Friends, I talk about baby steps for a reason. If something seems like it’s going to take too much time, effort or mental energy, I get anxious about it, push it further down on the list, and generally avoid tackling that project until I have to. That may be “never” for some things.
I need manageable bites. Tell me to get an oil change for my van, and I will put it off for a week. Hand me a phone number and tell me to call and schedule an appointment for the oil change, and it’s done within the hour. Easy, baby steps are all I can handle. And one thing at a time, please!
I always had a hunch that a lot of people were like me in that way. Kitchen Stewardship has validated the fact that I’m not the only person who can’t be superwoman, at least not in one impressive leap.
Let’s just start with ten –
These are some of the foundational things that I do in the kitchen. They are a good place to start because they make an impressive difference – most of them positively impact nutrition, budget AND environment. 3-for-1 deals are the best kind.
It’s still important to tackle ONE of them at a time, but this list is less daunting to look at than the 100+ Monday Missions we have shared since 2009. Prioritizing is vital to your success! (The Top 10 is in order of importance.)
Take it one step at a time.
If you’re just starting your journey to real food, you really can’t do it all at once. Impossible.
In school, we teach kids to recognize their letters, learn the names and sounds of the letters, then blend them together to make words. We never ask a preschooler to learn to read and write without these basic building blocks.
Consider this list your chance to have some real food flash cards, some floor puzzles to help you get the alphabet in order, and some practice connecting sounds together to make words.
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Format: Each baby step will be listed with two bullet points, the first sharing WHY you want to make the change, and the second giving direction on HOW to make it happen.
1. Cut out Artificial Sweeteners and Trans Fat
- Artificial sweeteners and trans fat are barely related to food. They’re not real food. Don’t eat them.
- To implement this, become a label reader. You’ll learn a lot in the process, buy less processed food, and begin to prepare yourself for more advanced steps. Click the links to learn about what nasty words to look for on the labels. EDIT 2015 – “trans fat” has officially been banned by the FDA (after they allowed it in foods for decades, harumph). But you should still avoid fake fats, including anything “hydrogenated” or “interesterified.”
2. Use Healthy Fats
- Americans have a vast imbalance of omega 3s and omega 6s, which causes inflammation and disease. You also need some traditional fats, those we’ve been eating for thousands of years, to replace any trans fats you cut out of your cupboards.
- What can you do to switch to healthy fats?
1. Switch to full fat dairy – this change doesn’t need any new money or routines, you just pick up a different color container next time you shop.
2. Use butter instead of margarine.
3. Try coconut oil. It’s awesome and versatile!
4. Work on cutting down on industrial oils to reduce your omega 6s (the inflammatory ones). These include corn, soybean, canola, safflower, sunflower, and “vegetable” oil.
5. Try including olive oil as a replacement for the above in cold applications. If you eat salad, you’ll be hard pressed to find salad dressings without corn or soybean oils, so you may need to make homemade dressings, unless you want to spend $5/bottle. (Olive oil is mostly omega 9s.)
No fair, right? That was totally NOT one change. To take baby steps, do them in order, one at a time. Fats are important!
3. Plan Ahead: Meal Planning is a Must!
- Meal planning will save money by avoiding impulse buys and emergency pizza nights, and you can balance your nutrition between different meats. Planning makes it possible to do things like soak dry beans and use ingredients like chicken stock or fresh spinach twice in a week to streamline your cooking and avoid waste.
- Just do it. Use a piece of paper, an online meal planner like Plan to Eat (which will also make grocery lists for you, store recipes, and nearly cook your supper for you…not really that last one), an Excel document, a chalkboard…whatever works for you and gets you planning ahead, do it. More on menu planning.
4. Make Homemade Yogurt
- At least begin to consume plain yogurt in an effort to (a) include probiotics in your life and (b) reduce your dependence on sweeteners. When you have a lot of it around, you eat it more often, too.
- My homemade yogurt method makes it easy to make a quart, two quarts, or a whole gallon at a time.
5. Make Traditional Bone Broth
- Making “stock” with bones provides gelatin, minerals, and even immunity-boosting properties. Plus it’s so frugal I can’t even imagine life (or soup!) without it. (More on the health benefits of chicken stock.)
- Just do it. Buy some bone-in chicken next grocery trip and follow these easy instructions for the best pot of chicken stock you’ve ever had. (Bonus points: drink it in a mug like tea.)
6. Use Dry Beans
- Beans (legumes) pack in the fiber, iron, and protein, all for much less than animal sources of protein (more nutritional benefits). I’m not saying that meat is bad for you – on the contrary, I’d like to see you save money making yogurt, stock, and using dry beans instead of canned, and then spend it on higher quality, well-raised meat.
- Cooking large batches and freezing adds the convenience of a can (almost) back into the process, and you can find tons of recipes in The Everything Beans Book. Learn to cook with dry beans and save tons of $$.
7. Make Non-toxic Homemade Cleaners
- Not only are most commercial cleaners full of toxins that can harm your family, but they’re far more expensive than simple, homemade cleaners using only a few ingredients.
- You can put perfectly nourishing food IN your bodies, but if your indoor air quality is making your family sick, it won’t matter. Don’t use bleach. Avoid triclosan.
- Start with baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. You can find lots of ideas for how to use these simple homemade cleaners, plus other products, mostly inexpensive, for the few places the triple threat doesn’t cut it.
8. Learn to Eat Nutrient-dense Foods
- Ask not what you can take out of your food, but what your food can put into you. This takes mental energy but not much physical time or money.
- Read two paradigms of healthy eating: rather than to work hard at doing a zillion new things, figure out what regular old foods you can focus on to be as healthy as you can (like onions and garlic for immunities, EVOO and avocado for healthy fats, for one example).
9. Do Something About Grains
- Grains are such a hotly debated topic – some say eat only whole grains; some say those are no good unless soaked, sprouted, or soured; some say soaking is bunk; some say skip the grains altogether.
For baby steps, you can’t get too deeply into that topic yet. However –
- You should definitely lose the white flour bread and crackers. If you don’t know what to replace them with, don’t. Just cut. (How to know if your bread has white or whole grains.)
- If you feel like trying soaking grains, start with soaked oatmeal. It’s super easy, pinkie swear. A perfect baby step. Read more about it when you’re ready.
- Try making homemade bread, or start by keeping an eye out for a used breadmaker.
- If whole wheat bread seems to be heavy or uncomfortable for you to eat, I encourage you to try going grain-free for a couple days. Just eat meats and veggies, fruits and nuts, and see how you feel. Beyond the trial period, the least expensive way to go grain-free is to buy one bag of coconut flour and find some simple pancakes, muffins, etc. using it, but mostly just eat lots of veggies, legumes, potatoes, fruits and meats. (More here.)
I know, another cheater with multiple steps…I’m sorry!
10. Reduce your Dependence on Sweeteners
- No matter what people say about the health benefits of certain natural sweeteners, the fact is that they all have carbs and contribute less to your overall health than they may harm.
- The simple step here is to avoid worrying about all those “natural” sweeteners, forgo deciding if paying quadruple for a bag of sugar is worth it – just decrease the amount of sweetener you consume, period.First, cut out all high fructose corn syrup. Whether you believe that HFCS is far worse than white sugar or trust the ‘corn sugar’ commercials, either way, high fructose corn syrup has no redeeming value and adds empty calories and carbs to your diet. It is not healthy in any amount, and it’s a marker of a highly processed food.Cut it out for a week and see if you miss the foods that contain it (LOTS of them). Second, you can also work hard to reduce your white sugar consumption. Try having fruit for dessert in an effort to tame your sweet tooth.
You’ll connect immediately with Tiffany’s yen to do it all at once, the overwhelmed feeling, and finally, the baby steps to success!
What Comes Next?
In order to accomplish these baby steps, the amount of boxed and bottled food you buy will drastically diminish. If sticking to a budget is part of your balancing act, you’ll find yourself making a lot from scratch – another opportunity to be overwhelmed as far as where to start.
I would recommend taking note of what processed food (box or bottle) you use most often during the course of one week. That’s where you want to learn the “from-scratch” version, because it will affect your family the most frequently.
Also consider the cost savings of making your own over buying a “better” processed version. There are some things, like real sourdough bread, that are nearly impossible to purchase, nutritionally. You have to make them.
Other foods, like butter, cottage cheese, and sour cream, don’t have much financial savings when you make your own, so it’s best, in my opinion (unless you own a cow), to find a good source to purchase those items.
Finally others, like pasta, may just have to remain an exception. That’s something I’ve never made, because I just can’t budget the time to do it, so we simply use pasta less often (I’ve started putting sauces over rice instead – easier and less expensive than gluten-free pasta!).
Last, but definitely not least, be sure to stay connected in prayer. Do your best and give God the rest. He’ll take good care of you.
Thanks for joining me on this journey to better kitchen (and life) stewardship.
If you’re looking for the next steps, I have a few “advanced” baby steps for you right HERE.
Want to SEE what you need to do? Traditional Cooking School has an incredibly comprehensive eCourse called Fundamentals that will walk you through traditional foods step by step. (No videos for you? Get the eBook instead.)