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If you are new to the blog, this post is part of a series called Our (Real) Food Journey. If you haven’t read part one, where I define real food, you can read more here.
This is the story how I went from a life of a Standard American Diet of fast, processed foods to a diet of real nourishing food.
I grew up with a mom who lovingly prepared our family’s meals. I have sweet memories of pot roasts with potatoes and carrots and casseroles. I am also a kid who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s and indulged in Friday night Little Caesar’s pizza (how can you say “no” to a foot long pizza?) and Kid’s Cuisine microwavable meals.
As a teenager life got busy. And with a busy life came “easy” food, loving all things packaged, anything from a drive through window, and coke.
As I entered my college years life got busier. Lucky for me, Chick-Fil-A, Subway, and Panera Bread were just minutes from my campus. I told myself these places were “healthy” options. Chick-Fil-A sells “real” chicken, Panera offers salads, and Subway, well, is all about “Eat Fresh”.
I never stopped to read the ingredients I was consuming. Never thinking all the foods contained numerous unpronounceable ingredients. Isn’t that what these big companies want to happen, mindless eating? The more I ate these foods, the more I craved them.
Big food companies know this is true. Researchers have found fast food is so addictive it is similar to the affects of drugs like cocaine or heroine. The more they feed rats highly processed foods, the more they crave it. They become addicts.
During this time, I would frequently get pain on the left side of my chest, gained weight, and felt sluggish. Normal, right? Just part of being a busy college student.
My last year of college, I married my teenage sweetheart. I wanted to be a “good wife”. You know, the kind that always has a hot delicious meal on the table. Our typical dinner came from a box or can, cooked with love, but highly processed. I truthfully didn’t know you could make something like spaghetti sauce from scratch. I was convinced only Ragu knew how to do that.
I found a few documentaries which perked my interest, Food Inc., being one of them. After watching the film, I set on a quest for more info. I read books by Micheal Pollan, one of the great real food champions of today. Even with my new knowledge, I was convinced that the food I was eating was okay.
I was in food denial.
One night at dinner my husband called me out. I was a pure hypocrite. I had so much knowledge, but I had done nothing other than switch to “organic” processed foods, glorified junk. That night he issued a dare, “I bet you can’t shop from just the produce section of the store for a week.” I set out that week to prove him wrong. Our meals that week may not have been the tastiest, but I did it. We survived.
I was amazed at how well we felt. I could actually fed my family without opening a box!
It was during this time, I became pregnant with our first child. I knew I couldn’t raise him on a Standard American Diet, knowing as much as I did about the food industry, so I went the opposite extreme. I became a vegetarian, a pretty strict one, very close to the point of being vegan (no animal products).
Here is the crazy thing about vegans, most just replace their hamburgers for heavily processed “veggie” burgers (which don’t have an ounce of real veggies), eat heavily processed fake “cheese”, and drink alternative milk which is loaded with questionable additives. Some of which contain carrageenan and have direct cancer links.
We also found a love for foods we hadn’t considered before. Loads of fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains. I learned how to cook from scratch. Eating such a diet greatly restricted where we could eat, so cooking at home became a necessity. Cookbooks and magazines became my friends. I also started juicing daily. I was a proud mom. My son loved only fruits and veggies and whole grains. am incredibly grateful for this stage in our life. Without delving into a heavy plant-based lifestyle, I would never have ventured into real food.
When my son was 16 months old, I found I was pregnant with baby #2.
Early on in my pregnancy, I started having horrible cravings for meat and fat, thinking about hamburgers daily. After ignoring them for a couple months, I began researching pregnancy and food. I stumbled upon the Weston A. Price Foundation and the findings of a dentist, considered the “Isaac Newton of nutrition”.
Dr. Price traveled around the world studying traditional cultures, after years of research, he found while all ate a unique diet, they all shared something in common. All consumed food rich in fat soluble vitamins A and D, nutrients found only in animal fats. I was intrigued.
The discoveries and conclusion of Dr. Price are presented in his classic volume Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. The book contains striking photographs of handsome, healthy primitives and illustrates in an unforgettable way the physical degeneration that occurs when human groups abandon nourishing traditional diets in favor of modern convenience foods. –Weston A. Price Foundation
I was amazed that out of all the cultures Dr. Price studied, not a single one was found to be vegan. All consumed large amounts of plants, but also knew the importance of animals and the healthy fats they provide.
I sought out good sources of meat, which were pastured, grass-fed. Switched out our “healthy” vegan margarine for real grass-fed butter, started buying full fat raw milk and dairy products, yet still consumed a large amount of fruits and veggies and whole grains. I continued to juice, green juices. Within just weeks I noticed a huge difference. I had energy, I slept better, and felt better. My blood work confirmed my body was happy.
Seven months later I gave birth, naturally, in 4 hours, to a 10lb healthy baby girl.
Today, our family enjoys a largely plant-based diet of fruits and veggies, whole grains, as well as good fat, such as pastured meats, whole fat (raw) dairy, pastured eggs. We live in the real world with busy lives, two kids, and even a picky eater, yet do our best to nourish our family on a daily basis.
My top 5 tips for moving from a Standard American Diet to Real food:
1. Clean out. Clean out your pantry, fridge, secret box under the bed. Get rid of anything with more than 5 ingredients! If you have a hard time tossing the food, donate it to a local food bank. If it’s in your house, you will eat it. So get it out. And don’t buy it again, even if you find a coupon or a bogo sale.
2. Stock good food. Now that you cleaned out, stock your pantry with single ingredient items, such as: whole wheat flour (or other flours such as coconut and almond if gluten intolerant), old fashioned rolled oats, dried spices, brown rice, diced tomatoes, dried beans, raw honey, raisins, canned tuna, homemade granola bars, and homemade granola. Stock your fridge with whole milk dairy, pastured meats, eggs, and lots of fruits and veggies (try new ones). Stock your freezer with pastured grass-fed meats, homemade broths, muffins, homemade cookie dough, frozen fruit (smoothies), homemade Popsicles. Anything that will nourish your family and keep them away from a box.
3. Invest in some real food cookbooks, join Pinterest, search the web. Now that you are going to be cooking at home, it’s time learn to cook, from scratch. You can find my favorite cookbooks here. Join Pinterest (and come follow me on Pinterest). Pinterest is a full of recipes from across the internet, many contain processed foods, but there a lot which don’t or can be modified. Learn how to make what you used to buy in a box or can. You will soon find Campbells soup really isn’t that tasty when you start making your own soup with real ingredients.
4. Meal Plan. Have a plan before you even begin your week. Have the supplies on hand. Wake up a few minutes early to cook breakfast, pack lunches the night before, and have a plan for dinner! If you need meal planning ideas, you can find my weekly meal plans here.
5. Find a Farmer’s Market, local farm, and health food store. 90% of the food in the grocery store is highly processed, so ditch your favorite store. Get outside and find a famer’s market. Get to know your local health food store. Yes, they will sell lots of glorified processed junk food, but they are also a great resource for finding real food. Check out eatwild.com and localharvest.org for more info on local farmer’s markets and farms.
Check out the next post in this series. I share the reality of real food in our family with two kids. My tips and ideas on how real food works for our whole family.