Real Food Made Simple: A Beginner's Guide to Eating Better 1

Real Food Made Simple: A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Better

Real Food Made Simple: A Beginner's Guide to Eating Better

I love that the term “real food” is becoming more commonplace.

It’s clear that a movement has begun, with people increasingly wanting to avoid processed and fake foods, and learn to eat a more nutritious and whole-foods based diet.

10 years ago, I was in the same place as many of you. I recognized that my diet wasn’t ideal and was damaging my body. I sincerely wanted to improve my poor health and change the way that I ate. Much as I wanted to make those changes, though, two things stood in my way.

For one thing, I couldn’t make a sudden switch and change everything all at once. My Campbell’s Soup, Wonder Bread, Doritos and Coke-influenced tastebuds needed time to adapt to the flavors of fresh vegetables and whole grains. My cooking skills were sorely lacking. Shopping became a more confusing and time-consuming process initially. Trying to make a 180-degree turnaround would have only overwhelmed and discouraged me.

Secondly, there was a lot of confusion about what eating healthy meant. I read a ton of different books and websites, talked to friends and family and nutritionists and doctors, and often found myself more confused than ever.

Should I become a vegetarian or vegan? I’d tried it once as a teenager and had become anemic, but maybe I just had to learn to do it better? Was dairy inherently bad and only meant for baby cows? Low-fat sounded sensible, but not very appealing.

The idea of healthy eating has become even more popular during this last decade, but it hasn’t become more clear what that really means. Today, conflicting dietary theories abound (take your pick from vegetarian, paleo, Atkins, organic, low fat, blood type, raw, or any other myriad of popular options), making it increasingly difficult to know what “real food” actually consists of.

Not to mention that in our society’s warped food culture, it’s hard to even distinguish real food from fake foods. Processed foods have insidiously wormed their way into even “health food” store products, and likewise conventional companies and Big Agriculture have taken on words such as “all-natural”, “whole”, “healthy”, and “farm fresh” among other terms, making them deceptive and utterly meaningless.

Real food is more than a fad, and more than a cute catchphrase, too.

But there are so many questions to be answered when it comes to real food:

  • How exactly do we define real food?
  • When you’re just starting out, what sorts of simple first steps should you take?
  • Which ingredients should you avoid? And how on earth do you read food labels in the first place? For that matter, can real food ever come in packages or from a regular grocery store?
  • And if a regular store is all you have, what do you buy?
  • Do you have to change how you cook, or are there simple switches and substitutions that you can make?
  • What about grains? Should we eat them at all? Should we just eat less of them or prepare them in special ways?
  • What if you’re a picky eater? How do you change your tastebuds?
  • Or one of the most common questions I hear… what if your husband and kids are resistant?
  • How on earth do you afford eating better foods when the budget is already tight?
  • What if all you know how to make are burnt offerings and things that come in a box?
  • How will you manage making your foods from scratch since you don’t have hours to spend each day in the kitchen?
  • Can you make healthier meals that still taste like the ones you’re used to? Can real food actually taste good?

We’re launching into a new series called Real Food Made Simple: A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Better, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Throughout the month of January, we’ll be answering these questions and many more!

ice cream in bowl

I’m done with complicated eating.

Why does eating always have to seem so complicated? It doesn’t need to be. I’ve been studying nutrition for 10 years, gotten myself all twisted up and turned around at times, and take it from me… it can actually be boiled down to something far more straightforward and manageable that it seems.

Food, even (or maybe especially) healthy food, is meant to be enjoyed. You should actually want to eat these things that are good for you. And it shouldn’t require intensive study or complicated calculations to figure out what you should and shouldn’t eat.

Yes, science speaks to the matter, but I don’t think that what we put in our mouths should ever be reduced purely to scientific theories, iPhone apps, faddish diets, or deprivation.

We can focus on real, whole foods, the types of foods that our great-great-great-grandparents would have eaten and recognized, and make them delicious, without feeling like the nutrition police are out to get us.

If I can accomplish only one thing through this series, I hope that it’s this:

To convince you that anyone can make simple strides towards eating better.

If you’re in that place, wanting to change but unsure of how to go about it, we are so glad you’re here! We’re going to take it slow, break it down, and try to make it as easy and practical as we can.

If you have a friend or family member that you think would be interested or would benefit from what we’ll be sharing, please, send them our way! If you’re already further into your real food journey, would you consider sharing these posts with those around you?

Other posts in the series:

First Steps to Real Food

What Is Real Food?

Cutting Your Kitchen Prep Time in Half — Or More!

Confessions of a Formerly Picky Eater

How to Read Food Labels

The Grain Controversy: Should We Eat Them or Not?

Second Steps Towards Eating Real Foods: Switching Your Food Sources

Sweeteners: How They Affect You, Which Ones are Best, and How to Use Them

Simple Steps to Begin Cooking Homemade: Pantry Staples

5 Strategies to Help Your Husband and Kids Transition to Real Food 

7 Foods to Avoid

Finding Real Food in the Grocery Store

20 Easy Real Food Switches and Substitutions {with Free Printable Chart}

First Steps to Eating for Fertility

Keeping Costs Down in a Real Food Kitchen

Raising Kids on Real Food

5 Ways to Get More Fruits & Veggies into your Diet

Food Is Not Cheap: 4 Steps to Budgeting in Real Food

Simple Steps to Begin Cooking Homemade: Baked Goods

Simple Roast Chicken (And Fabulous Side Dish Recipes!)

17 Homemade Spice Mixes {with Recipes & Why You Should Use Them!}

5 Ways Green Living and Real Food are Connected

Simple Steps to Begin Cooking Homemade: Soups, Sauces, and Simple Dinners

Where are you at on your real food journey? And what questions or struggles do you have that we could try to address?

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  1. We have been working toward real local food for several years now and love it… I struggle with breakfast ideas and I still can’t give up my occasional snickers bar 🙂 looking forward to this series.

  2. Wow! Really looking forward to this! This is journey that I am on. Will be waiting anxiously for your posts in my inbox. Thanks for doing this and letting us learn from your studies.

  3. Thanks for this post – looking forward to your ‘take’ on this fascinating subject! Trying to go “all organic” has proven quite a difficult task for me as well. The cravings I have for the processed food have occurred for a reason, I’m sure – a reason that has been well thought out by big food. Can’t wait to see your posts regarding this interesting voyage!

  4. I think you wrote this blog post for me! Saw the link on FB and had to come on over. I am so excited. To copy Stacy’s comment: “Yay, I can’t wait!”

  5. My family began our journey in eating REAL FOOD this past summer. The more I learn, the more I want to share. Thank you!

  6. We have the tiniest of tiny budgets when it comes to groceries. I could REALLY use some good suggestions for budget friendly real foods and meals. 🙂

  7. I have found this journey to be MOST FRUSTRATING personally. Like you, I’ve been studying for about a decade and have had my mind changed so many times, it’s ridiculous. LOL. I just keep coming to the conclusion that any “method” of healthy eating that requires too much thought is just nonsense. I mean, people all over the world since the creation of time were able to figure it out. And they seemed to do better than us… given all of our new fangled degenerative diseases. I, for one, look forward to your simple series!!! And I hope to share it with several of my friends who are new to the idea of traditional foods! 😀

  8. Thank you, Stephanie, for starting this series. I’m looking forward to reading it and sharing it with others! It’s very needed!

  9. I can’t wait for this series to start! My family has been trying more real food options for the last couple years. It’s been a slow progression though. The hardest 2 things for us are time for cooking since both parents are working full time, and many suggestions are switching to what I consider fancy, overpriced substitutions that are harder to find, especially since we live rurally and there isn’t a Trader Joes or Whole Foods just around the corner.

  10. I am so excited about this! I found your blog a few months ago and eating real food is almost like a whole new world to me. Although I was only a few credit hours away from getting a degree in nutrition, I was not introduced to many of these topics. It has been difficult to transition my entire life to safe living and eating real food because I tend to want to do everything at once! Once I have the knowledge, it is difficult to keep eating something or using a product that may not be safe or beneficial for my body. I have gone from couponing and getting groceries cheap/free to wanting to cook everything from scratch without much experience while our grocery bill is much higher. With all that said, this has been a good learning experience for me as long as I trust in the Lord and not in the new choices I am making. Thank you for all that you share and do!

  11. I have struggled up and down with my weight and what to eat and how to make a healthy diet. I have tried to eat Vegan and just can’t seem to stick with it especially when my family says “no way”. I am so looking forward to seeing the up coming articles and things I can incorporate so my family can become healthier this year. I agree with previous comment, our ancestors did it, why can’t we without making this so complicated and having to count every calorie and fat gram we put in our mouths??? Thanks Stephanie!

  12. Fabulous! I completely agree with your statement: “I don’t think that what we put in our mouths should ever be reduced purely to scientific theories, iPhone apps, faddish diets, or deprivation.”

    I’m also becoming more and more convinced that there’s not one type of “diet” that is good for everyone. Each person has unique dietary needs, and so everyone should take the time to figure out–using real foods–what works well for his season of life, nutritional needs, and balance that out with ease of preparation and the ability to have a few treats without feeling like he fell off the bandwagon. Wow. That was confusing. But what I mean is, I’m super excited about this series and will be recommending it to people!! Thanks 🙂

  13. I’m really looking forward to this series. We eat a lot of fruit, eat only whole wheat bread and I almost always make our dinners from scratch. I thought we ate fairly healthy until coming across some real food blogs. I have been able to make a few changes in the last few months, but I would love to know what you recommend for healthy lunchbox ideas.

  14. This is such an important topic for moms wanting to move toward a healthy lifestyle. I have been on this journey for over 20 years, and have seven children. Believe me, simple is good. Thanks for always sharing timely and wise encouragement.


  16. So excited for this series Stephanie! I have your ebook “Real Food on a Real Budget” and it was very inspiring, but I’m still finding it difficult to figure out how to transition properly bringing hubby and my little ones with me.

  17. Thanks so much for this series! I’ve been reading this blog for a while, and have implemented a few things, but honestly, it often seems time consuming and over the top. I’m looking forward to learning some of the basics that I have missed in just casual reading, and finding some simple things I can do to improve our diet that won’t overly tax our budget and busy schedule.

  18. I have been convicted lately that I am making it too complicated for my family. I am looking forward to this series!

  19. Eating more real foods sure is a journey and I am glad I started it many years ago, but there is always something new to learn. Especially the word SIMPLE interests me, looking forward to this series!

    By the way Stephanie, thank you for the menu planer idea you shared a while ago on facebook. My daughter made me one for Christmas, so happy :). You can see my new planer on my blog.

  20. I can’t wait. This is my goal for the new year but I want to try it all at once and have no idea where to start. In addition I have a family that will not change easily. Thank you!

    1. Everyone is different…some people like, need, & want to take it slow; others want to change stuff all @ once, which we found to be doable. About 3-4 years ago, my husband & I did it for health reasons. We followed the 40-day challenge in the book, “The Maker’s Diet.” We figured we could do anything for 40 days…and if we didn’t like it at the end or couldn’t tell a difference, then we’d decide what we’d do then…BUT, for 40 days, we were committed…NO CHEATING! The first 2 weeks were horrible as our bodies were craving sugars, refined foods, & preserving additives (& bread), second 2 weeks were a bit better as we had been detoxed of all the icky stuff our bodies were used to, but still tough (looking forward to bread), but the last 2 weeks (life phase if you choose to stick with it) were wonderful! We loved it! In fact, we had to attend a church dinner after that back home & I thought “Oh, look at those wonderful desserts & that strawberry “salad”…” so I got some, ate a bite, & couldn’t eat it because it was too sweet for me (this coming from a previous Dr. Pepper & chocolate addict!)

      So, if you truly are wanting to try it — all or nothing — AND your hubby can get on board (this is very important…you must all be willing to commit, & we found having a set time makes that easier) I would recommend giving this a try.

      I am such a believer in this as I had previously been on steroids for asthma since I was 9 years old & the doctors couldn’t get me off of them or get it super regulated. Once we did this, I have not been on ANY medications for 3 1/2+ years, exercised without issues, less allergy issues during every season, & had 2 babies.

      Good luck with whatever route you go with! :0)

    2. Jennifer, wishing you all the best! It will not be easy, but even if you can change the main things, it will be worth it. I have a son who is totally against healthy eating and still enjoys my wholegrain bread, so there we go :). Just do not give up!

  21. I just move to Nebraska, there are many farms around here! Then this series, I think I’m a little closer into eating more from the scratch. Can wait!

  22. I am really looking forward to this series! I myself have been trying to eat whole foods, but find I fall off the wagon sometimes because I make things for my husband and kids. Now we are all going to start eating “real food” so this came at a perfect time. I would appreciate ideas for the kids, especially for lunches, and some simple weeknight dinner ideas would be so great!

  23. I don’t know where to start?? I have 3 small children, so getting them to eat healthy and properly always seems to be a struggle. What baby steps should I take first?

    1. For us, I started by substituting certain things for real foods: butter or coconut oil instead of margarine, organic eggs and milk for conventional, honey and succinat for refined sugar and made my own bread from organic wheat, tossing anything that comes in a box/ package/ microwaveable container. My hubby can’t even taste the difference! He only knows it is real when we eat quinoa lol. In fact- real food tastes better, organic beef is 150x better than cheap stuff! My next step is raw milk. Have fun you will enjoy it!

  24. Excited for this! I’ve trying to make changes for about 3 months now, but still wonder about what to spend time on as I learn more.

  25. I have been moving to real foods for a yer now. The part I find hard is getting people like my folks and DH’s folks to understand why we don’t want our kids eating margarine, food coloring, canola or microwaved meals. I have found that my kids will speak up (my 5 yo) and ask for healthy stuff if I train them, but sometimes the in laws seem to give them junk out of spite, or the thinking that is older (ie, butter is saturated, margarine is better). What suggestions do you have for putting your foot down on certain things. I am flexible with some stuff obviously because my kids will have cake at a party!

  26. Can you address doing real food when there are diet complications? Due to chronic illness (genetic diseases) my husband and son both have special diets. One is gluten free–so much easier to do these days and the other needs a high fat, high protein, high salt diet. Any thoughts for those that are navigating special diet needs?

  27. I’m interested in hearing some thoughts for families where there are special diet needs. We have two special diets due to chronic illness (genetic diseases): one gluten free and one high fat, high protein, high salt. My current belief is you do the best you can with what you can, but if there are some thoughts or insights for those navigating real foods with special diet needs, I’d love to hear.

  28. Perfect timing! We’re cleaning out the pantry of all foods with additives and eating clean in 2013 after watching a documentary called “Hungry for Change” on Netflix and getting inspired. One particular comment I liked was that these days, we eat “food-like products” rather than real foods. And an interesting fact: Researchers use MSG to induce obesity in lab rats. I knew it was bad, but YUCK!

  29. Super excited! 🙂 My question(s) would be with costs of buying real foods, shopping at local/organic stores, budgeting, etc… Due to my health (hormonal & brain fog issues), I could benefit a great deal from this series. I keep going on & off my diet, which I really hate. Thanks!

  30. I’ve been on the journey for 3-4 years now, and I’m at this place where I don’t know WHAT to cook, because I’ve read so many different things that contradict one another just like you mentioned. Dairy. Never dairy. Grain. Never grain. Etc. but the biggest issue right now is that I’m NOT cooking.

  31. I’m so glad that I found your blog! I am just starting out and I am in the research, question and slightly overwhelmed state! LOL I recently decided that to get “healthy” would probably need more than just a quick fix, so I started looking. I am not a Chef, but I can cook and I enjoy food that has taste! Hence the reason that I am not the smallest in the class. LOL. I also come from an Italian family who believes that every table should have pasta and bread … and that seconds are really just the extension of your firsts! 🙂 So whatever wisdom you have, I am ready to soak it up like a parched sponge! Thank you!!!!

  32. I am so excited to read this new series. I have tried so many diets. I have such a hard time cooking healthy foods. I am so picky! I didn’t grow up with the best food choices, at all. A common meal in my house would be popcorn chicken and fries. I tried to make baked salmon a few days ago- HORRID; my zucchini fries were just as bad. I can’t figure out if it’s simply because I am not used to these foods or if I am just the worst cook ever. I have read so much about cooking but what is humus? I only shop at Walmart… I’ve never seen humus! It’s all makes me a little discouraged sometimes, but I am only 20 years old I have to get healthier there is no other choice.

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