Today, on Live Simply, The Podcast, I’m sharing my wellness journey with you, which all started with Kool-Aid and Velveeta Cheese. If you didn’t get a chance to listen to Episode 001, I recommend doing that now. In that episode, I share why I created the podcast and what you can expect in the weeks to come.
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- Food INC
- Joel Salatin
- Michael Pollan
- Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions
- Weston A. Price Foundation
- EWG Dirty Dozen List
- Peach Cobbler Post: original, first post on Live Simply
- Real Food Planning Challenge
I think it’s so important to hear other people’s wellness stories, because it reminds us that this lifestyle is something we must actively pursue, by taking one small baby step at a time. Lifestyle changes don’t take place overnight. You’re going to hear this echoed throughout the future guest episodes in this podcast.
Whether you’re just starting to think about things like real food, natural cleaning, simplifying your home life, or natural body-care, or you’ve been on your own journey for several years now, my hope is that my story encourages and inspires you.
I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s– a time of Kool-Aid, freezer meals, margarine, Velveeta cheese, and packaged chocolate chip cookies. And a time when fat and cholesterol were feared, which meant that we grew up with a fear of food. Packaged food was commonplace in our homes, along with some home-cooked meals.
Growing up, I dealt with crippling headaches when I’d eat certain foods. At the time we never associated food with having any consequence on our bodies.
As a teenager, my family moved to Ghana, West Africa. It was the first time in my life that I was exposed to open-air farmers markets, and also the idea of cooking from scratch. We brought a few cookbooks along with us: Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker, and an old Amish cookbook. For the first time, I learned how to make a few recipes “from scratch” using these cookbooks.
After Ghana, I returned back to college. Due to a lack of time and knowledge on how to cook, college turned my taste buds toward a heavily processed diet of fast food and packaged snacks.
Dustin and I got married during my last year of college. He had just graduated. I told him that I wanted to assume the role of cooking. I wanted to serve healthy meals, I was just confused as to what exactly healthy was. My knowledge of healthy came from marketing–what I saw on Oprah, read in Magazines, and what the labels on boxed food told me. Lean cuisine? 100 calorie packs? Heart healthy granola bars? Yep, must be healthy! If a company can put these words on a package food, they must truly mean something.
Our typical meal consisted of chicken breasts, rice (from a box), and a veggie (usually from a microwave package). That was pretty much all I knew how to cook without relying on a box. Due to boredom from eating the same home-cooked meals, we would quickly turn to ready-made dinners to add more “variety.”
In 2008, Food INC was released. I highly anticipated watching this documentary. One night, Dustin and I went down to Blockbuster to check it out. Remember those days? When you visited the video store instead of turning to a Netflix account?
For the first time ever, Dustin and I were challenged to think about the food we consume. We had never thought about food before, or if the food we consumed was even food. The idea of real food intrigued me, but after watching the movie I didn’t know what to do next. I felt crippled to act on this new knowledge. I lacked the basic knowledge about how to cook, where to source simple ingredients, and how exactly to do this within a budget.
A few weeks after watching the documentary, Dustin issued a challenge during dinner, “I bet you can’t shop, cook and eat from just the produce department for one week.” I’m not one to turn down a good challenge so I responded, “Sure, I got this!”
The next week was difficult. Beyond difficult. We survived. I don’t remember what we ate that week, and I’m pretty sure pasta and rice were part of our meals–the kind of rice that you microwave in a plastic pouch. But we did it!
We started eating from the produce department regularly, and within a few weeks embraced veganism. Being vegan means I didn’t eat any animal products. I didn’t know there were options; alternatives to the processed and industrialized meat and eggs shown in Food INC. I also brought with me a fear of fat and calories, which made for a very unhealthy mix. Processed food crept back into our diet at this time, in the form of fake meat products, soy milks and alternative cheese products, and highly processed “organic” junk food.
Dustin still ate meat and dairy when out with friends for work lunches, but at home we were strictly vegan. Processed food vegans sprinkled with a side of veggies and fruits.
Due to our lifestyle change, I began to dabble in meal planning. I realized that planning our meals was the only way to successfully follow a special diet. But meal planning didn’t come naturally for me. I struggled with meal planning, thumbing through my limited supply of wedding present cookbooks (this was before Pinterest and most blogs) for hours each weekend.
In 2009, I found out I was expecting our first child, a baby boy. After an exactly 40 week pregnancy, Piper was born.
Since we were following a vegan diet at this time, when it came time for solid food, I decided to feed him strictly vegan as well.
At two, I began to notice issues with Piper’s language development. He just wasn’t blossoming with new words and sounds like the other kids his age. This raised a flag of concern for me.
Free speech screening-> therapist > nutritionist. I started doing my own research and discovered the Weston A. Price Foundation and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. The idea of eating traditionally made so much sense. For the first time ever, I felt a sense of food freedom. I didn’t need to fear food, or count calories or stay away from fat. Food was nourishment, and the fat and calories found in naturally-occurring, naturally-raised and grown food, was vital for my body and my growing child’s body.
I also found out around this time that I was pregnant with our second child, Londyn. I began sourcing pastured meat and eggs from local farms. The only grocery story option I knew about at this time was Publix, a conventional store in our area, and the selection was limited or non-existent. I had to begin sourcing food outside the grocery store.
I found pastured meat and eggs, although it wasn’t easy. I met farmers in parking lots, purchasing meat and eggs, and even milk, from the back of vehicles. And even found a co-op for local fruit and veggies, along with meats and eggs and cheese and raw milk that met in the room of a bowling alley twice a month. One of the members owned the alley.
Our diet slowly changed, as I began to learn how to prepare grass-fed beef, cook whole chickens and even make broth, how to prepare eggs in various ways, and consume raw dairy. I also began to learn how to cook basic recipes during this time, like muffins and pancakes, roasted veggies, and soups. Foods that I never once thought I could make with my own two hands. More and more of our meals came from basic ingredients that were combined to make nourishing meals.
As we added fat and other vital nutrients to Piper’s diet, along with cod liver oil, we saw significant language growth. A testament to the impact our diet can have on our health. I also began to feel better, as I had felt sluggish, had put on weight, and experienced crippling headaches for the past few years.
My knowledge of real food deepened during this time. But I quickly realized that I was spending way too much on food.
Our grocery bill was way over budget at this time, so once again I had to learn a new skill on this journey: how to make real food work on a single-income budget. Quality food, particularly pastured meat, eggs, and dairy were priorities, so we made cuts in other areas, like entertainment and clothes. But we still needed to work on getting the budget down, so I started to learn how to use ingredients to make multiple meals within a week, like rolled oats for oatmeal and then blended up to pancakes. And using meat more for flavoring or pairing the meat with fruits, veggies, grains, or beans to stretch that pricey meat over multiple meals. And this meant that my meal planning skills, through a ton of trial and error, were tweaked and modified to work for our family.
During this time, I also learned about farmer’s markets and using seasonal veggies and fruits to build our meals instead of purchasing expensive produce from the store that was out of season. I also cut back from buying all things organic, and began prioritizing what to buy organic based on the dirty dozen list from the Environmental Working Group, when shopping at a grocery story, in order to enjoy real food on a budget.
With new changes happening in the kitchen and healthier meals being served at our table, I began to dabble with making my own household products– from cleaners to makeup. As a stay-at-home mom, I had more time on my hands to dabble with making stuff. There weren’t a lot of options on the market at this time.
I was so excited about the changes happening in our family, with our diet and what I was learning, that I was constantly sharing information and recipes on my personal Facebook account. Friends were asking for recipes and noticing the changes we were making in our life, including family. People began suggesting that I start a blog. I honestly hadn’t read blogs before this time.
Finally, one weekend in 2013, after visiting a local peach farm, I asked Dustin, ‘Will you make me a blog?” He set up a free Wordpress theme for me, we purchased LiveSimply.me (not knowing how popular this name would become years later…good thing we trademarked this name!), and created a menu and about page. I stayed up half the night writing my first post, a post about my mission and heart behind my new passion project. I came out with a second post just a couple of days later, sharing about our peach farm visit and a peach cobbler recipe. The photos were shot with my iPhone 3 under my very-yellow kitchen light, at odd angles.
The blog was created to be an online space that helps families embrace real food and natural living with a simplified, practical approach. I’ll link to my first ever post (see Show Notes, above)–yep, you can still find it online, although it’s hard to find without a direct link.
I poured my heart and soul into Live Simply, sharing everything I could to help other families eat real food and learn about natural alternatives for cleaning and body-care. I also thought it would be fun to talk about motherhood, but I soon realized that I didn’t have much to say about being a mom. I was just learning as I was going, and had no advice to offer people when it came to potty training or co-sleeping or anything like that. The blog slowly grew, and by the end of the first year thousands of people were reading the blog, and by the second year, hundreds of thousands were reading. And just like that, the blog grew and grew.
The goal was never to make money from the blog. We didn’t even know that was an option with a blog. After a couple of years in, we began to realize that blogging to a large audience wasn’t cheap–food had to be purchased to test recipes multiple times, we purchased a real camera to improve the photos on the blog (because I wanted food to be appealing and aesthetically-pleasing), we had to pay for an email service to connect with readers through email, we had to upgrade servers multiple times due to how many people read the blog, and I was spending the equivalent of a part-time job working on the blog. We put ads on the site, and I also created a paid resource to help families who wanted to start living a real food lifestyle.
Fast forward to today, 2018, the blog is now my full-time job, along with freelance food photography. I have a few amazing moms who work with me part-time helping with recipe work, social media, photo shoot cleanups and photographing recipes, and editing photos and blog posts. Running a blog isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’m incredibly thankful for where Live Simply is today–for the opportunity to interact and share in this journey with so many other moms, parents, caregivers, and families from all over the world. Live Simply is still a passion project for me.
As I’ve learned how to run a business, and be a mom to growing children who are now in school, and also find time for myself and my husband, I’ve been on a journey to simplify life over the past few years. This has meant decluttering and embracing more of a minimalist attitude (not in a own-nothing way, but more in an intentional about life and things way), and learning to take care of myself. I’ve also been learning how to simplify our real food lifestyle by embracing food prep, strategically meal planning with rotating meal plans, and creating routines in our home.
My journey has been exactly that, a journey. Small baby steps over a long period of time. This is a journey I’m still on, a journey that I get to share with you through the blog, Instagram and Instagram Story, and now this podcast.
I want to remind you of that. Slowly, over the past 10 years (and even before that) my family started making small changes to lead us to where we are today. One small change at a time.
My hope is for this podcast to be an encouragement to you as you live out your own journey, as well as a source for practical tips to help you live out this lifestyle.