Simple steps? Yes, truly simple. Moving towards more real food has some hurdles, but I assure you most of them are psychological. Making the switch to real foods can be intimidating. Real food tends to be a little more expensive ("But I only have one income to feed a family of 4"), it may mean cooking more from scratch ("But I burn water"), and it may mean avoiding some foods you consider staples ("But I love ramen noodles and cheese puffs"). But it really needn't be as frightening as all that. You don't have to be perfect, just move in a positive direction, one simple step at a time. Taking just little steps towards real food is worth the effort!
If you're ready to take steps to improve you and your family's health - then you're ready to take some simple steps toward real food! And yes, I'm preaching this as much to myself as to any blog readers. I'm by no means an expert or perfect adherent to this crunchy lifestyle, but I'm working on it!
Clean Out Your Cabinets
While it's not always true that you won't eat it if it's not in the house (after all you can probably just drive to store and buy a small bag of your favorite junk food if you really want to - I know because I've done it), but it sure does help! Cleaning out your pantry of industrial vegetable and seed oils, white flour, and white sugar should be a first step.
Replace industrial fats with healthy saturated and monounsaturated fats. Yes, you read that right. I said healthy saturated fats. Butter, coconut oil, and quality olive oil will cover you for almost every need, though you may wish to explore some other options such as avocado or ghee as well.
Replace white flour with at least whole grain unbleached flour. Organic and sprouted is better. If you're gluten sensitive then organic gluten free flours are best, Bob's Red Mill has some great options. If you're going grain free then you can try my paleo baking blend.
Start Cooking at Home
This is one area where you'll find you really save, as even low quality fast food will cost more than a thrifty real food meal made at home. There are great cooking tutorials and recipes all around the web on blogs, YouTube and AllRecipes. Even though my mom taught me to cook, I've picked up new techniques watching my favorite cooking shows on The Food Network. (It's a Sunday morning tradition at my house). Start with simple recipes that require few ingredients and basic cooking methods - don't try to poach an egg, bake a chocolate souffle or smoke your own bacon straight of the gate. Soups and stews are a great place to start when you've got next to no experience.
Also, don't be afraid to fail in the kitchen. As Julia Child said, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” Make a mess, burn something, have a souffle fall - it's not the end of the world and with cooking you really learn best by doing, and doing and doing some more! It's like Carnegie Hall, you've got to practice! It's okay to have a flop recipe, or five, don't get discouraged!
If you can, try to get in on an animal share (more on that below). If you can't getting milk, eggs, butter and meat from organic and pastured sources should be a higher priority even than organic produce, as these items are further up the food chain and have a higher concentration of possible toxins. With increasing consumer demand more of these options are becoming available even at big chain grocers. Yet, even then, you can cut corners if needed.
Ruminant animals, like beef and bison, are often fed on grass at least as calves, though they may be feed lot finished, so these are better choices if you have to buy conventional. Lean cuts of meat are also better choice if you have to buy conventional. Animal fats can be good for you, but CAFO animals have an unhealthy balance of fats and their fat may also store toxins from the environment they were raised in - so go with lean and replace those fats with quality butter, avocado, coconut or olive oil.
With fish, buy sustainable wild caught whenever possible. Avoid farmed salmon and blue fin tuna. Farmed mollusks are a good cheaper choice though, since they are filter feeders and farmed mollusks (esp. clams and mussels) are not very different in terms of growing condition than wild. They are also very nutrient dense.
Organic produce can be pricey. Prioritize how you spend your limited funds based on the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen. Growing your own can also help cut costs, especially if you choose non-hybrid seeds that will allow you to harvest your seeds for next year's planting. Little known fact, food stamps cover the cost of buying seeds to grow food for your family!
Research CSAs and Animal Shares
Buying a CSA can give you access to high quality fruits and veggies for the same or less than grocery store produce - with the added benefit that you are supporting your farmer directly. With no middle man you pay a little less and the farmer earns a little more.
Buying 1/4 or 1/2 a cow, hog, etc. can give you lots of pastured meat (plus offal and tallow or lard) for less per pound than buying even conventional feed lot meat from the grocery store. (Check out this post from Weed 'em and Reap for more on that). Dairy shares (goat, cow, sheep) can also be one of the only legal ways to get quality raw milk.
Hunting, backyard chickens, and even home aquaponics are all great sources for quality meat as well - though they do require investment on the front end, they may pay for themselves over time. Don't forget that growing you own fruits and veggies are also an option that may be more affordable than you think.
If you can't find an animal share or CSA shopping at a health food co-op or farmer's market can also be a great choice. I've found that's what works best for me since most cow shares and CSAs are meant for families, not singles. Unfortunately, farmer's markets in many posh urban areas jack up their prices because of their "elite" clientele. If you can, it's worth going to smaller markets and markets in more middle to lower middle class areas. (I wish I could say poor, but the sad fact is there just aren't many in poor neighborhoods). Localharvest.org is a good resource for finding local farmer's markets and CSAs. If you live near farm land, farm stands are another good option.
Eat Seasonally and Locally
What is in season will vary by your geography - your climate, location, natural resources, etc. If you live in Florida citrus will be available fresh and in season for a lot longer than in Minnesota. Shopping at farmer's markets, CSAs and growing some of your own produce will help with this. Many regional groceries also proudly advertise when their produce has come from local farmer's because of consumer demand for more local foods. Here again, growing your own is a great way to ensure that your food is seasonal and fresh.
Root cellaring, freezing and canning can also help extend the harvest. If you can freeze fresh you'll preserve the most nutrients. Buying frozen from the grocery store is another option.
For more info on real food check out the Real Food, Paleo and Weston A. Price bloggers on The Village Green Network. I'd also encourage you to check out the book Real Food by Nina Planck. There are more resources detailed on this blog's Real Food for Healing tab. Despite what some real foodies might lead you to believe, real food is not about being picture perfect - it is about changing our mindset and viewing food as a holistic source of essential nutrition and fuel to keep our bodies running optimally. Start by taking baby steps - the only way to truly fail is not to even try.