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

A couple weeks ago on Facebook I asked, If you are new to cutting out processed food what are you most confused about at the moment? A whopping 505 comments later I decided there are some readers out there that need a little help! So here’s the first half of the more frequently asked questions from that post…and more importantly some answers! Check back soon for the second batch of questions, which will be published in a separate post (it was getting kind of long!).

Before I dive into this “real food” FAQ list though I want to make sure you know about our new page on the Plan to Eat website, which allows access to our recipes. Plan to Eat is one of our meal planning sponsors and their service helps you organize recipes from both your own collection as well as other sites (like our blog!) in an online recipe box. You can then select what meals you’d like to make for the week and they’ll itemize all of the ingredients into one concise grocery list for you. Kiran from our team has fallen in love with this service and says it’s helping her to stay organized and keep track of her family’s favorite recipes. If you sign up for their meal planning service just go to our page on the Plan to Eat website and click “100 Days of Real Food Recipes” at the very top to login and access our recipes in one place.

Real Food FAQs

Reader questions about the switch to real food:

  1. Question: “I am so overwhelmed with the idea of eating ‘real food’ that I don’t know where to start.”

    Answer: First of all, I think it’s important to remember that making any changes toward cutting out processed food is better than none. I would hate for someone to get so overwhelmed that they give up all together because even small changes can add up fast. As far as specific food groups go…increasing your consumption of fruits and vegetables is one of the most important changes you can make, and it can help displace some of the processed stuff as well. Also try to buy organic produce whenever possible, but don’t forget that eating conventional fruits and vegetables is better than not eating any produce at all.

    Real Food FAQ: BreadSecondly, I would start by making changes to bread and other items made with grains. This food group tends to make up a big portion of the average American’s diet so making some changes here could potentially go a long way. Switch to 100% whole-grain products including sandwich bread (you can get bread made with only 4 or 5 ingredients from some bakeries), pasta, crackers, rice, etc. If you don’t think your family will be fond of the idea then try mixing both white and whole-grain together (flour, pasta, rice, etc.) and gradually reduce the refined grains over time.

    I often feel like eating “real food” means eating the same familiar meals you’re used to it’s just that they’re made with higher quality “whole” ingredients. For additional “getting started” resources and information be sure to check out our “Start Here” page and our 14 weeks of Real Food Mini Pledges as well.
  2. Question“I love the idea of eating real food and changing our lifestyle to be healthier, but my problem is my three kids and husband are not on board. I need some advice on how to ease them into the change.”

    : Please know that it can take a very long time for family members to get on board with the change (you are not alone!). It can sometimes take months or even a year to win over a picky eater. It’s important to be persistent though and not give up while simultaneously not pushing too hard…try to find the sweet spot in-between, which I like to call “gentle persistence.” Here’s a post on convincing reluctant spouses and also on dealing with picky eaters that might help.
  3. Question: “How do I convert all my recipes into healthy whole foods? I would like a substitution guide for sugars, oils, and flour.”

     For sugar try substituting a fraction of what the recipe calls for with honey or maple syrup (I usually start with less than half). In recipes that call for a tablespoon or so of sugar you can usually just leave it out all together. For all purpose flour try substituting white whole wheat flour or regular whole wheat flour (both are 100% whole-grain). As far as cooking oils go try olive oil or butter for pan frying and coconut oil or butter for baking. Here are some post links that share more information on grains, sweeteners, and oils.
  4. Question“I could really use a list of ‘bad’ ingredients in food and why we should avoid them.”
    The list of additives readers inquired about went on and on including xantham gum, natural flavoring, carrageenan, sulfites, nitrates, and citric acid. People also asked about GMOs (genetically modified foods) and “enriched” products.

     I am going to make this one easy for you (as opposed to giving you some long, complicated list of additives that you need to memorize or keep in your wallet!). If it’s not an ingredient you keep in your pantry or would cook with at home then it’s best to avoid it. As far as GMOs go they are currently not required to be labeled in our country so the only way to avoid them at this time is to buy organic. When you see “enriched” on the label it means that product has been refined so they have to “enrich” the flour by adding back in the important nutrients they think are now missing. Since food scientists cannot recreate nature I personally avoid refined, enriched products and go for the “real” original thing instead (i.e. whole-grain).
  5. Question“I am really confused on sugar. Are all sweeteners bad?”
    We get questions quite frequently about all sorts of sweeteners including stevia, agave, coconut palm sugar, sugar in the raw, etc.Real Food FAQ: sugar

      When it comes to sweeteners the moral of the story is that “sugar is sugar” no matter which one you choose. I do recommend avoiding the artificial stuff and after that no matter which sweeteners you use always consume them in moderation. We prefer honey and maple syrup because they are two of the least processed sweeteners available (mostly “processed” in nature), but we still do our best to keep overall consumption down. Here’s more on sweeteners.
  6. Question“I am not sure what oil to use for baking, salad dressings, frying, or cooking. And which ones are bad for you and that I should avoid at all times?”
    Readers asked about all sorts of oils including coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, grapeseed oil, walnut oil, vegetable oil, and canola oil.

    These are the cooking fats I use the most…
    For baking: butter or coconut oil

    For salad dressings: olive oil
    For pan frying: butter or olive oil (for low temp cooking) or ghee/clarified butter, coconut oil, or pastured lard (for high temp cooking)

    These are the refined oils I avoid…
    Grapeseed oil, vegetable oil, and canola oil, among others
    For more info check out our post all about oils and other cooking fats.
  7. Question: “I don’t have access to any local farms where I live. I would like to know what is the best brand of meat to buy at my local supermarket?”

     You can search for local farms through Eat Wild, Local Harvest, and Eat Local Grown. But if you still can’t find humanely raised pastured meat in your area then the next best option to local would be organic.
  8. Question: “I am just not sure with my family of five that I can afford to buy all organic food. We don’t have access to a Whole Foods, Trader Joes or an Earth Fare. Our resources are limited so what are my options if I want to start eating more healthily?”

     Here are two posts that I think will help… Buying Real Food from a Mainstream Supermarket and 12 Ways to Keep it Cheap. Also, check out the dirty dozen list if you need to prioritize what you’ll buy organic.
  9. Question“How do you find the time to cook, eat, and clean up all this real food?”

    I’ve always been up front about the amount of time it takes to provide your family with real food…it’s no secret that we don’t eat this way because it’s more convenient. We eat this way because we feel it’s what is best for our family and therefore worth the time and effort. I also think it tastes better than the factory-made processed stuff we used to eat so that’s incentive to work a little harder in the kitchen as well! :)

    Anyway though, this is the way I look at it: It’s your life and up to you to prioritize what’s important. Maybe our family spends a little less time watching TV or going to sporting events or insert X activity because we’ve made the choice to instead spend a little more time and money on obtaining high quality ingredients and making “real food” meals. Now that doesn’t mean eating this way takes up all our time by any means…I promise we still do plenty of fun stuff as well as work full time, too! Some days I hardly cook at all and others I am in there cooking up a storm making a fresh batch of granola and muffins and smoothies, etc. I do find that making a few things at once can help give me a couple days “off” in-between. I also like to make big batches of certain dishes and freeze the extras so I can simply defrost on another busier day. I’ve also found that putting the kids to work (now that they are old enough) really does help. They are pretty good at emptying the dishwasher, among other things. But don’t get me wrong there are definitely days where I don’t feel like cooking (or cleaning!) and as a result we occasionally do go out for dinner, but for the most part we’ve gotten used to this new way of life and accept that it’s what it takes to eat real food!

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

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  1. Organic foods unfortunately are not all gmo free, & depending in which state you live in, the rules for organic labeling are different.

  2. I am curious about sunflower oil. I found a recipe for mayo and it calls for expellar pressed sunflower oil. Is that oil a good one or should I avoid it? I seem to find mixed reviews online. The brand is Hain. Ingredients are: Expellar pressed sunflower oil, mixed tocopherols (vitamin E). Thanks!

  3. Hey there!
    I noticed that xanthan gum is in the list of things to avoid. What is the reason behind this and do you know if there is a “real food” alternative for this? I’m gluten free and I use it regularly in my baking and it is always in store bought gf bread. I have no idea how to bake gf without it!! lol

  4. I have noticed that you state above that you avoid grapeseed oil….why is that? I have noticed that your friend, the Food Babe, says she does use grapeseed oil…..just wondering how you differ on this.


  5. I am trying to do some research on drinking raw milk and I wondered if you’d done any research yourself or had any thoughts on it. I noticed you avoid “enriched” products, and this is similar to what is done to milk after pasteurizing it. I’m leaning more toward the raw milk bandwagon but am trying to get some more unbiased information before I proceed (a feat easier said than done, I can assure you.) Thanks!

  6. When we started cleaning up our diet I did it slowly. The first major thing I fed hubby was potato soup that I used cauliflower creamed in exchange for the cream-o-chicken soup the recipe called for.

  7. We started to eat Real Foods about three years ago. It was a little challenging at first. It is more the prep time then the cook time that has changed. It takes me 10-15 min more for dinner every day. Is your family’s health not worth the 15 min?

    Also, We have changed relatives and friends minds once they eat at our house. The food is simply better tasting.

    Baking tip: Sugar is a liquid. If you are going to reduce the sugar in a recipe with 1/4 cup honey instead of 1/2 cup sugar. We make up the difference with sour cream. Whip the wet ingredients for about 4-5 minutes. You will end up with the lightest fluffiest baked goods, even with Whole Grain wheat.

    When making bread, I use a teaspoon additional yeast for whole wheat instead of processed flour.

    I use Olive Oil and butter for all of my cooking. Sorry it is not that much more expensive to use either one, and the flavors are so much better. (Coconut Oil and Lard are a little heavy for me. A lot of trans fats also.)

    Avoid all foods that say Natural Flavorings! I will caveat that with we have contacted companies and many are willing to tell you what the natural flavorings are. Else, Natural Flavorings can be anything as long as total weight is less the 2% of the product. (Scary)

    Lecithin and MSG is a way of hiding Extremely processed Soy Fat that is made with benzine and many other harmful chemicals. This is becoming a huge issue. I challenge you to look at the Milk and Butter in your home. More brands then not add Soy fat in their dairy! They are using the Milk fat to produce more butter.

    Google is your friend for finding Farmer’s markets and Food Co-Ops. We use both and live in a tiny mountain town in Arizona. The Food Co-op saves us 1/3 the costs of food per month. I get real food for the same as processed foods. Processed foods are less expensive empty calories that are abundant with chemicals.

    In out little community there are Church groups that offer free to everyone cooking, canning and planting classes with little to no religious overtones. These classes are meant to help everyone live a healthier lifestyle. Those whom wish to stay after can join in a prayer service. Nazarene, LDS (Mormon), Seventh Day Adventists all have classes in various communities that we have lived.