Eating Real Food used to be our only option. Growing, cooking, and sharing food with others was as American as apple pie.

Real food is no longer a part of 85% of America’s daily diet. Millions of us no longer eat even one home-cooked meal at home together every day.

We can do better! How are you adding real food into your healthy lifestyle, and why does it matter to your body and the health of our planet? I have Eight Simple Ideas to share with you today. When we all make an effort to add a few of these ideas to our food life, we can promote healing in our bodies and our planet!

Step One: Understand Real Food

real food or junk foodOur grandparents cooked real food, so if we think about the meals we ate around their table, we understand real food. Did you experience your mom’s or grandma’s meal of vegetables from her backyard garden with a roast from her son’s livestock, and fresh bread baked from her oven? Compare that memory to a meal made of processed food preparation, or home cooking from ingredients in a box. Almost all packaged food is considered processed, meaning it was grown or made in a factory setting and altered to prolong shelf-life. The difference is dramatic when we compare food in its whole, natural state to food that is often called fake food, or edible items made in a factory with chemical ingredients. Who has the time to grow their own food and cook each meal ‘from scratch’ like their grandmother did? Maybe you need some easier ideas.

Step Two: Celebrate Slow Changes over Time

I will admit that I have not had a backyard garden of my own for over 15 years, so I am not cooking exactly like my Grandmother Laura, who did have a lovely garden in her Purden, Missouri yard. That’s okay. I have slowly changed my habits over time to replace packaged foods with nourishing Real Food, and so can you. Instead of setting yourself up for overwhelm, try what my prediabetes clients do and improve the quality of your food one meal at a time. Do you know how many servings of produce you eat in the average week? Without changing anything, simply keep track of fruits and vegetables eaten in the next seven days. Write this info down or use your smartphone to capture food photos. Use the process that works best for you. At the end of the week, think through the amount of ‘grown food’ you already have the habit of eating. When we get real about your favorite foods, it is easier to create a game plan for slow, positive change over time.

Step Three: Add Variety to your Meals

real food for varietyIt is easy to get into a rut regarding our food choices. Especially when we cook for others, it is easier and less fussy to make the foods you know they will eat. So let’s look at this variety step two different ways.

The first way you can add variety to meals, in support of eating real food and honoring our planet, is to add two new food items to your grocery cart this week. You may decide to choose two fruits that are in season, as they will be the most delicious and nutritious. That’s right, eating ripe seasonal fruit is better for us than eating genetically modified fruit picked before it ripens and shipped from a foreign land. Local, ripe, fresh. That’s one winning way to add variety, as each week, your options will change!

The second tip for adding variety is to encourage those we feed to participate. Talk to them about what they are hungry for. Ask them to help you chop up the cucumbers. Toss more vegetables into your husband’s favorite casserole recipe. Spice it up!

Step Four: Stand up to the Food Industry

The realization that the FDA allows the food industry in America to sell products with harmful ingredients was the most shocking part of my first year in training as a health coach. I was shocked to see how many foods have unnecessary ingredients like sugar, artificial colors, and texture enhancers. Author Megan Kimble wrote a book Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food, and I’ve seen her in informative videos, too. Her experience includes a realization about the food industry. “There’s sugar in everything. Deli meat has sugar. Mustard, marinara sauce, it all has sugar. The ingredient labels on food are kind of incredible. Once you start reading them its sort of impossible not to. That was sort of shocking to find out: Companies add so much sugar and layers of chemicals to make food last longer and taste better. I’m now an impulsive ingredient reader.” 

Step Five: Support Local Farmers

real foods what's for dinnerFresh food, living food, food that was recently alive on Earth — this is what you get when you support local farmers. When we eat food that has been picked 2-3 weeks ago, they lose 10-50% of their less stable nutrients. Most commercially grown produce is less nourishing than the produce that Hank up the road produces for us. When we get to know our local farmers, like Hank, we can benefit from their growing seasons. Cooking with flexibility, depending upon what is fresh and in season, adds to the flavor or each meal! Following a diet of seasonal foods is a joy for young and old. I recommend the “What’s in Season?” guide. Type in the state you live in and find out what’s for dinner this week!

Step Six: Celebrate Home Cooking

Healthy living can include meals eaten in restaurants, and each of us has a favorite meal or meeting place that we enjoy. Many women who are reversing their prediabetes and avoiding type 2 diabetes in my practice learn that by increasing their home cooking, they can reduce their risk of blood sugar imbalance.

My client Gordon* explains it like this. “I started by throwing out my vices like frozen TV dinners and chips. I increased the quality of foods I eat like you taught me to. I slowly increased my fruits and vegetables until they made up about 60% of each plate of food I ate. At the same time, I scaled way back on eating out because I could not trust the ingredients they use to make everything taste ‘over-the-top’ good! Each change was small, but it worked for me. I’ve lost 40 pounds and no longer need any medication. Now I’m actually a pretty good cook!” *Not his real name.

Step Seven: Budget for Organics

Many people cannot afford to buy all organic all the time. But you don’t have to buy all organic produce to reduce your risk for chemical contamination. This list from the Environmental Working Group tells you which fruits and vegetables are processed and grown using the most chemicals and which ones are least contaminated. Use it when shopping to help make the best choices for you and your family – even if you cannot buy entirely organic foods.

Step Eight: Ecology in the Kitchen

I often find that those who lean toward eating whole, real food are also actively involved in environmental preservation. When we love the planet on which our food is grown, we are celebrating our connection with all living beings. There is some controversy about whether or not commercial farming is bad for our environment. Some people, including me, believe that wastewater and solid wastes are the primary causes of pollution within the large-scale commercial farming industry. I have a report to share with everyone who is interested in thinking about the conservationist’s side of this debate. I believe the research I have studied about the health of our planet as more foods are grown organically and demanded by consumers. What do you think about this topic?

As you continue to think about the Real Food in your home and lifestyle, more home cooking may become a goal you and I share! I’d like to offer you some of my favorite recipes to try the next time you are in the kitchen. I’d love to hear about your favorite real food recipes, too!