse and picky kids to join me?

No fear…because you are not alone! Here are a few posts on this very topic:

14) Where do you and your family live?

People are sometimes pleasantly surprised to learn that we do not live in a “real food” mecca like New York or California. Yep, we are just a regular ol’ suburban family living in Matthews, N.C., which is a suburb of Charlotte. You can find out more about our family on the “About Page.”

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  1. Hello! I just read your first book and was wondering if I can substitute gluten free flour for whole wheat flour for my daughter who has celiac disease or is there something “cleaner” that I should use. Thank you!

    1. Hi, I would reach out to a source that is specific to gluten-free products to make sure you’re getting the best option. – Nicole

  2. I’ve been looking at vegan diets and they use nutritional yeast a lot. Do you recommend using nutritional yeast?

    1. Lisa focuses on eating real, whole foods, so nutritional yeast isn’t something that you would typically find in her pantry. With that being said, doesn’t mean that it is either good or bad based on your dietary restrictions. If you were to look at it based on her “real food rules” it would go against them based on the ingredient lists not containing ingredients that you would normally cook with or have in your kitchen. I would recommend checking out both a vegan blogger or consulting a health care professional to see if it is right for you. – Nicole

  3. My husband and I are new to eating non-processed foods. We are excited about it, however, I’m personally doing this to eat healthy AND to lose weight. Do you have any insight on how eating this way helps people to lose weight? Is there a need to count calories, fat, carbs, etc? Are there foods that I should stay away from even though they are not processed in order to lose weight?

  4. Anyone ever double the Best Whole Chicken in a Slow Cooker recipe by trying to fit two whole chickens in their crock pot if expecting additional guests? If so – were the cooking times the same? Was the outcome just as good?

  5. I just wanted to know what I could substitute for the whole wheat in many of the recipes because I am allergic to wheat? Thank you!

  6. Hi there! I’m wondering if / what kind of multi vitamins your girls get? I am researching different brands. Gummy vitamins supposedly have a higher sugar content than regular chewables. Would love your thoughts and ideas. Thanks!


  7. I just love this site! I do have a question. There are many recipes that have just been made “real” to use your terms, but I would like to know how often a healthy person would actually eat them. Does that make sense? How often would one eat pancakes or crepes for breakfast (both of which seem like dessert to me). Or how often would you make “real” muffins? It would be helpful for someone like me (who is new to this) if the recipes had some sort of tag on it that made it clear I should only eat rarely especially things that are not actual desserts (you may think this is duh factor but for me it isn’t). I hope this makes sense. Again, I thank you for your time and this wealth of information on this site.

  8. i want to buy the 2 books for my daughter in law for Christmas and thought i was doing so, but it looks like i may have purchased a download for each. i do not want a download, i want the books. how can we correct this? thanks.

  9. I am new to this whole foods/clean eating deal and I have a question that will probably sound pretty dumb. The biggest concern I have is about the coconut oil that you use. My son is allergic to coconut so I need to replace it with something. What would you suggest as the best alternative?

  10. Hi! Can you tell me what kind of peanut butter you recommend buying, or is there a recipe to make at home? Thanks!

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Courtney. Just look for an organic brand with only peanuts and maybe a little salt on the ingredient list.

  11. What do you use to clean your stainless steel pans? I know AllClad recommends using BarKeepers Friend but that doesn’t seem to be a non-toxic cleaning solution. My husband’s go-to method of cleaning pans is an SOS pad (ugh!) and I want to get him to stop so he doesn’t scratch my pans, but I don’t know what to tell him to use instead. He’s a bit of a clean freak and can’t stand to let a pot sit and soak for too long and cleans it before I can get to it.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Beverly. Vinegar and baking soda work great on stainless. Bar Keeper’s friend is not rated well at all on the EWG’s database for cleaning products.

  12. What are your thoughts on reusable ice cubes? There’s the plastic bpa free kind, steel, rock, and maybe some other kinds, but have you used them and if so what kind do you prefer? I’ve gotten plenty of inspiration from your lunch packing in the past so was curious of your thoughts.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Jill. Par-boiled rice is one step more processed so we would generally go for the long cook kind. :)

  13. We saw your the notes in the book regarding occasional beer or wine, but do you have any thoughts or guidelines on distilled alcohol?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Sharon. Sorry, we really do not. I do know that clear alcohols are considered to be more clean.

  14. I try to pack healthy lunches for my son and still make sure he doesn’t go hungry. He isn’t a picky eater fortunately but certain things are easier to keep in a locker until noon or later. I notice most of the lunch meal plans you have are for younger children. They look almost the size of a lunchable or one of those pre packaged frozen dinners for kids. My son is 16. He gets crackers instead of chips, 2 types of, fresh fruit, and a yogurt but no sweet dessert a 100%juice, an organic granola bar and some homage trail mix and his choice of either a ham & cheese on whole wheat or a peanut butter and fruit spread on whole wheat. He eats that every day. And when I ask if he wants anything else he says ‘no’ but I know that has to be terribly boring. I guess what I want to know is do you have a jr + sized lunch menu?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      :) No, we do not. Just scale the serving size up or down depending on your kids.

  15. I notice that you try to avoid anything that isn’t organically grown and produced-I try to do this as much as I can afford as well. Most people are led to believe that organic means pesticide and toxin free, but this is simply not the case. What your thoughts are on how non-synthetic pesticides are still used to grow organic food. So is it really better to buy organic when the natural chemicals are still toxic? Just wondering what your thoughts are on this.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Kayla. While we would love to avoid any and all use of pesticides, we realize that unless we are growing everything ourselves we are surrendering some control and putting a lot of faith in organic growers. We know it is not a perfect system but are confident it is a better choice than filling our bodies with all the synthetic fertilizers and the plants that are bread to withstand the application of evermore pesticides. Each person must come to their own conclusion, however.

  16. We raise our own cows and pigs and render our own lard. So glad it is included as a real food! I was told all my life how unhealthy lard is and that I should use shortening instead. Crazy lol! My lard has one ingredient. What is in that can of shortening

  17. Hi! I recently heard that organic eggs are not that much different than regular eggs. Is this true? Is it worth it to spend the extra money for organic eggs? What eggs do you recommend? Thank you!

  18. I love the blog and have started my journey on cutting out processed foods from my diet. As I’m reading the posts I can’t help but feel like I’m missing pieces as I jump from post to post. Is there a way to read all of the posts in a chronological order, starting with #1?


  19. This may have been addressed somewhere on the site (and I did see the recent post about allowing your girls a bit more leeway about unhealthy foods outside of the home) but I have a question about setting boundaries for my young kids with taking snacks from others. Our neighbor kids are outside all summer (and usually playing in our yard). A sweet neighbor friend likes to pitch in by providing snacks which are usually “huggies” (high fructose corn syrup and dyes! yum!) and a sugary packaged snack. My kids are 6, 4, 2 and aren’t yet at a point where they would be able to say, “no thank you” but I’m not sure how to approach the topic without offending. We aren’t doing an official challenge but trying to eat minimally processed foods as much as possible. I try to have water outside and available for all of the kids and often bring out fruit/veggies, air popped popcorn as snacks but they often prefer what she is offering and the older neighbor kids will ask her for snacks. Any tips?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi there. Lisa uses nut and eggs in many of her recipes. You would need to make the proper substitutions that will work best for you.

  20. I am gluten intolerant. What “real food” options can be substituted for the wheat in your existing meal plans?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Cristi. While the recipes have not been converted to gluten free, myself and other readers use other gluten free whole grain flours in various combinations in recipes. I often use Bob’s Red Mill GF whole grain blend.

  21. Love the website! I am a single woman in my late 20s and live alone in NYC. I love your meal plans but understand that they are for a family of four (right?) Is there any more guidance as far as portion sizes? For example, the whole wheat banana pancakes, how many should it make and what is the portion size per person?


  22. I have the new book and love it but was also wondering if you can recommend any other real food cookbooks. Another quick question. Can I freeze freshly grated cheese? .

  23. Do you know of any brands of ice pops or popsicles that do not contain food dyes? Are there any store bought brands of ice pops or popsicles that you could recommend? I am trying to make recommendations to my kids’ summer camp (they are reluctant to give up ice pops entirely, so I am hoping to provide them with the best (least sugar, no dyes) option). Thanks!

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Sara. Not sure on this one because we typically just make our own. I know that is not realistic for camp on a daily basis, anyway. Readers?