Tips for transitioning to real food

We are about a year into our real food journey now and we have made a TON of changes in our lifestyle and diet.  There are still a whole lot of things that I want to change and goals that I have for us, but I feel like we have made huge progress.  These changes did not happen overnight and were not always easy.  I have several close friends who are in the process of starting to make some changes because they’ve watched Food Inc (which you can watch for free on Netflix!), or have heard me talk about the changes we’re making, or any number of other things.  Lately I’ve been having more and more conversations with people about transitioning, so I thought I’d write about it.  Throughout this post, I’ve linked to other blogs and articles which explain my point better than I could.  There are lots of links in this post, you don’t have to look at them all but they’re there if you need them!  I’m making the assumption that you believe that meat, animal products, and good fats are vital to health, that you have at least heard people talk about raw milk being a good thing, and that you realize that most of the food in the grocery stores today isn’t really food.  If you’re not on that page, you may find this post a little overwhelming:-)

Basics

1. Take it slow!!!  You cannot start making broth, baking sourdough bread, brewing kombucha, making yogurt and cheese, and restocking your entire fridge and pantry overnight.  You just can’t.  It takes time, it costs money and you will lose steam if you allow yourself to feel guilty about not doing enough fast enough.  Make a list of goals and attack them one at a time.  Do not try three new life changes every week!  Dr. Weston Price was able to see cavities healing in children who ate just one nutritious meal per day while still eating junk the other two meals.  To learn more about healing cavities go here.

2. Buy Nourishing TraditionsThis book/cookbook is basically the real food Bible and it is also super educational.  You will learn so much about what kinds of foods you need by reading this book.  When I first got it, I devoured it, but I wasn’t actually ready to make anything from it for a while.  Then I tried some fairly ambitious recipes that required the purchase of too many new ingredients.  Digest what you’re learning before you go and try lots of the recipes.  And when you do start trying recipes, don’t be worried if all of your ingredients aren’t quite up to par with what she wants you to use.  Every little step helps.

3. When you are ready to start making new things think about starting with whey, chicken broth and sauerkraut.  Many other things require the use of whey and broth, and sauerkraut is an easy way to get into probiotic-rich fermented foods.  If you don’t want to make your own sauerkraut or you run out of yours before you have time to make another batch, get Bubbie’s sauerkraut (or pickles or relish!) from your health food store.

4. The first food items to switch over are your meat and dairy products.  Grass-fed/Grass-finished meats are super important.  Here’s why.  Eggs from pastured hens are way more nutritious and have so many other good benefits.  Buy pastured, not free-range or cage free.  There is a difference!  Raw milk is such an amazing food and soooooo much better for you than milk you can buy in the store.  Yes it’s safe, yes I give it to my kids.  When I first thought about buying raw milk, I was a little scared to taste it because I thought it would be gross and that I might be tempting fate.  Now that’s how I look at store-bought milk.  Isn’t that funny?  Grass-fed butters and cheeses have fat soluble vitamins that help you to absorb the nutrients in things like veggies and should be used liberally (Yay!).  You always want your seafood to be wild-caught and fresh if possible.

5. Cooking oils. You can read all about cooking oils here, but here it is in a nutshell.  If you’re cooking food at really high heat, use ghee or grass-fed beef tallo (I realize you probably don’t have beef tallo sitting around, I don’t either).  For moderately high heat, use coconut oil.  At lower heats use olive oil or butter.  There are all kinds of ‘healthy’ oils out there, but I like to stick with the basics.  Stop using all vegetable oils, canola oils, soy oils and hydrogenated fats like Crisco.  When in doubt, coconut oil is usually a good choice.  There is more to it than that, like what kinds of oils to buy, but for getting started, those are good guidelines to remember!

6. Stop buying packaged, processed foods.  If you’re shopping at a grocery store, stay out of the middle and shop the perimeter.  Almost all processed foods contain genetically modified soy in various forms, which you want to avoid like the plague.

7. Stop consuming refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup.  I know it’s hard, but if this is the only thing you ever do you’ll see a huge increase in your health!  Take baby steps but this is really really important.  Good alternatives are raw, unfiltered local honey, organic grade b maple syrup, and unrefined cane sugar or rapadura.

 

Budget

There are no two ways about it, real food is more expensive than fake food.  In some posts about budgeting for real food, people will suggest investing in a freezer and buying meat in bulk.  I think this is a great idea, but for many people that is just not feasible!  You may have heard people ask how they can afford to eat this way and heard the answer, “You can’t afford not to!”  While I agree with this wholeheartedly, I also truly understand that sometimes you really can’t afford to buy butter that cost three times as much as regular butter.  Believe me, I get that.  We have had some seriously tight years.  When we first got married, our weekly grocery budget was $25 – true story.  We sure as heck weren’t eating real food then and if I had started learning about these things back then I wouldn’t have been able to do much.  The things I suggested above cost more money than their counterparts, there is no doubt about it.  This is another reason to take it slow.  As your husband gets on board with these changes, you can look at the big picture of your spending and make some changes in priorities together.  Also, I really believe that God honors our desire to take care of our bodies, and will surprise you in ways that He provides.  Our transition over to real food has doubled our grocery budget, but we both agree that putting good things in our bodies is one of our biggest priorities.  We don’t have a nice tv, we don’t have a car payment, we don’t have a lawn service, this is where our money goes.  PS, I’m not judging you if you have/do those things, more power to ya!

1. Focus on dinner first.  This is the meal that (hopefully) the whole family eats together and usually so you know you’re getting something good into everyone.  The entire meal doesn’t have to be made from perfect ingredients.  Do what you can as you can, starting with the meat.

2. Start buying a pastured chicken every week.  You can roast the chicken one night (We use this recipe and loooove it.  You can use butter instead of ghee) and eat about half of the meat.  The rest of the meat can go towards a nice green salad with chicken on top for an easy cold lunch the next day or any number of other leftover combinations.  Once all the meat is off the bone, you can use the carcass to meat broth which you can then use to make beans and rice (see below).  Broth made from the bones of a pastured chicken is one of the single most healing and nutritious things you can begin to consume regularly.  It is important that the chicken be pastured, but if you can’t swing it, go for an organic free range chicken until you can get into pastured.  A pastured chicken may cost you anywhere from $8-$15 but you can make it stretch for so many purposes that it’s worth it.  Sometimes I can get four meals from one chicken!

3. Beans and rice.  Don’t beat yourself about using canned beans for a while, but if you can, start soaking and cooking your own beans  (Nourishing Traditions will tell you what to do!).  Beans and rice should both be soaked overnight and can then be cooked in your homemade broth.  If you don’t have enough broth, you can use half broth and half water too.  The broth gives them a huge nutritional boost.  When combined with some of your leftover chicken and some grass-fed cheese shredded on top, you’ve got a nutrient dense and very inexpensive meal.

4. Soup.  If you have a big enough stock pot, or make continuous broth you can make enough broth out of one chicken to make beans and rice and a soup.  We like to make black bean soup.  I make an enormous batch of beans and one day we’ll have beans and rice with enough for leftovers and the next day I’ll make black bean soup.  The first time I made black bean soup with homemade instead of canned beans, it didn’t come out the way it normally did.  I had to experiment a couple of times until I got it the way I wanted.  Remember that this is a process and a big transition like this will not come without hiccups!  Don’t give up, keep trying different things.

5. Fermented Cod Liver Oil is important, but it can wait.  Over and over you’ll hear people talk about the importance of fermented cod liver oil.  I think it’s really important and worth the expense, but it is an expense and if you can’t afford it right now, just put it further down on your goals list.  You’ll get there.

 

Kids (and Husbands)

Getting your kids and husband on board with this new way of eating can be daunting.  You may be all gung-ho about drinking broth out of a mug and making sauerkraut while your husband may think that you’ve lost your marbles for making something that ferments on the counter for days before you eat it.  My husband was polite about my first batch of sauerkraut, but wasn’t too interested in consuming it.  Now he eats sauerkraut almost every day and I had nothing to do with it.  Getting my kids to start eating better has been a challenge, but they’re really doing great now!  Rhett especially is a very adventurous eater these days because he was so young when we started changing our diet.  Sometimes he’ll try something that Shep won’t try and then later Shep will get on board because of his brother.

1.  Present your research to your husband, and change your own eating habits (and what he eats for dinner!) and then leave it at that.  Some husbands want nothing to do with giving up their Doritos until they see that their wives feel so much better than they do, or that she gets sick less etc. etc.  Sometimes if you present something respectfully and clearly enough, they’ll see the wisdom in it and get on board.  Some will get on board until the see they new grocery bill.  Almost anyone will resist forceful efforts so be gentle.  Good communication is important, ‘Yes that meat was really expensive but here’s why I think it’s worth it.’  Some husbands come around in two months some come around in a year.  Just be patient.  Try to swing it so that you’re watching Food Inc. when he comes home from work ;-)  I did this unintentionally and Jake casually started watching it with me when he came in and then he started understanding what I was going so crazy about.  Now he can taste the difference between grass-fed beef and CAFO beef and he prefers grass-fed.

2.  Stop buying Goldfish.  Some things I found I just had to stop purchasing because there was no moderating my children.  If there were fishies in the house, that’s all they’d eat.  Period.  Same with chicken nuggets, Cheerio’s and more.  If it’s not in your house, you don’t have to worry about falling back on it as a last resort!  I had way less battles for good eating when I stopped buying this stuff.  If what is on their plate is all there is, there’s less to argue about.  There were (and are) times when my kids basically skipped entire meals or almost didn’t eat anything at all in a whole day.  That’s ok!  But I’m telling you, if you don’t have alternatives, it’s easier to stand your ground!  Here is a great list of real food snacks to get you going on replacing the processed box stuff.  Which leads me to my next point…

3. Start introducing alternatives before you take away all the junk.  Don’t just get rid of all of your processed foods and not have anything else to offer instead!  Even after a year, I still buy potato chips from the store occasionally.  I just make sure they have about three ingredients and I know what they all are.  If your kids like the sugary kid-yogurt you can get at the store, let your first step be transitioning to store-bought plain yogurt with less sugar and add generous amounts of fruit and honey to it.  Then start on the homemade yogurt with plenty of fruit and honey and maybe even jelly.  Gradually start reducing the amount of extras you add.  When I made yogurt for the first time, my kids would have none of it, and I was so bummed about it.  After a bit of trying to coax them into it I stopped trying and focused on other things.  I recently started making it again, and now they love it!  If you make sandwiches every day start slowly transitioning your ingredients as you can.  First start with buying grass-fed butter and cheese, and maybe nitrate free meat.  You could even use your leftover chicken for sandwiches.  Eventually switch to better meat (like Applegate Farms) as you can afford it and then start buying good sourdough bread.  Eventually maybe you’ll start making your own bread and condiments.  This process has taken me over a year!  Some transitions will be easier than others.  The first time I put raw milk in Rhett’s bottle, he cried when it was all gone because he loved it so much.

4. Ice cream can be nourishing!  Hooray!!!!  Don’t I make health sound good?  Eat lots of butter, cheese and ice cream!  Here is a recipe for nourishing ice cream.  Again, if you don’t have the caliber of ingredients this recipe requires, do what you can and at least you know what’s in your ice cream.  Also, if you’re using vanilla extract, I’d recommend starting with two tablespoons.  When you’re trying to get your kids to eat what you’ve put on their plates, you can use this to bribe – knowing that it’s also nourishing them!  Sneaky!

5. Kids love to dip.  Sometimes they’ll eat something just because they can dip it.  You can try making some fun dips and condiments.  I actually got my kids to eat liver pate on carrot sticks with no trouble at all because they were excited to dip something!  Just keep trying new things and don’t be afraid to take a break from one food to try another.  Your kids may surprise you!

6.  Figure out something they already love and make a real food version.  My kids loved black bean soup before I started making it with homemade beans and broth and we eat it almost weekly now as a result.  It may be 102 outside, but we’re having soup cause I know the kids will eat it!  The also love burrito bowls from Chipotle so beans and rice weren’t hard for them to get used to either.  If your kids don’t like anything that remotely resembles real food, just take it slowly and make a game plan that includes phases where each phase gets closer to your goal.

 

Ingredients

There are sooooo many things that you are going to want to replace or buy for the first time as you make the transition from the standard American diet over to a real foods diet.  It will seem overwhelming and you’ll want to go spend a fortune at Whole Foods and Amazon.com, but don’t!  Your husband will not be happy with you!!  Before you go and buy some new staple, make sure you have several recipes that you’ll use it for so it’s not sitting in the back of your pantry unused.  Not that I know anything about unused pantry items that I had to have…

1. Read this post by Jenny of Nourished Kitchen (one of my favorite blogs!).  And then take a deep breath and try not to be overwhelmed.  Think of this as a reference as you go along in your journey.  Pin it to your recipe or food board on Pinterest and come back to it as you’re ready to make new purchases.

2. Don’t get overwhelmed by grains.  I was so incredibly confused at first about grains.  There is lots of great information about grains online and of course in Nourishing Traditions (seriously have you ordered it yet?), but I’ll give it to you in a nutshell.  White flour is a dead food with no nutrients in it which creates foods that are hard to digest.  Whole wheat flour in it’s normal form has enzyme inhibitors which make it hard to digest and if it’s been sitting on the shelf for months has probably lost all of it’s nutrients anyway.  Soaking means you are taking flour and soaking it in water with something like whey or lemon juice, or in something like buttermilk over night before using it to breakdown the enzyme inhibitors.  Sprouted flour is made by soaking the wheat berries and allowing them to sprout before they are ground into flour.  Both should be fresh and stored in the fridge or freezer.  I buy sprouted flour here and the article mentioned above links to even more sources.

3. When in doubt, try coconut flour recipes!  If you’re not ready to makeover your whole baking supply, but you’re not willing to go without baked goods, start with coconut flour recipes.  We love this recipe for banana walnut muffins (we omit the walnuts) by Mommypotamus.  When using coconut flour, make sure you’re using a recipe specifically designed for coconut flour.

4. As things in your pantry run out, replace them with better options.  I’m still doing this!  I realized the other day that I still have store brand baking powder from Wal-Mart, which apparently has aluminum in it.  Here is a great post about what to replace.

 

Time

Not only does real food cost more money, it also costs more time.  This is yet another reason to take it slow.  Start with the easy things like broth that I mentioned before and slowly add new things to your regular cooking rotation as you can.  I started by making broth and whey and got into yogurt pretty quickly.  As I said before, my kids weren’t eating my yogurt so I set that one aside for a while.  Then I started soaking beans and rice and cooking them in my broth.  Then last fall before we went on vacation I went nuts and made fruit leather, homemade Lara bars, beef jerky, dried apple slices, and dried chickpeas to take with us.  Jake thought I had gone crazy.  Maybe I had… Sometime last fall I started soaking and drying almonds and other nuts, making mayonnaise, kefir, salad dressings and some other things.  Really recently I picked yogurt pack up and started making our own sandwich bread and ketchup.  It all takes time, you’ve got to go slow and do the best with what time you’ve got.  I’ve got a long way to go and I’ve been doing this for a year!  Every step counts.

 

For more in-depth information, check out these links.  This post is intended to get you started and give you things to think about, but it’s really not a thorough explanation of a real food lifestyle.  Below are some introduction posts from some bloggers that I respect and admire who are more knowledgeable than I.  Definitely add them to your reader and start implementing what you can and soak up everything else to save for later:-)

Kelly the Kitchen Kop – Rookie Tips.  Be sure to click all of those links, they take you to some great information!

Food Renegade – The Basics.  This series really helped me!  Fantastic blog.

Nourished Kitchen – Getting Started With Real Food.  She is so incredibly knowledgeable, this blog is such a great resource.

Mommypotamus – When Real Food and Real Life Collide.  This post was written by a guest blogger, but the blog is a good one to start following especially if you’re interested in a grain-free or GAPS diet.

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show hide 10 comments

July 23, 2012 - 2:21 pm

Jessica @ Delicious Obsessions - Thanks for sharing a link to my butter post! This is a really, really good post that you wrote, so I’m glad I stumbled across it!

Cheers!
Jessica

July 23, 2012 - 9:35 pm

Courtenay - I think your link on the healing cavities is missing. I’d be interested to read that. Thanks!

July 24, 2012 - 12:26 pm

Kaye Haun - Gosh, thank you Beth! Very, very well written and encouraging! Lots of wonderful information!

July 24, 2012 - 10:16 pm

Beth Dreyer - Thank you so much for letting me know Courtenay! I fixed it and here is the link for you http://www.curetoothdecay.com/

July 24, 2012 - 10:17 pm

Beth Dreyer - Thanks Jessica! Thank you for the great butter post!

July 24, 2012 - 10:17 pm

Beth Dreyer - Thanks Kaye!

May 16, 2013 - 8:41 am

Coli - I am so glad you reposted this. It’s just what I needed to read at this stage of this journey. I roasted my first chicken and made broth last month so today I placed an order from Holleman Farms to make sure we are using pastured chicken, like you recommended. Like you said, every change makes a difference. Thanks, Beth. :)

May 20, 2013 - 1:08 pm

Beth Dreyer - So glad!!

August 24, 2013 - 9:05 pm

Hannah - Thanks Beth! Super super helpful and practical. I’ve toyed around a lot with transitioning our diet! Really encouraging to read this. You should post your weekly meal plans and snacks to give us ideas on what to make!

August 26, 2013 - 4:56 pm

Beth Dreyer - I’m so glad it was helpful for you!! Man, posting meal plans is a great idea, but honestly just making the meal plans is overwhelming enough for me!! I’m saving them now though so maybe eventually I’ll start posting them.

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