Are you working to ditch processed foods and put more real food on the table? This month we’re running a series called Real Food Made Simple: A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Better. Our goal is to answer the questions you might have and make the transition a whole lot easier!

Written by Stacy Karen, Contributing Writer

Transitioning your family to a real food diet can seem overwhelming. There is so much to learn, new foods to try, cooking techniques to master, and shopping strategies to implement.

Once you begin to learn about the harmful effects of our modern-day diets and the benefits of real food, it is tempting to change everything at once.

But contrary to this strong urge, it is often better (and more feasible) to take things slowly and implement one or two changes at a time.

Modifying your diet in this way will help ensure lasting change and also minimize resistance from your family.

The following are the first steps I recommend. Choose one or two to begin with and add another every few weeks (once you feel that the previous step has been mastered).

Replace margarine with butter.

This step is fairly easy since butter can be used in most any way that margarine is. I know many people fear using butter because of its fat content, but let’s think about the food content for a moment (and will get to fat later – the right fat is not bad, including butter):

Butter = Cream (and possibly salt)

Margarine = Canola and sunflower oils, water, modified palm and palm kernel oils, salt, whey protein concentrate, soy lecithin, vegetable monoglycerides, potassium sorbate, vegetable color, artificial flavor, citric acid, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D3, alpha-tocopherol acetate.

It’s easy to see which one is real. Our body can tell the difference, too!

Replace vegetable and canola oils with coconut and olive oil.

Most cooking tasks can be handled with coconut oil and olive oil. These oils are nutritious and don’t harm the body. Yes, canola is touted as a “healthy oil,” but it is far from it. To learn more about the history of canola oil and why it is bad for you, read this article: The Great Con-ola.

Reduce white flour in homemade baked goods.

Slowly replace white flour with whole wheat flour. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of white flour, replace a 1/4 cup with wheat. It may go unnoticed! Gradually increase the amount of whole wheat flour in baked goods and slowly eliminate the white flour. This will be less painful than suddenly offering 100% whole wheat muffins to your children.

Increase consumption of vegetables.

{Simple and Fresh Tomato Salad}

Make an effort to eat at least one or two vegetables with every meal, working up to more. Branch out and try something new once a week. You might be surprised about some flavors the family actually enjoys.

Here are three posts to help you get started:

How to Cook Vegetables: Steaming, Pan Cooking and Lots of Tasty Recipes

7 Ways to Add More Veggies to Meals You’re Already Cooking

Fast and Frugal Snacks Straight from Your Garden

Eliminate soda.

I understand that this can be a tough one if you drink soda regularly. It’s OK to cut down gradually, but make getting rid of soda a priority. You already know that soda is bad for you, completely unnatural and full of sugar (or artificial sweeteners).

Try other drinks such as kombucha or water kefir (which are somewhat bubbly) or flavor water with a slice of lemon or lime.

Commit to avoiding artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup in store-bought products.

Once you are ready to replace condiments (such as ketchup) and snacks (like granola bars), look for items that are free of corn syrup, aspartame, and other artificial sweeteners such as Sucralose, Saccharin, and Acesulfame K.

Store-bought snacks that meet this criteria might be difficult to find (or too expensive), which leads me to the next step:

Replace some store-bought snacks with homemade goods.

It is quite easy to prepare wholesome cookies, cereal bars, energy balls, muffins, and other real food snacks at home.

It is also helpful to experiment with other forms of snack foods such as carrots and hummus, fruit, and so on. It is important to remember than snacks are not just a stop gap for hunger, but also a way to increase overall nutrition. Make them count.

Check out these posts for more ideas: Read Food Snacks for Kids – 45 Ideas and 10 On-the-Go Healthy Snack Ideas for Toddlers.

Katie of Kitchen Stewardship also has a great homemade snacks cookbook called Healthy Snacks to Go.

Experiment with breakfast options

Boxed cereal or toast are some of the most common breakfast foods, however, I think most of us know that while they are convenient, they don’t pack much of a nutritional punch.

Try some other options such as baked oatmeal, protein pancakes, bacon and eggs, or breakfast casserole.

Don’t attempt to make something new every day; instead, gradually replace boxed cereal with more healthful options. Perhaps start out with a new breakfast only once a week and work up from there. If you have older children, be sure to teach them how to cook these new foods, so they can help!

This Chocolate Chili is delicious.

Set aside time to cook.

Eating real food it much more affordable when you are making things from scratch. Before attempting to tackle any of the steps above, I recommend looking at your schedule and carving out some time for menu planning and bulk cooking (if it’s not there already). Taking an afternoon or evening to prepare some healthy snacks, precook meat, and put together a large salad will make it easier to eat real food on a daily basis.

If the moment of hunger strikes and there is no real food on hand, it becomes difficult to stay on track. Being prepared is key to your success.

Begin to gather real food recipes.

There are a lot of real food recipes online. I often find it easier to search for a new recipe with whole food ingredients than to modify a family favorite. Not to say that favorites can’t be successfully adapted to real food guidelines, but it is often best to save these for unhurried times.

Collect recipes from around the web that you find interesting. Get your family involved by showing them some delicious-looking meals and ask them to choose one or two  to try.

Get familiar with the outer aisles of the grocery store.

You will find most real food ingredients in the outer aisles of the grocery store.  Most often, the deeper you go, the more refined the food becomes. Spend some time looking around the produce and meat departments and see what is available. This is where you will be buying most of your food.

Implementing any of the above steps is a worthy use of your time. Each one will become easier as you practice, and one day, eating like this will seem like second nature.

Other posts in the series:

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

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

Which first steps to real food have you already taken? What are you going to work on next?