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.
Here are my Top 10 Kitchen Stewardship Habits. 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.
It’s still important to tackle ONE of them at a time, but this list is less daunting to look at than the 36 Monday Missions I shared for your review this week. Prioritizing is vital to your success! The Top 10 is in order of importance.
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.
Take it one step at a time.
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.
- These things 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.
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.
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!
- You 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.
6. Use dry beans in your meals.
- Beans (legumes) pack in the fiber, iron, and protein, all for much less than animal sources of protein. 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.
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 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.
Wondering what these steps look like in a real life kitchen? Read how a real food rookie implemented these baby steps in the Back to Basics Baby Step Mini-Challenge from Spring 2013 here.
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.
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.
Need to step back even further and just tackle a few things, and even this list is overwhelming you? I got ya covered. Here are the top THREE things you can do to just focus on NUTRITION ALONE without much commitment or spending in order to get a change and make a start (requested by my bachelor friend, Joe).
Want to SEE what you need to do? GNOWFGLINS 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.)
Letters from Readers
Here are two messages from readers, both in very different situations, but both looking for a little more direction with their baby steps:
I just found your site and made some of your granola bars. The kids (and I) LOVED them. I’ve enjoyed reading previous posts, but have to admit I’m a little overwhelmed.
We are on a pretty strict budget, and live in an area that has a rather high cost of living. We use white sugar, white flour, bleach and other cleaners, highly processed foods, anti-bacterial soap and a lot of other things that I’m sure we shouldn’t be using. Just beginning to be introduced to the idea of “real foods” and avoiding other things. I mean I try to push veggies/fruits and a “well-balanced” diet, but a lot of your site is news to me. I was just wondering where is the best place to start? If you had to start from the beginning, in what order would you take your “baby steps”
I know that, for monetary reasons, I can’t make all the changes you suggest, nor do I have the energy to implement all of them at once. That’s why I need direction….where to go first, second, third, etc. Thanks and God bless!
And another, name withheld:
I’ll TRY to keep this as short as possible! I AM SO OVERWHELMED! It is so scary, frustrating, annoying, etc. that we are all so deceived about what is put into our food in this country!! I don’t even want to eat anything that is in my kitchen right now!!
Here’s my dilemma… I am just about convinced that all of the additives/chemicals in our food are causing all of the illness in our family (and everyone else’s too)… ADD, depression, sinus infections, ear infections… just to name the top ones that OUR family is dealing with. My oldest son is about to start medication for ADD and I am SO worried about the side effects, etc. But his teacher and our pediatrician recommend that he “needs” to be on medication.
I thought he did as well, but now I am wondering if that is really the answer. I am researching info. about changing his (and all of our) diet.
But, we are all so “used to” the taste of the garbage we have been raised on… my husband is not too thrilled about the changes I’m trying to make. And it is SO hard to keep kids from eating the things (or at least wanting them) that other kids eat.. and are served at school and church events.
I’m so sorry to be so overwhelming! HELP! I tried to pray about it this morning, and didn’t even know where to begin except to tell God how overwhelmed I am! I know He understands and I need to be patient… but I just feel like I need some guidance in where to go from here and how NOT to freak out! (and drive my hubby nuts in the process )
How did you get started when you REALLY changed the way you cook and eat? I know there are some things you have always done b/c your mom taught you that way. Some of us aren’t so blessed!
(By the way, I DO already strive for healthy cooking and eating and I LOVE to cook, so I’m not “afraid of” spending lots of time in the kitchen. I just need a manageable plan to get it all done!)
We don’t eat out a lot. The kids don’t get soda and candy (unless it’s from the grandparents!). They (we) are all pretty good eaters as far as vegetables, whole grains, things like that. But I am learning SO much about what all is really bad for our bodies!! The quote I heard in the book on CD I’m listening to was this: “If man made it, don’t eat it!” WOW, that is SO hard to do!
And one other thing, I am a stay at home Mom of 3 kids (ages 9,5 & 10 months)… so I do have time to prepare “from scratch”, etc. I actually did a baking day earlier this week that was so much fun! (pumpkin puree, WW waffles, muffins and cookie dough)
I did reply with a few ideas right away specifically for her medical questions, and you can see that reply here if you’re interested.
What do You Prioritize?
Dear readers, do you have any other advice for these ladies? How did you get started? (My Story starts here.) What to do about husbands? (Keeper of the Home did an excellent job with it this week: Making Healthy Changes When Your Husband Isn’t on Board. Here’s my treatise on How to Feed Husbands Real Food.) How to make it easy for kids to eat healthier when the world throws junk at them? Encouragement on the journey?
If this list still feels too long, don’t despair: Here are the top THREE things you can do to just focus on NUTRITION ALONE without much commitment or spending in order to get a change and make a start (requested by my bachelor friend, Joe).
If you missed the last Monday Mission, click here.
Please visit Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Life as MOM’s Ultimate Recipe Swap: Healthier Foods and Modern Alternative Mama for Healthy News. Disclosure: I am an affiliate of GNOWFGLINS and a few other businesses in this post.
Thanks so much to BrittneyBush for the perfect stressed out photo!