Whole Foods from the Conventional Grocery Store

In response to the comments on the Random Reader Question Vol. 5 post, I thought it might be helpful to discuss how to do the whole foods lifestyle if your only option is the conventional grocery store.  First of all, there are usually other options, especially in the summer months.  I urge you to look around.  Don’t assume that just because you don’t live in farm country, you have no access to fresh meat and produce.  EatWild.com is a great resource, and there are others.  You can always go in together with like-minded friends and buy in bulk if the closest source is quite a distance.  Like, last fall I bought a half a grass-fed cow and split it with a neighbor.  I’d have driven 2 hours to get it if I’d had to, b/c it has fed our family for the past six months, and we’re still going strong.  But I digress.  Sorry.  I’m passionate about this, what can I say??

If I HAD to do ALL of my shopping at a conventional grocery store, here’s what I’d do.  Now, mind you, I am not the end all be all on this subject.  This is what *I* would do.  Sally Fallon would probably not necessarily agree.  🙂  But in trying to “keep it real” for mainstream America, these are my suggestions.

1. Breakfast: Cook breakfasts from scratch as much as possible.  No boxed cereals, cereal bars, or (for the love!) pop-tarts.  (Boxed cereal is not as healthy as you might think, even the so-called healthy ones.)  For alternatives, see Healthy Breakfast Ideas.  Don’t skip the comment section.

2. Lunch: Pack my kids lunches as much as possible.  Ideas:  tuna, PB&J (Skippy natural, bread w/out HFCS or better yet, homemade), lunch meats (the ones without nitrates if you can find them), fresh fruit and veggies, whole milk yogurt w/out artificial sugars or colors, water in a thermos.  See School Lunches.  Don’t skip the comment section.  🙂

3. Dinner: Cook dinners from scratch as much as possible.  No hamburger helpers, no “cream-of-fill-in-the-blank” soups, etc.

4. Snacks: Try to eliminate most convenience boxed snacks.  Make your own popcorn on the stove top.  Pretzels and tortilla chips generally have a short list of ingredients, and most are pronounceable.  If you can afford it, buy organic tortilla chips to be sure there are no GMOs.  Also, Trader Joes brand foods do not contain GMOs and they aren’t as pricey as organics.  I occasionally buy Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies.  Have kids snack on cheese sticks, fruit, veggies, yogurt (no artificial crap) as much as possible.  Make homemade cookies and sweets.  Even if you’re using conventional flour, sugar, eggs, you know what’s in it.

5. Skip the fast food. We hardly ever darken the door of a McDonalds anymore, but we do order pizza or cheesesteaks from the local ma and pa shop about once a week.  I figure it’s a compromise.  Let’s face it, sometimes I’m just too tired to cook dinner.  (Like tonight!)

6. Dairy: I would rather have conventional whole milk that is pasteurized with no added hormones than organic milk that is ultra-pasteurized.  Around these parts, Rosenbergers is a good brand.  That’s what I buy when I can’t get to my raw milk sources.  It’s also the brand I buy for half-and-half (for my coffee) and buttermilk when I’m trying to cut corners on the budget or just can’t get to the whole foods store for the grass-fed stuff.

7. Eggs: If budget is an issue, buy conventional.  And eat eggs.  They are still good for you.  If you can afford to buy organic, go for it.  They are fed a little bit better, but they still aren’t outside eating grass and bugs so I wouldn’t break the bank for them.

8. Meat/Poultry/Pork: Eat less of it, for one thing.  Beyond that, I am conflicted.  I originally said that I would probably just buy conventional meats because the organic meat at the grocer is SO pricey, and while there are no antibiotics and growth hormones used, they are still raised in feedlots and overfed.  But the antibiotics and hormones IS concerning, so it really comes down to your budget.  If you can afford it, by all means, buy organic.  But if you can’t, just buy conventional and eat less of it.

9. Veggies/Fruits: Be selective.  I buy some organic produce and some not, depending on price and how it rates on the Dirty Dozen.  I also try not to buy produce from anywhere other than the good ol’ USofA.  During the summer months, try to find local sources if possible.

10. Bread: Make your own, if you can swing it.  If not, buy the stuff without HFCS.  It’s hard to find, it’s spendy, and there is still a lot of other junk in it, but I realize that some families simply do not have time to make bread every week.  It’s not a hill to die on.

11. No sodas, juice, etc. No one needs that junk.  Although we do buy OJ.

What am I forgetting?

Oh yeah!  Thanks to a commenter, I’ll add a #12.

12. Grow your own if you can. Growing produce and herbs is a great way to save money and know exactly what you’re getting.  I don’t have a yard that is conducive to a vegetable garden per say, but this summer I may try to plant a few things that will blend into my flower gardens.  Last summer I took to growing herbs on my deck — a great way to add a boost of freshness to your meals and SO much cheaper than buying them at the supermarket.

Join The Conversation

49 Responses

  1. This is a great post! It definitely makes the idea of going in a more whole foods direction more doable to me. Once we have the freezer space I’m hoping to buy a portion of a grass-fed cow, I think I have some interested friends who would share the cost.

  2. I love that you focus on whole/real foods as much as organic/trend-of-the-moment. So many people I know keep hearing “organic, organic” from the magazines they read. But it looks so expensive, they just walk away shaking their heads.

    When I say to them that I focus more on buying non-processed, real foods than organic, they have no idea what that means.

    Not that I have anything against organic. But I think it can be a bit of a distraction. And the expense associated with it can be discouraging.

    1. Kelly, absolutely. That’s the most frustrating thing with this, people want to call what I do eating organic. NO NO NO. LOL. And they do get hung up on that and miss the point entirely. I am thankful that there are so many organics b/c at times that label is helpful, but it really isn’t about organics at all. (In fact, I did a post with that exact title!)

  3. We are two peas in a pod on this one. The friend who first got me started ready Sally Fallon and such a few years ago told me to always take baby steps. A lifestyle like this won’t stick if it’s too involved, too quickly.

    We do many of the thing you do, with a few changes here and there. We’re not big on grains that aren’t sprouted (or sourdough) and thus cut back a bit more on that. The town we just moved to is uber crunchy (tho usually more of a tofu and gluten free kind of crunchy than a free range eggs and sprouted grain kind) so I have some good options I didn’t even have in San Diego. I’ll be talking a bit more about what we’re doing throughout the Losing It challenge.

    Love your lunch ideas… I’m about to start needing those and just asked Hubs the other day what on earth we’d do for lunches for the kiddos!

    1. Thanks, the perception of exclusiveness about the real food/ whole foods movement really bothers me and I don’t want people to think it’s all or nothing. That’s how I used to feel, and that was a big mistake. I feel SO much better now. My tummy troubles are virtually GONE.

      1. The “perception” is there for a reason though. You and I have talked about this so I know you know this isn’t directed at you, but as I read more “real food” bloggers on my quest to change my family’s eating I am often left frustrated and angry. God forbid I wouldn’t soak my grains. And here I thought I was doing really good making my own bread.

        I just think we should be encouraging each other in ANY step towards trying to improve our families eating habits however small they can be. When we are told our small steps aren’t enough I want to drown my frustrations in a Big Mac and a bag of cheetos.

        This post was awesome. As are you.

  4. Thanks, J-L — such a helpful post! I especially appreciate the website to help us find a farm near us. There is one within an hour of us, but they don’t sell chickens or beef, but I’ll keep looking! I would encourage readers to find a local farmers’ market when the weather warms. Almost all towns/cities have at least one. Even if you don’t find a ton there to buy, you may meet people who can steer you in the right direction to what you’re looking for. I met our “egg man” there, and now I get 2 dozen farm fresh eggs, delivered to my front door each week, for $3 a dozen. They are fabulous.
    We all take baby steps. Any improvement you make is better for your family, even if it’s only removing the Little Debbies and Bojangles chicken from their lives. We have saved a TON of money each week, by staying home this year, not buying ALL the snacks and frozen meals to take to school each day, and (since I’m home to cook) eating better/ yummier/cheaper food for supper.

    And if you can’t bake ALL your own bread, just bake SOME of it. It’ll be a treat, and it’s fun.

  5. You may not have touched on this because you covered it elsewhere but:
    Meat: Like you said, there have got to be farms SOMEWHERE. Look for someone raising and selling free-range chickens. We buy chickens in the spring and fall. Same thing for grass-fed beef. I find it’s much cheaper and usually a better quality meat if it comes directly from the farmer. I can buy 1/4 of a cow (or more) for 3.50 a pound. That means my ground beef is pretty dang cheap. But really yum!

    The key would be having freezer space. If it’s at all possible, a chest freezer will help store things so you can stock up when you DO come across good quality food. (We also freeze cheese and butter, so I can buy them on sale.)

    Eggs: Buying organic in the store may be pointless, but again, buying directly from the farmer, where you can confirm the conditions of the chicken (truly free-range), will always result in a better egg. Not always the cheapest road, but a better egg. 🙂

    1. Everything is under the category “health and wellness” – if that helps. I’m working on getting a resource page together.

  6. Great post, Jo-Lynne – thank you! We FINALLY have a CSA in our area, which I am very excited about. When I was talking with the farmer who runs it, he said something very similar. It’s not about organic. We need to get past that buzz word, it can mean too many different things. Buying local and in season has so many benefits. We’ve been spoiled by the super-duper markets that have every imaginable fruit and vegetable, no matter what season it is. Produce that is trucked in from Venezuela may look good, but I’ll bet you it doesn’t take as good as the in-season produce from the farm 25 miles down the road.

      1. Butting in again. My friend Heather (https://perfectconfessions.wordpress.com/) and I have been emailing about the best options for things in my area and she sent me this email which I am stealing and posting here:

        Also – you should know that most of the farms in our area are not certified organic, but most don’t grow their food with pesticides (they just don’t pay the gov’t to give them the “organic” seal). When you’re at the farmer’s market, you just have to ask if they use pesticides on their produce. The farm share that we’re part of isn’t certified organic, but they actually use higher standards than the gov’ts organic standards.

        1. Yes, absolutely. Small farmers generally disdain the organic movement b/c it isn’t strict enough to be truly what the organic movement was supposed to be when it began. The small farmers who sell locally often call themselves “beyond organic.”

  7. This is a great, great post. My complaint with many of the “real food” blogs and books is that it’s such a gung-ho approach. I’m all about the baby steps. Your posts like these have been so helpful to me in my journey to a healthier lifestyle.

    1. That is so helpful to hear. For years I just ignored my diet because I was too overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start. Then I just started getting rid of HFCS and trans fats. Then I read Michael Pollan and I was hooked. But I loved the simplicity of the approach – ignore the latest studies and food labels eat the way we did before the industrial revolution, or as much as is possible, lol. I think you’d love his newest book – Food Rules.

  8. I’m the Whitney who asked the original question and these two posts have been great! Even my husband, who is rather skeptical, was in agreement with them.

    So thanks everyone for the comments and thanks to Jo-Lynne, especially!

  9. Thanks so much for this post. We decided that when I quit work, we were going to start eating “real” foods and I was going to cook from scratch as much as possible (small steps). Today was my last day of work and we start the Biggest Loser challenge with our church on Sunday so we are starting the healthier eating on Monday. =) I’ve gotten a LOT of information from your blog and I’ve really appreciated it. I can’t wait to put these things into practice in my life and the lives of my family.

  10. I love your posts on this subject.

    I have made a lot of these changes already but I’ll be honest we “cheat” on occasion and eat a boxed snack or cereal. Hoping to add homemade snacks and homemade bread to my list soon. Since I am working full-time that may not happen now. I do have my kids pack water for lunch with a sandwich (natural or organic bread with no HFCS), one treat type item like crackers or pretzels and then either fresh fruit, fresh veggies, natural applesauce, yogurt, or cheese stick. When they ask for a snack between meals I give them the same options. I know it annoys them but the longer and longer I do it the more of a habit it becomes.

    Costco can be a good source for these types of products. I buy bread there without HFCS that is labeled organic/all natural for $5 for two loaves. They also have decent prices on better quality meat there. I feel it is worth the extra $ to get the 100% natural, no hormones, no preservative meat. Chicken is $2.99 per pound.

    I know this is not the same as buying local, from the source, but it is an affordable compromise for my family. Plus a farmer’s market runs once a week in the summer that has local meat and produce so I hit that up as much as I can.

  11. First of all, say it with me. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CHEATING.

    Thank you. LOL.

    To me cheating sounds too much like the days of diets and point counting and deprivation. That’s no way to live. Whole foods is a way of life, a state of mind, if you will. It’s a goal, a general philosophy of eating and something we strive for but we shouldn’t be legalistic about it, because we will discourage ourselves or one another. And we do, after all, live in 21st century America. We have to be realistic.

    When I was at Blissdom, people were so interested in what I was eating. I had an oreo one night and people acted like I committed a cardinal sin. See, a year ago I’d have had 10 oreos. Now I have one. That’s progress! LOL.

    Anyway, I just think we should try not to compare ourselves to each other and just do our best. I hope none of my posts cause people to be discouraged.

    Thanks for the tips on Costco. I hadn’t checked there recently.

  12. That’s why I love you, Jo-Lynne — you speak to people like me (someone who isn’t ready to ferment every vegetable and sprout every grain)! 🙂

    The only thing I do slightly differently is with regard to whole chickens. If I’m not getting a pastured chicken (and after my experience last week, I’ve got to admit I’m a little gun-shy on that one!), I do spend a little more money and get a whole organic chicken. The reason is because I will use the bones for broth and I feel better knowing that there weren’t any antibiotics if I’m going to do that. I’m not really sure it matters, but it makes me feel better.

    I wish I could find a cheese stick that was full fat mozzarella. I hate having to send my kids part skim cheese. I think I might try those Baby
    Bell cheeses this week. It looks like it’s full fat and maybe the kids would like them.

    1. Yeah, I’d feel better about that chicken too, but it is SO expensive. That’s why I get so frustrated at the grocery store.

      I buy the jack cheese sticks b/c they aren’t low fat. Although I sometimes buy the mozzarella. It’s a compromise. I’d rather them snack on low fat mozzarella than almost anything that comes in a box. 😉

  13. Jo-Lynne! This is a great post! And very helpful to me since I currently do most of our shopping at a regular grocery store.

    Little by little I’ve been trying to make changes to our family’s diet and eating habits. Right now I’m in the process of eliminating all the HFCS foods. When we use up something that has HFCS in it, I replace it with a non-HFCS alternative (like just the other day, the last of the ketchup was used and I found an organic alternative that did not contain HFCS and, for the most part, all the ingredients were recognizable! It was a bit more pricey but worth it to me.)

    Last year, we joined a CSA and we’re planning on doing that again this year. I know of local sources for grass fed beef and free range chicken and raw milk but currently, our budget just does not allow it. I’m hoping that by 2011, we’ll be on a much more natural diet.

    And this summer, I really want to try my hand at canning tomatoes. I buy LOTS of canned tomatoes at the store, it would be nice to have that as an alternative.

    Also, a little over a year ago my daughter (then 8 yrs old) decided to become a vegetarian. That has greatly reduced the amount of meat that I buy for our family. It’s easier for me to fix one meal that we can all eat instead of making something for us and something for her.

  14. hmm…guess i should speak up for the guys and share my single dad tricks. i am 100% in agreement on the no snacks, keep it real ideas. we’re in CA so very lucky to have an abundance of Whole Foods Markets around and other similar stores with Organic departments in the produce aisles. I would assume that organic departments are spreading across the US if Safeway has them out here. things that work in my house (and have patience…acquired tastes take a while). Love the idea on finding large cuts of beef. I’ll look out here.

    For Breakfast – raw oats mixed in with banana slices, raisins and low-fat yogurt (organic when available, avoiding high fructose anything at all costs, just the simplest ingredients). Raw oats are easily found in house brands, bulk sections and larger sizes to keep costs down and sugar out of the morning routine with the benefits of fiber and fullness.

    For Lunch – when you see quality chicken breasts on sale, with or without bones or skin (air chilled vs. water processed if you can get it, hold out for no “chicken broth added”). Buy in quantity and put them in the freezer in packs of three or four breasts depending on size of you family. Should be anywhere from $1.99 to $4.99 a pound. When you are cooking dinner or just around the house, bake the breasts with a bit of seasoning. Ideally out of the juice and fat. Let cool and put in fridge. Slice this for your lunch meat. Your kids will get chicken in nice moist bites and you’ll know its quality, Compare $1.99/lb to the lowest priced cold cuts and do the math and the slime test. Which would you rather eat?

  15. sorry, one other note. i see references to canning. great fun and really makes an impact when kids say, “let’s eat the jar of chili or applesauce i made”. did not see much on growing your own veggies…easy start and gets the best nutrients and flavors on your table. one idea that is really easy (although budget the time) is homemade applesauce. when you see organic apples or local apples go on sale, buy a few pounds (5 to 10). only ones that don’t work are sour ones, like pippens. core and skin to preference and basically you cook it like pasta, bringing to a boil and stirring simmering for awhile, adding only some sugar (or agave nectar) if you need it and cinnamon to taste. you should be out only about $0.99/lb or less and kids love it. jar some up and keep in fridge. use for snacks, meals and desserts.

  16. Thanks for this post and the realistic suggestions. I sometimes feel bad (my own issues, I know) when reading blogs about ‘real foods/organics’ because at this time in my families’ life we just cannot afford to do many changes. We are on WIC (which gives you a little info about our income) and so thankfully most of our milk, cheese, eggs and even bread we get through that program. I feel like in so many cases most don’t take into consideration that there are us out there who genuinly and seriously want to feed the best to our families but just can’t do it as well as we’d like because of financial restraints. I do what I can to provide healthy meals for my family. And then I have to just not obsess on what I can’t do.

  17. Wow! Great post!!! I’d love to link to your post if you would give me permission. And I might need a quick lesson in how to do that since I’m so new to this!!!

  18. Thanks so much for this info! Question for you…what brand of yogurt do you prefer? My daughter loves yogurt, but so many are high in sugar…trying to figure out what is best for her.

    1. Marcy, let me know what you find. It is HARD to find anything decent at the grocery. I buy mine from a farm, but it is very easy to make, actually. You might want to look into that.

  19. I have to be 100% real with you, Jo-Lynne… at first, the real/traditional food movement you blog about made me want to stop reading. But then I had to ask myself WHY it bothered me so much: Because it seemed overwhelming and like I couldn’t do it, and that I was a terrible person for NOT doing it. I then realized that you weren’t preaching to us, but rather simply sharing what it is that *you* do and why it’s a good/better way to live (yeah, I know. I’m a little slow on the uptake!). Although we do still eat our fair share of packaged products and I simply don’t have the time to be 100% real in the food department, you’ve inspired me to really look at what we’re eating and try to do better about… well… keeping it real. 🙂 Just today, I’ve joined a CSA for the first time in my life (including eggs! yum!) and Googled local sources for meat. I live in Ohio, for crying out loud – there’s no reason I shouldn’t have access to locally raised meat, eggs, dairy and produce! So, I guess what I’m trying to say is thank you. And my local farmers thank you, too. 🙂

    1. Becky, thank you. My biggest fear in writing about all this is that I come across as a beyotch with a superiority complex, lol, or worse, that I make others feel discouraged or inadequate, which is NEVER my intent. But the information is too important not to share, and it is so a part of my life that this blog wouldn’t be about me if I avoided the topic. I’m so excited for you that you found a CSA! Just remember, that every step towards real food is a step in the right direction. No one can do it all at once, and some of us (me included!!) never will do “it all” but everything little thing we can do to improve our eating habits is going to help us in the long run.

  20. We were doing so good with all of this – then WINTER hit – fruits and veggies are a struggle, our little farm stand is closed (eggs, grassfed beef supply, locally grown produce). We got off track – then I had my Dr. Appt – my cholesterol had gone up (not what I wanted to hear). SO I cut back on the eggs and dairy and I have found myself floundering ever since. It’s like my Dr. cut off my morning energy supply. I turned to (gasp) breads. Now the weight is coming back. I had maintained well on a more whole foods diet.
    SO with all that said- your post was perfect timing! The days are getting longer, I am craving a salad at night (and seem to have more energy to make them) and I feel like we are getting back on track. I am dreading my next Dr. Appt…she is SO not on board. She pushed me to go see a nutrionist (eat more egg whites, low fat soy products, low fat dairy, etc – no thank you). It makes me feel so conflicted – but I will agree with this – my girls have been BARELY sick this year!

    PLEASE stay on the soap box – you are not preaching when the choir is singing along!

    1. No no no, eat your eggs, girl. 😉 Have you tried incorporating coconut oil into your diet? It is supposed to lower cholesterol.

  21. THANK YOU, Jo-Lynne. This is excellent advice. We are already doing many of the things on your list, but…

    Juice is a weakness for me. Especially cranberry juice. I drink a lot of it. That…and water. No soda, coffee, or tea for me.

    Your comment about organic milk is intriguing. I just went and checked our organic milk container in the fridge and it says “ultra-pasteurized.” I’m wondering if we should buy something different next time…

    1. Stephanie,
      Ultra past means that the milk is heated VERY high, VERY quickly. It’s actually shelf stable, and a “dead” food. There are plenty of facts on UHT pasteurization, but putting milk on a shelf kind of says it all for me. 🙂 Katie

  22. NO cereal bars at all? Or cereal? I have a hard time with this because I love cereal. I guess we all have our weakneses! My 2 yr old loves cereal bars so I buy some from the “health food” section that supposedly don’t have any of the yucky stuff and fewer , if any, un-pronouncable ingredients!

    You know I love these posts. Thanks for the info and in such an “easy” presentation. And thanks so much for doing the research and sharing it with all of us. You’re awesome Jo-Lynne1

    1. I know, I hear ya, but when you really know what’s in them (and what’s NOT in them) they quickly lose their charm. This article is worth a read.

  23. Thanks for the re-inspiration. I need to be re-inspired every now and then. I’m excited to try some of your breakfast ideas (um, mostly the creeping crust pie). We’ve been in an O rut which I know isn’t the best but it’s what they’ll eat. Maybe if I got up earlier and the oatmeal was ready… I digress.

    I’m going to have to bookmark you and pop back in later (found you through Stephanie at MM).

    1. Hi there! So glad you found me. 🙂 You can soak oatmeal overnight (it breaks down some of the harder to digest nutrients) and then it’s ready to heat up in the a.m.!

  24. I want to echo Stephanie’s comment. Please explain the ultra-pasteurized thing because I’m really ignorant about why that’s a bad thing. I’m asking because we buy the organic milk, but I think it’s ultra-pasteurized, so maybe I should be buying something different?

  25. In terms of meats, it is possible to buy *some* organic produce and also different types of animals sometimes. I eat a lot less red meat than I used to *due to* the price for organic, but the only time I buy any beef anymore, it is organic. However, I do buy more bison. It is leaner which means *even* if they are loading it with antibiotics and hormones, they are less likely to be in the meat to a certain extent since toxins are harboured more in fat than in lean muscle. Beyond that though, I firmly belive *more* bison raisers are liable to be *more* into “good for you foods” and therefore less likely to use such “crap”. 😉

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