It’s Not Health Food… It’s Just Food.

A couple weeks ago, I was waiting in line at the grocery store check out. It was a busy time of the day [please remind me never to go on a Saturday afternoon… yikes], and every lane was at least three carts deep.

As I skimmed through my instagram feed [I’m iftheywouldnap if you want to find me there], I could see the two women behind me peeking into my cart out of the corner of my eye. One of them said to the other, “She must eat a lot of health food.”

I wanted to laugh, because as I looked in my cart, I didn’t see anything that I would describe as “health food.” Lots of vegetables and fruit, eggs, yogurt, milk, peanut butter… no, not health food. Just food.

While I held my tongue and didn’t say anything to the women behind me, it got me thinking. How did real food become health food? Have we gotten so used to finding our food in boxes and packages that we’ve forgotten how to just eat real food, the way God made it?

By sharing a thing or two about my real food journey here in this normally fabric-dominated space, my hope is that you and your family can take steps toward eating food that leaves you feeling good and nourishes your body.

Disclaimer: I’m no expert. I don’t have a degree in nutrition, and I don’t have all the answers. But drawing from my own experience, I have learned a thing or two. That said, I certainly wouldn’t say that “I’ve arrived,” and I do it all perfectly – believe me, I don’t. And please don’t take this as medical advice. Consult a doctor for that.

My real food journey has been just that – a journey. It isn’t something that happened overnight. I still feel that I have many areas where I could change and improve, but when I look back at where I was even five years ago, I can see a huge difference in my not just my eating habits, but in the way I view food.

Things that I used to crave [like potato chips] no longer appeal to me. The few times they do make it into my cart, and my belly, I wind up feeling icky. When I’m eating food that nourishes my body, I have energy [well, minus my sleepless baby nights…], I’ve seen improvements in my skin, I’ve lost weight, and I just feel good.

So, I’ve compiled a little list of my advice – baby steps to eating real foods that your body will love. [These are not rocket science, and I’m not re-inventing the wheel here. But everybody starts somewhere, and this is where I started.]

  • Don’t tackle everything at once. If you throw out all the foods you’ve been eating and drastically change your diet in one day, you’re most likely setting yourself up for failure. Baby steps means baby steps. Try changing how you eat, one meal at a time.
  • Increase your veggie intake – double or even triple it. Seriously. Fresh vegetables pack a serious nutrition punch, and they aren’t processed. Find veggies that you like to eat without covering them in sauces or cream of whatever soups. Join a CSA, so you’re forced to try new vegetables that you’ve maybe never even heard of before. Shop at a farmer’s market and talk to the farmers about how they like to prepare their veggies.
  • Drink less soda or juice… or none at all. Unless you have a juicer. [But even fresh juice has sugar, so don’t overdo it]
  • Drink water – a lot of water.
  • Shop along the outside of the grocery store – produce, dairy, fresh meats. By avoiding the inner aisles as much as possible, your meals will be fresher and contain less junk. Ninety percent of my grocery shopping time is spent in these outer aisles.
  • Avoid high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. Please.
  • Keep easy snacks handy, so you are less likely to eat the junky ones. Veggies and hummus, nuts, air popped popcorn, or homemade granola bars are personal faves.
  • Plant something that you can eat – I have the least green thumb of anyone I know. Gardening is not my thing, even though I try really hard and really enjoy it. But every year, I grow something. Even if it doesn’t yield much or grow as well as someone else’s [Do you grow zucchini that’s bigger than two inches? Come to my house and teach me, because I don’t…] But my kids are learning that food should come from the ground and go to our bellies. I love that.
  • Choose organic produce for those that tend to have a higher pesticide count – you’ve probably heard of the “dirty dozen.” When making the leap to buy organic, that’s a great place to start.
  • Read labels. When I was younger, I used to look at calories, but now I’m much more concerned with the ingredients. Look for food items that have the fewest ingredients, with words you understand. If you don’t know what the words mean, your body won’t either. If they have high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners, just put it down and walk away. Please.
  • Use herbs and spices instead of heavy sauces or cream of whatever soups.
  • Make it instead of buying it. This tends to be my motto all around – for sewing and for eating. If I can make it, I should. I have so much more control [and seriously, I l.o.v.e. to be in control… just ask my hubby] I know exactly what went into it, so I can feel good about giving it to my family.

The thing that I’ve found about eating real food – about taking baby steps to eating well – is that it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You don’t have to clear out your whole pantry and start from scratch, regardless of what you’ve seen on TV. When you start making changes, you will want to keep going. Your habits will change, and you won’t want to eat those foods in your pantry anymore.

But that being said, give yourself some grace. I will never claim to be perfect. We don’t eat a completely unprocessed diet. I don’t make every single meal from scratch. Not all of our veggies are organic. I let my kids eat [gasp!] chicken nuggets. But every day is a conscious choice to think about what we put in our bodies, and I take that choice – for myself and my family – very seriously.

Here are a few resources that I love:

Kitchen Stewardship
Simple Homemade
Simple Bites
101 Cookbooks

Are you on this journey too? What are some things you have done that have helped you to get started making baby steps toward eating real food?

Next week, I’m going to share a simple meal planning tool that I’ve been using, and what eating real food really looks like on a weekly basis in our house.

[And there will be more sewing to come too… with a newly crawling, still not sleeping through the night baby, sewing has taken a back seat to life. But I’ve been working on a few things that I’ll show you soon!]

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  1. i love this post! one of my favorite little food thoughts is from a book by michael pollan — don’t eat anything your great-grandmother would’t recognize as food. (as i eat my m&ms…) that helps guide my choices.

    1. thanks, joy! yes, that’s a great way of phrasing it! but i still need my chocolate fix too, don’t worry. ;)

  2. This post is great, Jess! It’s so true. I’ve been on somewhat of a whole foods kick recently, too. It’s just too important to ignore! And I love all of those blogs! I’m excited to see you writing about your experience, too.

  3. Good question. When did real food become “health food”? I am amazed when I see other peoples grocery carts, compared to mine. They have boxes, and cans and frozen dinners and a whole bunch of crazy dyed garbage. I say If it didn’t exist 100 years ago, don’t eat it! Great post!

    1. thanks! i hope that a post like this would help others think twice about putting all those kinds of things in their carts. i figure that if i can help even one person make a better choice, this post was a success! thanks so much for your thoughts :)

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