Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to be retrospective and introspective. How many changes have you made since you started your journey to real food?
What percentage of your diet did those changes impact? What future goals do you have?
We’ll spend some time this November considering, commiserating, and perhaps passing on some basic baby steps to friends who need them.
December really is a busy month and not the best time to be making major changes –the chances for failure on account of lack of time and energy are just too great, so Monday Missions will be taking a little break until January, when we’ll come back with our annual "Back to Basics" beginning of the new year theme.
I’m so excited to announce that Tiffany of Don’t Waste the Crumbs has been using my "Top Ten Baby Steps" post to guide some of her kitchen/household transformations, and she’s going to share her story with us throughout the month of January.
Looking back at that post, aptly titled "Overwhelmed? Start Here," I realized that, as the list approaches its third birthday, it’s time for some upgrades. Nearly all of the ten steps are still among those I consider most important, even though at the time I was in the throes of making baby steps, and now I’m just looking back in retrospect and working on more advanced leaps and bounds.
It’s reassuring that I mostly knew what I was doing way back when – or just inflated pride that of course I would agree with myself!
An old photo from when I was exploring the difference between store shredded and home grated cheese…
Today’s mission is designed to inspire you to take a step back, hopefully pat yourself on the back for the progress you’ve made, allow you to see what baby steps you may have missed that will be quick and easy to tackle this month, and help you plan out the next set of changes you want to make, setting goals for January.
In January, we’ll detail "Back to Basics" more clearly (with Tiffany’s help) and give you time and inspiration to really make the changes you want to accomplish, one baby step at a time. (Next week I’m adding another set of 5-10 "moderate" and "advanced" steps for those of you who never had an artificial sweetener in your house. You can share this post with friends who look at your kitchen and are overwhelmed, not knowing where to start but wishing they could take steps to better nutrition themselves.)
Readers often email me (it just happened again this weekend) and ask, "Where do I start? Our diet is so full of processed foods, and it seems like there’s too many changes to make all at once, and we have a really tight food budget, and I’m just OVERWHELMED! Help!"
I direct them to this post, which I’ll leave in the old format until next week and then update with these new edits – in case any of you want to compare and kibitz (that means share your opinion – is my mom the only one who uses that term?).
The New Kitchen Stewardship Top Ten
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.
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!
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.
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.
Make traditional bone broth.
Chicken stock’s health benefits are immense: it is an amazing immunity booster, imparts minerals to your body, AND makes use of something many people throw away (or avoid buying in the first place) – chicken bones. I promise you will love the money saved tackling this step.
Follow the directions for nourishing chicken stock. You might even try never-ending chicken stock, and then try to find good stock recipes so you can use your stock at least once a week. (But if that’s overwhelming, just make it once and see what happens. You’ll love it!)
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. I’ll also be sharing bean-y ideas at Once a Month Mom’s Get Real series this month.
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.
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.
- 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).
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.)
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!
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.
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.
Things 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.
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.
Three different kinds of coconut flour…the kind of thing I’m messing with now, three years after the shredded cheese thing up above.
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.
I can’t wait to hear more real-life tales from Tiffany come January, and I hope this list helps many of you prioritize your journey. The steps are kind of meant to be taken in order, as I listed them by importance – but whatever feels most doable to you should really be where you start!
What baby steps were the first you tackled? Which changes were the easiest? The most challenging?
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post, and Plan to Eat is a November sponsor receiving their complementary mention. See my full disclosure statement here.