Nutritional Foundations- It all begins with the right ingredients

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There are exceptions to everything, but I think that this is a very foundational starting place to talk about nutrition and improving the way that you cook for your family.

See, I can learn all of the proper cooking techniques a la Nourishing Traditions and find some amazingly healthy recipes at The Nourishing Gourmet (frugal ones, too!), but if I am using processed cheese, eggs from cramped hens who never see the light of day (let alone grass or insects!), bleached white flour and fake "butter" spread, I'm going to be working against my best efforts, to a large degree.

Healthy meals start with healthy ingredients

If you are new to a lot of this nutrition stuff, but really desire to learn to feed your family (and yourself!) better, my best recommendation to you is to initially keep cooking what you're already cooking, but begin to substitute quality ingredients for inferior ones.

Here's an example. Let's suppose that my kids just love my homemade version of mac and cheese, made complete with white flour pasta, margarine, conventional milk, velveeta cheese, and packaged bread crumbs.

Here's what I would do to make that meal instantly more nutritional, without changing much or any of what I'm already doing:

  • substitute the white pasta with some whole grain sprouted pasta or brown rice noodles (my favorite brand is Tinkyada- it has a nice texture and doesn't get too mushy)
  • use butter instead of margarine (organic or pastured is a huge plus)
  • switch the milk to natural, raw milk (or if that's unavailable, then at least organic milk)
  • use plain old cheese that I grate myself (white is better than orange, to avoid food coloring, and of course, organic or raw is excellent)
  • stick a few slices of homemade or whole grain bread in the food processor for instant bread crumbs

The thing is, it's not that we all need to start cooking exotic and strange concoctions, full of bean curds and alfalfa and brewer's yeast.

Rather, what we need is to go back to more wholesome, standard ingredients instead of all this man-made, processed, chemically-altered, dyed, msg-enhanced, preservative-filled junk that is on the shelves of our friendly local grocery store!

If you were to look through my menu plans, you would see that I make a lot of the same things as everyone else. The difference? What I'm starting out with.

I make chili, lasagna, pizza, tacos, waffles and cookies just like the rest of you! What makes my food so nourishing is sometimes the techniques I use to prepare it, or slightly different recipes (adjusted to use healthier ingredients or more from scratch), but overall, it's just that my kitchen is stocked a bit differently.

If you were to open my fridge, you would find milk, eggs, bread, veggies, yogurt, even ketchup! However, if you look a little bit closer you would see that my milk is natural and raw, my eggs free run, my bread either homemade (soaked) or bought (sourdough or sprouted), my veggies as unsprayed and organic as I can get them (and maybe in greater abundance than in many fridges), my yogurt homemade (with organic milk I buy on clearance) and my ketchup just so happens to be organic and made with agave nectar (though homemade is what I usually use).

The wonderful thing is that because I start with the best ingredients possible, I am able to cook fairly freely and know that my family is still getting an excellent return on my investment of time, energy and money!

What if I'm just not there yet?

Do the kind of ingredients in my fridge sound a bit daunting, or feel out of reach from where you are currently at? If you are not ready to start buying organic or natural everything,
live in a small town with only one grocery store, or are working with an
extremely tight budget, here is one of the best things that I can
suggest you do.

Shop the perimeter of the grocery store!

Avoid all those nasty center aisles, full of cans and
bottles and boxes of who knows what, and instead just began to buy
those items around the outer edge of the stores- meat and fish, dairy,
vegetables and fruits, whole grain baked goods. Take a quick dip into
the aisles for some brown rice, coconut milk, baking powder and toilet
paper, and then sprint back out to the edges as though your life
depended on it!

Two things will happen. One, you will be getting far more nutritional
bang for your buck, as you spend your money on whole foods, instead of
devitalized ones. And secondly, I bet you will even begin to save
money, as you learn not to buy all those tempting foods that the
advertisers want you to think you've just got to have, and as your body
gets filled up on nutritionally dense food (instead of food that is
nutritionally void and leaves your body craving more calories in an
attempt to meet it's needs).

Beyond this, the next step is to improve the quality of what you are
buying even more- organic, pastured, free range, natural, unsprayed,
raw, wild, cultured, sprouted and sourdough. These are the foods that will put
the least burden (digestive, toxic, etc.) on your body, and
additionally will offer it the most nutrients by far. Superior foods
not only contain less of the bad stuff, but far more of the good stuff,

A change of pace

I am preparing to finish my Baby Steps series within the next couple of weeks, for a few reasons. One is that the posts can often by quite time consuming to prepare, and make it difficult for me to have the time to focus on other time-intensive posts during the week. Another is that I am in the midst of writing an ebook on Baby Steps, and if I keep going with this series for too much longer, I will start to run out of topics to cover in my book, and I'd like to keep the topic duplication as minimal as possible, to bring you a book full of fresh, new topics!

In lieu of that series, I thought that I would begin to write a series of posts on some of the more foundational topics in cooking nutritionally for a family- the ingredients, how to shop for them (regardless of the kind of stores you have available to you, or how big your budget is), adapting the recipes you already have and like, and more information on specific foods and food groups.

So my question to you is– What are your burning questions on these topics? What are the areas you struggle with the most and would love to see addressed in this series? What do you find the most difficult in improving your family's diet?

Part of Kitchen Tip Tuesday!

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  1. Great tips! We are on a journey of continually eating healthier and we have definately been taking baby steps. Making changes on a regular basis. My big “wall” that I run into is the budget. But I try to do the best I can with what I can and it seems to work. Next year I’m hoping to finally have my own garden so that at least for a little while I can grow and preserve my own veggies!

    Thanks for writing great nutritional pointers. I am definately ear-marking your blog…can’t believe I didn’t already…or maybe I did…who knows.

  2. I love your blog! Thank you for the great tips you have posted!

    We are taking baby steps to try to eat more healthy. The problem that I face the most is our budget. I am a big coupon user, and although I have found a few websites to get coupons for healthier products…there really aren’t too many. I am just trying to figure out how I can make healthy, nutritious meals for my family each and every day without breaking the bank. So far what we have been eating has been a lot better, but I have noticed my spending go up! Ahhh!

    Thank you for your help! 🙂

  3. We are taking baby steps, too and one of the issues I am currently facing is juice for my toddler. As a general rule of thumb, I veto the ones that include high fructose corn syrup, etc., but then the others are loaded with just plain sugar anyway! I know my daughter needs juice and I don’t want to give her only apple juice (the only “healthy” alternative I have found thus far).
    So what do you suggest?
    I love everything you write and I am an avid reader- you are eveything I aspire to be! 🙂

  4. Love the post, I just started switching my family to a more natural healthy lifestyle. We are doing baby steps, first we started making our own homemade whole wheat bread and stopped buying white flour, then we added more veggies to dinner and cut back on the potatoes and white rice, now I’m working on adding organic diary products. My biggest obstacle is the cost of items, it’s so hard to start paying double for items, even though I know it’s better for us.

  5. I’m really looking forward to your new set of posts. I have many questions but can’t fit them all on here. What kind/brand of flour do you buy? How do I substitute wheat flour in recipes calling for white flour? What organic milk do you buy? Does it taste different? We use good ole’ 1%Hood milk(don’t know if they have that in Canada).Organic milk very expensive for a half gallone here and we are HUGE milk drinkers!Also,I’ve read you buy a whole chicken. I usually buy chicken breasts(purdue).Do you have reccomendations for already cut chicken breasts in the poultry isle? Anyway, I’ll just wait to see if you answer my other questions in your post :o) I’m trying to subsitute what I already have/do for healthier alternatives.To the dismay of my husband and 2 year old daughter!!! LOL

  6. Thank you for this information. My problem is the guilt associated with the old diet while trying to switch over to healthier eating. It takes a lot of planning for me, and when I haven’t planned in advance, ie. pulled meat out of the freezer, I don’t know what to serve. I ended up getting some chicken strips because we’d already had pizza and burritos this week.

    I also wish that I had some women who would come along side me and teach me what they know! Until then, I’ll get out my menu sheet that I know so well, and plan and prepare so tomorrow will be a better day. Thanks again.

  7. Thanks for all the feedback- your questions and comments will definitely help to form the topics in my series! 🙂

  8. Another great post. We live in a small town, so we really appreciate your baby steps.

    Can’t wait to read your ebook!

  9. Janie –

    Why does your toddler need juice? Wouldn’t it be better to have her eat the actual fruit (with the fiber intact) and drink water? We are just starting with the NT style of cooking / eating, but I’ve never really done much juice (mostly because of the expense). Once in a blue moon, I’ll get some apple juice (when someone has been ill and is craving it) or orange juice (again, when someone has been craving it – I figure it’s the body’s way of telling us we need a boost of extra vitamin C). As we are eating better, I’m finding those cravings are coming MUCH less frequently.

    I found it interesting to read in NT that drinking a lot of juice is associated with higher rates of diabetes. Since my dad is a type II diabetic, it really gave me food for thought.

  10. Stephanie, I’m so excited to have discovered this series on your blog! I was introduced to NT earlier this year, and my husband just got it for my birthday a few weeks ago and I’m so excited about making some significant changes in our eating habits. But one of my biggest curiosities has been what NT-ers BUY on a weekly basis–I know it can be pricey, but I’m getting the impression that I can make a week’s worth of food go a long, long way. Anyway, all this to say, I’m so glad I discovered your blog months ago, and I’m thankful to have your “guidance” in this new direction I’m taking my family. 🙂

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