Kiran’s (Realistic) Quest to Cut Out Processed Foods – Part II

By blog team member, Kiran.To learn more about Kiran, check out our team page or her blog!

I’ve never been a resolution person, but I do think there is value in self-assessment and realizing both the positives you’ve accomplished and areas that need improvement. Notice I didn’t say negatives. Last year I wrote about my family’s quest to cut out processed foods. And though I feared daggers would be sent through my computer, the exact opposite happened. What I learned is that, as in my case, making this change is not an overnight thing for most. It takes time, and it may mean sometimes taking two steps forward and one step back. Maybe even a few times.
With that being said, I want to share some of the changes we’ve encountered, and also where my family still needs improvement. I don’t know that we’ll ever be 100% (my guess is we’re now about 90% of the way there), but I do know that we’ve made progress since last year. And I’d love to share some our recent accomplishments.
Kiran’s (Realistic) Quest to Cut Out Processed Foods on 100 Days of #RealFood

Positive changes we’ve made…

  • Incorporating not just one, but at least two fruits and/or vegetables at every meal
    This is a pretty big one for us. While my plate is almost always full with vegetables, I encourage my kids to add a little bit more at every single meal. I make sides to include ample choices to make this easier.
  • Baking even more
    My youngest children (ages 3 and 6) absolutely love cooking with me, and I love the bonding time. Plus it’s a win-win since I can pack many of our creations in their lunches. So it has been fun to take time out for this one!
  • Snack time changes
    I actually see two sides here. I would forever let my kids choose their own snacks after school. They would get these little stainless bowls and head to the pantry to make a selection. This (school) year, I decided that we’d all have the same thing. And that would include a piece of fruit along with it, as opposed to just a bowl of pretzels, etc. I mentioned seeing two sides: I value letting them make their own selection, so I hate to take that away. But I also value guidance, and thus, many snacks will now include maybe one of the items that we baked (muffins, etc.) along with fruit. Or popcorn and carrots + hummus. I often let them help choose what they want for us all to have for snack in trying to get the best of both worlds.
  • Upped our organics
    Last year I was opting for organics. Now I’ve made it a priority. On a very rare occasion I’ll buy conventional, only if I absolutely need it and organic is not available. In this case I’ll follow the Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen charts.
  • Go for green
    This has never been an issue for me; I’m one of those who could eat spinach/kale/etc. salads for every meal. But for my kids, having it appear on their plate or in their lunchbox multiple times a week has been a positive change I’m proud of. I’ve also added in the occasional green smoothie, which has gone over pretty well for the kids, and great for me.
  • Getting serious about sugar
    So I’m not sure if I was truly honest in my story last year …I think I was actually addicted to sugar. Yes, an addict. And after seeing Fed Up, I knew I needed to make a change. I walked out of the movie knowing it wouldn’t be easy, but I’m so proud to say I’m in SUCH a better place now. I do have an occasional piece of dark chocolate or a few dark chocolate-covered almonds, but the best news is that I don’t crave it anymore. If I’m assessing positives, I really have to say this was a huge hurdle for me.

And now for the areas that still need work.

Still a work in progress…

  • Pitching the processed peanut butter
    That sneaky JIF Natural seems to be my forever obstacle. I’ve purchased numerous organic peanut butters, almond butters, etc. but my husband and kids simply prefer this one. Not to mention that at the rate we go through it, I’d need a second job just to pay for the little bottles they come in. I’m afraid this one is not going away soon, but I will keep trying.
  • Chucking the cereal
    Trust me, I’ve tried making granola. I’ve tried numerous recipes. My kids just don’t like it. So instead, I try to get cereals with the least/best ingredients. So be it.
  • Going big at home
    With a large family, I can’t seem to keep leftovers on hand. I am good about doubling recipes for muffins, breads, pizza dough and such, but I don’t often double entrees/meals, which I know can be such a lifesaver. The freezer can be a great friend in times of need, and I need to get better in this area.
  • Banning the bars
    I know there are good choices out there. Two of my four like LARABARS, and the same two like Simple Squares and Raw Crunch Bars – I like all three. But the older ones love an occasional Clif Bar and I have been known to have a Think Thin here or there – please don’t throw those daggers. I know, I know, it’s so far from real food, but like I said – we are crawling along in this department. 

One of the biggest challenges for many of us is that this is now a group effort … so no matter how badly you want this to happen, you really need other members of your household to “buy in,” so to speak, right?  I’ve had a few other really cool things happen in our family that I need to acknowledge this year.

Unexpected changes …but I’ll take them!

  1. My kids selectively choosing to throw out a juice box/fruit snacks they got in goody bags because of their ingredients. Hallelujah!!!
  2. My kids also choosing to throw out candy from parties and Halloween that contained food dyes. It’s true – keep saying it over and over. They actually do listen!!
  3. My husband shopping for organics. Now this just melts my heart. I was away twice last year without the family. Both times he grocery shopped at Earth Fare (in lieu of the numerous other closer stores) and purchased organic produce. This made my day!
  4. My whole family attending the movie Fed Up with me, and also watching GMO OMG with me. Without any whining, and actually learning from the films.

Wherever you are in the process, I promise every step counts. I encourage you to take stock of the changes you’ve made over time. Look back to where you were and how far you have come. Last year I had someone comment that she was only 10% of the way there … but you know what, you have to start somewhere. I’d love to hear about the changes that you’ve made and ones that you aim to make, too.>

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120 thoughts on “Kiran’s (Realistic) Quest to Cut Out Processed Foods – Part II”

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  1. my sister claims she’s gluten sensitive and can only keep weight off if she stays away from wheat products . She’s a big paleo fan. I feel like theses so much conflicting info out there… is she right with her ideals on grains? She’s telling me that research is stating that while wheat is just as bad a white. Is this right?

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      Everyone is different. You are so right – there is LOTS of information out there, so you need to do what works best for you. I would go with your gut (pardon the pun) and maybe just see what works best for you.

  2. I know my whole family needs to ditch the sugar! How do you go about doing that? What is considered off limits to kick the addiction and what is ok to eat? I’m assuming dried fruit and fruit are good but what about honey , maple syrup and agave?

    Also my family is totally a process junkie group… what small steps can I take to switch them?

  3. I use Santa Cruz roasted peanut butter. I tried at least 12 different kinds of peanut butter with no success. I was a huge JIF fan forever, but now I will only eat Santa Cruz Peanut butter. It truly is yummy. Hope this helps on your journey!

  4. I’m a vegan that would like to join the real food movement. Many of your recipes include animal products – do you have any suggestions? Thank you.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Catherine. You are welcome to “make-over” any of the recipes to meet your needs. While there are many vegetarian recipes on the site, there are not a lot that are vegan. I often sub almond or coconut milk for cow’s milk, leave out cheese, and have used chia/flax “eggs” in baking.

  5. Hi Kiran, I loved every part of your update! So similar to my own family. I couldn’t agree with you more about the movie Fed Up – it is a life changer. We chatted last year when you shared your story and gave great advice on working with my kids elementary school, thanks so much for your thoughts. Have a fantastic day, Sue

    1. Hi Sue,
      Thanks again for reaching out and also for your great comments! Yes … Fed Up really was a life changer. I always find that I walk away from those types of movies feeling more knowledgable but more so inspired. Take care!

  6. I hated natural peanut butters too until I tried Whole Foods’ Organic unsweetened, no salt peanut butter with the green top. Peanuts are the only ingredient and it’s vastly better flavor and texture wise than others I’ve tried. I’ve actually wound up preferring it over their version that includes oil.

  7. Love the article! I too have drastically changed my eating out/cooking at home. My daughter is only with me 50% of the time (unfortunately). However, like your children she reads the ingredients all the time and I pray she will make good choices.

    I love snack bars but don’t trust many. I would be careful with Larabars. If I remember correctly there were some questionable ingredients. You can make them better yourself.

    Have you tried Perfect Bars? They are in the cold section at Fresh Market, Earth Fare usually by the yogurt. I know the Whole Foods in CLT has it but cannot find them at mine in Huntersville. YUMMO!


  8. Like some others here, I agree that if your having trouble in a particular area (cereal and peanut butter) try to commit yourself to only buying organic. I fully understand that processed organic items are not “healthy” but they are a much better choice than main-stream items. Not only are you keeping nasties like GMOs and pesticides away from your family you are also “voting” FOR organic products with every single purchase.

    While we have not cut out processed cereal, I refuse to buy non-organic varieties. My kids quickly discovered several types they like.

    I also only buy organic peanut butter. Our favorite organic brand is Martha’s but it can be difficult to find locally and we have used Nature’s Promise, Simply Balanced (Target’s Organic PB) and others but since I only buy organic, we only have organic to choose from.

    Since going organic there are some things that I just can’t justify paying the price for like organic ice cream. I miss ice cream but I just won’t pay the store prices so occasionally we buy organic cream and make our own.

    Unfortunately we don’t eat all organic because we eat with relatives as much or more than we eat by ourselves but I rarely (very, very rarely) ever buy anything that isn’t organic. I hope to start raising our own chicken soon as organic chicken is pricey and they still aren’t treated well. Once we have have the chicken figured out, I hope to try raising a pig or two! I hate the “not knowing” aspect of the meat we eat and want to make sure that ours is raised healthily and treated well during it’s life.

      1. We have an ice cream maker, we just don’t make ice cream often because organic cream is pricey in my area. :)

  9. Nice article and I was so glad to see you mention the documentary Fed Up! Every one needs to watch it! My husband and I wanted to learn more about nutrition and I read about this film in a magazine about a year ago. I was so glad it was screened in our city. We went with a couple of friends and all really enjoyed it and think about it often with our food choices. GMO OMG was in my stocking this Christmas and I hope to watch it this weekend. Thank you for sharing your families story and inspiring positive health to others.

    1. Thank you, Lauren! I always find those movies so inspiring … obviously Fed Up was life changing for me. Sometimes you just need a little nudge, wherever you can find it. Enjoy the movie!

      1. I love this post and I watched Fed Up and was inspired to change as well. This website has been so helpful and your post really resembles my family of 5.

  10. I think you are doing great. I have the same problem with JIF natural so if you find a good substitute please post it :-) I just watched Fed Up last night and now am working on getting the sugar out of my family’s menu. Do you have any dessert suggestions? Fruit is great for summer but winter is tough. Thanks for posting your journey!

    1. Frozen organic fruit at Costco is a good winter treat if you have a membership. Great for smoothies too. I made home made jam this year – strawberry and raspberry using just 1/2 the amount of sugar in regular jam and no/low sugar sure jell. I add it to Kefir Cheese – from Calif. and haven’t found it east of Arizona. It’s like greek yogurt and a teaspoon of jam added to it makes a good dessert.

    2. Regarding the dessert ideas…..banana ice cream made with frozen bananas and a good blender, and frozen fruit sorbets.

  11. I took a few big steps back a little over a year ago when my dad passed away and have not recovered those steps yet. Thanks for the nudge to reevaluate and do better.

  12. We started the 100 days of real food challenge in January. However, it didn’t take long for our very outgoing family of four to realize we couldn’t be invited to anyone’s house, or meet up to eat at a local restaurant since we were still learning, and others don’t have the tools yet to cook for us. So, we sat down and thought long and hard about our decision. We opted to do real food at our house. No sugar, no dyes, no trans fats, white flour, etc. But, if someone invites us over for a meal, we accept and eat whatever they have cooked for us. If a group of friends are going out to eat and invite us, we go and eat as healthy as possible, but don’t fret too much. This has really helped us not be “hermits” and helped our friendships grow with our friends.

    1. I completely agree. We started in January too and have gone ‘all in’. It’s been great but sometimes I need a break from all of the prep work and cooking, and dad needs a break from the cleaning. We have decided to incorporate dining out in moderation.

    2. Yes! Even if eating healthy is very important to you, I don’t understand how some people put a 100% real food diet above their friendships. (That is, for just general healthiness–obviously those with allergies and other serious concerns don’t always have the option to set aside their normal diet no matter how much they’d like to.)

  13. Our biggest struggle is organics. We live 3 hours away from the nearest supermarket that carries organics, and 5 hours away from the nearest whole foods and trader joes. Our local supermarkets carry a few organic items, but they are sometimes almost twice as much as the others. We grow our own food, but sugar is often a big part of the home canning process. Sometimes it feels like we just don’t have a choice.

  14. You might have already tried this but we love the freshly ground peanut and almond butters at Earth Fare and Whole Foods. And it is much more reasonable than the jarred options at those stores! And our Costco on Greensboro has a huge jar of super yummy almond butter and now they are carrying Nutzo!

  15. I love that your kids voluntarily throw out candy and snacks based on their ingredients. It gives me hope that my toddler may do the same when she gets older and has more of an understanding of why those sort of snacks aren’t good for her. She is only 2 1/2 but I’m already finding it challenging to keep her away from junk food when we go to other people’s houses as she just wants to eat what everybody else is eating, especially since she doesn’t get that sort of stuff at home. I have noticed that she cant tolerate much of a sugary snack regardless of how eager she initially seems to try it, probably because I have kept processed sugar out of her diet from the beginning and it must taste too sweet to her. I am worried that the more she goes out into the “real world” and the more exposure she has to junk food that she will want it more and more, but I guess education is key and hopefully she too will listen if she hears it enough.

    1. I was tickled when I had one of my nieces over for a hot cocoa party for her birthday (I think it was her 5th birthday) and she devoured four clementines while only nibbling on the marshmallows. I think when you provide a variety of real food for kids from a young age they usually have good instincts about what they should eat. (Even though what they need is sometimes different from what their parents think they should be eating!)

      Obviously, they can still get sucked into to the fun foods around them, but it helps when they’re used to feeling good from a healthy diet and their bodies are used to recognizing nutrients in what they eat.

  16. During the summer and fall, we sign up for a community share from a local organic farm. $600 from April to October for a weekly tote box full. I freeze what we don’t eat that week.

  17. I love how all these comments are so encouraging. I however am still to embrace the challenge with my small family. I am really at a lost when it comes to making the change without a healthy budget. Where do you all get the money to buy all these great products? Where do you shop? organic shouldn’t be this expensive but it is.

    My husband and I agree to get organic products however there are so many we can’t afford and then we see ourselves having to mix organic vegetables and other processed foods (something canned, for example). I think we do very well since we have managed to skip a few isles in the market.

    Making the change IS a big challenge and I would love to go for it 100% but I just don’t understand how in the world can you afford a weekly shopping trip of everything organic?

    1. I struggled with this and still do. My recommendation is to buy organic produce where you can…some things end up being only $1 or $2 more and start there. And, frozen organic veggies are usually an affordable choice, especially if you can buy in bulk at a place like Costco. Maybe it’s carrots and tomatoes this week and spinach and lettuce the next. You’ll soon find what is important to you to change. And, focus on the other things you can change like baking more things using whole ingredients instead of buying the boxes and cartons of snacks. What I found is that as I cut out all of the pre packaged processed snacks I had more money to spend on better choices in meat, dairy and produce.

    2. Do you have a trader joes near you? They are on the cheaper side for organic products..our Costco just started with organic products too
      I spent almost 300 at the a and p fresh the other day made about e meals and have nothing left by wednesday. Sad good food that is less processed has to cost so much more.

    3. When following recipes I try to only purchase the items I know that I will use again. For example if a recipe calls for celery (such as Lisa’s chicken pot pie) and I do not have an intent of using that ingredient for anything else and know I wont eat it raw then I will just omit it from the recipe. I do this with some spices and fresh herbs as well if I don’t find them to be a crucial part of the dish. I also try to make at least 2 low budget meals a week such as pasta dishes, rice dishes, and bean dishes. Purchasing meat in large quantities when it goes on sale and freezing it is also extremely helpful. I buy about 10-15 whole chickens from a local farm once a year and about 15 pounds of grass fed beef when it goes on sale at my local whole foods.

    4. The cost is a big deal for me too, though my solution is not to go 100% organic, so I don’t know how helpful that is for you. :-) I order organic grains very inexpensively through Azure Standard, and seasonally I can get oraganic potatoes and organic apples (juice grade) very inexpensively through them as well.

      For most of our produce I try to buy more of what’s on the clean 15 list (fewest pesticides) like onions and mushrooms, and what’s on the dirty dozen list I either rarely/never buy (such as some of the berries, and apples when I can’t get them cheaply from Azure) or buy when the organic version hits it’s lowest price point. Organic lettuce isn’t too much more than conventional lettuce at our Kroger, every few weeks I buy a pound of organic spinach at Costco, and through the winter our Kroger has had organic kale on sale for $1/lb most weeks. A lot of it is just choosing to eat a lot of what you can get that’s both clean and cheap and saving the more expensive options for weekly (or less often) variety.

  18. My 10 year old is having a super tough problem transitioning…..I myself have eaten healthy(meaning exactly what you suggest and then some) for over 5 years. I always have good food choices in the house! I have been really trying with my 100 days of real food pledge to make a ton of stuff out of your cookbook. But when I read that Kiram’s kids threw out juice boxes and candy !? Really? My kids would never take that choice. The choices that are available to them at their friends’ houses are endlessly processed and gross…….they choose to dabble in that. When my kids go to friend’s house for 1-2 hours, I am not sending a snack. Never fails they eat there though. So how can I truly transform their eating habits when no matter where we go the processed food is there. I am struggling with left overs too…..

  19. We are on day 27 of the challenge, “we “meaning my 3 year old son, Lukas and myself. My husband “tries” but he has a tendency to closet shop and eat when I’m sleeping and I can’t worry about it nor control it. The positives are that my 3 year old recognizes products, ads, etc. that contain sugar and pretty much calls them out when he sees them and says “too much sugar”. He is regularly asking for our homemade granola bars, oranges, bananas and apples for snacks and has let go of the processed yogurts and bars that we used to buy. I had to tell him that they don’t make them anymore but he’s finally stopped looking. We are trying to eat at least 1 piece of fruit at every meal and at least 1 veggie. Luckily my son LOVES smoothies and I sneak all sorts of things like kale, spinach, celery, carrots and cucumbers in them with the plain, organic yogurt and organic fresh or frozen fruit. I’ve been journaling every single thing we have eaten, how we have slept and how we feel since we started and it is finally becoming natural. When we started this challenge I wanted to do it so that I would be guiding my son on the correct path for life but weight loss has been an added bonus for me. In 27 days I have lost 8 pounds but more than that I feel great! Thank you for these resources, you are changing our lives:)

  20. I think the key word here is ‘quest’. Eating real food is not an overnight change, but rather a journey towards something better. One of the best pieces of advice I was given at the start of my journey was to expect it to take minimum two years. And it will never be 100% because we are human and we have weaknesses. But as long as you are there most of the time that is what counts.

    As to the cereal problem, if it is something you struggle with just don’t buy it. There will be complaints at first but then the kids will eventually find something else to eat for breakfast. I sat the child down and said I was no longer buying cereal so what else could she eat for breakfast.

    She, at 13, has been making her own for a few years now. She started with waffles (I would make the mix and she would cook them) and has progressed to cooking her own eggs and bacon. The best way to get rid of something is to not have it in the first place and when they are hungry enough they will find their own alternatives.

  21. I enjoy reading your blogs and post. I have been eating real before real food was cool. My parent organic farmers taught me the value of real food. Almost every meal was from our farm. The only thing that was store bought was the salt and pepper. I think i was the only college student who had a closet full of vegtables canned by my mom. Throughout my adulthood I have kept those values.

  22. I only read a few posts. I found that I really like almond butter better than natural peanut butter. I also really like cashew butter, but I have not tried making that one yet and it is pricey. I have made progress since last year. My husband is on board now for the organic, that is a huge step for him. He is not on board for natural peanut butter, but I pick my battles. I have made peace with the fact that for right now I have one cup of decaf coffee with a scant teaspoon of turbinado sugar with a little milk-yes organic for the day. I rarely buy any canned goods anymore. I do make a lot from the fresh produce. I am struggling with how to add in spices and herbs to make dishes tasty enough for my hubby, but not over the top for me. I really need help with knowing what herbs or spice to add. I have started using honey and maple syrup in baking when a sweetener is needed. I made a bunch of cookies for the family at Christmas. I was pleasantly surprised that unless I gave them away to people or our adult kids they mostly got pitched. I think it is more tradition for the kids. So I am making progress on the sweets front.
    My husband and I are retired. We decided to change our eating patterns. He wants to watch the news broadcasts and then eat, which in our area is from 6-7. That was just too late to eat every night. So we eat our main meal about 1:30 and then have a light meal or snack after the news. That has helped me get a lot more vegetables and fruit into our meals.
    I would love some help with knowing what spices or herbs to add to dishes. Thanks for all of your posts, they are so helpful and supportive.

    1. Spices: for digestive reasons, I cut out onion. The spices I use frequently are black pepper, garlic, rosemary, cumin, and chili powder. Try a cookbook from Mark Bitman. In one, he describes how to set up your pantry including some basic spices and really encourages to cook every day. Simple dishes with flavor.

    2. Sounds like you’re making really good progress! It’s a little hard for me answer about good spices that aren’t over the top, because my situation is reversed: my husband is okay with fairly bland food and I like lot and lots of flavor!

      I would suggest trying powdered turmeric though. I find that just a little bit (1/8 tsp to start) added to a dish gives a depth of background flavor that brings out the other flavors. I think of it as my natural replacement for MSG (it’s amazing for replicating the flavors of packaged foods like ramen spices or french onion dip). :-)

      Besides turmeric some of my favorite spices are garlic powder, onion powder, cumin and basil. Powdered ginger is also good in a surprisingly large number of dishes, even savory ones.

    3. I really like smoked paprika, especially on pork ribs or roast chicken. Also Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning is very tasty on all kinds of things — eggs, potatoes, vegetables. We also grow a lot of herbs and they add such great flavor to salads, soups and so many things. The fresh flavor of these herbs has made me toss out several of the dried ones I had — there’s no comparison with rosemary, thyme and parsley from the garden!

  23. Have you made your own peanut butter? Oh my! I will never go back! You could always add some honey (or try a little cinnamon too) and then gradually put less in. I hated natural commercial peanut butters, but since making our own with the Vitamix, I find no desire to go back to the old kind. And I make some pretty delicious granola the kids love. They do love their Cheerios though. :( This is the basic granola recipe I use then I customize it according to what I have on hand and what we like.

  24. Try the natural peanut butter from Trader Joes. It is as smooth as the traditional brands and does not get rock hard in the fridge. Tastes great too!

  25. I’m surprised there are so many peanut butter suggestions in these comments! :) Another thing you might try, although it involves more work and a bit of sneakiness, is gradually mixing the new into the old. Maybe 10% in the first jar, 20% in the next jar, etc. It might take a while to completely switch over, but if the PB issue is a big one for you, it would be worth it.

    I used to love JIF! Now it just tastes strange to me. I buy the organic from Costco, or sometimes the organic from Vons, Sprouts or Trader Joe’s.

    Now I just need to work on the sugar, that’s a big issue for me. I have Fed Up on my Netflix cue, but I have to finish watching True Blood first! Only 4 more episodes to go… :)

  26. Not sure if you have a Kroger near you, but the BEST Organic Peanut we’ve found for a picky teen is Simple Truth Organic, No stir. Consistency and taste is almost IDENTICAL to Jif:)

  27. I say we are about 75% there, we were never that bad in the first place, however we were not doing good either. I have made a more conscious effort in what I bring into the house and doing better on checking the labels of things. To me something is better than not doing it at all. I’m lucky as my husband doesn’t like sweet things and my son forgets about the candy he does get. There’s room for improvement , but I like the direction we are going. :)

  28. I wouldn’t normally comment but since I have recently found a successful peanut butter sub I’m posting it. If you happen to be a Costco member, we get their Kirkland brand all natural peanut butter. They have both organic and non-organic. Just Valencia peanuts and salt. The non-organic is 2/ 40oz containers for under $10 and the organic was a great price also. This peanut butter is smooth like the all natural Jiff EVERY TIME I take it out of the fridge… I have never found another natural brand you refrigerate that stays creamy after refrigeration, spreads easily and tastes sweeter without any sugars. So, there are my two cents ;)

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      Thank you, Amy! I’m actually not a member, but sometimes I go with my dad (who is a member). So I’ll be sure to check it out. Thanks again!

  29. Kiran,

    Please tell me how you kicked your dark chocolate addiction. I am addicted. I gave it up for 30 days and eased back in, but 2 months later I am addicted again, constantly craving it.


    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith


      Honestly, I just remind myself every day that I don’t want to have all of the sugar because of how bad it truly is for you. With this being said, there is nothing wrong with a small piece here and there! If you deprive yourself completely, I’ve found that this can lead to failure. Moderation – and in small amounts when it comes to anything with sugar. You can do it! :)


    2. Is it possible there are nutrients in the dark chocolate that are causing your body to crave it? I’ve seen a chart around that says what nutrients your body really needs when you have certain cravings and I think chocolate cravings can show a magnesium deficiency, among other things.

  30. My husband, my 2 year old, and I have pretty much all gone 95% whole food except for occasional treats at birthdays and when eating at restaurants, but my 5 year old is resistant to everything. I have tried many of the tips I found on this blog and others as well as 100s of recipes for him of real food versions of the few foods he does eat, but he will not budge. I have refused to give up though. It is always refreshing to read about families who are still trying to find their way as well. Good for you!

  31. I really enjoyed reading your post. It was especially nice to see that baby steps are o.k. I feel awful every time I feed my children any processed food, but the transition to completely eliminate processed junk does take time. It made me feel like I am not alone in this endeavor.

    Also, I wanted to let you know that I make my own peanut butter in my vitamix. It was a large up front cost, but you can buy refurbished ones for cheaper. Additionally, they are so versatile and it was money well spent. We frequently have green smoothies for breakfast with it.

    Thanks again!

  32. Great post. I will say that I understand why you want to work on those improvements but they aren’t the orse things. Sometimes we can eat all the health food we want but if we don’t couple that with happiness it won’t work. A 90/10 diet is actually pretty optimal. Of course everyone has to do what is best for their own family but the stress of being 100% may be too much for some people. They shouldn’t get too discouraged or stop trying either. It’s about balance sometimes too. This is said in a kind voice and manner not to debunk the post at all.

  33. Thank you for this article! I think we’re pretty similar in both the successes we’ve had with our families and the challenges we face (cereal and peanut butter primarily). Where we are not on the same page is with sugar. I am so envious that you don’t crave it anymore. It is my biggest struggle by far. What’s funny is that my kids aren’t the ones with the issue…it’s ME (my 4-year old ate ONE piece of Halloween candy and literally forgot she had it!) I would love to know how you eliminated it (for the most part). I’d also love to know how you drink your coffee in the mornings (if you drink it). That’s another weakness of mine … the chemical-filled creamers.

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith


      Hang in there, Michelle – it sounds like you are doing a great job already. Don’t beat yourself up!
      So I don’t really do coffee. I will make a cup maybe once a week and may grab a decaf if I”m out – but I take it black. Trust me – I know those chemical-laden creamers are delish, but once you can change your tastebuds, you will be good. Have you tried making your own creamer at all?

      Sugar. It took me For.Ev.Er. Seriously. I had to have a moment with myself after leaving the movie Fed Up; and my husband also told me that I was addicted to it. It was not easy, but I found that 3 weeks later it was MUCH better. The tricky thing is that I think the more you have it, the more you want it. So if you can really, really try to avoid it but don’t cut it out completely, you will be on your way. As I said in another response – when you feel like you are not “allowed” to have something, it almost makes you want it more – my opinion. So give yourself a break; a little bit here and there is ok. Don’t try to go cold turkey overnight! Keep me posted on how you do:).

    2. This doesn’t help with cutting out sugar, but as far as chemical filled creamers go… I usually have a batch of homemade caramel syrup and homemade chocolate syrup (or both!) in my fridge, and when I drink coffee (which only about once a week or so) I flavor/sweeten it with those and then add raw milk for the creaminess.

      You could also try Paleo Chef’s Unicorn Fuel coffee recipe (I add a bit of sweetener when I make it)–it’s like the mocha version of bulletproof coffee.

  34. I agree with another reader- try alternatives other than cereal. My kids never eat cereal. It’s either scrambled eggs, eggs in a pita pocket, homemade pancakes (I make a large batch on Sundays) with almond butter spread between, or with a small side of sausage or bacon (both of which I get from local farmers). The pancakes are made with buckwheat, bananas and eggs. I often add zucchini or carrot by finely chopping in a food processor. I also add all sorts of veggies to eggs like sweet and purple potatoes, kale, spinach, scallions, shallots, etc.

  35. I used to love Jif peanut butter. Now it tastes funny to me. Kids like it because there is added sugar. Try making your own in a food processor and add honey or maple syrup to it. Another brand that is pretty good is called Barney Butter. As I recall, it is almond butter with added sugar, but no other processed ingredients or food additives.

  36. Over the last year, my husband and I decided not to bring processed food into the house. We only keep whole, real foods in the house. If we crave junk food, then we have to force ourselves to go out and get it. We have two gas stations next to our condo building and a vending machine inside the building, so it wouldn’t be terribly hard to get the junk food, but we rarely do. It is amazing how just keeping it out of the cabinets has done wonders!

  37. Coscto natural peanut butter is really good. I used Smucker’s before that. It isn’t as smooth as the regular stuff, but it has an amazing peanut flavor.

  38. Congratulations on your big year! It sounds like your family accomplished quite a lot! When you were talking about having 2 fruits and vegetables at every meal, I’d love some ideas of how you incorporate veggies into breakfast during the week. I get the whole smoothie with greens in it, or eggs with veggies, but what do you guys do mid-week?

  39. Make your own PB! Best investment we ever made was a Vitamix. Easy and you can make endless variations of nut butters to satisfy your family’s palates.

  40. I really appreciate the reality in this post! Reading the book right now but it is hard, change is hard! I feel more inspired by your post and the comments it created! Thanks!

  41. I am coming around to planning our snacks too. It actually saves a lot of money because instead of having to have multiple boxes of crackers or granola bars around for the kids to choose from I simply have to have that particular item that I planned for. Love the progress over perfection mindset!

  42. I loved and really appreciated this post, as Toni said above, this “this post hit home” with me too. We are working on this too and I can say we are making strides like Kiran but with all honesty it is not easy by any stretch.

  43. Another peanut butter tip – not sure if you have BJs in your area (or if you shop there), but they have an organic PB that is $5.99. It’s definitely not completely silky the way Jif is, and I do find that it can be dried out towards the bottom of the jar if you don’t stir it with each use – but I love it.

    The brand is Earth’s Pride (not sure if that is specific to BJs or not). It has organic dry roasted peanuts and sea salt.

  44. Wow! This post hit home. We are making an effort to cut out processed foods and we some of our main struggles are with cereal and sugar and JIF natural :) Thank you so much for your honesty and sharing your experiences!

  45. Vanessa Williams

    It has been a year of changes for us and we went slowly but are doing great now. There is still room for improvement. I wanted to share a few things you wrote about.
    1. We also use a lot of peanut butter. I shop at Bj’s Wholesale and they carry Smucker’s Natural. It is made with only peanuts and we love it. While I also try to go all organic and my kids will eat it, it is just too much for our budget. I found this as a good middle ground.
    2. I buy puffed wheat or rice, which is the only ingredient. It took some time, but my girls have now adjusted to it. At first I gave them chocolate almond milk with it to give them some sugar. Now they like it plain or with almond milk.
    3. We make our own granola bars, which are very easy no bake and tasty. I cut them and put in snack bags for easy travel. This is where creativity come in. We make different ones each week just doing different nuts or by adding in extras. I have used Lara Bars as inspiration.

    1 cup nuts or seeds
    1 cup dried fruit (our go to is raisins since it doesn’t have sugar)
    1 cup dates (If dry, soak in water for 10 minutes then drain)

    Optional – add 1/2 cup anything else (coconut, chia seeds, chocolate, etc.)

    Food process/ press into any baking dish/ Add spices on top if wanted/ refrigerate to set/ cut up

    You want the mixture to be sticky. If it is not binding, then add extra dates or some coconut oil. There is no wrong way. We have had times when it crumbles into a granola instead of staying as a bar and then we add it to yogurt or ricotta cheese.

    I hope this helps.
    Any little change we make for a family is a step in the right direction.

  46. My peanut butter tip is to buy Smucker’s Natural. It only has peanuts & salt in the ingredient list. It isn’t organic, but neither does it have all the bad ingredients in it. It is the one that helped my family transition away from regular peanut butter because it does taste good. Now, everyone likes it. You can get a 26 oz. jar for $4 or $5 and it lasts awhile for our family of six.

  47. I think this is a wonderful blog post and gives me hope. I am probably at about 65% of the way with my family and your attitude reminds me celebrate how far we’ve come and not worry about how far we still have to go. Thank you for the inspiration to continue to make small changes. Ironically PB is the one thing that is not hard for us – the kids love watching the peanuts grind into butter in the machine and jockey over who gets to press the button! Sugar is still my biggest hurdle for all of us. I welcome your tips. Thank you!

  48. This is such an encouraging post! Sometimes I get down and want to give up because I’m dragging my family kicking and screaming into healthier eating. But it’s worth it, and I won’t give up.

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      Thanks so much, Heather (and everyone else)!
      I’ve been there, too. The fact that you are trying is the first step. Everything else comes after. Don’t give up! Little changes add up.

  49. Articles like this are so inspiring to me! We are a large family, and it is not always easy to switch everyone’s diet over to real food and stay within the budget of a single-income family. I appreciate that the struggle is understood. I can’t MAKE my husband and older children comply overnight. I don’t want to be the house dictator. My kids and husband have come a long way, and I am hopeful that we will be, at least, at 85% real food soon:) Thank you!

  50. I am picky about peanut butter too. I really like Trader Joe’s Valencia Peanut Butter. But it has to be Valencia and they don’t always have it in stock. Very inspired by you and your family!

  51. My husband grew up on Jif and loved it! I actually didn’t like peanut butter so switching to natural wasn’t a big deal. My husband wasn’t a fan, but since I primarily do the grocery shopping he made do. Now we do not buy organic, but we do but Smuckers that only has nuts. My kids friends have had ours and they always comment how my peanut butter is the best. Guess that Jif isn’t as ingrained in their taste buds yet. :-)

  52. I buy Trader Joe’s or Whole Food (365 brand) peanut butter. I think they both taste great and are a little more budget friendly.

  53. We are probably 75% at best because we still eat out on a regular basis, but I did have an AHA moment in January. My daughter was turning 9 and having her first sleepover. She wanted to serve “Mommy’s Taco Bar” for dinner and for us to make the cupcakes! She was so excited to see Lisa’s daughter had a taco bar for her 9th birthday too :) And we spent 30 mins trying to find cupcake toppings at a conventional store, but to her dismay NONE of them were wax-free (ew!) or dye free. The helpful worker at EarthFare suggested mashing up berries, “healthier” oreos, etc, and the girls ALL loved decorating themselves. My kids still eat junk/candy when it’s available, but this felt like a big victory that she was choosing it…and to share it with her friends!

  54. I was also a PB addict, until I tried cashew butter. I think it tastes so much better and haven’t bought any PB for about 2 years now. My boyfriend is very reluctant to try just about anything, but after years of telling him how much better cashew butter tastes he tried it and became hooked. I purchase cashew meal, which is just ground cashews and looks like flour, add it to the food processor and blend until it’s a smooth and creamy butter. At first I would add 1-2 tablespoons of honey per 16oz bag of cashew meal, but I slowly reduced that to none at all and it still tastes just as good. I buy the cashew meal at trader joes for around $5 a bag and it makes fills a pint size mason jar. I have seen half pint jars of cashew butter is stores for $9+

  55. Kudos to you for showing both what works and what doesn’t for your family. We have a serious issue with getting cereal out of the house, I too have tried other options, but it is just tough. I just try to make the best of what is available.

    One of the biggest things that has worked for me with the peanut butter was making my own. It is so easy and my kids eat peanut butter literally every day!

    My tip is to buy the Trader Joe’s lightly salted peanuts. I put two bags into my food processor, turn it on and walk away for about 5 minutes. I have found that these peanuts are not too oily. Two bags usually makes just around 2 pints of peanut butter. I do not store it in the fridge. This has been one of my few successes! Hope this helps someone!

    1. Thanks for the tip on homeade peanut butter. I feel like I’ve tried every healthy just peanut brand and my kids won’t eat it. I’m inspired to try your tip. Thanks.

    2. Just curious what kind of food processor you have? Last time I tried making homemade nut butter it took forever and required lots of extra oil and still never quite seemed right, but at the time I was using a cheap Black and Decker food processor, and I haven’t tried nut butters again since I upgraded to Cusinart.

      1. I have both a Cuisinart (very basic, about 15 years old, only option is on/pulse, basic top) as well as a Ninja (the one that comes with blender, processor and individual cups). Both do fairly well with the peanuts I get. I think the peanuts/source have a lot to do with the consistency you get. As I mentioned, I use the TJ lightly salted peanuts… the others really did get pretty oily. I have never had to add extra oil. letting it go for about 5-10 minutes allows it to produce its oils naturally. Hope this helps!!

      2. Thanks, that does help! That makes a lot of sense that it’s the nuts/peanuts rather than the processor that makes the most difference. I haven’t actually tried it with any peanuts yet, so maybe that was my main problem.

  56. I’m lucky to have a Winco nearby and they offer fresh made almond and peanut butter with no additivies. You can actually see the nuts at the top of the machine.

    I actually tried regular peanut butter (Peter Pan, I think) the other day and I now prefer the almond butter. who knew!!!

  57. I, too, and having problems with cereals. I think they are starting to get it, b/c they asked if a milkshake had lots of sugar in it, to which I said YES! (they have always loved McDonald’s milkshakes, its the only thing we buy from there but I am trying to make them understand if I made one it would be soo much healthier!) One big think that I am proud of personally is giving up soda. I LOVED soda…especially fountain soda. But once I started cutting down my sugar intake I found that drinking it just didn’t make me feel good. So I have been soda free for a while now!

  58. I have found dozens of recipes on Pinterest for homemade cereal…Golden Grahams, Cocoa Puffs, you name it….AND- they are all made with natural, real ingredients!!

  59. I’ve been making my own peanut butter lately. I haven’t quite perfected the recipe, but I’m getting there. I start with plain, unsalted peanuts, and I’m experimenting with different amounts of salt, oil, and honey. My daughter didn’t like the last batch (I didn’t love it, either!), but I’m lucky that she’s still young enough to usually eat what I put in front of her without questioning me!

  60. Thank you, Just what I needed to hear today! I am really trying to make changes for our family and it’s been fairly easy for my husband and I, but the kids (age 11 and 7) it has been a different story.My 8 year old is a VERY picky eater even with processed food and junk and only eats a few things and not much of it. He has Asmtha is very small and I am trying to move to all real food but at the same time he has to eat something (he will refuse food and go to bed hungry if it’s something he does not like and do that days in a row)! Anyway, I am making little changes and just keep trying!

  61. Bravo, Kiran! All of those changes that you and your fam have made, or are in the process of making, are so so important. Cutting back sugar is especially tough.

  62. What box cereals do you use? And what are your guidelines on how you choose what is a good one? I’m very new to this journey, but boxed cereals has been one of my challenges.

  63. We also hit the 80-90% range for real unprocessed!!! It is good to remember you’re doing your best and to celebrate the little accomplishments. The few things I am.still stuck on is store bought pasta vs homemade however we buy whole wheat so I consider that slightly better than white! :) our big accomplishment has been switching to homemade granola cereal and plain yogurt with natural sweetener!!! I think not baking with white sugar is our next goal, or at least cutting back on it.

    1. I’ve switched completely over to organic evaporated cane juice instead of white sugar. I try to use turbinado or honey for a sweetener most of the time, but this way when I need to fall back on something more like white sugar (for making kombucha, or birthdays, or just to make my husband happy) I’m at least using something organic and *slightly* less processed. Maybe that would make a good transitional step for you too?

  64. Amen to peanut butter! I stopped beating myself up about it. While I don’t mind natural peanut butter (with only peanuts) the spread factor annoys me and it just doesn’t taste as good nor does it offer the rewarding feeling a good old bite of processed pb does! I figure I balance it out with other things I am willing to do (homemade tortillas etc) and in the grand scheme, I’m not too bad!

    1. Yep! I buy the Aldi natural peanut butter (pretty similar to the JIF natural I think–the Aldi brand skips corn syrup and hydrogenated oils, but does have palm oil, evaporated cane juice, molasses and salt). My husband much prefers the creamy, spreadable texture to any completely natural peanut butter, and I’d rather make him happy and have a mostly real food diet and than eat 100% real food and cause stress for both of us. :-)

  65. Can you share some of the recipes for the things you like to bake with your kids? I am having a heart time finding recipes for whole grain, naturally sweetened (honey, maple syrup) baked goods and homemade snacks that my family likes.

  66. I understand the JIF Dilemma. It is the peanut butter a lot of us were raised on, and nothing tastes quite like it.

    I was able to switch to a natural organic peanut butter over time. I didn’t like it at first, but I refused to throw away $7 so, I made myself eat it. Once the jar was empty, I went straight back to JIF but realized that I didn’t have the “taste” for it any longer. I preferred the natural.

    I think you are doing amazing!

  67. Our local co-op has a grinder to make fresh peanut butter in store, and it is SO GOOD. Reasonably priced too. Our Kroger grocery has one in the bulk food section, but theirs tastes terrible, must be the source of peanuts? If you can find a store that does this I highly recommend giving it a try. I hate peanut butter except the fresh ground is delicious. Bonus is that it is easy to spread, doesn’t get hard or oily, and only has one ingredient!

  68. So good to see a balanced approach! It’s a little-by-little change when you’re feeding a whole family. On the peanut butter thing – I find adding a little sea salt to the jar makes it taste just right to us. The best prices I have found have been at local independent bulk stores. I just buy the 100% plain peanut butter, shake in some sea salt (less than a tsp) and mix it up and everyone is happy.

  69. It’s nice to see that other people take small steps forward and back. Out of the 14 week mini pledges I was thinking there’s no way I could only do meat 3-4 times per week but I have cut the portion and try to have once a day. Also I thought the no sweetener would be impossible but dates, apples and bananas really help. In moderation of course. Unfortunately organic food is really difficult to find where I live, remote lake community in canada so I’m working on this one. First step was buying a freezer. Not sure how successful gardening will be since I live in the bush and the light is tricky.

  70. Have you tried the trader joes natural peanut butter? I can sometimes pass this one off on my boys. I have never been able to pass off the publix’s natural fresh ground peanut butter. Although that is the brand my husband and I eat.

  71. Thank you Kiran and Lisa for the honesty! Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by what I am not doing, I lose track of how far we have come. This helped. We are probably between 40 and 50%. Some weeks are better thank others! We also had a huge moment this week. A few weeks ago I taught my husband how to read the label on bread after he brought home the split top butter wheat bread, yet again. Last night, he went to the store and proudly brought home his whole grain, whole wheat choice. While not exactly there yet, it was so much better than what he was bringing home last week!
    I guess all that to say, I won’t let myself get bogged down in what I am not doing and be happy with where we have come from! Then continue taking little steps.

  72. Would it be easier to move away from cold cereal entirely than to try to find a real food version that your kids like?

    I totally understand if cereal is just a necessary part of your routine! :-) Everyone just has different preferences and things that are harder for them to change than others.

    But you could try making one of real food breakfast cookie recipes that’s out there, or refrigerator oatmeal, or something like that. It would require prep work ahead of time, but it would be just as fast to get on the table in the morning as a box of cereal would be.

    1. That’s a great idea! I received a Weelicious cookbook for my birthday last year, and there are some great breakfast cookie/pancake sandwich type recipes in there (and I know she freezes and reheats a lot of that stuff, so she isn’t making things fresh every day).

  73. My fiancé and I use whole foods brand organic peanut butter. He likes it which amazes me and we are college students with a very small budget and we make it work!

  74. LOVED the post, Kiran! I so enjoy hearing about other people’s real food journeys and especially how they achieve balance in their lives. Its so nice to hear about what works for your family, keep us updated!

    1. I just checked out this link and FYI – I’m honestly not sure it’s any different/better than JIF Natural since it has sugar (cane syrup), oil and salt in it. Ideally peanut butter will be made with only 1-ingredient – peanuts. But I agree the consistency isn’t quite like what we’re used to, which is the real challenge with going that route!