Real Food for Beginners

Emily writes in:

Hi there Jo-Lynne,
I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now, and I must say, your passion for whole foods and the information you’ve provided has really been convicting for me. Eating organically has always been a goal of mine, but long put-off mostly because of affordability and being single, so I just cook for me for now.

As of right now, all I have really started doing is buying organic produce at the grocery store and Trader Joe’s. (I just about have a coronary when I see the prices for organic meats & dairy products!)  I’ve also majorly reined in how much processed food I buy. I suppose my main goal is to simplify what I eat and cook. I loathe buying anything ready-made (including freezer meals, boxed/”instant” foods, and really anything that has been cooked commercially.)

I’m starting to see that I will just burn myself out if I try to gulp down all the changes I want to make at once (grass-fed/pastured meats & dairy, all organic/farm-sourced produce, homemade breads, no HFCS/artificial sweeteners, etc.) Do you have any suggestions or advice on one TOTAL real-food noob would get started on this bandwagon?

Thanks so much for your feedback.

I love it when people email me with questions, and I thought this would make a great blog post so I asked if it was okay if I used it.

Getting used to a new way of eating (and shopping) is definitely daunting, and cooking for one would make it more so! It sounds like you are off to a great start. Here are some of my best tips for getting started.

Keep It Simple, Silly!

The key really is to keep it simple by buying fewer processed foods and more real food.

Snack on fruits and veggies and cheese rather than chips and crackers and things. Not to say that I don’t buy chips and crackers. We do. But I try to stick to the ones with the fewest amount of ingredients.

Focus on the Dirty Dozen

When buying organic produce, focus on the Dirty Dozen — these are the fruits and vegetables have the most pesticide residues and the most important to buy organic. The rest you don’t really need to buy organic unless it’s affordable for you to do so. Since you probably only need small amounts, try going to a local Farmer’s Market. You can get fresher produce there, and often you can buy smaller quantities than at the grocery store. Plus it’s just fun! I love our weekly jaunts to the Farmer’s Market in the summertime. Many are open all year round, at reduced hours, but we tend to only go when the weather’s nice.

Just Say NO to rBST

I don’t think organic dairy is essential; just stay away from ultra-pasteurized dairy products and any “low fat” dairy. Buy milk and dairy that is free of rBST and other grown hormones. Many national brands are getting on this bandwagon so it’s not hard to find.

Pastured Eggs Are Affordable and Loaded with Nutrients

If you can find someone who has chickens, see if you can buy eggs from them. Eggs from chickens raised on pasture are a key part of our diets. Even at $4/dozen, which is what I pay, it’s a fairly inexpensive source of nourishing protein. We eat A LOT of eggs! I love to mix leftover roasted or sautéed veggies to my eggs in the morning.

Buy In Bulk

As far as meat goes, it is hard when cooking for one, but buying in bulk is the best way to make pastured meats affordable. Can you split a side of beef with someone? If you buy chickens in bulk, they freeze well. I make chicken stock and then use the chicken in casseroles. Maybe try to split them and freeze in several portions?

Make It Yourself

Make as much as you can at home. I know it’s hard, especially if you’re single, so pick and choose what makes the most sense for you.

Give Yourself A Break

Finally, and perhaps my biggest piece of advice: LET GO OF THE GUILT. We women are great at giving ourselves the guilt trip when we don’t do everything perfectly, but everyone has to pick and choose. You may see someone who seems to have it all together, but trust me. She doesn’t. We eat really well about 75% of the time. But there are nights we order pizza, and there are days when I let my kids get french fries at the ballpark.

We need to give ourselves a break. Do what you can, and then let the rest go. Stress isn’t good for your health either!

One last thing . . .

I love Michael Pollan’s Food Rules. He has some great insights, such as, “If your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, don’t buy it,” and “Eat animals that have themselves eaten well.” It is a quick read, it’s full of great information, and it’s entertaining on top of all that.