Pt. 5 – A Beginner’s Guide – Converting Recipes to Real Food
We’ve talked a bit about what real food is, and that’s all just great, isn’t it? But knowing what real food is doesn’t get it into your tummy. Somehow we’ve got to get from “I know I need to make changes” to “I can totally do this”. Take baby steps — I can’t stress that enough. If you decide “enough’s enough” and just march into the local health food store, you are going to be overwhelmed. There are soooo many choices and they ALL say theirs is the cure to all your health problems. Put your money back in your pocket and step out of the health food store. You need to go back home and get a plan, or you’ll end up with a cupboard full of expensive ingredients that you have no idea how to use.
Ask yourself some questions: What do I like to eat? What do the people I cook for like to eat? How much time and money can I reasonably commit to this? Am I willing to make a few compromises to make this all work? What will I do if my new food tastes terrible?
These are valid questions to ask yourself before you go shopping.
Those first two questions are the most important. What do we like to eat? If you’re you and/or your family will only eat meat and potatoes, then rushing out and buying 14 different varieties of exotic thai peppers is probably not a great idea. I mean, how exactly do you cook them when your family doesn’t even like spicy food? Just because you read somewhere that hot peppers are wonderful for you doesn’t mean you will eat it if you don’t like it. Start with what you already know you like.(Krispie Creme donuts don’t count.)
So, say you are used to eating McDonald’s Hamburgers for every other meal. Fine. You know you like a burger. Now let’s make it a healthy burger. Find the best meat you can possibly buy. Grass-fed is the goal here. If you can’t immediately find grass-fed meat source, do the best you can. (Deer meat, properly processed is a very inexpensive way to get grass-fed, organic meat. We can’t tell a real difference from beef. Also, look for local farmers and see if you can pre-purchase a side of beef. That really gets the price down.) Now, look for cheese with no weird ingredients, again, go for dairy from grass-fed cows. Pick up some organic lettuce and a vine-ripened tomato. Get some stone ground mustard with no weird ingredients. If you can, make your own fresh whole wheat buns, or get the freshest, best buns you can find. Put it all together and let your teeth sink into a REAL hamburger. Once you taste a burger made from fresh, real ingredients, I doubt McDonald’s will ever be tempting again.
I read once that the average family only actually uses about 12 different recipes. 12, folks. I don’t think we are an average family, because I use more than that in a week. You may use more, you may use less. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, look through your favorite recipes and see what ingredients can be substituted in those recipes without changing the recipe a lot. Simple changes are easy to make — like grass-fed meat instead of grocery store meat, butter instead of margarine, sea salt instead of white salt, bone-broth instead of canned broth.
Once you upgrade your staple ingredients, you can start making changes that will actually alter a recipe and will need more tweaking — like honey for sugar or whole wheat flour for white flour. But don’t start there. Start with the simple changes. Every single change you make will contribute to better health. Just because you aren’t doing everything doesn’t mean you aren’t doing something.
If you aren’t used to cooking or making a meal plan, or you just need someone to tell you what to cook, consider signing up for an online meal plan. There are a lot of them out there. Here are a few to check out:
Grocery Shrink Plus — Of the menu plans I have tried, this is my personal favorite. It is not actually a Real Food menu plan, but she has 6 kids and makes everything from scratch, so it is a doable menu plan. For only $5 a month (!!!), you get breakfast, lunch and dinner plans including sides, and a daily snack plan for 7 days each week (some menu plans only do weekdays), with all the recipes, grocery lists and everything. The recipes are set up so that you can choose how many you are feeding (2, 4, 8 or 12). There is a side bar with options for Mama if she is trying to lose weight. My kids really love this menu plan. I quit for awhile and they were so excited when I signed back up.
There are a few caveats though — many of the breakfasts are pretty sugar laden. I just substitute or alter those. She also uses a lot of bacon and ham, which we don’t eat a lot of (partially because we haven’t found a good source). Again, I just substitute or alter those recipes as needed. Also, there is SOO much here that it can be a little overwhelming to try to keep up with her. When I first started using this meal plan system, I tried to do EVERYTHING. Now, I have a separate menu planning page. Each week when I get my downloadable menu plan, I go through and select what we will be making, make any alterations, add in any real food dishes I want to add and finalize my grocery list. It really simplifies thing for me.
100 Days of Real Food offers free real food meal plans. I haven’t tried them, so I can’t tell you how they will taste, but they are free, and free is always nice.
Healthful Mama has a list of her favorite online meal planning services. She gives the pros and cons of each, so that’s another place to check out.
Menus4Moms — I used this many years ago, when I was just starting to try to cook healthier food. I don’t remember much about the menus except that it was yummy food. I think there was a good bit of processed food involved, though. You might be able to sub out those recipes, or make your own versions. Back when I used it, it only offered dinner plans. Now they have Busy Mom plans, frugal mom plans, and gluten/casein-free plans. If you decide to subscribe, really check your ingredients. The key to cooking wholesome real food starts with the ingredients you put in it.
Wellness Mama Meals — I just learned about this one today. Wellness Mama is a great resource, so I would think this would be a good one. Obviously, I haven’t tried it yet, since it’s brand new.
***My absolute favorite real food cookbook set is from Sue Gregg. If you are serious about learning a new way of preparing food, I highly recommend these cookbooks. They are laid out differently from most cookbooks, but once you get used to it, you will learn how to cook with what you have and make major substitutions with ease. She is a teacher at heart, and her books take you under her wing and teach you the art of cooking. And at the bottom of her recipes, she gives you suggestions for sides along with the page number for the recipe. It’s kind of like a meal plan in a book. Wonderful and worth every single penny, in my opinion.
In our next (and last) What to Eat Series post, we will look at meal ideas for each of the 4 main times we eat, how meals often look at our house, and how I manage to feed my active kids enough calories without feeding myself too many.
Have a great day!
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