This is our third guest post in our 2020 Reader Advice & Tips series where we invited our readers to submit their best advice on how to cut out processed food. Those who were chosen to be featured are receiving a signed copy of one of my cookbooks (their choice)! A big thank you to everyone who turned in a submission. We loved getting to know you!
My real food journey began many years ago when chef and cookbook author Jamie Oliver opened my eyes to the ingredients of a typical chicken nugget. He had a show where he went into schools in Huntington, West Virginia and educated kids about what was in their favorite fast-food fare. Seeing the globs of meat and fat and bones and everything else was disgusting, and I vowed I would never feed my future children such unhealthy foods.
I now have two kids, and while I have indeed served them those nefarious nuggets (impassioned young adult vow, meet reality of actual parenthood), most of their meals are made from scratch, and I feel good about what’s going into their bodies. Candy has a limited place in our household and snacks are mostly made of real food ingredients.
My Best Advice
Real Food guru Michael Pollan says, “Cooking from scratch is the single most important thing we can do as a family to improve our health and general well being.” Fortunately, I enjoy cooking. I find making pasta from scratch to be therapeutic, I love to bake and fill my house with the smells of freshly made chocolate chip cookies, and I get excited about trying new recipes. But not all people find the same satisfaction in the kitchen.
My advice? If you struggle to stand in front of the stove and spend 30 to 45 minutes making a meal for your family, find a way to make it fun. Is there a type of cuisine that your whole family enjoys? Treat yourself to a new cookbook and commit to learning to make favorite dishes at home. Is there a show that you never have time to watch? Indulge while you’re prepping veggies. Like podcasts? Tune in while you’re bustling around preparing dinner. Think about what would make cooking more compelling for you, and then make that happen.
My Top 5 Tips For Cutting Out Processed Food
- Rather than healthifying family favorites, find new dishes that use real foods you know your family loves.
My husband and kids have been disappointed more than once when I’ve served something they’ve always enjoyed, but this time the flavor or texture is completely different because of ingredient swaps (looking at you, black bean brownies). You’re beginning a new lifestyle: keep the favorite veggies and proteins, but look for new, healthier ways to use them.
- Invite your kids into the kitchen.
Last summer, I did Kiran’s Camp Kitchen with my two elementary-aged little ones. I’ve tried to involve them with meal prep in the past, mostly unsuccessfully, as I’ve had a hard time figuring out tasks they could do. This digital download of recipes made the experience enjoyable for all of us because between the two of them, my 4-year-old and 8-year-old could do all the steps. And since they made each meal themselves, they were willing to try it. My eldest, normally averse to any type of lettuce, even ate his whole plate of salad!
- Get rid of the food you’re committed to not eating anymore.
If you just bought a huge box of sugary granola bars and your New Year’s resolution is to start eating real food snacks, take that box to a food pantry. Have a stash of candy and sweets? Throw it away or offer it to a neighbor. If you’ve committed to cutting out processed food, it’s helpful to act while you have momentum, rather than waiting until you run out of the unhealthy stuff.
- And the flip side of that coin: Don’t buy what you don’t want your family to eat.
Steer clear of the candy and chips aisles at the store and keep to the perimeter as much as you can. If you’re a store circular junkie, prepare to experience withdrawal. So many of those coupons seem to be for buy-3-save-$2 off sugar-laden breakfast cereals and granola bars.
- Read picture books with your little ones about eating healthy.
My preschooler loves looking at books about fruits and vegetables. She enjoys pointing at the ones she already knows and learning to identify new ones. And then she’s excited to see those new ones in the grocery store and more likely to try them when they’re on her plate. A quick Amazon search brought up dozens of titles, but a few favorites are Lois Ehlert’s Planting a Rainbow, Smriti Prasadam-Halls’ T-Veg The Story of a Carrot Crunching Dinosaur, and ‘s book Wedgieman: a Hero Is Born, all of which we’ve checked out from our local library.
People often balk at the cost of real food. It’s true that, in general, processed food is cheaper than real food. But one of the best things I’ve read to that end is that it’s better to pay the farmer a little bit more now than pay the doctor a lot more later. Real foods keep us healthy and performing at our best. Whatever small steps you can take to progress in your journey toward prioritizing real foods will be worth it.