Real Food Made Simple: A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Better

I love that the term “real food” is becoming more commonplace.

It’s clear that a movement has begun, with people increasingly wanting to avoid processed and fake foods, and learn to eat a more nutritious and whole-foods based diet.

10 years ago, I was in the same place as many of you. I recognized that my diet wasn’t ideal and was damaging my body. I sincerely wanted to improve my poor health and change the way that I ate. Much as I wanted to make those changes, though, two things stood in my way.

For one thing, I couldn’t make a sudden switch and change everything all at once. My Campbell’s Soup, Wonder Bread, Doritos and Coke-influenced tastebuds needed time to adapt to the flavors of fresh vegetables and whole grains. My cooking skills were sorely lacking. Shopping became a more confusing and time-consuming process initially. Trying to make a 180-degree turnaround would have only overwhelmed and discouraged me.

Secondly, there was a lot of confusion about what eating healthy meant. I read a ton of different books and websites, talked to friends and family and nutritionists and doctors, and often found myself more confused than ever.

Should I become a vegetarian or vegan? I’d tried it once as a teenager and had become anemic, but maybe I just had to learn to do it better? Was dairy inherently bad and only meant for baby cows? Low-fat sounded sensible, but not very appealing.

The idea of healthy eating has become even more popular during this last decade, but it hasn’t become more clear what that really means. Today, conflicting dietary theories abound (take your pick from vegetarian, paleo, Atkins, organic, low fat, blood type, raw, or any other myriad of popular options), making it increasingly difficult to know what “real food” actually consists of.

Not to mention that in our society’s warped food culture, it’s hard to even distinguish real food from fake foods. Processed foods have insidiously wormed their way into even “health food” store products, and likewise conventional companies and Big Agriculture have taken on words such as “all-natural”, “whole”, “healthy”, and “farm fresh” among other terms, making them deceptive and utterly meaningless.

Real food is more than a fad, and more than a cute catchphrase, too.

But there are so many questions to be answered when it comes to real food:

  • How exactly do we define real food?
  • When you’re just starting out, what sorts of simple first steps should you take?
  • Which ingredients should you avoid? And how on earth do you read food labels in the first place? For that matter, can real food ever come in packages or from a regular grocery store?
  • And if a regular store is all you have, what do you buy?
  • Do you have to change how you cook, or are there simple switches and substitutions that you can make?
  • What about grains? Should we eat them at all? Should we just eat less of them or prepare them in special ways?
  • What if you’re a picky eater? How do you change your tastebuds?
  • Or one of the most common questions I hear… what if your husband and kids are resistant?
  • How on earth do you afford eating better foods when the budget is already tight?
  • What if all you know how to make are burnt offerings and things that come in a box?
  • How will you manage making your foods from scratch since you don’t have hours to spend each day in the kitchen?
  • Can you make healthier meals that still taste like the ones you’re used to? Can real food actually taste good?

We’re launching into a new series called Real Food Made Simple: A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Better, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Throughout the month of January, we’ll be answering these questions and many more!

I’m done with complicated eating.

Why does eating always have to seem so complicated? It doesn’t need to be. I’ve been studying nutrition for 10 years, gotten myself all twisted up and turned around at times, and take it from me… it can actually be boiled down to something far more straightforward and manageable that it seems.

Food, even (or maybe especially) healthy food, is meant to be enjoyed. You should actually want to eat these things that are good for you. And it shouldn’t require intensive study or complicated calculations to figure out what you should and shouldn’t eat.

Yes, science speaks to the matter, but I don’t think that what we put in our mouths should ever be reduced purely to scientific theories, iPhone apps, faddish diets, or deprivation.

We can focus on real, whole foods, the types of foods that our great-great-great-grandparents would have eaten and recognized, and make them delicious, without feeling like the nutrition police are out to get us.

If I can accomplish only one thing through this series, I hope that it’s this:

To convince you that anyone can make simple strides towards eating better.

If you’re in that place, wanting to change but unsure of how to go about it, we are so glad you’re here! We’re going to take it slow, break it down, and try to make it as easy and practical as we can.

If you have a friend or family member that you think would be interested or would benefit from what we’ll be sharing, please, send them our way! If you’re already further into your real food journey, would you consider sharing these posts with those around you?

Other posts in the series:

First Steps to Real Food

What Is Real Food?

Cutting Your Kitchen Prep Time in Half — Or More!

Confessions of a Formerly Picky Eater

How to Read Food Labels

The Grain Controversy: Should We Eat Them or Not?

Second Steps Towards Eating Real Foods: Switching Your Food Sources

Sweeteners: How They Affect You, Which Ones are Best, and How to Use Them

Simple Steps to Begin Cooking Homemade: Pantry Staples

5 Strategies to Help Your Husband and Kids Transition to Real Food 

7 Foods to Avoid

Finding Real Food in the Grocery Store

20 Easy Real Food Switches and Substitutions {with Free Printable Chart}

First Steps to Eating for Fertility

Keeping Costs Down in a Real Food Kitchen

Raising Kids on Real Food

5 Ways to Get More Fruits & Veggies into your Diet

Food Is Not Cheap: 4 Steps to Budgeting in Real Food

Simple Steps to Begin Cooking Homemade: Baked Goods

Simple Roast Chicken (And Fabulous Side Dish Recipes!)

17 Homemade Spice Mixes {with Recipes & Why You Should Use Them!}

5 Ways Green Living and Real Food are Connected

Simple Steps to Begin Cooking Homemade: Soups, Sauces, and Simple Dinners

Where are you at on your real food journey? And what questions or struggles do you have that we could try to address?

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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Comments

  1. I am so excited to read this new series. I have tried so many diets. I have such a hard time cooking healthy foods. I am so picky! I didn’t grow up with the best food choices, at all. A common meal in my house would be popcorn chicken and fries. I tried to make baked salmon a few days ago- HORRID; my zucchini fries were just as bad. I can’t figure out if it’s simply because I am not used to these foods or if I am just the worst cook ever. I have read so much about cooking but what is humus? I only shop at Walmart… I’ve never seen humus! It’s all makes me a little discouraged sometimes, but I am only 20 years old I have to get healthier there is no other choice.

  2. I’m so glad that I found your blog! I am just starting out and I am in the research, question and slightly overwhelmed state! LOL I recently decided that to get “healthy” would probably need more than just a quick fix, so I started looking. I am not a Chef, but I can cook and I enjoy food that has taste! Hence the reason that I am not the smallest in the class. LOL. I also come from an Italian family who believes that every table should have pasta and bread … and that seconds are really just the extension of your firsts! :) So whatever wisdom you have, I am ready to soak it up like a parched sponge! Thank you!!!!

  3. I’ve been on the journey for 3-4 years now, and I’m at this place where I don’t know WHAT to cook, because I’ve read so many different things that contradict one another just like you mentioned. Dairy. Never dairy. Grain. Never grain. Etc. but the biggest issue right now is that I’m NOT cooking.

  4. Super excited! :) My question(s) would be with costs of buying real foods, shopping at local/organic stores, budgeting, etc… Due to my health (hormonal & brain fog issues), I could benefit a great deal from this series. I keep going on & off my diet, which I really hate. Thanks!

  5. Perfect timing! We’re cleaning out the pantry of all foods with additives and eating clean in 2013 after watching a documentary called “Hungry for Change” on Netflix and getting inspired. One particular comment I liked was that these days, we eat “food-like products” rather than real foods. And an interesting fact: Researchers use MSG to induce obesity in lab rats. I knew it was bad, but YUCK!

  6. I’m interested in hearing some thoughts for families where there are special diet needs. We have two special diets due to chronic illness (genetic diseases): one gluten free and one high fat, high protein, high salt. My current belief is you do the best you can with what you can, but if there are some thoughts or insights for those navigating real foods with special diet needs, I’d love to hear.

  7. Can you address doing real food when there are diet complications? Due to chronic illness (genetic diseases) my husband and son both have special diets. One is gluten free–so much easier to do these days and the other needs a high fat, high protein, high salt diet. Any thoughts for those that are navigating special diet needs?

  8. I am so looking forward to this :) Thank you. I am new on this journey so I appreciate this series.

  9. Michelle D says:

    I have been moving to real foods for a yer now. The part I find hard is getting people like my folks and DH’s folks to understand why we don’t want our kids eating margarine, food coloring, canola or microwaved meals. I have found that my kids will speak up (my 5 yo) and ask for healthy stuff if I train them, but sometimes the in laws seem to give them junk out of spite, or the thinking that is older (ie, butter is saturated, margarine is better). What suggestions do you have for putting your foot down on certain things. I am flexible with some stuff obviously because my kids will have cake at a party!

  10. Excited for this! I’ve trying to make changes for about 3 months now, but still wonder about what to spend time on as I learn more.

  11. Thanks so much. It’s all about babysteps. It doens’t have to be complicated… just simple and small!

  12. I don’t know where to start?? I have 3 small children, so getting them to eat healthy and properly always seems to be a struggle. What baby steps should I take first?

    • Michelle D says:

      For us, I started by substituting certain things for real foods: butter or coconut oil instead of margarine, organic eggs and milk for conventional, honey and succinat for refined sugar and made my own bread from organic wheat, tossing anything that comes in a box/ package/ microwaveable container. My hubby can’t even taste the difference! He only knows it is real when we eat quinoa lol. In fact- real food tastes better, organic beef is 150x better than cheap stuff! My next step is raw milk. Have fun you will enjoy it!

  13. I am really looking forward to this series! I myself have been trying to eat whole foods, but find I fall off the wagon sometimes because I make things for my husband and kids. Now we are all going to start eating “real food” so this came at a perfect time. I would appreciate ideas for the kids, especially for lunches, and some simple weeknight dinner ideas would be so great!

  14. I just move to Nebraska, there are many farms around here! Then this series, I think I’m a little closer into eating more from the scratch. Can wait!

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