The List: What to Eat, What to Avoid, How to Compromise

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Organic vs. conventional produce, grassfed vs. CAFO meat, trans fats, omega-6 and omega-3 fats, parabens, triclosan, and BPA. How to remember what to avoid? It's all here in one easy list.

Bad. Better. Best.

It’s “What to Buy” in three columns.

I have been asked more than once to collect all the “avoid this” terms in one place, as well as to make a list of “good foods, bad foods, and compromise foods.”  This three-column list is my attempt to meet these needs.

You’ll find a list of things to avoid, the ideal choice in a given situation, and the compromise option that you might just have to take if budget, time, or availability prevents the ideal.

The categories include:

  • Produce
  • Dairy
  • Meat and Poultry
  • Fish and Seafood
  • Grains
  • Fats
  • Storage Containers and Cookware
  • Personal Products
  • Cleaning Products
  • Sweeteners

Yep, it’s pretty much “Kitchen Stewardship: the Condensed Version.”

Click HERE to print or download to your computer.

Albeit quite lengthy, the document is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it’s amendable. Please help me fill it out by commenting with your ideas. I’ll continue to edit the document as necessary; this is THE UPDATED VERSION as of 6/14/10.

In 2011, I created a post that fits nicely with this list. It’s called When to Splurge, Settle, and Skip and focuses on keeping to a budget while seeking the best of real food and natural living for your family.

For an extended version of that, Stephanie Langford will give you all the details in Real Food on a Real Budget, an eBook.

What are your thoughts on this list? Anything to add?

There are affiliate link in this document and a paid advertisement from Dr. Natura. See my full disclosure statement here. Photo from Peter Fasano.

Click here for my disclaimer and advertising disclosure - affiliate links in this post will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price.

76 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. says

    Thank you so much for doing this! It’s incredibly helpful. I’m going to be pointing people to this list today.

    Comments –
    For the yogurt, I would put an encouraging line about making homemade yogurt from RBH-free milk and a link to the crockpot version for this. I’ve been making the crockpot version for over a year and no matter what I do, the yogurt never fails for me.

    It’s also possible to make homemade buttermilk.

    Tuna? Sourdough bread? Chicken fat, bacon fat?
    .-= Barb@My Daily Round´s last blog ..adding up the dollars and cents spent at Catholic school =-.

  2. says

    We are doing a lot of these types of things in NC and have a group of ladies struggling to live well together to raise our families as best as possible! I am going to share this and I think it will be a winner in sparking our conversations.
    I appreciate your desire to do things well as well as live by grace.

      • Katie says

        I’ve never tried it myself. What is it about brown rice that is better than whole wheat? Thanks! Katie

        • Gina says

          It’s Gluten Free! for those of us who are limited in our options… and am curious however, how the nutritional content compares to wheat for my family members that are less restricted. Thanks for a wonderful blog.

          • Katie says

            Since I wrote this, we’ve become a largely gluten (or grain) free family, so now I get it. I don’t think wheat has a nutritional leg up over brown rice at all. Quinoa pasta would probably be even better (and we like it, too). Good call! I wonder what other parts of this list I would change now that I’ve experienced an elimination diet…?

            Thanks, Katie

            • Claryssa says

              I love…loved…Quinoa pasta…however, I was really miffed when I learned that alot of Quinoa pasta has corn in it…do you know of a brand of pasta that is strictly Quinoa grain?

              • Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship says

                You know, you’re right. I don’t have any experience with GF brands of quinoa pasta w/o corn though…

                ?? Katie

            • Beth Cooper says

              We are a gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free family (due to allergies) who eats whole foods and avoids processed foods as much as possible. Since you are now gluten/grain-free, have you considered updating this amazing resource? I’d love to have a current list of your recommendations. Thanks for what you do, Katie!

              • says

                It’s been on my list for so long to update this list! No idea when I’ll get around to it for real…but if you have any specific questions, I’m happy to answer them and it would give me some direction on adding notes about GF and grain-free, etc. Thanks! :) Katie

  3. Jamie says

    I totally agree brown rice pasta is the best option for pasta.

    I’d suggest moving canola oil to the “no way” list and putting safflower in the “okay” liquid oil category.

    This is fantastic!! Thanks!!

  4. says

    Wow. This list is genius!
    Where would you rank tuna?
    I’d like to recommend it on my blog – It’s only been up for a month though, so that might not be the best compliment! But really, this list is great. *Thank you*

    • Katie says

      All blogs were at “one month” at some point, so I’m honored to be mentioned no matter what. Thank YOU! 😉 Katie

      PS – I’ll add tuna later today to the list; good point.

  5. says

    Wow! Thanks, Katie!

    What would you buy? Local, non-organic or organic, non-local. I can get organic veggies at the store from Mexico or I can go down the street and pick my own at a farm, but they are not organic. They keep pesticides to a minimum, but they do use them. Anyway, it’s been a question I’ve been pondering and I’m curious how others would answer!
    .-= Camille´s last blog ..Fun Websites =-.

    • Katie says

      Excellent question. I”ll update the list later tonight, but I and most others in the Real Food Face-Off agreed that it’s better to buy local and known than far, far away and “organic”. Thank you!

  6. says

    Also, Oscar Mayer has a new line of “Premium” dogs with no nitrites or nitrates. I picked up some smoked turkey dogs and understood ALL the ingredients! Haven’t tried them yet so I can’t talk to the taste.
    .-= Camille´s last blog ..Fun Websites =-.

  7. Ronda says

    Oh my – this is just awesome!!! I read alot of Real Food/Homemaking type blogs and yours never fails to disappoint – it’s my favorite! It always lines up with exactly where I’m at right now! I’m printing this now anyway and I’ll print it again when you make changes. Thank you!!!!!

    • Katie says

      What? Print twice and waste paper?!?

      Just kidding. I wish I could pick on people with a wink as well in text as in real life. I’m honored you feel that way, Ronda! :) Katie

      • Ronda says

        ha ha 😉 As SOON as I posted my comment I had a feeling you would say that (about printing twice and wasting paper) and you are totally RIGHT (even though I know you are just picking on me!) Will it help if I say that my kids use the backs of any papers I no longer need to create works of art? :) (it’s true! We have a recycle/art bin)

        Keep up the awesome work Katie!

  8. Pamela P. says

    Great list! Under the OK “Dairy” category I would definitely mention that any non-organic diary item should at least be Rbgh/Rbst free. Also, my understanding is that cattle growth hormone use has never been approved in Europe, so imported European cheeses might be a good option to include in the OK or even Hey Hey category.

    • tonya says

      rbst/rbgh is chemically IDENTICAL to it’s natural counterpart which is secreted by cattle in all their milk. it is produced in a similar fashion (recombinant technology) to insulin. Both the synthetic & recombinant (that’s what the r stands for) hormones are petide hormones, which means your stomach treats them as any other protein & digests them.

      to those who shy away from rbst/rbgh…I pose the question…what would you tell an insulin dependent diabetic? Is it even possible to obtain natural (pig) insulin these days or is it all synthetic/recombinant?

      • Pamela P. says

        That’s an interesting perspective! I’ve never had a reason to research insulin, so I have no idea if there is a natural alternative or if there are side effects or drawbacks to synthetic insulin use. My view is that diabetics have to take insulin for their health, but the rest of the population has no compelling reason to expose ourselves to a synthetic substance such as rBGH. There is a good synopsis of the book about the dangers of rBGH by Samuel Epstein here
        A good excerpt from the review: “*rBGH milk is supercharged with high levels of a natural growth factor (IGF-1), which is readily absorbed through the gut. *Excess levels of IGF-1 have been incriminated as a cause of breast, colon, and prostate cancers. IGF-1 blocks natural defense mechanisms against early submicroscopic cancers. ” From this I would conclude that even if the synthetic hormone is, in fact, identical to the natural, giving cows extra hormone changes their bodies in ways that effects their milk and may make it not good for us. Also, dairy cows injected with rBGH have about a 5 year lifespan compared with an average lifespan of 20-25 years otherwise. This fact alone tells me that rBGH is detrimental to their bodies and that milk from them could logically be detrimental to humans! I am personally not comfortable having my family be part of this experiment.

        • Tonya says

          Hormone Levels: There were no differences in concentration of bST in milk regardless of label type. Concentrations of IGF-1(insulin-like growth factor-1) in milk were similar in conventional and rbST-free-milk, both were slightly higher in comparison to organic milk. Concentration of the steroid hormone progesterone was greater in organic milk compared to conventionally labeled milk or milk labeled rbST-free. Conventionally labeled milk had less estradiol compared to organic and rbST-free milk with concentrations of estradiol in samples labeled organic and rbST-free being the same.

          as i recall, Dr Epstein has weak to little science backing his claims. I’m pretty sure he’s also a proponent of the “milk is pus” argument.

          • Pamela P. says

            Interesting study- wonder if it was funded by the commercial dairy industry! There has been a demonstrated connection between funding source and the outcome of scientific studies. You might recall the “BPA is perfectly safe” studies a few years ago. Now there is mounting evidence that it isn’t safe, especially for babies and young children, and the recent report by the President’s Cancer Panel recommends avoiding it. However, if you are confident of the science supporting the safety of Rbgh/Rbst, go ahead and drink conventional milk- I personally prefer to be conservative on things like this! :)

  9. Tonya says

    skim milk okay? really? no no no.

    organic skim w/ cream added??? what’s the point?

    just don’t buy skim ever.

    • Katie says

      Tonnnnnn-yaaaaaaa! *whiny voice*
      It was you who convinced me that skim milk doesn’t have oxidized cholesterol to worry about in the first place! I know fat is best in milk, but if you’re having a meal with plenty of fat, I don’t think skim milk is going to kill you. ???

      The point of adding cream to the skim is to avoid homogenization, which may or may not be an issue. It’s what I do most of the time to make yogurt nowadays, and it’s delicious. It’s not too hard to do. I have enough cream from our raw milk that I can “snitch” some and at least have organic fat even if I buy Meijer brand skim milk. That’s why.

      I figure people who still have a fat-phobia might like to hear that they could drink skim milk without dying, especially if you have other sources of fat in the same meal to complement the skim milk. It’s a good compromise and still at least real food, albeit incomplete.


      • Tonya says

        ok, i did stick up for it in regards to oxidation…but didn’t i say i wasn’t advocating for skim milk, per se. i see what you’re doing tho…reverse engineering milk.

  10. JenZ says

    Great list! A couple of comments though … For chicken, you mention that no chicken is allowed antibiotics or hormones. True for hormones, but not for antibiotics – they do use them in poultry (remember the controversy about Tyson labeling some chicken as antibiotic free even though they had injected the eggs with antibiotics prior to hatching the chicks?).

    Also, in the produce category, you mention the “clean 15” in one place but say to focus on the “dirty dozen” in a couple of other places. I’m guessing you mean to focus on the “clean 15”?

    Thanks for the list – very helpful, esp. for sharing with people who don’t understand the many choices I make for feeding my family on a daily basis!

    • tonya says

      any animal product in the food stream has to be antibiotic free. that means the actual product at time of slaughter/consumption. the animal may have been given antibiotics, but a proper withdrawl time is observed prior to slaughter.

      • JenZ says

        Such parsing of standards is why my family started raising our own meat birds this year. That is the only way that we can be sure of what they are given (although we are fortunate to have some really good producers in our area whose standards I trust).

        • tonya says

          there’s no parsing of standards. animal products must all meet the same standards based on type of product (milk, meat, egg). differences lie between the conventional & organic label.

    • Katie says

      You’re right, my mistake! It’s been a while since I’ve read the little asterisk on a package of store chicken, I guess. 😉 I’ll double check the wording on the clean 15/dirty dozen. I probably meant to avoid the dirty dozen, actually.

      Thanks for the editing!
      :) Katie

  11. Teresa says

    I noticed above that a lot of the Real Food Face-Off agreed to buy local over organic. If you had to choose between local milk where the cows are grassfed in summer and non-gmo grain in winter with minimal sprays on pasture or store bought organic milk that is grassfed summer/grains in winter, which one would you choose? I have struggled with the local non-organic versus organic store bought decision for quite some time.

    • Katie says

      Likely the storebought organic milk is UHT pasteurized, which would make the decision easy. Local.

      If the store stuff is low-temp pasteurized or at least the same temp as the local stuff…I think I’d still go local, unless it was much more expensive. Do they really spray their pasture at all? Maybe do 50/50! I’m sort of kidding…
      Never an easy answer unless you grow your own cow…which of course isn’t easy, either! 😉 Katie

  12. Beth says

    Great list! Why do you have an issue with the slide top ziplock bags but not the regular ones?


    • Katie says

      I’ll link that word to this post where there’s info from an email forwarded to me by a reader from the Ziploc company: the zippered bags have BPA in them, and the others don’t. Weird, huh?

      Thanks for pointing that out!
      :) Katie

  13. says

    I would be more cautious about fish. There have been problems with fish being sold to wholesalers and retailers under names other than their actual species (low-value or unsellable species masquerading as higher value fish).

    I would say, if you live near a coast, try to buy your fish from a real fish market. Whereever you live, though, familiarize yourself with the appearance of your favorite fish and ONLY buy fish packaged in such a way that you can visually confirm that the fish is as advertised. Preferably, buy whole fish, but settle for fillets with skin attached and visable. If there’s no visable skin, no way!

    Here are two articles on the topic.

    Hope that helps. Great chart!
    .-= Rachel´s last blog ..FMBF: Golden Books =-.

  14. says

    Now that I’ve looked at the rest, two comments:
    1. In my experience, and from what I’ve read, stevia does not raise blood sugar because the chemical that makes it sweet is not a sugar. You say that all additive sweeteners raise blood sugar, can you please support that statement with regards to stevia?

    2. What is your opinion of grape seed oil. It’s less expensive and has less of a flavor than olive oil, as well as having a higher smoke point. I’d also like your opinion on sesame oil.

    .-= Rachel´s last blog ..FMBF: Golden Books =-.

    • Katie says

      Great point on the stevia; my mistake.

      I haven’t done my own research on grapeseed oil (yet), but what I see on other blogs is that it’s high in omega-6s, I believe. Sesame oil doesn’t have a super omega 6/3 profile, but it’s a good sometimes oil…and man, is it tasty in my Asian Toasted Sesame Dressing! So it’s staying in my house, but it’s too expensive to use in large quantities.

      Thanks for helping out!
      :) Katie

  15. Leah says

    What about the whole thing with phytic acid in brown breads, pastas, and rice? I’m in a position where I literally can’t soak them or anything, and they give me stomach problems otherwise. And I don’t see why cultures would have refined their grains and such if they didn’t feel some sort of benefit (I don’t eat white store-bought bread, but I don’t eat store-bought bread at all, so this is more directed to flours, pasta, rice, and homemade white breads I guess).

  16. triplel says

    I would guess I’d make a note that children especially shouldn’t get the skim only whole, I guess I worry less for the adults.

  17. triplel says

    what’s up with no acidic foods on cast iron? that’s exactly the opposite of what I’ve heard– that acid helps some of that iron make its way into your diet.

  18. April says

    Katie, thank you so much. This is a great encouragement to me tonight. My husband was just pining for hamburgers, but after just moving and going down to one income, I just wasn’t sure where to get the beef, or if we could even afford it. I saw “Laura’s Lean beef” in the Meijer’s ad, but didn’t think anything of it– until I saw it on your list! Now I feel like I can make a better choice for my family and my budget this week, all while blessing my husband! Thank you for your constant encouragement and your simplicity in presentation. I appreciate you so much! Blessings.

  19. Heather says

    Katie, aren’t you in Michigan? I know EXACTLY where that truck and sign in your photo are! They are along HWY 1 along the Pacific Coast, near Davenport, CA (north of Santa Cruz), and we have been there–and been past there lots of times, too! There are all kinds of strawberry farms in that area–and the ocean, which is even cooler (both kinds of cooler!–brr) than Lake Michigan (I grew up in eastern WI and the Chicago suburbs)

    • Katie says

      How funny – it’s not my picture, just something from Flickr that hopefully I used with appropriate crediting. 😉 Katie

  20. Toni says

    thank you for this great list! I was wondering why easy slide ziplock bags were on the “no way” list and reg. ziplocks are ok?


    • Katie says

      Uh oh, I don’t remember! This was a while ago…if I had to guess, I bet I read that sliders were made of a different kind of plastic, perhaps with BPA? That’s worth a Google search – sorry I don’t have a quick answer!
      :) Katie

  21. Jen says

    Hi Katie,
    I just want to say thank you! Your site is so helpful to me–and this PDF document is sooo helpful to me. Grocery shopping has become very complicated for me. I can’t just go and shop and be done! Once you know more about our food supply in America, you have to shop differently and cook differently. But how to do that for my family and budget is sometimes a challenge to figure out. I’ll keep trying. . . baby steps. Your site is a great resource–thanks!

    • Katie says

      Thanks! I hear you – my husband sometimes says, “We shouldn’t have pulled back the veil.” Knowledge does complicate things…
      Glad you’re here! :) Katie

  22. Tammy says


    I really appreciate the list. My concern is about Stevia. I’ve heard that the stevia leaf is used in less modern parts of the world as birth control. I’m trying to do more research but I just keep finding blog posts with no substantiating evidence beyond “one woman’s journey”. I initially heard this information from an ob/gyn and have avoided stevia (and all other artificial sweeteners) since. What have you heard?

  23. Heather says

    @Tammy: There has been one study done that showed stevia to lower testosterone levels in rats…but they were given WAY more than anyone is going to consume willingly. I’ve used stevia for about 10 years in the iced tea I drink lots of–and I’ve conceived 4 kids and borne 3 (one early miscarriage)–and at least 2 of the kids were conceived on the first try, so if the stuff is contraceptive, it doesn’t work on me. (Also, most ob’s have an understanding of nutrition on the level of What to Expect When You’re Expecting :-(

  24. Lana says

    Are you familiar with the TFX Non Stick! sheet from Engstrom Trading? It is designed to replace foil and parchment paper, is BPA and PFOA free, safe up to 500 degrees, reusable, dishwasher safe, etc. On the package the material compound is listed as: “Woven ‘E’ type glass fabric coated with PTFE.”

    Where would you rank this compared to a silicone mat or parchment paper?


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