Conversation: Balancing Healthy Food and Real Life 1

Conversation: Balancing Healthy Food and Real Life

By Kate Tietje, Contributing Writer

When I first started eating real food, I was pretty strict.

I would not buy any white sugar or white flour. I would not use wheat (spelt, then grain-free). I was convinced all that stuff was “poison” and I was pretty proud of my high standards.

Fast forward four years.

Yes, I buy white flour and white sugar (although I try not to use it too often). Yes, I use wheat. Yes, I buy the occasional packaged item (but I do have certain ingredients that I won’t bring into my home — I’m talking more like “veggie chips,” not “cheez curls”). Life just doesn’t allow such a strict standard. And I find my standards are always changing, really.

Can you relate?

raspberry frozen yogurt ready to eat

Healthy Food Is Important

It’s really important to me to feed my family healthy food. I want most of what they eat to be nutrient-dense.  I use a lot of bone broth; I ferment a lot of things; I make my own sauces and soups. I soak all my whole grains. I know that we feel best when we do this.

I also try to source the best food that I can. I buy local, pastured-raised meats, eggs and milk. I buy good brands of cheese. I buy local and organic produce…when I can. I buy raw honey.

I want my family to enjoy healthy food. I want them to feel good, and I want the kids to grow up strong.  I don’t want them to think that a snack of dye-laden fruit snacks and potato chips is the “norm.”  I want them to enjoy eating a variety of fruits and vegetables and fermented foods. I want them to know how to prepare these traditional items themselves, so that hopefully they’ll do it as adults. I know health is so tied to what we are eating.

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Life Gets in the Way

On the other hand, we live in the real world.

Sometimes we’re too busy to cook.  I relied a lot on cereal and veggie chips and other items I wouldn’t usually buy in the last month or so of my fourth pregnancy. I just didn’t have the energy to do much in the kitchen, nor the motivation.

We like to be “on the go” a lot and coming up with enough healthy, homemade items that are easy to travel with is a chore sometimes. I vary between just making things like jerky, kale chips, and taking fresh fruit/veggies and buying a “treat” of chips or something else packaged.

Then there’s the almighty budget.  Would I like to buy everything organic and 100% perfectly sourced? Sure I would. Can I afford it?  No way. There are people who might turn their noses up to learn that I rarely buy organic potatoes (though I hate that) and regularly buy non-organic grapes (yes, I know they’re on the dirty dozen list), onions (on the ‘clean 15’ list), mushrooms, etc. I don’t worry about produce very much, and I buy what’s available to me, organic or not, usually.

I love it when I can afford the local and organic, but…that gets expensive.

Do you struggle to live a whole food or real food lifestyle, while still balancing the chaos of real life? You're not at all alone – everything is about balance!

What’s the Answer?

I don’t really know what the answer is. Sometimes I get all strict again and try to avoid any form of sugar, eat few grains (I don’t do that well on none), lots of homemade fermented foods, mostly organics, etc.

Sometimes I let it slide, probably more than I should.

wish that budget and time didn’t affect my food decisions, but of course they do. It’s part of life!

Let’s talk about it. And please, let’s remember that we each have our own situations, our own personal limits, and our own answers.  This isn’t about finding “the” answer and we shouldn’t shame or insult people who have different standards. We all struggle to find balance — so let’s talk about how we make it work for ourselves.

How do you balance eating healthy food with real life?

Every Child Should Own

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  1. Love this post! I struggle with this all the time. I just keep telling myself I can only do the best I can in the season of life I am in.

  2. Katie, love hearing your honest thoughts on this! I can completely relate to just about everything you said :).
    I try to follow an 80/20 rule–I do what I can to provide my fam with quality food 80% of the time and try not to worry about the 20% I can’t control (or don’t have the time/energy/budget to!). I know at times I’ve completely made healthy eating this huge ultimate thing–mostly because I know how dramatically what we eat impacts our bodies.
    But, as a good friend says, “God is bigger than food.” And, really, I can only do so much without going crazy anyway. 🙂

  3. Loved the article! Can very much relate. As a previous poster said, I like the 80/20 rule, but my goal is a 90/10 rule! And then when I feel guilty about this or that I like to read Home Joy’s articles about “Out of the Health Maze and Into God’s Peace”. God is so much bigger than anything in this natural world.

    I have been gone for 4-1/2 days to visit my family and my husband took care of our 4 kids. What did I come home to??? Sugar laden cereals, hot dogs, white bread, TWINKIES, and poptarts…. um, yep. (to be kind of fair, his mom did the shopping for him, but still). But instead of being mad, I am spending this week detoxing my children and saying an extra few prayers for their bodies as they eat homemade soups and breads and lots of antioxidants! haha. I can only control so much (especially when not here) and my coming home was a great reminder of that.

    1. So how do you go about “detoxing your children”? Just by eating well, or is there supplements or something else that you give your children? I, too, have learned to not get mad when family members give my kids junk. I’m not going to fight over candy they get in Sunday School, etc. But while I can’t control everything, I feel responsible to do my best at keeping them healthy. Just wondering some good methods for detoxing kids and helping boost their immune systems, particularly when they eat too much sugar and junk foods.

  4. Kate,
    Thanks for posting this. I think your giving grace to yourself and your readers, ironically, encourages us all to do more of what we should! Or me at least! 🙂 So grateful to read this post from you!

  5. We belong to a CSA. To make it more affordable we split a full share with another family. We always have plenty of produce. What I like is that it cost very little (~$300 for April-December), is easy for me to get local organic produce into our diet, and gives us the opportunity for extras once a month At open farm days. It’s been a win-win situation for us.

  6. I am glad I am not the only one who feels this way…wanting to supply a certain standard of food, but in reality not living up to it. Mostly for us budget gets in the way. Sometimes organic produce is about the same price, but usually not. I figure the conventionally grown fruit is still a better snack than potato chips. We are gardening this year also, and that helps make some organic produce available in my back yard.

  7. I so appreciate this article. We are in a transitional season of life where my husband is working hard to get his own business up and running. We’re living on a lot less of an income and one of the first food changes was our beloved local milk delivery. Buying normal milk from Costco made me cringe the first few times but the savings in our budget made it necessary. I know it’s for a season and will change once again. We try and make the best choices we can within our means right now and we strive to have thankful hearts for the food God has provided.

  8. Kate,
    I can totally relate. We often think that we can make a decision on our own and make it work, and then we find out that those around us make it impossible to implement. Most of us live and work with other people, who are not on board with real food eating, and natural living, so in our society it is very hard to stay true to our values all the time. On the good side it makes us question every thing we believe in. We find out what really matters. I recommend reading stuff by Matt Stone at He helps put things into perspective when it comes to eating. One thing I would add to his recommendations, is to stay away from additives and preservatives and eat things as close to the way people have done for all the years before we made food factories. I think a lot of our nutrition problems stem from this. We often think nutrition is a cure-all and all our problems stem from this. We focus solely on one thing and neglect more important issues that make bigger impacts–our attitudes and stress levels for example! God bless!

  9. What a wonderful post!! I go back and forth between strict and letting things slide, guilt and pretending not to care. I keep feeling like there is a solution to the guilt and have been toying around the idea of writing down what is most important to us (locally sourced eggs, what produce we want organic, where we want our meat to come from, etc). Right now, I feel like we are so conflicted and spending an exorbitant amount of money because we can’t figure anything out. Of course I’ll buy organic raw honey, but my chicken comes from heaven knows where. Argh. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, helps to know we aren’t the only ones out there struggling. Good luck!

  10. Kate, I think that this is such a mature response. Of course we all want to do what is best for our families and sometimes it is not our picture of ideal. Sometimes we have to choose other priorities, or our priorities our sort of chosen for us. I love real food, and all the benefits it brings to our bodies, but it can also become an idol of sorts when we put it as the “ultimate” thing in our lives. Thanks for sharing the real in your life.

  11. I have big ideas on what foods I want to buy/make for my family but its just not all realistic for us. I try and make the best decisions I can at the store and if I can’t buy all whole and organic foods, I do my best to slip a few in. We eat Lays chips and Oreo cookies because we love them and that’s ok! I want my kids to know how to make balanced decisions, enjoy life and be healthy.

  12. Thank you for your refreshing honesty! I just came back from the grocery store. I am afraid of grocery shopping these days! I haven’t made dinner in one year – yes- over 365- because I was working full time and teaching fitness classes at night. My hubby took over. Now that I am in a different season of life, I want to provide healthy meals for my familythings. But I HATE cooking. Like- with a Passion. (notice the capital “P”) It literally STRESSES me out. BUT – my kids can’t live off of salad. (or can they?…..) Every once in a while, they want something cooked by their MOMMA! * sigh* To minimize stress, I try to balance healthy with convenience. Crock pot cooking. One pot meals. But many times, I just want quick, easy and fast, (remember the I hate cooking part? ) and that doesn’t always translate with wholesome. Baby steps. You do what you can when you can. Maybe sometimes it’s about money. Maybe some days it’s about knowing your child wont eat quinoa for the third day in a row. Maybe Grass fed beef is better but I have TWO teenage BOYS in the house…….and a limited grocery budget. So glad to know sometimes its about trying your best and giving yourself slack when you must.

    1. When my younger brother left home, my mom said “If I never have to cook again I ill be happy.” so now, when we go visit, I cook! I like to and she prefers this. 🙂 There I make gourmet meals because I have lots of help with the kids. At home it’s lots of quick stuff. Tonight I made scrambled hamburger (meat + quick homemade gravy) with rice and steamed broccoli. 20 minutes, little work, done. It has to be that way because my 5-month-old doesn’t always feel very patient and I’m trying to have meals done before my husband gets home. Life just isn’t perfect, you know? 🙂

  13. Always love your honesty. I agree, refreshing. I have tried to buy all organic, no GF and all but also can’t afford to do so with all our groceries. So our cereal is GF but I know the brand isn’t organic or marked non GMO so it probably is. My kids devour apples, and at 2.99 a pound I can’t afford organic for them. They get the $4 bag of 10 apples from Aldi. I do buy organic celery but don’t have it often because of the cost. I try to buy seasonally. We had pretty good success with our garden this year and had lots of lettuce and celery while it lasted, spinach and kale too. Strawberries galore this year but when the season ended we limit our store purchases.
    It is a balancing thing for sure… cost, convenience and happy kids (after months of no gold fish, I caved… and they were ecstatic) (was trying to keep them GF).
    Normally though we don’t have chips or crackers or such in the house so snack items are dried fruit, fresh fruit, (apples with PB is a fave treat). I make lots of homemade soups in the winter.
    Glad to know I am not the only one who tries, but just can’t afford all organic, grass-fed beef and organic chicken, or farm-raised, or know someone and all that (Though I do get farm fresh eggs, which is awesome). My heart is in the right place, I try and educate my kiddos along the way about making healthy choices and inform them what I know. They are label readers (no HCFS or dyes) I have learned also to soak my grains and nuts and our tummies are much happier. I make my own soy yogurt. I have learned alot about vegetarian cooking, raw ‘cooking’ and the like so that has been a cool education to share with my kiddos. They have learned to love raw goodies that can be sweet (dates make a great sweetener) so they don’t need the processed cookies and cakes. I hope I continue to learn and learn to give myself a break too.

  14. I am right there with you! I used to stress about it. I would review all of the articles on healthy food in my head and give myself a guilt trip. I have realized, though, that the *most* important thing that I can give my family is the gospel. When Christ was on the earth, everything was local and organic, yet he still had to die on the cross to save us from death and give us new life. If health food gets in the way of me doing gospel ministry with my time and budget or in the way of fellowship with believers, then it is sin. It can so easily become an idol.
    I have found such freedom in the cross and resurrection of Jesus when our budget or schedule doesn’t allow for the “‘perfect” diet.

    1. Your comment is so right on. I get down on myself for not taking all the right supplements or making my own everything or constantly eating only what is clean. But, if I let it control me then it is now an idol and I have lost focus on Jesus. Yes, it is important to take care of our bodies which are a temple which the Holy Spirit lives. At the same time, I am someone who gets obsessed with stuff and that is not healthy in itself. Being spiritually healthy for me will lead to health in the body and mind as well. Not saying you can’t eat like this and exercise and not still focus on God. I just know it can be something that can snag me.

  15. This is so great because this is real life. And so often on real food blogs it can appear like they never stray away and I just don’t know how they do it. My husband and I are in ministry and I swear every where we turn there are food/snacks being offered to us that are not good for us or fit into what I would like us to eat. But it gets exhausting sometimes to have enough self control to always say no or to tell my kids no. Plus my hubby has really come a long way but he and I are still not on the same page totally when it comes to what is ok to eat or how much is ok to eat of things that are not good for us. This post is refreshing because it reminds us to let go of condemnation over it and to have grace for ourselves. Thank you!

  16. Thank you for this post, it’s exactly what I needed. We’ve been on a slight downward slide due to being out of town for three weekends in a row. Now we’re finally home for a while, but I’m out of my normal rhythm and it’s frustrating. Anyway, I’ve been struggling with a question for a while and would love your take on it. I agree with you about wanting my family to feel good and to be strong and healthy and that is what I tell my children every time they ask “why can’t we have…..fill in the blank?”. My struggle is I want them to adopt these standards for their health but at the same time I worry if I’m too strict (which I’m not….just took them for shaved ice yesterday for a treat) that once they are out on their own they’ll turn into junk food maniacs! How can I teach them and get them to buy into this when all their friends eat poorly, their grandparents give them whatever they ask for and the snacks they get at school are what they like and want!

    So any advice how to walk this fine line specifically in addressing my 3 and 5 year olds would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

    1. Well, that’s hard, because you can’t fully predict how it will turn out. But, here is what we do.
      At the store, I pick up various boxes and cans and read the ingredients to them. I ask if it sounds like food or sounds healthy (depending on how bad it is!). They’ve kind of picked up on this and will ask me to read labels. They call food we can’t have “it has bad stuff in it.”

      As they get older, we’ll research specific ingredients together and look at the effects on health, and let them try some of the foods if they’re curious and see how they feel after. I don’t think it’s a good idea to ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist, but to steep them in your reasons and choices and let them know the “why.” Don’t make it forbidden, but when age-appropriate let them make some choices you wouldn’t prefer so they can see how it works. “Oh, you choose that cake at a party and you don’t feel well now. That’s why we prefer to make cake at home with healthy ingredients.” It’s also good, of course, to have healthy treats around so they’re not deprived. We all like it now and then!

      Given that my kids are about the same age as yours I don’t know how it will work out, but my hope is this honesty will lead to them holding onto what I’m teaching them.

  17. AMEN!!! Of course I know what the “gold standard” of food would be. But can I afford (or even *want*) to eat that way all the time? Heck no. Thank you for sharing what all of us do in “secret”–live real life. We do the best we can, we pick and choose our “non-negotiables”, and we give ourselves some wiggle room.

  18. Such a great post and at a good time for me. Sometimes it seems like all the real food blogs I read have it all figured out and eat real food all the time. It can be such a struggle sometimes between making and preparing real food vs time/motivation/getting kids to actually eat the food!

  19. I know exactly what you mean! I was just thinking this the past couple of weeks, about how much I let our diet/lifestyle slide over the summer with all the travel, hot weather (no AC), etc. I feel the same way, like it’s always evolving and I never have it ‘figured out’. I’ve relied on veggie chips a lot too, hehe! For those ‘mommy-needs-to-finish-one-more-thing-dinner-isn’t-ready-yet’ moments. I’m relieved I can finally make soup again because through summer when it was 90 degrees outside and no AC in the house I of course couldn’t make soup or we would literally suffocate! So nice to have the cool nights now and the comfort of bone broth simmering 🙂
    It’s a relief not to follow a diet to the T, we try the best we can and not stress over it!

  20. Thank you for this post. I’m at thepoint where I’m so tired of feeling like I need to provide healthy foods fr my family. Hubby & teens aren’t commited to it like I am. I haven’t been doing well since having my baby almost 2 yes ago while trying to homeschool my hyperactive Sensory seeker 10y with ARND. Then a few months ago I find out I’ve got Hashimoto’s and I’m wondering when in the world I’m going to find tme to research this on time of the million things to do to work on my heath and getting my hormones back to where it needs to be. This after 1 1/2 yrs of already being restricted from what, cow dairy, corn, soy & sugar all of which my baby is intolerant to (gets eczema & congested)

    1. Sorry my phone is messingup my spelling, hopefully you can figure out what I’m trying t say. Anyway, sometimes I feel like a hypocrite not being able to stick with my health beliefs when I falter in or give into my food cravings. I also feel guilty for not being more strict with myself when I’ve got a nursing toddler whose eczema flares up when I give in to foods I haven’t had in a while or am just so tired of it all and feeling down. I hope that things will get better when my son starts scool next week. Hopefully I can get organized and educated on how to better take care of myself with Hashimoto’s while he’s in school in the mornings. I so wish he could be in school all day but he’s just not ready for that yet so I push on doing the best I can.

  21. Amen, sister! I’m just like you, and I’ve jumped on all the bandwagons at one time or another to just fall off. It’s almost like just another fad diet…except we get on our high horses about all of the “food rules” we follow for health. But worrying about it is just as detrimental! You do your best. Moment by moment, day by day, dollar by dollar. Yesterday was a good day. Will today be as successful? I’m not sure, but there’s always hope. Never lose hope! Often at our house the minute we let our food slide, we get sick. It’s not healthy to punish yourself for that either, but it’s a good reminder, with fall and winter coming especially, to buckle down again. Everything comes down to a choice, and if you’re centered enough to make a good choice, the next one will probably be a good one too, and the one after that, and the one after that. That’s what a healthy lifestyle looks like!

  22. I really appreciate Kate, and all of the other ladies who have shared comments. Y’all have offered wonderful examples and reminders of where my priorities should be, and encouragement that I’m not alone in “sliding”. =) Thanks for setting the example of showing grace to yourselves, instead of condemnation (something I struggle with!) and for the example of putting God first instead of making certain types of food or a lifestyle a “god”. Great job!

  23. Kate, thank you. I’m so thankful for this post and for all the comments. It’s nice to know I’m not the only mama out there struggling to maintain a balance between real food, a budget, and the often necessary-evil of fast snacks or dinner. It’s often difficult to show ourselves a bit of grace (or to accept it when the Lord lavishes it on us).

  24. Love this article! I have a blog devoted to simple recipes that are whole-foods, plant based. I also have a facebook fan page and one thing I noticed about similar fan pages is that while they are promoting healthy eating, often they would also be very critical of those who didn’t eat “healthy”, showing condescending comics and pictures about people who choose to eat differently than them. I totally agree that we are each trying to find what works best for us as individuals, and that life can often impede our goal of being perfect (not just diet, but true with anything we are trying to accomplish). I especially loved what you said at the end of this article about having our own situations and limits.
    Would it be okay with you if I wrote a blog post about this topic and referenced this post?

  25. Thanks for this! It’s so good to acknowledge reality, like budgets and time. I do my best, but staying home with my son is a higher priority than anything else, which means we have less income to buy all organic/etc., and less time to cook sometimes (I work a few nights in order to stay home during the day). That’s just the way it is. We make an effort to buy organic dairy (but really, that ends up being just milk and yoghurt mostly because cheese, etc., is so expensive) and some of the dirty dozen produce, and whatever else is affordable when we can. But we slide a lot. And it’s ok. The thing that stresses me out the most, though, is all the different healthy diets that get popular, because it’s not actually possible to do ALL of them, and everyone is talking/writing about them, and suddenly my homemade soup and homemade whole wheat bread don’t sound like a healthy dinner anymore! So I need to not worry so much about what everyone else is doing and just take care of us.

  26. Can I just say I LOVE this site? You ladies are so wonderful and bring such a balance to the many things us moms struggle with. It’s so good to be healthy and make wise choices about food for our family but it’s also not the end of the world to eat a convenience food every now and then, especially us moms of many little ones or work-outside-the-home moms that already carry such a heavy load. Many blessings you all of you ladies!

  27. Your honesty is why I love this site! I just bought regular potatoes and grapes this past weekend and enjoyed every grape that went into my mouth. I buy organic (and love it) when I can, too, and try not to fret too much when I cannot. Beating ourselves up over such things is soooo non-productive!

  28. I have really struggled with this topic. When I first started in the direction of a whole foods lifestyle, I was determined it was going to be “all or nothing”. I have learned, however, and completely believe ANY step in the right direction is helpful. Making BETTER choices is where it starts. An example of that being that we eat out very seldom now, whereas we used to eat out several times a week. Instead of eating out, I cook at home. My meals are simple and rarely use the “best” ingredients, but I know that my home cooked meal is MUCH better for me than what I was getting through the drive thru. I will just keeping making better choices!

  29. Kate,
    Thank you so much for this encouragement! If all else fails, I focus on making food from scratch. I was just feeling stressed because I was eating a non-organic apple. So, thank you for reminding me that we do our best and it’s not worth losing sleep to cook or to stress about eating something on the dirty dozen list:)

  30. I try to take the items that we eat a lot of, or put on our skin, and buy the organic version or make it myself. Other items, I buy because it’s cheaper and we don’t eat it that often. I try to stick to the Dirty dozen list as much as I can, but some fruits and veggies on that list just aren’t available all the time. I eliminate toxins, chemicals, added sugar, etc as much as I can, and don’t beat myself up when I can’t provide it all. As long as I’m tryng, I feel good about the victories.

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