When You Can’t Do It All

If you’re anything like me, when you read all those real food blogs, you get totally inspired. You read all about the benefits of the kefir and the organ meats and the fermenting and the sprouting and the soaking . . . and you WANT to do it all. You really, really do. In fact, you are GOING to do it all, by golly!

So you get started.

And soon you discover how time consuming and mentally exhausting it is to do everything the “right” way.

So you throw up your hands in defeat. The end.

Sound familiar?

I have finally come to the conclusion that I just can’t do it all.

I want to do it all, you see. I fully believe in the value of a traditional whole foods diet, and I want to give those benefits to my family. But I have finally decided that I will never get there — at least not all the way there.

HONESTLY? I just don’t want to spend that much time in the kitchen.

And I don’t want to make the sacrifices of time and effort that I would have to make to do all of that. It’s a personal decision that I have finally come to terms with. Everyone draws the line somewhere, and I think I have reached the point at which I’m doing all I am willing to do. At least for now.

Notice I didn’t say I’m doing all I can do. Sure, I could do more. We can always do more. People do real food on a tight budget, with full time jobs, while homeschooling 8 kids, and on and on. We all have the same amount of hours in a day or a week, and we all make choices about how to spend that time. But right now, I have committed all the time and energy I’m willing to commit to the real food lifestyle.

Many friends and acquaintances have shared with me their similar struggle. Once you start reading and realize how completely and totally derailed the SAD (Standard American Diet) has become and how far from nourishing it truly is, you get overwhelmed. There is just SO much to change about our diets if we want to “do it right”.

I’ve talked about the cost of eating well and how to do it on a budget and where to start . . . okay, I thought I had a post on where to start but I can’t find it. But I am writing this post today to tell you that a year and a half after discovering Michael Pollan and Nina Planck and Sally Fallon and Joel Salatin and Kelly the Kitchen Kop (hey, Kel! did you ever think you’d see your name in the same sentence with those guys!!?) and revamping our family’s eating habits one step at a time, I have realized something.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

I think I’ve come into my own in this real food journey, and I am comfortable with where I stand at the moment.

So I thought I’d share with you a list of the Top 5 Real Food Habits that I am committed to. I’m not saying that this is the list YOU should be committed to. This is MY list. Everyone will prioritize things differently, and everyone will draw the line somewhere as far as the time and energy they want to commit to their diets. This is mine, and I hope it’s helpful to see where I place my priorities and where I’ve drawn the line.

So here are 5 {real food} things I am committed to doing for my family. Everything else is bonus.

1) organic, grass-fed milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized)

UPDATE 1/2/14: We used to do the raw milk thing until we got sick. I am still convinced that raw milk from healthy cows that are raised on pasture is one of the most nutrient-dense and beneficial foods we can feed my families. However, I have come to the conclusion that it was never intended for mass production. There’s just too much chance of it getting contaminated, and it is a delicate food.

Of course, we can get sick from any food, but some foods are more susceptible than others and raw milk is one of them. I wish I had a cow in my backyard, but I don’t. So for now, we buy milk from a local dairy that raises their cows on grass and uses a low-temp pasteurization method that hopefully keeps some of the nutrients and enzymes in tact. Not everyone will have a resource like that, but my best advice is to try to find milk with no rBST and that is pasteurized, not ultra-pasteurized. Read more about milk that is Pasteurized vs. Ultra-Pasteurized.

2) homemade chicken stock and lots of soups

Making your own chicken stock is not that difficult, and it is soooooo good for you. Here is how I do it.

If your family likes soups, the recipe possibilities using chicken stock are endless. Chicken stock is chock full of health benefits and it doesn’t require any special equipment or a huge time commitment. Of course, the healthiest chicken stock comes from pastured chickens.

3) homemade bread with sprouted or soaked grains

This one, I realize, is a big commitment. Trust me. I’m getting tired of it. There, I said it. I am tired of making bread!

One day a week, I make 4 loaves of whole wheat sandwich bread for my family’s lunches. Not only is this a sacrifice of time and energy, but now that I am gluten-free, the smell of that freshly baking bread about does me in every. single. time.

If your family doesn’t eat a lot of bread, this may not be high on your list of priorities, but I send sandwiches in my kids’ and husband’s lunches every day of the week, and there is so much junk in store bought bread that I can’t stomach it. Plus, with my digestive issues, I feel better knowing that I am giving my family properly prepared grains.

If you soak the flour yourself, homemade bread is way cheaper than buying good quality store bread. However, I have begun purchasing organic sprouted flour (to save time) and it is not so cheap.

Again, I think I’m more committed to this than the average health-conscious individual because of my own digestive issues and gluten intolerance.

UPDATE 1/1/14: I don’t make homemade bread much anymore. I do buy the pricey organic loaves from the grocery store, but I’d like to get back to making bread more often.

4) grass-fed poultry, meat and eggs

Yes, that’s a lot — a lot of money, truth be told. If I couldn’t do the meat or poultry, I would at the very least find a source for farm-fresh pastured eggs. I am at the point where this is as much of a political decision as it is a health decision. I simply do not want to put my money in the pockets of Big Ag. If that meant I had to eat less meat, I would.

I’m fortunate to live in an area where there are plenty of farms that raise their animals humanely and sustainably on grass, and I buy in bulk to reduce the cost. Lots of people do this on a tight budget; I know because I read their blogs. There are many tricks to make your meat go further, and of course meatless meals are always an option. I urge you to research Big Ag and CAFOs and face the truth about how the meat at the grocery store is raised and then come to your own conclusions.

If you don’t know where to find good grass-fed meat in your area, start by checking out Local Harvest and EatWild.com. And Google is your friend. There are lots of sites like Eat Local Philly cropping up all over the country.

5) organic veggies from the dirty dozen

I try to downplay the whole “organic” thing because real food is so much more than organic. But when it comes to fruits and veggies, organic is a good place to start, and the Dirty Dozen is a list put out every year that targets the fruits and vegetables most likely to have high pesticide residue.

This does not mean that all organic produce is good for you. Often it is far from fresh, which is unfortunate. It just doesn’t get bought as quickly and tends to sit on store shelves for way too long.

And it is not necessary to have an organic certification to guarantee that the produce was grown without pesticides. As always, if you can get your produce from a local farmer, you are way ahead of the game. Of course, not all local farms will be using organic farming methods, so you have to ask, but many ARE using organic methods and don’t bother to get the certification because it is so costly. So ask around.

Disclaimer: Ideally, I would only buy fruit locally and in season, but my kids like apples and bananas far too much and it seems crazy to deprive them, especially when I’m trying to cut down on the amount of processed snacks I bring into the house. I figure apples trucked from Washington State are far better than boxed crackers and granola bars. It’s a compromise.

I realize this list is still daunting to some. Again, I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad that they aren’t where I am, but more to say there are so many things I’m still not doing that I’d like to be doing, but this is all I can handle at the moment, and these are the parts that are most important to me. Also, remember it took me a year and a half to get here. It’s all about baby steps.

As usual, I can’t stop there.

I realize this post is getting long, but here is a quick list of a few things I refuse to buy. Ever. This is not to say that my kids never eat these things. When they are at school parties and friends’ houses, I don’t mind if they have them on occasion. I just don’t keep them in the house. I figure that way, they are getting a whole lot less of this stuff than they would if they were in the pantry, and it frees up money to spend on those things in that Top 5 list up there.

1. boxed cereal (there are so many BETTER options for breakfast)
2. products with GMO ingredients (google GMO for more info – again, this is first and foremost a political decision for me)
3. salad dressing (so easy and better for you to make your own, and I can control what oil goes in it)
4. industrial vegetable oils (see #3)
5. unfermented soy (Dr. Mercola explains why)
6. products with HFCS (high fructose corn syrup)
7. artificial sweeteners
8. soda (that’s not to say that my husband never buys it; it’s a rare treat for our kids to have a root beer. Bleh.)
9. juice boxes (sugar, sugar, sugar – that’s all it is, even “100% juice” ones are just full of empty calories)
10. canned soup
11. microwave popcorn

I have a feeling I’ll be adding to that list as the day goes on.

How about you? Where do you draw the line? What foods and food habits are you committed to and which items do you refuse to buy?

No judgement, just curiosity.