A few years ago my family and I started our real food journey. I could probably write an entire post series about what lead me to that point (and maybe one day I will!!). I had no clue what real food was; so when someone said to eat “real food” I rolled my eyes and went along my merry, artificial ingredient way.
This post contains affiliate links, which you can read about here.
About a week later I was at the library and I just happened to walk by a book called “100 Days of Real Food” by Lisa Leake (get it here). It was featured by the library as a new book, and I thought “Hmmmm what is real food?!”
So I snagged it, took it home, and read as much as I could while Bubbaloo napped! In the first few pages Lisa Leake defined what real food is (and isn’t) and I was completely floored!
I’m not going to sum up the book for you (you should just buy it and read it yourself!!). But that book changed the way I see food and health in general. Today, I seek out real food as much as I can and I am confident that my family is much happier and healthier than we were three years ago.
Before I dive into my best tips, let me tell you what real food is for me and our approach. In our house, real food is food that doesn’t have any ingredients (think produce and proteins), is sustainably raised and produced (think organic), and is free from artificial additives (lookin’ at you red dye and all the artificial forms of sugar). And if a food has ingredients (like bread or cereal) we aim to find alternatives that feature ingredients we can pronounce and are familiar with, or we go without. That’s it! It’s pretty simple.
As far as our philosophy on real food, that’s pretty simple too. We try to eat real food as often as possible, and buy the best our budget will allow. And when we don’t eat real food (like those nights we order take out or have a frozen pizza) we don’t stress. We know that what we put in our bodies MOST of the time is the greatest influence.
And now, onto the tips!!
Start Slow and Easy
When it came to switching my house over to real food I decided the best way to get everyone on board was to go slow. So that’s exactly what I did. I switched one product at a time, until gradually our fridge and pantry had been completely overhauled. That process took almost a year.
At first it was just the peanut butter. That was it. I had learned that the only ingredient in peanut butter should be, well, peanuts!! Duh! I remember standing in the grocery store aisle for almost 10 minutes until I finally found an affordable brand of peanut butter that only contained peanuts. It was victory!! And that was our first swap.
Switching only one or two products at a time made it easy for me to get my husband and toddler on board. They didn’t even notice most of the swaps I made, and I felt better about the food I was feeding my famiy.
Find Swaps for Your Favorites
I think what people fear about switching to real food is losing their favorite foods. Especially kids! Can you imagine the mutiny in my house when I stopped buying his favorite yellow, fish crackers?? And my husband couldn’t believe that I wanted him to give up his morning bowl of cereal! And come on, was I really going to give up my peanut butter cups?
It didn’t take me long to figure out that if I wanted to get (and keep) my family on board, I had to find real food swaps, instead of just getting rid of all of our favorites.
So I found an organic cereal with identifiable ingredients. I found organic crackers that didn’t have artificial dye. And I found peanut butter cups made with real peanut butter. All of the real food swaps that I made taste better than what we were eating before and I don’t have to worry about what is going into our bodies.
Be Honest with Your Kids (and the rest of the family, too!!)
I’ve found the more I talk with my oldest about how we eat and why, the more he buys into it. Now when he goes to my parents house he’ll ask them if his lunch has any protein in it because he knows he needs protein for his growing body.
He finishes his milk with every meal because we’ve talked to him about all the nutrients his milk has to offer. And we don’t talk about food as it relates to our physical health, we talk about the way it makes me feel.
For instance, if I eat 4 cookies in a row, I don’t announce that I’m going on a diet because all these cookies are making me fat! Instead, I might say “Those cookies hurt my tummy and they didn’t help me feel my best, so I’m going to make sure I eat a dinner with foods that help me feel my best.”
My goal is to teach my kiddos about real food and why it’s important. When my boys leave my house one day I want them to know what foods fuel their body and make them feel their absolutely best.
Get Everyone Involved
I let Bubbaloo help in the kitchen as much as he wants. It can get frustrating to clean up his extra messes, but he enjoys helping and he gets to watch how his food is prepared.
I also take him to farmer’s markets where he can pick fresh veggies and we talk about where food comes from. He knows that his milk comes from a cow who lives on a farm, not from the store. Getting him involved has helped him to take ownership of the food that he eats every day.
Even my husband has started to do his own research. Just a few months ago he switched us exclusively to spring water (instead of tap) because he had read that it is far better for your health.
Do Your Research and Decide Where to Draw Your Line
Once you start learning about real food you’ll find there are many different approaches. Should I go Paleo? Ancestral? Follow the 80/20 principle? It can get overwhelming, and it’s easy to just do what’s trendy. But that might not be what’s most realistic for your family. So do plenty of research and decide what works best for you. And then draw your line in the sand.
Here’s a great example: this year Bubbaloo attends a wonderful preschool 2 mornings each week. The school serves snack, but it was food that didn’t line up with my real food approach. My husband and I discussed our options at length. We never want our kids to feel left out because they don’t eat the way their peers do. But we also know how food can affect our health. So we asked if we could send him with his own snack and the school agreed! Hooray!
But, when children bring in cupcakes to celebrate their birthday I have given permission for Bubbaloo to have a treat. I know how he eats MOST of the time, and one cupcake won’t have a profound affect on his health.
Do your research and decide where to draw the line. This is what works for us, but your family might be successful following a different approach. One day my line in the sand might change, but for now we’re all very happy and healthy!
I hope these tips help you. Beginning a journey toward real food, and ultimately better health, can be a huge undertaking. And getting kids and family members on board isn’t always easy. BUT, these no-fail tips are a great place to start! Happy eating!!!
Do you have any questions about switching your family to real food? Leave a comment below!