If someone told me that they wanted to eat a real food diet but didn’t know where to start, this post is what I’d tell them.
These 20 first steps to a real food diet aren’t hard or esoteric, but they do require new habits and a mental shift. As you implement these steps, your appreciation for food is going to go miles deeper than it is now–and you will love the way you feel when you eat real, unprocessed food!
Two things before we get started: 1.) This list isn’t exhaustive. Maybe I’ll do Part 2 sometime! 2.) There’s a free printable for you at the end of this post!
Before you begin changing up what you eat and buy, dig in to some good books and documentaries on real food. You’ll get a better sense of what kind of diet you should be aiming for, and why it’s important. Some of my favorite book resources are Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck, and Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food by Catherine Shanahan and Luke Shanahan. A few good documentaries are Food, Inc. and Fresh. You can check your library or Netflix for these, but the books in particular are worth owning!
2. Make a list of top ingredients to avoid
There’s a lot to learn about which ingredients are good and which are unhealthy. So, pick a few that you especially want to avoid, and just focus on steering clear of those. You can add more to the list later. Some big ones to avoid are MSG, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, artificial food coloring, soybean oil, hydrogenated oil and partially-hydrogenated oil.
3. Cut back on sugar
Find the three areas where you have the highest sugar intake and eliminate the sources or downsize them. Juice, Coke, snacks, and store bought desserts are common culprits. Here are 7 things we did to reduce our sugar intake.
4. Focus on ingredient labels, not nutrition facts
The research you did in step 1 taught you that not all fats and calories are the same. Shift your focus to the ingredient list and put items back on the shelf if you don’t recognize the names or if you see ingredients that you’ve blacklisted.
5. Switch your snacks
We keep only healthy snacks on hand, so if we get hungry, healthy is the only option. For snacks, we usually eat almonds, natural peanut butter, bananas, a glass of milk, yogurt with honey, quesadillas, carrot sticks, or leftovers. Here’s a list of 100 healthy snack ideas from Red and Honey.
6. See if there is raw milk in your area
7. Make your own yogurt
Probiotics are a must for healthy diet! Store bought yogurt cups sneak extra sweeteners and artificial colours into your diet. Making yogurt at home is easy and frugal, and gives you complete control over the ingredient list. There’s no special equipment required–you can make it in the crock pot or on the stove top! Once you’ve mastered yogurt, you might also want to look into kefir!
8. Switch out your oils
Canola, soy, and vegetable oil are bad news. Use virgin coconut oil instead. We also use peanut or grapeseed oil on occasion. Extra virgin olive oil is great when used raw or for light sauteing, but high heat will damage it.
9. Buy meat on the bone
I hope your eventual goal is pastured meat, but in the meantime, buy bone-in meat and whole chickens from the grocery store. They have more flavour and nutrition than white meat or processed chicken tenders.
10. Make bone broth
Save the bones from your meat to make stock! Fill a crock pot with bones, cover with water and a splash of raw apple cider vinegar, and let simmer 8-24 hours. Use the nutritionally-rich broth as the base for soups or sauces, or to cook rice in.
11. Buy pastured eggs
Eggs from chickens raised outdoors are better nutritionally than eggs from battery-raised chickens. Pastured eggs are usually more expensive than store bought eggs (the cheapest I’ve seen them here is $2.50/doz.), but they’re worth “investing” in! You can find them at the farmer’s market or from local homesteaders on Craigslist. To be honest, we’re still working on this step and usually buy regular (although locally-sourced) eggs from Aldi. We have started buying pastured eggs to make our own mayonnaise, though!
12. Change your salt
13. Buy butter instead of margarine
It’s an easy step; just put a different item in your cart! Someday I’m going to write a post called “Margarine: Evil, Gross, and if They Didn’t Dope it Up with Food Colorings, it Would Be Grey.” Or something along those lines.
14. Use unbleached white flour and white whole wheat flour
Somewhere down the road you can grind your own wheat berries, but for starters, just change the flour you buy at the grocery store! When you need white flour for a recipe, buy unbleached. Start incorporating more whole wheat into your baked goods using white whole wheat flour, (made from white wheat berries) since it has a milder, lighter taste than whole wheat flour made from red wheat berries.
15. Eat way more vegetables
Buy more vegetables, and eat your way through them before they go bad. It’s hard to get enough vegetables in one day, so incorporate them into every meal! Here are some ideas for eating vegetables for breakfast.
16. Use half-and-half or cream instead of coffee creamer
I really used to like flavoured coffee creamers until I learned what the ingredient list meant. Use straight-up dairy instead, and add your own flavourings with almond or vanilla extract or a dash of nutmeg. If you can’t do dairy, try almond milk.
17. Stop buying salad dressing
18. Use wholesome sweeteners
Learn about raw honey, rapadura/sucanat, and blackstrap molasses. Only use white sugar if a recipe truly “needs it.” (I determined that this gooey butter cake needed it!)
19. Buy nitrate-free breakfast meat
Even if you haven’t found a local meat farmer to buy pastured meat from, you can get nitrate-free meat in almost any grocery store! Look for the Hormel natural line of uncured bacon and lunchmeat. There’s a nitrate-free hotdog brand, too, but the name is skipping my mind.
20. Stop using mixes
Making a dish from a mix isn’t really making it from scratch. Save money by ditching the mixes for cake, muffins, salad dressing, pancakes, stuffing, soup, drinks, pudding, biscuits, etc. Blogs are your friend for making these things from scratch! My cookbook is full of easy, from-scratch recipes.
My cookbook is all about making real food from scratch! It includes 75+ recipes that are simple to make and use wholesome, familiar ingredients, and has 8 chapters on topics like food substitutions, kitchen tools, and freezer cooking. Pick up a copy HERE.
Want to save all these steps and check them off one by one? I’ve created a free printable checklist for ya! Right-click the picture below and hit “Print”!
A note on the affiliate links in this post: I’ve linked to a number of Amazon products in this post to give you an idea of what items to look for. However, you may find the best prices in your local grocery store! I do buy dry goods on Amazon occasionally, but the prices may change–so do your research! As always, if you buy anything on Amazon after clicking my affiliate links (even items I haven’t linked to), I make a small commission at no extra cost to you! So, thank you!
P.S. To earn Amazon gift cards for free, I recommend checking out Swagbucks! Swagbucks is a search engine that randomly gives you “Swag” points when you search for things online. You can redeem the points for all kinds of prizes and gift cards, but I almost always use it for Amazon! You can learn more through my referral link, and when you refer friends you’ll get extra Swagbucks, too!