“I don’t know how you do it.” I get this a lot. My typical response is, “It’s not that hard.” But I’m just being modest. It is hard some days. Some days I just want to be able to drive through somewhere and pick up dinner. Some days I could pull all my hair out if I have to wash one more dirty pan. But most days, when I’m in the zone, it’s easy as pie. I’m now chuckling at that metaphor since pie really isn’t that easy. Three kids (one with Aspergers), running our business, and cooking real food can be a challenge, but it was something I grew into, not something I mastered overnight.
“I make breakfast and clean up the mess and it’s time to start lunch!” This is exactly word-for-word the frantic complaint from friends that have gone “Gung Ho” for real food. They are knee deep into a lifestyle that is built on making new habits, breaking the old ones and planning ahead. Unfortunately, they are probably battling sugar cravings at the same time from their cold-turkey stop of all things processed = no fun. We started off at a moderate pace. We emptied our cabinets of anything with sugar or msg. We replaced russet potatoes with sweet potatoes. Dropped grains out completely. Then we stopped all starches. I was making the same meals wrapped in lettuce or with extra veggies instead of bread or potatoes. I started incorporating more soups. I made my own sauerkraut. Then nut butter. Then yogurt. One day I opened my fridge to find the top shelf a collection of mason jars full of my concoctions, and I asked myself; “How did I get here?” Now, any given day of the week you will see one of my kitchen gadgets humming along, or a bowl of something fermenting or soaking on the counter, and you will still find a motley crew of jars with handwritten labels in my fridge. There are nights I spend 4 hours in the kitchen prepping, baking or cooking. But that isn’t the norm. I make the most of my time in the kitchen, plan ahead and keep it simple!
I have a list of tips I learned along the way that will hopefully come in handy for you. Just remember to ease in to it.. unless you’re the cannonball type. In that case, jump right in, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
TIPS FOR STARTING A REAL FOOD HABIT – in no particular order
* Take a class. It doesn’t have to be at a school… if grandma makes a killer pot roast, or the bomb-diggity Fried Chicken, hang out and help her do it. She’ll probably make cookies while you’re waiting for the roast. (I wouldn’t worry too much about the refined sugars/flours in this case. You need to learn how to crawl before you can walk. Capisce?
* Find a cookbook/website with basic recipes. Save the harder things for later (see above). Do not alter these recipes until you have made them perfectly a couple of times. Then you can experiment.
* Hone your knife skills and buy a pair of really good knives. Prepping is a time-sucking vortex. A pair of really good kitchen knives will help lessen the pain of chopping and dicing. (Unless you cut yourself with them)
* Invest in some handy gadgets: apple corer, garlic chopper, egg separator. There are some really awesome time-saving tools that wash easily and cut your prep time down.
* Invest in a crockpot. It will be your new BFF and you won’t have to remember it’s birthday or listen to it whine about the last jerk that stood it up.
* Learn how to make tasty meat stock. You’ll use it for everything. Including a beverage!
* Replace vegetable cooking oils (corn, canola, soybean, etc.) with Coconut Oil, Butter and Ghee. You can save your Olive Oil for drizzling on food after it’s been cooked, hummus and salads. Throw everything else away.
* Find a Farmer’s Market near you on a day that you can attend. Check it out. Buy some berries. Maybe get a little crazy and come home with a squash. (These things happen). Once you’ve found a good one use it to buy your weekly vegetables and eggs. Meal plan around your purchases and use your grocery store for supplementation. CSA boxes can be awesome too, but I like a little more control than a random assortment of produce.
* Try a vegetable you’ve never tried before. I know, I know. You’d rather lick the ground than try a new veggie. Buy a little, buy it fresh and buy it in season. Google your favorite celebrity chef + the name of the veggie. Try that recipe. If all else fails cook it with butter. Butter makes everything better.
* Eat eggs for breakfast. Poached, Scrambled, Fried, Frambled, Baked, Hardboiled, Softboiled or in a smoothie. They are good for you and as easy to make as dry cereal. Eat dinner for breakfast! Sometimes a bowl of soup or leftover veggies with a fried egg on top hits the spot!
* When I buy a new ingredient (usually a vegetable, sometimes a fruit) I like to google tips for how to prep it. I had a painful reaction to peeling a butternut squash. My hands turned bright red, started swelling, then itching and peeled for 3 days. I now cut the squash in half and roast it, then scoop it out. Or if I’m lazy I will roast it first and then cut it in half. It changes the flavor of my soup a little, but I like it. I could grab a pair of gloves if I really wanted to peel it and cube it.
* Beef up your kitchen gadgets! Ice cream maker, Vitamix, mandolin. Go crazy! Avocado slicer? Apple peeler. Spiralizer. Dutch Oven. Yogurt Maker. Dehydrator. Fermenting vessels. Dammit Jim, I’m a mom not a scientist! (Random Star Trek reference). If anything it gets fun. Storage space may be a problem, but look at all that room in the microwave you aren’t using anymore.
* Start stockpiling glass. Pyrex and Mason. Pyrex you can find at thrift stores, but not the new-fangled whippersnappers with tupperware lids. <— Read easy stacking + less smell in your fridge. I’d stay away from the mason jars at the thrift stores though. Get wide mouth freezer ready jars for all the broth you’re gonna be making. BPA-free plasticware is your next best option.
* Make double batches when you make dinner. You can reuse leftovers in a soup, throw meat on salad for lunch or mix up veggies into an omelette or frittata.
* Pick one day a week to meal plan. I like to do it after the farmers market. I cut down on food I throw away (because I forgot about it) and also it saves me unnecessary trips to the store.
* Clean out your spice cupboard. This is where sugar and msg lurk. You want to eventually switch over to pure ingredients, there are very few blends in my cupboard. I mix my own chili powder and taco seasoning. I have a few blends I bought at my farmer’s market that don’t have salt, sugar or msg. Watch out for “natural flavors” – if the manufacturer wanted you to know what they use they will list it…. = beaver anal gland.
* Eliminate soy from your diet. This will make practically everything in a package off limits. Soy is the #1 most genetically modified crop in the U.S. with corn close behind. We are only now seeing results from what GMO’s are doing to our health. On top of the GMO factor, soy is a natural estrogen-disrupter. For women the balance between estrogen and progesterone is so crucial that throwing it off a little will wreck havoc on your moods, cycles and fertility. Traditionally fermented soy is ok, but it’s not what they are including in your chocolate.
* Easy things to start making yourself: Nut butters, salad dressings, spice mixes, yogurt, dried nuts, granola bars, beef jerky and applesauce.
* Start eating fats. Good fats like whole eggs, wild fish, uncured bacon, avocado, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, olive oil, and that crispy goodness wrapped around your roasted chicken… you know the skin! Our bodies have not evolved as fast as the processed foods have. With the large amounts of grains we now consume, our bodies think we are out of meat and protein, so it sends the message to store that energy for later, leading to fat retention, which is great if you are in a famine… not so great in 2013. You need to send the message that you have plenty of food and nutrients and get your body to start burning protein for energy.. and to stop storing the carbs. Mark’s Daily Apple explains this principal much better than me it’s under the heading Fat Paradigm. Basically, you need healthy fats to lose fat, get pregnant and have more energy. All good reasons for me!
* Stop using your microwave. It destroys nutrients. Steam in a basket in the oven or stove, or use a pot or skillet to reheat.
* Don’t try to “replace” junk food with “healthier” junk food. Grain-free bread doesn’t taste the same, just lettuce wrap it. Same goes for cakes and cookies, switch to homemade ice cream or fresh whipped cream and fruit. Veggie chips are not as satisfying as Lay’s Potato Chips, but then again neither is a veggie snack tray. Find new snacks that you love. My new favorite snack is rosemary roasted almonds, but it requires 24 hours of soaking before I can roast them.
* Keep snack foods prepped and easily accessible for when hunger strikes. I keep hard-boiled eggs, uncured salami, cubed cheese, and sliced carrots and cucumbers in my fridge whenever possible. I also have a bag of Enjoy Life Mega Chunks in the cupboard for when I need a quick “sugar” fix. A spoonful of coconut butter and raw honey work for this as well.
* Throw out your refined sugar. Replace with GradeB Organic Maple Syrup, Raw Organic Honey, and in a pinch.. stevia extract. Bananas and fruit make great sweeteners also.